There are many different calisthenics workout plans out there. So much so, that there is almost too much choice. This can make it hard for people to decide on the plan that they would like to follow.
In this article, we will be giving you a few of our favourite calisthenics workout plans, as well as everything you need to know to achieve the results you want from any program you choose.
In addition, we will also have different programs for different people’s abilities, whether that be beginner, novice, or expert.
This article is much more than just a list of programs, we will touch on several different topics such as the optimal rest times between sets, nutrition, set and rep ranges, and much more.
So, whether you are a complete beginner to calisthenics or a long-time practitioner of calisthenics who is looking to optimise their training, this article will be a perfect fit for you.
Table of Contents
The Difference Between a Workout and a Program
To begin, it’s worth stating what the difference between a workout and a program is.
A program consists of many workouts over a period of time, with a specific goal in mind. This means that when people are searching for a workout, what they would truly benefit from, is a program.
A program is what will get you the results you are looking for. Consistency is key. In addition, a program offers a way for you to continually track and monitor your progress over a certain period of time (which is crucial to see if you are improving).
Without a program, the results you get from just doing one workout, or a few workouts that are unstructured without a goal in mind will be extremely underwhelming.
It takes a while for the body to grow muscle and become stronger, and unfortunately, you aren’t going to get very far from just doing a few workouts here and there.
Calisthenics Workout Plan for Beginners
For someone completely new to calisthenics the best option would be to go for a simple workout routine that has a lot of guidance.
This is because as a beginner, it’s of the utmost importance to learn how to perform exercises correctly. If you pick up bad habits at this early stage, it can be a lot more difficult to ween them out later.
Because of the reasons above, we believe the best calisthenics workout plan for beginners would be the Complete Calisthenics plan by Cali Move.
Cali Move is led by experienced professionals that have had over 25 years of expertise in teaching calisthenics.
You can find more about the Cali Move workout plan, as well as 9 other workout plans that you can check out here: Best Calisthenics Programs And Apps
As a beginner, you will likely have next to no information about rest times, rest days, and nutrition, which the instructors will be able to amend.
In addition to this, they will be able to call out bad form (we talk about form more in-depth later in this article if you are unsure what it is) as soon as issues arise, which will save you a lot of problems in the future.
The only potential downside to this program is that it isn’t free. Although, having guidance during the most crucial part of your calisthenics journey is more than worth the money.
Although, if you do not want to pay for a program, don’t worry. We have you covered too.
When some beginners think of calisthenics, they tend to get confused by the exercises they will be performing because it is quite easy to get calisthenics and aerobics mixed up when you haven’t done either.
Aerobics and calisthenics generally don’t use any weight for resistance, and it can be confusing; however, aerobics mainly deals with improving your cardiovascular system by increasing your heart rate. Aerobics will get you fitter, but it won’t make you stronger.
Calisthenics, on the other hand, uses your own body weight and gravity as resistance to make you stronger and faster. Calisthenics is the mastering of your body to create a functional yet strong body.
Common exercises performed in calisthenics workouts include:
With the mentioned exercises above, there are also many variations of the exercises you can do to progress in your training and also change your workouts to keep it interesting. A squat for example can be switched up for pistol squats or squat jumps.
As a beginner, you should look to get an overall base in your training and learn the fundamental exercises which will allow you to advance in your training while getting stronger. Once you can do all the fundamentals, you can then learn new exercises to keep it interesting and challenging.
So, now that we know what calisthenics is and some of the basic exercises, let’s dive into a workout for beginners.
My advice for someone who is looking to learn calisthenics is to start with a full-body workout routine that’s full of compound movements, and as you get more advanced you can then look to switch your training sessions up to including more isolation work.
It would look something like this:
Reps: 8-15 (When you hit 15, add more resistance)
- Pike Push-ups
The above workout routine can be done three times per week, ideally with a day of rest in between. You could do something along the lines of:
- Monday: Workout
- Tuesday: Rest
- Wednesday: Workout
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Workout
- Saturday: Rest
- Sunday: Rest
In addition to this, we would recommend that you read the bottom half of this article. We will discuss things that are super useful to know if you are a beginner. We will have sections on nutrition, rest times, rep ranges, rest days, and more. All of this information will give you a great advantage if you are a beginner, and it will allow you to progress much quicker.
Calisthenics Workout Plan for Novices
If you are a novice or intermediate practitioner of calisthenics, then it is quite likely that you already have a reasonable amount of knowledge about calisthenics and fitness. Although, you may still not be confident enough to begin making your own plan.
For people who have been training calisthenics for a few months, if you know all the basics of calisthenics, then we would recommend you follow a free workout plan.
With a free workout plan, there will no assistance or guidance. You’ll simply follow a plan that has been made. Of course, for this to work you need to know what the exercises in the plan are and how to perform them, which you likely will if you have been training calisthenics for a while.
We would recommend either the Caliverse or Reddit routine for novice calisthenics practitioners, which you can find more about here: Free Calisthenics Workout Programs. Although, any workout plan from this list would suffice.
However, there are other factors novices need to consider; what kind of training would you like to pursue? Calisthenics is more than just squats, dips, and pull-ups.
