If you are familiar with fitness you have probably heard of calisthenics. It is a popular form of exercise for many people and it has many benefits. But what exactly is calisthenics? How can it benefit you? How do you start it? What do you need? Look no further. This is your ultimate guide to calisthenics. We will tell you everything you need to know to get started.
To make things easy for you, we divided this article into different topics. You can just click on the subject you want to jump to immediately, especially if you are familiar with calisthenics already. But we encourage you to read the entire article the get the most out of it. Be sure to bookmark this page so you can come back to it any time you want to.
What is Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a form of exercise that is all about using your own body weight. It involves little to no equipment but instead relies on your body and motor skills. Pull-ups, push-ups, lunges, squats, dips and planks are all examples of calisthenics exercises that you are probably already familiar with. Body weight exercises are great for building functional strength, muscle endurance and learning new skills. And it has many mental benefits too.
Is Calisthenics for You?
Calisthenics is not for everyone. If your main goal is to grow bigger muscles then calisthenics is not always the best way to go. Other forms of training are better for that. But if you want to gain new skills, endurance and mental and muscle strength then calisthenics can be of great benefit to you. This form of exercise really motivates a lot of people because progress is visible and noticeable quickly. And it never stops. Calisthenics offers the freedom to exercise whenever you want. So, it is great for people with little time and a busy schedule. It is also very affordable since you can work out at home or in your garden or local park.
What are the Benefits?
How will calisthenics help you? There are at least 4 great benefits.
Increased body strength and endurance
Using you own body weight to exercise specific muscle groups makes the muscles stronger and better able to support your body in return. It is basically a resistance training. The stronger your muscles get, the longer you will be able to hold certain positions and the more reps and sets you will perform. This builds endurance, allowing you to further your calisthenics training each time.
Improved balance and coordination
Calisthenics teaches the body to be more balanced and better coordinated. Even your posture improves in the process. It is a form of gymnastics that needs you to balance to support various postures.
Improved mental health
Calisthenics does not just benefit your body but your mind as well. When you become aware of what your body can do, it leads to an enlightening and confidence-boosting awareness. A good calisthenics workout causes the body to release endorphins that fight the effects of stress. It uplifts your mood and even fights symptoms of depression.
All you need is your body and a place for you to exercise. And that is all. It is a very affordable way to get your body fit without breaking the bank. That is why we do not sell unnecessarily expensive equipment but only items that are really useful.
What Equipment Do You Need?
Even though calisthenics is all about body weight, several items of equipment can be very useful. Many calisthenics parks have these available, so you may not need to buy any. But if you want to work out at home or in your garden we recommend the following items:
- Pull Up Bar
- Resistance Bands
- Wrist Weights
- Skipping rope
- Weighted Vests
- Gymnastic Rings
- Chalk (liquid)
- Handgrip protection gloves
A pull-up bar and resistance bands are essential for beginners. Push-ups and other pushing exercises can easily be done without equipment. But for pulling exercises you really need a pull-up bar. Resistance bands are vital because they too will help you get started immediately. All other items are not needed to start with.
Advice for Beginners
Here are some general beginner’s tips for everyone:
Just like with any other form of training, it is important to warm up to to increase blood flow and activate your muscles. It will prepare your body and mind and prevent injury.
Use your phone to record yourself and analyse your technique
Buy a tripod or firmly position you phone somewhere to record yourself. Checking your technique each time will really help you improve quickly.
Proper technique is essential
Calisthenics is not a competition but all about technique. So your goal is to get the proper form. Once you become more advanced, you can also set goals for a fixed number of reps and sets.
Train with others
If there is a calisthenics park nearby, it will be easy to find others to train with. Calisthenics athletes are usually very passionate and motivated. Get to know them. Ask for help. And train together. If you want to find out if there is a calisthenics park near you, please check out the map of Calisthenics-Parks.com.
Take time to recover
Recovery after training is vital. Get enough sleep, water and proper food. These are essential for you mind and body. Check out our Recovery and Nutrition pages regularly to get the latest evidence-based information and help. We created a Clean Eating Guide for you too.
Your Personal Workout Plan
Calisthenics is about growth. A workout plan that allows you to progress is very important. If you know others in the calisthenics community be sure to ask their advice and help. Also, feel free to contact our coaches here. We will help you get started with calisthenics.
