- Understanding Calisthenics Before You Start
- Where Did Calisthenics Come From?
- Is Calisthenics for You?
- The 4 Things You Need to Start Calisthenics for Beginners
- Starting Calisthenics with the Right Mindset
- Calisthenics Programs Fit for Beginners
- Nutrition in Calisthenics for Beginners
- Equipment You Need to Start Calisthenics?
- How to Start Calisthenics at Home?
- Start Calisthenics at a Calisthenics Park
- The Five Forms of Calisthenics
- 5 Useful Tips for Calisthenics Beginners
- Common Sense Advice for Calisthenics Beginners
- Conclusions About Calisthenics for Beginners
This is a tutorial about Calisthenics for beginners. We will discuss and present to you all the things you need and everything you need to be aware off to start Calisthenics. Our aim is to have you start Calisthenics today. Calisthenics for beginners means taking a seemingly very big step. You need to know about various exercise techniques, you have to control your diet and of course, you will have to submit yourself to a big dose of hardship. These are all things, when heaped up against you, seem daunting or even insurmountable. Why even start Calisthenics under these conditions? That’s where we come in. Calisthenics isn’t that hard to get in to and there are many benefits to Calisthenics. For beginners, Calisthenics has a very low entry bar and won’t cost you a cent.
This is a very extensive article, so buckle up; your life is about to change.
Understanding Calisthenics Before You Start
Calisthenics is sometimes referred to as bodyweight exercise, bodyweight fitness or street workout. These are all synonymous with Calisthenics. The key to Calisthenics is that you use the weight of your own body to exercise with, as opposed to using weights like dumbbells or relatively weightless sports like ball sports. This makes the entry bar into Calisthenics very low. If you have a body that you can move, you have weight; that means you can start Calisthenics right away. Calisthenics for beginners is mostly that; simple exercises in simple routines using nothing but the weight of your body.
If you have a body that you can move, you have weight; that means you can start Calisthenics right away.
Calisthenics is part fitness, part lifestyle. Unlike bodybuilding, Calisthenics won’t come to dominate every single minute of your day pursuing some specific beauty ideal. Unlike regular old fitness though, Calisthenics is a continues mindset you adopt through your daily life. You can read a lot about the subject matter in Calisthenics books, and this will greatly increase your understanding and appreciation of Calisthenics. When a person knows why they’re suffering, how they’re suffering and when it will end, they often show incredible resolve to see it through. When you’re not even sure why it is that you’re going through the pain and fatigue, you’ll be more likely to give up.
You should see Calisthenics more like a continuous process that you go through. Starting that Calisthenics process doesn’t have to be hard and won’t cost you a single cent.
But of course, it can’t stay with just the theory.
Where Did Calisthenics Come From?
Calisthenics is not a hype and will not fade away. Calisthenics is older than you might think. Before modern-day gyms, people relied on what they had: their own bodies. Some of the earliest known instances of Calisthenics date back to around 400 B.C., when Greek soldiers would build body strength with Calisthenics exercises.
The word Calisthenics is derived from the Greek words Kalos (beautiful) and Sthenos (strength, both physical and mental). Together Calisthenics exemplifies the ancient Greek ideal of beauty, strength, determination and courage. It describes Calisthenics as the art of building your physique by mastering your body and your mind through physical exercise.
Is Calisthenics for You?
Calisthenics is not for everyone. If your main goal is to grow bigger muscles, then other modes of training are more efficient. However, if you seek to gain new skills, endurance and mental and muscle strength then Calisthenics is definitely beneficial to your goals.
Our form of exercise motivates many people because your progress is visible and noticeable quickly. And the best thing is that it never stops. It is a continues process, after all. Calisthenics offers a degree of freedom to exercise rarely present in other forms of exercise. It is great for people with little time and a busy schedule. It is also very affordable and it requires practically zero upfront cost to start Calisthenics. Equipment is optional and most of what you eventually do need can be acquired inexpensively or even for free.
