A Beginners Guide to Starting Calisthenics

Unsplash: Calisthenics Pike Exercise By Swimming Pool

The word calisthenics can often rustle up images of TV hosts in the '80s bouncing around in their lycra outfits, and there is a good reason for this. Calisthenics was all the rage with stay at home moms because they simply needed no equipment to pull off the exercises.  

Fast forward a decade or two and calisthenics is more popular and not so much associated with stay at home moms anymore. Calisthenics is also known as a street workout. The reason being is that many of the exercises can be done out on the streets, in parks or school grounds.

Not only does calisthenics have some awesome benefits over traditional training methods like bodybuilding (which we will cover later) but it's more impressive to look at. But you probably already knew that, if that's the case and you are ready to get involved in the street workout scene keep on reading. In this article, we will give you some tips for getting started in calisthenics.

The Types Of Exercises You Will Be Performing

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:

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Chin-ups
  • Dips
  • Planks
  • Leg raises
  • Burpees
  • Lunges
  • Rows
  • Pike push-ups
  • Squats

For a full list of calisthenics exercises, click here.

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.

A Beginner Calisthenics Plan

Starting a new skill can be daunting at first, especially when it comes to exercising. Some people are frightened of doing an exercise wrong in case they embarrass themselves. My tip to you would be to don't worry about others, as long as you are performing your exercises safely that is the only thing you will need to worry about.

Like everything, when it comes to exercising, there are many ways in which you can start learning calisthenics training. In my opinion, it's best to get an overall base level of fitness before trying anything too complicated.

My advice to someone looking to learn calisthenics is to start with a full-body workout routine and as you get more advanced then look to switch your training sessions up to including more isolation work.  

When you are just getting started in calisthenics you need a plan that is fun yet challenging, I would recommend the following:

Sets: 4

Reps: 8-15 (When you hit 15, add more resistance)

Exercises

  • Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Lunges
  • Pull-ups
  • Dips
  • Crunches
  • 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

As a beginner, it's important to get your rest in to make sure you have enough time for your body to recover and grow. Don't be tempted to rush into calisthenics and train every day. Doing calisthenics is a long term solution to a healthier body, rushing the process will not only slow down your progression, but it could result in an injury too.

How To Progress With Calisthenics

As a beginner you may see a fast progression, and within a few weeks you should be able to do more repetitions of the exercises listed above. When you get to 15 repetitions for 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 in a more effective way.

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 your 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 one-handed handstand though. We don't want you falling on your head and injuring yourself!

Correct Form Is Important

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.

Have Patience And Eat Well

Everyone wants to go from a beginner to an intermediate very quickly, but my advice to you would be to enjoy the process. Mastering calisthenics is going to take a while, so don't worry if it takes you a few weeks to do pull-ups with correct form.  

Also, don't compare your results to others. A friend of mine struggles with dips while I find them easy. I struggle with pull-ups, and my friend can do them all day long. You will progress at a different rate from everyone else, so don't worry too much.

When it comes to dieting, I found that eating foods high in proteins helped with my progress. When I first started calisthenics, I would eat out a lot and would also eat fast food on a weekly occasion. When I did this, my workouts suffered. If you can get your diet into a good place and you will see the benefits in your workouts.

Benefits of calisthenics vs weight lifting.

I'm not going to bash weight lifting, in fact, I did enjoy lifting weights, but over the years my joints have become a bit more sensitive and lifting really heavy tends to make my body feel run down. With weight lifting, my body would often break out in acne, to find out why I consulted with Dr Shah, a skincare expert from the UK, and he had this to say: 

"Weight lifting can cause an intermittent increase in testosterone when lifting heavy during a workout. Testosterone is the key hormone which is responsible for causing acne."

Since ditching heavy weight lifting for calisthenics, I have found that my body doesn't get run down, I'm ill less, and my skin is 100 times better than before.

Get Started Today

You can start the beginner calisthenics program listed above, and we have everything on our website to provide you with the information on getting started.

If however you would like a more in-depth explanation of the different exercises and would like to a more structured calisthenics routine you should check out the Bar Brothers 12-week calisthenics program.