A training schedule should be based on your goals, availability, experience and recovery needs. There is no “one size fits all”. You need a personal training schedule that really fits your needs and circumstances. You can find five training schedules here. See which one fits you best.
Tracking your progress is a sure way to grow. So make sure to record your exercises, as mentioned earlier. It is not about comparing yourself to others. You are only in competition with yourself. If you feel that you have reached a certain level, mix up or add exercises and continue from there. Stretching and improving flexibility should be part of your workout plan too. Be sure to incorporate this.
Nutrition in Calisthenics
Eating well and getting the right kind of nutrition is important in any sports. There is no fixed diet for calisthenics. But food plays a really important role in building muscle and losing fat. Losing fat is even more practical in calisthenics since you use your own body weight to exercise.
To help you achieve your goals, we have created a Clean Eating Program. The basic principle of clean eating is to eat whole, fresh and unprocessed foods as much as is possible. We are talking about natural food as it occurs in nature, food that has not gone through extensive processing. The right kind of food will help you in two ways: (1) it gives you the energy for your training and (2) provides the nutrients for your recovery.
Both the quality of your nutrition as well as when you eat are essential. The timing of nutrition, especially around your training, is important to maximize your results. But there is evidence that nutrient timing results in greater strength and body composition improvements: a gain in lean mass and a decrease in body fat percentage. If you want to know more straight away, you can read all about nutrient timing right here.
As mentioned before, calisthenics is all about growth. It is a great field to achieve real and noticeable progress in. There are different kinds of exercises to choose from when you start with calisthenics. They all teach you different skills, which is one of the great benefits.
Basic calisthenics exercises are regular exercises that any beginner in calisthenics can do. It is actually what you start 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 power moves.
Static holds 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 in the beginning. Some take years to master them. That is totally fine though. It is all about progress and you will get there step by step, just like everyone else.
Dynamic 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.
In the case of dynamics, it is essential to have a thorough warm-up before you start training. 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. They all require strength and skill to achieve. And having them as a goal can really motivate you. The most popular goal to set is the muscle-up. Others are one-arm pull-ups, dragon flags and pistol squats. The body weight exercises you need to learn to achieve these goals are great to start with if you are new to calisthenics. Getting the hang of each of these exercises gives great satisfaction. It can be addictive – in a good way – to learn and perform new exercises for the first time feels. Most people find it more rewarding than anything they achieve in the gym.
Performing a correct handstand is a great goal to achieve. It requires a high level of control over your own body weight. Handstands are a key exercise in calisthenics. They improve your balance, posture and shoulder strength. The handstand could be a great main workout goal for you.
As mentioned before, there is no one-size-fits-all program in calisthenics. You can choose the workout plan and exercises that suit you best. Be sure to set personal goals though. That is the key to learning new skills and getting the rewards that calisthenics provides.
The Key to Growth in Calisthenics
Growth is important and setting goals is essential to grow. But be patient to stay motivated. Growth will come but may come slower than you hoped for. Many exercises are hard but focussing on the correct technique is the fastest way to master them.
In the gym, no one starts bench pressing with 100kg. You start with a low weight and slowly increase it. The same principle applies in weighted calisthenics. This is where resistance bands will help you. You can also use a weighted vest and wrist weights to increase resistance.
Setting yourself progressive goals to achieve a bigger goal is the key to growing and staying motivated in calisthenics.
Where Did Calisthenics Come From?
Calisthenics is not a hype and will not fade away. Calisthenics is older than you may 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.
It was not just practiced in Greece though. Shaolin monks in China back in 500 B.C. used the principle to strengthen their bodies, allowing them to ward off intruders if all peaceful resolutions failed. Calisthenics is, in fact, one of the oldest known types of training.
What It Means
The word ‘calisthenics’ is actually derived from the Greek words ‘kalos’ and ‘sthenos’. ‘Kalos’ means ‘beautiful’ and refers to the pleasing aesthetic nature of the human body. ‘Sthenos’ translates to ‘strength’ and refers to mental courage, strength and determination. Together, these two words describe calisthenics as the art of building your physique by mastering your own bodyweight.
So, by starting your calisthenics journey you become part of a league of extraordinary athletes and are entering an ancient and proven form of exercise that will positively change your life.