The 4 Things You Need to Start Calisthenics for Beginners
In essence you need 4 things to start Calisthenics today. We’ve taken a look at the bare minimum required, the fundamentals for Calisthenics with beginners in mind. These are:
- A prepared and ready mindset
- A Calisthenics program fit for beginners
- An understanding of a Calisthenics diet
- Think of what Calisthenics equipment you might want sooner or later
We’ll go over each of these topics in some detail, as well as referring you to more in-depth articles that cover this subject way deeper. You’ll soon realize that there is a version of Calisthenics, or rather an entry-point into Calisthenics for just about anyone and on any budget. We’ll also try to dispel some Calisthenics myths that remains pervasive. After that, we’ll also discuss some ways and locations where you can practice your Calisthenics like at home, in the gym or outside.
Starting Calisthenics with the Right Mindset
Calisthenics for beginners is all about taking that first step. It may look like a deep plunge but really, it isn’t. Calisthenics has a very, very broad spectrum. On the one end, it looks a lot like Yoga where you work on shedding weight and becoming mobile. At the other end, Calisthenics leans towards bodybuilding, where mighty physiques are chiseled from flesh and sinew.
Your mindset should be one of incremental gains without worrying too much about micro or macro goals. To help illustrate our point, we want to juxtapose our envisioned mindset to its opposite: a weight loss diet coupled with a fitness plan.
When you’re on a weight loss diet and you do exercises to burn fat, you do so with a goal in mind. You’re very goal oriented at that point. You need to reduce your caloric intake below your caloric expenditure. The net loss will inevitably result in weight loss. You achieve this by eating less than you used too and burning more than you used too. This can be very effective, short term and if successful. The problem with this mindset is twofold:
- You’re now measuring your success if or how well you achieve those goals
- What happens when you’ve achieved your goals?
Say you’re not successful in your goal-oriented approach. Now the whole justification for going through all that, let’s be honest, suffering, is gone. Most likely you’ll even feel disheartened to try something similar. Morale is a huge part of the proper mindset, so having it be contingent on meeting specific goals through specific actions is always going to be a hit or miss affair.
What if you’re successful in meeting your goals? You’ve shed 100lbs of weight and feel nimble again. Going through with that diet and that exercise routine is now pointless, hazardous even perhaps. There is no reason of continuing with what you were doing. At this point, many people who lost weight fall back into their previous patterns and gain weight again. Some don’t, but many do.
The root problem for both cases is that you are pursuing a goal and not a process. The right Calisthenics mindset is that you adopt the process as your lifestyle, that you change your patterns. That means it has to be sustainable forever and, very importantly, enjoyable forever. If you have to lose bodyfat, you can do so through Calisthenics very effectively. But the right mindset to start Calisthenics is one of sustainable improvement of both the mental and the physical aspects of your being.
Calisthenics Programs Fit for Beginners
With your resolve set right and all other obstacles that might linger between the ears set aside, it is time to actually start Calisthenics. The physical requirements for Calisthenics for beginners aren’t that high. If you can move yourself and have faculty over all your limbs, you can start with Calisthenics immediately. What you do need, is a program and the proper instruction on various exercise techniques. This is where calisthenics programs come in. Professional programs ease you into Calisthenics. There are plenty of options for beginners to start with Calisthenics too.
If you have no clue where or how to start with Calisthenics, we suggest trying some easy Calisthenics moves first. It comes with free, complete, simple workout routines that almost anyone can start. If you do have a clue, your options are quite broad.
To help you make a decision, we’ve selected the best program in 3 categories. These reflect the spectrum of Calisthenics, from mobility programs on the one end to bodybuilding at the other very well. Your choice here depends on your current developmental level and what you want from your Calisthenics experience. We’ll go over each category briefly, as well as provide links to more in-depth articles.
A general Calisthenics program will take you from a beginner level and bring you up to an advanced level. The right programs in this category are accessible to almost anyone and can be followed to a very, very high degree of development. It combines some mobility exercises to enable you to exercise your muscles more efficiently. Techniques from these programs focus on growing muscles while retaining a mobile, dynamic body build. Most Calisthenics practitioners follow a program in this category and they range from absolute Calisthenics beginners to experts in their field. The most attractive aspect of many Calisthenics programs is that they take you from being that absolute Calisthenics beginner, to becoming that expert over time.
