Calisthenics is one of the most popular styles of training in the world at the moment. From its cool aesthetic to its ability to produce impressive results, you will see it being performed everywhere from local parks and gyms to the YouTube channels of successful fitness influencers.
Unfortunately, as cool as it looks, it can appear to be extremely challenging too. This leads to many people thinking they couldn’t possibly do it themselves. In reality, this is far from true, as calisthenics is one of the most diverse styles of training around, with exercises available for people of all abilities.
That’s why I want to give you a comprehensive guide on how to start calisthenics for beginners. I will explain all the benefits and uses for calisthenics, then take you through a step by step 7 day workout that is perfect for beginners. So, if you want to try calisthenics for yourself, this is the article for you.
The Calisthenics Philosophy
Calisthenics is a training style that uses bodyweight exercises to let you work out without a need for any external source of resistance.
The exercises you do also generally focus on using less equipment, meaning people who want to work out from home or who worry about safety turn to calisthenics.
There are four specific goals the calisthenics philosophy revolves around, which are its ability to improve a user’s coordination, endurance, flexibility, and strength. By training all four of these areas at once, you have the chance to develop greater balance, control, and symmetry in your body.
The calisthenics philosophy also focuses on giving you greater control over the demand placed on your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. This helps to build both your physical and cardiovascular fitness gradually, without pushing your body beyond its limits too quickly.
Understanding The Benefits Of Calisthenics
Calisthenics is a style of training that is becoming popular due to the huge number of benefits that it offers. For starters, calisthenics is an extremely diverse style of training with a range of exercises that ensures everyone will find something to suit them, regardless of the goal they are trying to achieve.
Perhaps the most popular aspect of calisthenics is that you can exercise anywhere and at any time, with no need to go to a gym or use any equipment. That said, many people will still go to a gym to do their calisthenics, as they can use some of the equipment to help with their exercises.
There is even some calisthenics equipment specifically designed to help with this type of training.
Calisthenics is also a style of training that is easy to get started with. You can learn the basic exercises and routines and then gradually increase the difficulty as you see fit. This also means that there is a lower risk of injury, as you have a greater level of control.
Finally, many people also find that calisthenics is a fun way to train. From being able to do your workouts in the park to competing with your friends, it makes it feel more like an activity, rather than just an exercise session.
Acknowledge And Reduce The Risks
Every type of workout routine comes with some risks and calisthenics is no different. That said, there are far fewer risks involved with calisthenics than there are with weightlifting and similar activities.
The main risks associated with calisthenics are injuries caused by either overextending a joint or by falling from a piece of apparatus. However, these generally won’t be an issue if you follow a well thought out program and complete all of the exercises with the correct form.
You must also make sure you don’t push your body too far beyond its limits. This is particularly important in the early stages of your training, as this is when your body will be at its least prepared, so injury is much more likely to occur.
Beginner Calisthenics Workout
There are a number of different calisthenic workouts that you can follow when you are starting out. This makes the training style extremely diverse and inclusive, and also gives you more options when it comes to hitting your personal goals of setting up your own exercise program.
That said, most beginner calisthenics workout programs should start out with the basics. You can then gradually increase the duration, frequency, and intensity of the exercises you perform as you progress.
We will now look at an example calisthenics workout program that you can try. It features plenty of exercises that are great for beginners to get the hang of body weight exercises and you can easily repeat this program for a few weeks to develop some initial strength and control.
Day 1 is the perfect introduction to calisthenics for beginners, as it incorporates some of the most popular and effective body weight exercises that can be performed without any equipment. This will allow you to get an appreciation for calisthenic training and its benefits, with little to no risk.
Get down on the ground on all fours and fully extend your body, supporting your weight on your forearms and toes. Make sure your whole body is straight and try to keep everything as parallel to the floor as possible.
Contract your abs and use them to keep your core aligned throughout the duration of the exercise and hold the position for either the target time or until you physically can’t hold it anymore.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, back perfectly straight, and heels flat on the floor. Slowly lower your buttocks towards the ground by bending only at the knees, making sure not to lean forward. Keep going until your thighs are just past parallel with the floor and pause for a second.