There is a whole community of calisthenics athletes who are dedicated to something called “freestyle calisthenics”. In short, freestyle calisthenics is a type of training that involves performing stunts or routines on bars while using flow.
This type of training is appealing to many people because it looks very impressive and it involves performing crazy feats of strength that will make onlookers question if they are even the same species as the people performing them.
You can find a more in-depth explanation about freestyle calisthenics here: An Introduction To Freestyle Calisthenics And Isometric Holds.
Calisthenics Workout Plan for Experts
If you are an advanced calisthenics athlete, then it is more than plausible that you have an entire library of knowledge about calisthenics in your head.
Because of this reason, you will be better off making your own plan that is custom-made and tailored to your own goals. By this point, you’ll already know what areas of calisthenics you want to focus on, what exercises you like, and how to manage all the factors optimally to build muscle.
Check out this page for several helpful resources that will help you make your very own plan; Calisthenics Progressions and Skills: Downloadable Resources.
You may also want to tailor a workout based on a split (which means exercising individual body parts on different days, but you probably already know that!).
To help make your own body split workout check out any of these posts:
- Calisthenics Workout For Bigger Biceps and Triceps
- 10 Bodyweight Exercises For Bigger Biceps
- The 7 Best Bodyweight Hamstring Exercises To Strengthen Your Legs
- Building Bigger Forearms Using Bodyweight Exercises
- Top 5 Bodyweight CrossFit Workouts
When you have been training calisthenics for this long, it may be more efficient to do a body split type workout. This will ensure that any muscles that have not been utilised from compound movements also get worked out.
That’s not to say that compound movements are bad in any way, shape, or form. Compound exercises are great and they should still be utilised when possible, even in body spilt programs.
How Much Rest Is Needed Between Sets?
The amount of rest needed between sets to optimise muscle and strength gains has been debated for years.
However, recently, science has given us some pretty promising studies that finally put this debate to rest and gives us an answer.
These are the different recommend rest times between sets depending on the goal;
- 3 minutes for muscle growth.
- 5+ minutes for strength training.
- 1 minute or less for endurance training.
The rest time in-between sets vary depending on the goal because the amount of time you rest affects your body in different ways.
When you rest for 3 minutes in-between a set it allows your muscles to recover partially, but not completely. This is perfect as it will allow you to continue exercising while also producing enough damage for protein synthesis to occur.
In contrast, 5 minutes or more of rest time would allow your muscles to recover too much, and 1 minute or less would allow them to recover too little.
For a more in-depth and detailed explanation of rest times in-between sets, check out our post that is dedicated to exactly that; How Long Should You Rest When Training Calisthenics? | Calisthenics 101 (calisthenics-101.co.uk).
How Much Rest Is Needed Between Workouts?
Getting enough rest is a crucial component when training calisthenics. If you don’t get an optimal amount of rest between workouts it can have many negative effects.
Here are just a few of the negative effects of not getting enough rest:
- Slower progress
- Increased chance of injury
- Feeling tired all the time
- Aches and pains
As you can see, rest is not something to be overlooked. Many times, rest is the most important factor when it comes to how quickly you can build muscle and make progress.
This is because muscle is not made when you are working out. In fact, it is torn apart. Rest is required to fix these tears and also to make muscles grow. So, no rest means no growth or repair.
For optimal muscle and strength, 48 hours is the recommended time for how long you should rest in between workouts that work the same body part.
This is because 48 hours is enough time for your body to repair and grow muscles that have been damaged during working out.
Of course, there are always exceptions. If you feel like you have still not recovered 2 days after a particularly strenuous workout then it may be better to give it another few days to reduce the chance of injuries occurring.
However, most of the time 48 hours is enough time to recover.
The Importance of Good Form
Having good form is crucial when it comes to working out.
Good form can reduce the frequency of injuries, build more muscle, and make progress much quicker.
The term “form” refers to how correctly an exercise is being performed.
People have bad form when performing exercises for a few different reasons. For one, they may have not been taught how to perform an exercise correctly. Although, the most common reason that people have bad form is that bad form can allow you to do more reps or lift more weight when performing an exercise, even when people can’t do so.
Using bad form to lift more weight is cheating yourself. You slow your progress and increase the chance of injury tenfold.
As with any exercise, having the correct form is vital to being able to do calisthenics long term. Having the correct form is difficult for a beginner, so I highly recommend checking out our techniques section.
Other than avoiding injury, having the correct form is very important for making the most out of your workouts. A study carried out by the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed that participants carrying out a full squat in a 12-week program gained over 1.2kg of muscle while the test group doing partial squats didn’t gain any muscle at all.
Doing your workouts with the correct form will speed up your progression and keep you safer from injury.
How To Eat To Build Muscle
To build muscle, there are only two components you need to worry about when it comes to nutrition. Those are; being in a caloric surplus and consuming a lot of protein.
There is so much misinformation out there about how to eat to build muscle. It is not uncommon to find people giving terrible advice. Some of the most common things people believe that are not true are;
- You need to eat an insane amount of food to build muscle.
- You have to eat a strict diet of chicken and broccoli.
- You have to get fat.