- Best in class for general Calisthenics
- Very easy to get in to
- Progresses to a very high degree of fitness
- Full Complete Calisthenics Course review
Read more about Calisthenics Programs in general, and about other programs in this category.
Mobility exercise focusses on supple movement and increasing your nimbleness and range of motion. Mobility programs focus on both static holds as well as dynamic movements. The ultimate goal of Mobility exercise is to perform mobility “flows”. These are smooth transitions from one static hold to another. Mobility exercise has a lot in common with general fitness but also yoga. If you want to become lean, nimble and supple, following a Mobility Program is the right choice for you.
- Best in class for mobility
- Easy to get in to
- Suitable for beginners
- Progresses to a supreme level of agility
- Full Cali Move Mobility Program review
Read more about Mobility Programs in general, and other mobility programs.
If you’re in it for strength, power and esthetics aside from general fitness, then a muscle building program is the right choice for you. Most programs in this category require you to be at a at least somewhat fit level already. They are very much for the intermediate Calisthenics practitioner who wants to get the most out of their body, or for people who are already very fit by doing other sports and want to gain strength without sacrificing mobility (e.g., not doing bodybuilding).
There are a few muscle building programs, of which we believe the Body Transformation program by Calisthenics Movement to be most beginner friendly.
- Easy for relative newcomers
- Great progression
- Very effective at building strength while retaining speed and agility
- Full Body Transformation Review
Nutrition in Calisthenics for Beginners
When you start Calisthenics, you’ll soon find out that you’re hungry all the time. Calisthenics is a very effective method to convert nutrients into muscle mass and soon your body will be craving for it. Increasing protein is always a hurdle for many, but there are ways to do this. For instance, many types of cheese and beans are rich in protein. Likewise, boosting testosterone is a desired thing for many, although simply doing Calisthenics can boost testosterone in and of itself.
More importantly is that you change your nutritional intake pattern. By the way, do you see the pattern here? Calisthenics is a mindset after all! Clean eating and healthy eating are very important, and you can’t out-train a poor diet. A Calisthenics Diet is less about following a diet plan and more about changing your culinary lifestyle for the better. Luckily it doesn’t have to be bland. On the contrary. We have found that a Calisthenics diet is more often than not MORE diverse than a typical Western diet, since you substitute an overabundance of carbs and saturated fats with other nutrients. The result is a more diverse, tastier and healthier diet.
In our article on Calisthenics Diet and why diet plans are less important than you might think, we tell you everything you need to know. This includes free examples of foods you should eat more of, foods you should eat less of and a tasty recipe.
Equipment You Need to Start Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is bodyweight exercise, so the main component of the workout is your own bodyweight. Calisthenics for beginners is easy, since you need no equipment at all to start Calisthenics. Only the knowledge of a few proper techniques, brought together into an exercise routine is what you need for now. Wear something light and bring a towel, for the rest all you need is the room to exercise. That’s it! For a whopping 0 dollars you can start Calisthenics today.
There is 1 caveat to this. Sooner or later, you’ll be doing Pull-Ups. You’ll need something to pull yourself up on. This is where the Pull-Up Bar makes its lofty entry. That will be an investment, sure, but to start Calisthenics you don’t need to worry about that.
You can make your Calisthenics experience easier by investing in a couple of quality-of-life items. Add what you need, when you need it.
- Pull-Up Bars
- Resistance bands
- Push-Up Bars
- Dip Bars
- Gymnastic Rings
- (Liquid) Chalk
- Wrist Wraps
- Elbow sleeves
- Calisthenics Shoes
- Calisthenics Gloves
- Skipping rope
There are many quality items for sale that don’t cost an arm and a leg either. Unlike in fitness and bodybuilding (both completely overtaken by mainstream advertisers), most Calisthenics retailers come from the grassroots Calisthenics community. They make their products out of passion as much so as for making money. This is why you can find high quality equipment for Calisthenics, priced comparatively cheap. It a major reason why Calisthenics is popular for beginners.
How to Start Calisthenics at Home?