Tense your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, and use them to drive you back up into a standing position in one fluid motion, still ensuring your back remains completely straight and vertical. Repeat the process until you hit the target number of reps.
To add weight and make your squats more challenging, you can place a barbell across your shoulders, hold a weight in each had, or hold a single weight with both hands in front of your chest.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, keep your back straight, then take one foot and move it forward. As you move your leg, bend the other knee and plant your front foot flat on the floor a few feet in front of you, and slowly lower yourself, moving the weight on your back foot onto your toes.
Making sure your front knee never goes further forward than your toes, you should go until there is a 90 degree bend in both knees. Pause for a second then squeeze the hamstrings, glutes, and quads, and use them to drive you back up, stepping back until you have returned to your starting position.
Repeat the process, this time stepping forward with the other leg and keep swapping till you hit the target number of reps. Make sure to do the exact same number with each leg at the front. You can add weight by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand or placing a barbell on your shoulders.
Get on the floor facing downwards and support your weight on your hands and the tips of your toes. Your arms should be fully extended, your hands shoulder width apart, your core engaged, and your entire body fully extended and completely straight.
Bend only at your elbows and lower yourself until your chest is a few inches off of the ground. After pausing for a second, use the triceps and chest muscles to drive you back up to the starting position, stopping just before your arms are fully straight to keep the tension, and do another small pause.
Repeat until you hit the target number of reps. Keep your body straight the entire time and make sure your elbows move no more than 45 degrees away from your body.
Lying Leg Raises
Lay on your back on the floor with your legs straight out and feet together and either put your hands on the ground for support or hold them out to the side. Use your abs to raise your legs into the air, keeping them totally straight and continuing until they are completely vertical.
Once you reach this point, drive your hips towards the ceiling and pause for a second, before slowly lowering your legs back towards the starting position by following a reverse of the process.
Go until your heels are just shy of touching the ground and then immediately repeat the process and keep going until you hit the target number of reps. To make this harder, you can hold a weight between your ankles while performing the exercise.
Pike Push Ups
Pike push ups are executed in a similar way to the regular variety, with the only difference being that this time your body is not straight. Instead, you will keep a bend of around 45 degrees in your waist at all times, so your buttocks are pointing towards the ceiling and your forehead towards the floor.
To do this you will need to maintain tension in your abdominals throughout, making the exercise a great core workout.
Mountain climbers are performed from a starting position that is roughly halfway between where you start a plank and pike push ups. The objective is to bring each of your knees to the elbow on the same side of your body in an alternating fashion.
Try to get into a rhythm where as one knee is coming up the other is going back, so that they cross at the mid-point and allow you to almost mimic a jog. You can either perform the exercise for reps or for a set length of time but, either way, try to ensure you do the same number of reps with each leg.
Day 2 is the day that will be the most challenging and is also the routine that will be the hardest to complete without visiting a gym or purchasing some equipment. This is because most of the routine will be completed on a combination of pull up and parallel bars.
Close Grip Chin Ups
Hold a pull up bar with an underhand grip just inside of shoulder width then lift your feet off of the floor and bring them to your glutes by bending at the knees. Lower yourself until your arms are fully extended, make sure your back is straight, and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Contract your biceps and lats to raise your body up in a slow and controlled manner, bending only at the elbows. Keep going until your chin passes the bar and your chest is almost touching it. Squeeze your back and biceps for a second then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
Repeat until you either reach failure or hit the desired number of reps.
Hold a pull up bar with an overhand grip as wide as you can, ensuring your hands are at the very least wider than shoulder width apart. Raise your feet and bring your heels to your butt by bending your knees, letting your arms and back fully extend.
Keep your back straight and contract your lats and biceps to lift yourself up in a slow, controlled way, bending at just the elbows. Carry on until your chin passes the bar and try to touch your chest to it, then hold the position for a second and really squeeze the lats.
Lower yourself back to a few inches short of the starting position slowly, ensuring you maintain tension throughout and repeat until you reach failure or the target number of reps.
Hold two dip bars with an overhand grip at the narrowest possible point and support your weight on your hands. Bring your heels into your butt and slowly lower yourself towards the ground. Focus on squeezing your elbows together and try to keep them close to the sides of your body throughout.