- If you don’t see results quickly, then you aren’t eating enough.
All of the things mentioned above are untrue.
Building muscle requires both surplus calories (which means more calories than your maintenance) and eating a lot of protein, to repair and grow muscles that are damaged from working out.
The best way to build muscle is to only go 250-500 calories over your maintenance. This way, almost all the extra calories will be used to build muscle instead of turning into fat.
In addition, you do not have to only eat specific foods. In reality, as long as you stay 250-500 calories over your maintenance and eat enough protein, you can eat whatever you want.
However, this explanation is extremely brief and short.
We have an entire post that discusses this topic, which you can find here; Calisthenics Diet: What To Eat To Build Muscle.
How To Eat To Lose Fat
There are many common misconceptions when it comes to losing weight. The truth is, it’s rather simple.
To eat to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than your maintenance calories for a long period of time.
To find your maintenance calories, go to an online calorie calculator and enter your stats. From there you will be given a rough estimate of your daily maintenance calories. All you need to do is eat less than that over a long period and you WILL lose weight.
It’s best to only go in a deficit of 500 to reduce muscle loss when dieting. Anything less than a deficit of 500 will take a while to get you results, and any deficit higher than 500 will make you lose more muscle than necessary and has many other effects such as low mood, constant hunger, binge eating, and many more.
It’s also important to note that eating a lot of protein is crucial to avoid losing muscle mass when eating in a calorie deficit.
All the information above is all you need to know to lose weight.
So, if you are getting into calisthenics in the hopes of losing a few pounds, that’s great! As long as you pair a good calisthenics workout program with the information we have given you in this article, you’ll have no problems losing fat.
Calisthenics can make the process of losing weight so much easier. For one, it will speed up your metabolism and increase your insulin sensitivity, meaning that your body is more likely to burn fat than muscle.
In addition to this, calisthenics will burn an insane number of calories, which means you can eat more while dieting. It’s a win-win!
Just be sure to factor the calories you are burning from calisthenics into consideration when you are dieting. If you are already eating in a calorie deficit of 500 then you must remember to eat enough to replace the calories that were burned while working out to remain at a 500-calorie deficit.
How Many Reps and Sets for Optimal Muscle Growth?
The optimal number of reps and sets per workout is a highly debated topic and there are many different opinions out there.
Although, there is a general consensus in the fitness community that is also backed by scientific evidence.
These are the rep and set ranges for different types of goals;
- 5 sets of 8-12 reps for muscle growth
- 1-12 sets of 1-6 reps for strength
- 5-15 sets of 15+ reps for endurance
Generally, if you stick to these rep ranges then you can’t go wrong.
5 sets of 8-12 reps is the optimal amount of each to produce the maximum amount of hypotrophy because of two reasons; time under tension and total work volume.
However, after finding out that information you will likely be thinking; “why isn’t 15+ reps optimal for muscle growth if time under tension and total work volume are the main contributing factors that stimulate muscle growth?”. Well, that is a good question.
If you can perform more than 12 reps on a set, the weight isn’t heavy enough to cause enough damage to your muscles. It doesn’t matter how many reps you do, it’s simply not enough.
Therefore, 12 reps is the “goldilocks zone” of rep ranges. It’s just heavy enough to cause enough resistance for hypotrophy to occur, but it’s also a good number of reps to get a high workload and time under tension.
How To Progress With Calisthenics
As a beginner, you may see a fast progression. When you get to 15 repetitions of an exercise and can do them consistently with good form for the 4 sets, it’s then time to add more resistance.
One way of adding resistance to your workout is by doing more repetitions, but this can be a problem when you reach a certain level of fitness. I can’t remember the exact time it took me, but in my own training, I got to a point where I stopped counting the number of push-ups I could do, and frankly it got boring at that point. My tip to you would be to avoid this, hitting 100 press-ups may look cool and impress others, but the benefits your body gets from it is negligible, especially when you could be adding resistance more effectively.
In bodybuilding, you would add more weight to build more muscle, in calisthenics, I would recommend adding resistance through leverage and the points of contact you have with the floor. In the example with the push-ups, you could raise your legs onto a chair to make the exercise harder. When you can do this with perfect form, you could replace the chair with an exercise ball. Adding an exercise ball makes the exercise more difficult and also uses more muscles to keep you stable, which results in a stronger core.
More advanced athletes could also purchase a weighted vest to add up to 15 or 20kg to their bodyweight.
Other methods of adding more resistance, such as removing an arm or leg from an exercise are also effective. Just remember to switch the sides up during the exercise, or you could end up having bigger muscles on one side of your body than the other.
One-handed push-ups are much harder to do than two. The same can be said for squats and every other exercise on the list.
Please don’t go too crazy and try something like a one-handed handstand though. We don’t want you falling on your head and injuring yourself!
Now that you have read our article, you will be more than ready to get started on your calisthenics journey.
Feel free to drop a comment to let us know how you are getting on with any of the programs we listed.
Good luck and have fun!
Founder of www.calisthenics-101.co.uk. Training calisthenics since 2012.
Currently working on: 30 second one-arm handstand, muscle-up 360, straddle planche.