You could go to a gym to start Calisthenics. Many Calisthenics beginners though are hesitant to go out in public, especially when you’re self-conscious about your body. We’d like to start by saying that there is absolutely no reason to be ashamed of yourself when you start Calisthenics, regardless of your body type. On the contrary, you ought to feel proud that you made this step. However, many factors play into this and having a Calisthenics Home Gym at your disposal has many benefits.
One advantage is psychological. You don’t have to deal with public eyes and you have your place of exercise very close by and accessible. But another is cost. A gym subscription is a recurring cost, while you only pay for Calisthenics equipment once. Once your gym is operational, you will most likely save money in the long run. A home gym doesn’t even have to be that expensive and we have options for all budgets in our article on Calisthenics Home Gym Equipment.
As summary, the most important equipment for Calisthenics beginners on a budget is;
Start Calisthenics at a Calisthenics Park
A completely free alternative to either the gym or buying your own equipment, is to start Calisthenics at a specifically designed Calisthenics Park. These parks are popping up all over the Western world. You can find all the equipment you need to start Calisthenics right away, without paying a single cent. That is a huge gamechanger for many people on very tight budgets. Of course, you can’t expect high-end equipment there since more focus is laid on producing something that is durable and able to withstand the elements. But generally, any Calisthenics Park is quite properly equipped for a full workout.
A Calisthenics Park is also a great way to meet other Calisthenics practitioners and discover how friendly our community really is.
The Five Forms of Calisthenics
You’ll be acquiring a lot of new skills over the coming weeks, months and years. The first step in Calisthenics is to get you fit enough and mobile enough to master the basics. Once you’ve reached that point, you’ll be on a trajectory that both becomes easier to stay on but also with an ever-expanding horizon. To give you a brief overview of what Calisthenics looks like from here on, we classify Calisthenics exercises into 5 forms. You as a beginner need not worry about any of the advanced categories now, but since Calisthenics is a continues process it is good to know what the future holds for you.
Basic Calisthenics exercises are regular exercises that any beginner in Calisthenics can do. It is what you start Calisthenics with. These exercises include pull-ups, dips, push-ups, squats, bench dips, rows and several more. We always recommend to start with basic Calisthenics exercises if you are a beginner. You first need to gain regular strength, before you continue with static holds, dynamics or other forms.
Static Holds are some of the best-known Calisthenics exercises. A static hold means keeping your body in a specific position. In a static hold, your muscles are working hard to contract against a force, but the length of the muscle remains the same, which is what keeps you in the position. A well-known static hold is the seated wall squat. And one of the static holds everyone wants to achieve is the human flag. Others static holds are the planche, front and back lever and V-sit.
Statics are popular because they prove real strength relative to your bodyweight. Do not be disappointed if you are not able to do any of these holds as a beginner, it is perfectly fine. Some practitioners take years to master them. It is all about the continues process and progress.
Dynamics are also known as freestyle Calisthenics. These exercises are about using strength, momentum and self-expression to perform tricks around a bar. These include swing-360, pull-overs, swing muscle-ups, shrimp flips, switchblades and many more freestyle combinations. Freestyle Calisthenics is used in Calisthenics competitions all around the world. They are not for everyone though. So do not feel the need to push yourself to do them.
Advanced Bodyweight Exercises
There are many different body weight exercises and they all require strength and skill to achieve. Advanced Bodyweight Exercises show absolute mastery over all your muscles, expressed in functional strength. A popular goal to achieve is the muscle-up. Others are one-arm pull-ups, dragon flags and pistol squats. Getting the hang of each of these exercises gives great satisfaction as it shows that you are nearing your genetic peak when it comes to strength, agility and endurance.
Performing a correct handstand is a great achievement. It requires a high level of control over your own bodyweight and balance. Handstands simultaneously improve your balance, posture and shoulder strength as well as being a testament to that balance and strength you have achieved. From the point of being able to perform handstands, things can be progressed into handstand walking and handstand push-ups.
5 Useful Tips for Calisthenics Beginners
If you’re set to start Calisthenics, we have a few additional tips for you. They will help you make the best of your time investment. All beginning is hard but a good beginning is half the work. Calisthenics for beginners is best served with a focus on developing good habits that will carry you into the future.