When you hit the bottom, you will feel a stretch in your chest and triceps. Squeeze your triceps as hard as you can and use them to drive you up, carrying on until your arms are almost totally straight. Pause here for a second then repeat until you hit the desired number of reps or failure.
Close Grip Push Ups
Close grip push ups are done in a very similar manner to regular push ups, only this time your hands will be virtually together on the ground, in a position where your thumbs and forefingers will form a diamond on the floor. Your elbows will also flare out to the sides, rather than staying by your torso.
This will not only make the movement much more challenging to perform but it will also move most of the work from the pecs to the triceps, making it an extremely effective arm workout.
Hanging Leg Raises
Grip a pull up bar with an overhand grip, with your hands just outside of shoulder width and your body facing away from the station. Lift your feet up and let your legs to hang straight down below you, while keeping tension in your back and arms, and a small bend in your elbows to keep you still.
Contract your abs and use them to lift your legs out in front of you. Try to keep your upper body completely still and straight and raise your straight legs until they are parallel with the floor. Pause here for a second then lower them back down until your body is almost completely straight again.
Repeat until you either hit failure or your target number of reps.
Start the exact same process as you would use to perform the squats on Day 1 and follow it until you reach the bottom of the movement. Now, instead of using your muscles to stand up slowly, press your feet hard into the ground and use everything to explode upwards and drive you into the air.
You can either go upwards with everything straight, tuck your knees at the top of the jump, or even propel yourself slightly forwards onto a waiting platform. When you land back on the ground (do a two footed jump backwards if using a platform) immediately lower yourself back down and carry on.
Try to keep your motion constant, building up momentum and never coming to a complete stop until you have finished your set. Make sure to focus on keeping your back straight and maintaining your balance at all times.
Day 3 will be used as a rest day, which gives your muscle tissue time to rest and recover. This is vital as muscle only grows during rest and you won’t see any progression if you don’t give the fibres time to heal or develop. It is also essential for reducing soreness and limiting the risk of injury as well.
If you want to stay active while resting, try and do something low impact, such as going for a leisurely walk. This will stop you from becoming sedentary and keep all of your systems functioning effectively, without impeding the ability of your muscles to repair.
Day 4 will see us back working out and performing more body weight exercises that require little to no equipment to complete. It will include a combination of both dynamic and static contractions.
Wide Grip Push Ups
Wide grip push ups are done almost identically to regular push ups, but each hand will be put about a foot outside of shoulder width. This will make the range of motion much shorter but also removes most of the involvement of the triceps, allowing you to hit the pecs harder and more directly.
Place your hands flat on the floor with your arms fully extended and support the weight of your lower body on your toes. Maintain a slight bend in your torso, so it is just shy of fully extended.
Keeping your hands on the floor jump both feet in to bring your knees to your chest then explode upwards in one fluid motion, jumping as high as you can. As soon as your feet hit the ground, put your hands back on the floor and jump back into the starting position.
Repeat until you hit either the desired number of reps or the target time.
Stand with your back against a wall and lower yourself down into a squat position until your thighs are completely parallel with the floor. Your lower legs should be either completely vertical or slightly pointing back at you, so there is a bend of 90 degrees or just above inside your knees.
Make sure your back is completely flat against the wall, from the base right up to your shoulders, and hold a static contraction in this position for as long as you can. If you want to make it even more challenging, you can also hold a weight either by your chest or straight out in front of you.
Clap Push Ups
Clap push ups are performed in the same position as regular push ups. However, rather than going up and down slowly, you will drive yourself upwards explosively on each rep, forcing your hands to come off of the ground.
The idea is to get high enough that you have enough time to perform a clap before your hands hit the ground. Make sure not to pause in between reps, so you can build up momentum and flow through the entire set.
Lay flat on your front on the floor with your arms fully extended straight out in front of you over your head. Keeping your feet together and your hips on the ground, try to use your lower back muscles to raise both your chest and thighs as far off of the floor as you can.
You can either do the superman hold as a static exercise and maintain the contraction for as long as you can or perform repetitions, lowering your arms and legs back to the floor each time.
Goblet squats are performed in a very similar way to the squats seen on Day 1, just with a few slight differences. You will try to keep your feet and knees together at all times throughout the movement, while you will place your heels on a slightly elevated surface, such as a weight plate.
These changes will alter the angle of your legs and put most of the load onto the quads. While you can still add weight by holding weights in each hand or a large dumbbell in front of your chest, avoid doing barbell goblet squats if possible, as you will be more off balance, which can make it dangerous.
The elevated plank is performed in exactly the same manner as a regular plank, only your feet will be placed on an elevated object and your weight will be on your hands, with your arms in the halfway point of a push up. This will make it more challenging and incorporate even more muscles.
Day 5 is perhaps the most varied routine in this workout plan. It will include a combination of both static and dynamic bodyweight exercises, exercises performed on parallel bars, and even adds some cardio into your training.
100 Meter Shuttle Runs
100 meter shuttle runs will simply see you running; however, you have a choice of options when it comes to completing the target length. You can either run 100 metres in a straight line or shuttle run backwards and forwards, running a chunk of the total distance in a different direction each time.
You can also choose to try and do your runs at top speed, in a jog, or at a different pace in each set or shuttle.
Wide Grip Dips
Grip two dip bars at the widest possible point, lift yourself into the air, and bend your knees to tuck your feet into your butt. Bending only your elbows, slowly lower yourself down, flaring your elbows anywhere from 45 to 90 degrees out from your body.
Go as low as you can, till you feel a deep stretch in your lower pecs, and hold for a second. Contract the pecs and triceps as hard as you can and drive yourself upwards, straightening your elbows and carrying on until just before your arms are fully extended.
Pause for a second and then repeat until you hit failure or your target number of reps.
Stand with your feet together and hands by your sides, then jump into the air, open your legs, and sweep your arms out and up, moving them like the hands on a clock. Land with your feet two to three feet apart and clap your hands together above your head.
Immediately perform the movement in reverse order to return to starting position and then continue the process until you hit the target time or complete the desired number of reps.
Push Ups With A Pull Through
This push up variation will see you perform a set of regular push ups. However, you will need a weight, preferably a kettlebell, which will be placed beside you on the ground. After completing each rep, reach across your body with one hand and drag the weight to the other side.
Make sure you do the same number of pull throughs with each arm, alternating every time.
Alternating High Knees
Alternating high knees will essentially see you jogging on the spot. However, your goal is to bring your knees as close to your chest as possible every time you raise your leg. Make sure you keep to a reasonable pace throughout and continue until you hit your target time.
From an upright, standing position, lean forward and put your hands on the floor as close to your feet as possible while keeping your legs as straight as you can. Quickly walk your hands forward and extend your hips until you are in a push up position with a completely straight body.
Immediately walk them back towards your feet and bend your waist to return to the starting position as quickly as you can. If you want to make things even more challenging, you can also perform a push up in the middle of every rep.
A dynamic plank is virtually the same as the traditional plank hold that we perform on Day 1. However, there is one major difference. Rather than remaining stationary the entire time, you will be switching between resting on your forearms and hands.
From the plank position, first place on hand on the floor and extend the arm, then do the same with the other, until you are in the position of a completed push up. Now, return to the original position by going back to your forearms one arm at a time.
Make sure to start with the same arm on the way down as you did on the way up and continue to perform this sequence until you hit your target duration or can’t go any longer.
Day 6 is primarily focused on cardiovascular conditioning and will involve you walking and running in cycles. While this can be done on a treadmill, it is best performed outside in the real world. Select a route of a suitable distance and then determine the length of your walking and running intervals.
Now proceed to complete the circuit by walking first to warm up, then alternate between walks and runs, before finishing with a slightly longer walk to cool down. Make sure to set yourself a realistic length of both your route and running sections to start out and then build up over time.
Day 7 is another rest day to allow recovery. However, unlike the previous rest day, this time you will want to try and avoid all physical activity if possible. This will ensure you are completely rested and recovered before the whole cycle begins again tomorrow.
Calisthenics is a fun, effective way to train, that is a lot less difficult to get into than it may seem. This comprehensive guide on how to start calisthenics for beginners should have given you all the information you need to give it a go and see the sort of results it can offer for yourself.
For anyone who wants to take things a step further, you can also look at things such as calisthenics apps, to give you even more choices and optimise your training to the max.