1. Perfect Practice Makes Perfect Bodies
As with anything worth pursuing, technique is essential. Five perfect pull-ups are better than ten half-assed ones. Make sure your form is perfect. If you learn a new move, your brain is etching that movement into a motoric pathway. You’ve been doing this ever since you were born. By establishing often repeated movements into a motoric pathway, your brain can do them much more efficiently and doesn’t require much active thought (e.g., concentration) from the conscious part of your brains.
However, once the motor pathway has been established, it’s also very hard to change. If you do a push-up and you make some kind of mistake repeatedly in your technique, that mistake will become part of your motoric pathway too. That is why they say: it’s harder to unlearn a mistake.
Using Resistance Bands can aid you in your training. When you use a Resistance Band correctly, it can help you use the correct muscles and correct posture as well. For beginner Calisthenics, we advise using mild-strength Resistance bands to help spot and correct mistakes. They work by making it obvious when you’re making a mistake or virtually impossible to complete a technique if you do it incorrectly.
Don’t be one of the many, many examples we all too frequently encounter; a well-meaning, high-spirited Calisthenics beginner who has unfortunately engraved improper technique into their motor movements.
2. Focus on Full Body Workouts
For a Calisthenics beginner, a full body is the way to go. This means your routine contains at least Pull-Ups, Push-Ups, Squats and Ab techniques. This ensures an even, gradual development of the whole body and helps mitigate lopsided development (never skip leg day). You also need to understand what you are doing and, which training programs are the best fit for you in order to progress in your Calisthenics journey.
A full body program is a great way to start Calisthenics, but that also means you are exposed to multiple new techniques and therefor the risk potential of injury and ingraining mistakes into your motor functions. Choose a full body workout that is fit for Calisthenics beginners.
3. Find Your Base Level
Maybe you can do 20 Push-Ups, maybe just 10 or maybe only 5 or even less. It doesn’t really matter where you start Calisthenics as long as you do start. Most Calisthenics programs for beginners will bring you up to what you could consider average for the untrained in only a couple of weeks. If you were already capable of some repetitions, then great. But don’t focus on as many repetitions as you possible can.
Perfect form is more important. Establish your base level for Push-Ups, Pull-Ups (even if this means 0) and Squats and go from there. You’d be surprised how few repetitions even very buff guys actually do of each exercise. They all compound of course into a lot of movements each workout, but more often than not a Calisthenics beginner is not that far behind at all.
It’s all about persistence and building up that base level. If you started with 3 Push-Ups, 1 Pull-Up and 5 Squats, you might feel and factually look like you’re nothing compared to muscular veterans. But they might only be doing 20 Push-Ups, 10 Pull-Ups and 20 Squats in their typical workout. That’s not a super hard number to reach as long as you do it properly; working up to it gradually while maintaining perfect form. The muscles will grow themselves following that.
4. Focus on Nutrition?
Diet is important but don’t get caught up in the notion that you need to be eating clean 24/7. That’s lame and probably unstainable. It’s also unlikely you can sustain a “perfect” nutritional pattern with the food stuffs available for you to even buy, what you can afford and how it would impact the rest of your life. Instead, eat with common sense. Be sure to eat your necessary carbs and vitamins before a workout, and then eat a good source of protein after.
There is no need to drown yourself in meal prepping, shakes and supplements. More likely than not, this will just cause you to go into sugar and fat withdrawal and have you craving for things that are literally everywhere around us and cheap to acquire. Instead, focus on cutting sugar and saturated fat from your diet to a degree and replacing it with healthier options.
If you start Calisthenics because you want to lose weight, you’re doing it wrong. Calisthenics will instead replace that fat with muscle, which is denser and heavier. Your total bodyweight might not fall that dramatically, but your bodyfat percentage will change for the better. This is, of course, the intended result; a lean and muscular body.
Also be sure to enjoy the occasional pizza or burger. Once your metabolism is in Calisthenics-mode, anything and everything you consume will be readily added to the muscles and sinews of your body.
5. Calisthenics Can Be Done Every day!
Calisthenics is healthy. It can be done almost every day. Why? Because you are using your own bodyweight. Your body can adapt and learn to become stronger by growing and learning how to tear and rebuild muscles. It’s your own weight and your body has natural safeguards to prevent catastrophic injury from overloading. This is different from using free weights, like with weightlifting. Even a low amount of free weight that you lift improperly or too frequently can wear on your body. If you’re using your naturally growing bodyweight from muscle mass however, not so much.
Don’t be afraid to start Calisthenics every day, working on different areas of your body on a day-to-day basis.
Common Sense Advice for Calisthenics Beginners
Or rather, things where we often see Calisthenics Beginners make mistakes and other generally good practices which can make your exercises more effective, more fun and more sustainable.
- Warm-Up properly: it is important to warm up to increase blood flow and activate your muscles. It will prepare your body and mind and prevent injury.
- Record yourself: use your phone to record yourself and analyze your technique. This is especially helpful if you are performing Calisthenics from home. Analyzing yourself will help achieve that perfect form quickly.
- Train together: training together helps keep motivation up, plus you can learn a thing or two from someone else. If you have a nearby Calisthenics Park, you’ll usually find very passionate and motivated practitioners. Get to know them. Ask for help. And train together. To find parks, check out calisthenics-parks.com.
- Take time to recover: Calisthenics is not a race. Recovery from training is vital, so get enough sleep, time, water and proper food between sessions.
Conclusions About Calisthenics for Beginners
Calisthenics for beginners is like a tall shadow cast by a seemingly insurmountable mountain in the distance. Once you gathered the courage to confront that mountain and step near to it, it turns out that it was just a low hanging sun that stretched this shadow out. The actual mountain is more like rolling hill. If you start Calisthenics, you’ll find out that the entry point is very low. Anyone can start, even if think you are too heavy for calisthenics. The workouts are all basically the same, with variations in techniques to activate different muscles as you get more and more advanced. You know this because you did a cursory investigation of the subject of Calisthenics already.
For beginners to start Calisthenics only four things are chiefly important;
1: The Right Mindset
You go into it with the right mindset. Calisthenics for beginners is really about setting a baseline of what you can do, rather than where you wish to be in the future. You must change your patterns and adopt a healthy, active lifestyle through Calisthenics where gradual improvement of both mind and body is the objective. To lend a spiritual quote; the point of the path is not to reach the destiny, rather the path is the destiny.
2: The Proper Calisthenics Program for Beginners
You need a good Calisthenics program for beginners, where you can enter at whatever fitness level you are. This program needs to explain all techniques properly and give you a reasonable and realistic workout program that you can follow. There are many such programs available online. We find that the Complete Calisthenics Program by Cali Move is by some margin the best option for most Calisthenics practitioners, including Calisthenics beginners.
3: Thinking About and Not Thinking About Equipment
Equipment beyond the bare essentials like a t-shirt and the room the exercise shouldn’t be a main concern for Calisthenics beginners. Rather, you should work on getting your basic techniques down to a T. Calisthenics equipment like a Pull-Up Bar can be acquired for affordable prices a little later down your Calisthenics journey.
4: Build Nutrition Habits, Not Diet Plans
Likewise, nutrition in Calisthenics is a path with its destination being the contentment of following that path itself. A clean diet which provides you with all the macro and micro nutrients you need, with the occasional indulgence in what we all like is that path. Once you’re on it, you will find that the experience of living in a healthy, content-feeling body is a reward in and of itself.
Welcome to the Calisthenics community.
Jari Dohmen has a B.A. in physiotherapy and has been involved with Calisthenics since 2013. Around the time Calisthenics began to proliferate in the Netherlands, he was already keenly interested in both the physiotherapeutic and general lifestyle benefits Calisthenics possesses. Jari started Calisthenics Worldwide (CWW) in 2016, after numerous internet searches for Calisthenics topics that sparked his interest yielded barely any information. Today, CWW is one of the largest and most widely recognized Calisthenics blogs in the world. Become part of the Calisthenics community by commenting on this article.