Calisthenics training is all about mastering your body and developing strength, balance, control, mobility, and flexibility. To put this another way, it’s an ideal addition to any workout plan.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience the benefits of calisthenics training during your gym time, here’s your complete guide.
What Is Calisthenics Training?
Calisthenics is a form of training where you use bodyweight exercises to build muscle. Think pull-ups, push-ups, dips, pistol squats—those kinds of exercises.
No gym membership—no expensive weights. Just you and your body.
Calisthenics training is usually associated with lean and agile athletes, but there’s more to calisthenics than crazy pull-up bar routines, tight abs, and a chiseled upper body.
The Pros Of Calisthenics Training And Bodyweight Exercises
- It’s FREE. You don’t need a gym membership or any additional weight. All you really need is your local playground or an at-home pull-up bar. The most expensive equipment you might need is gloves.
- It’s a Full-body Workout. Almost all calisthenics exercises engage numerous muscles. When you do a pull-up, imagine the different muscles you’re using: back, arms, core, chest, shoulders, and the rest of the upper body. Compared to any machine in the gym, you’re targeting 2-3 times as many muscles with body weight exercises.
- The World is Your Gym. Calisthenics exercises can be performed anywhere: living room, backyard, playground, hotel room—anywhere with space enough to do push-ups. You don’t need to get up early to drive to the gym or leave work to drive half an hour away for a workout. While living in Africa, I’d do pull-ups on ladder rungs, roofs, pipes, and the back of staircases.
- It Burns Fat. These workout routines are perfect for HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and AMRAP circuits, which are proven to accelerate fat loss. Don’t get me wrong—traditional weightlifting is great for burning fat too, but it’s just harder to incorporate HIIT training into heavy lifting.
The Cons Of Calisthenics
- Leg Training is Difficult. Although squats, lunges, and wall sits are great exercises for building up your quads and glutes, you just can’t get the same muscle development as you can with heavy squats. Calisthenics will increase your leg strength and balance, but it will never prepare you to lift massive amounts of weight with your legs.
- Progress is Hard to Measure. In the gym, you can measure progress simply: are you adding more weight or doing more reps? Calisthenics can be a bit more challenging. Often, progression is determined by mastering one move and moving on to a more challenging one (from a chair dip to a dip or an assisted pull-up to a pull-up). When weightlifting, you don’t suddenly progress from bench pressing to incline bench pressing—you just start incline pressing at a lower weight. The same can’t be said when someone wants to do a handstand pushup or muscle-up…and those kinds of moves are essential for muscle progression.
- Difficult to Build Massive Muscles. Calisthenics exercises won’t develop huge muscles, and bodyweight strength doesn’t necessarily translate to lifting strength. You might be able to do 100 pushups, but that doesn’t mean you can bench 200 lbs. Strong muscles come from lifting big weights. Bodyweight exercises tend to build strong lean muscles, instead. However, taking paleo, lactose-free, or casein protein powders will help.
Now that you understand a bit more about calisthenics we can move on to the body weight exercises we love so much.
The Complete List Of Calisthenics Exercises
This list of calisthenic exercises is a great source of information if you’re looking to get started with basic progression.
Chest Calisthenic Exercises (Push-ups):
Back Calisthenics Exercises (Pull-Ups):
Shoulder Calisthenics Exercises:
Ab Calisthenics Exercises:
Arm Calisthenics Exercises:
Leg Calisthenics Exercises:
Expert Calisthenics Exercises:
With these upper body and lower body exercises alone, you have a lot of variety to incorporate into your routine to truly make it your own!
But if you’re new to calisthenics, you can’t just dive into these different, awesome body weight exercises. First, you need to know how to start calisthenics training.
Download our FREE 12-week workout plan. The plan includes a daily schedule, list of exercises, and the number of sets and reps for each exercise.
How To Start Calisthenics Training
As with anything else, you have to start calisthenics training with the basic exercises.
Before you start attempting muscle-ups and handstand pushups, you’ll need to develop your practical fitness through the fundamental exercises:
All other exercises are just advanced variations and combinations of these basic exercises.
Go ahead and forget everything you’ve learned about push-ups and pull-ups and start from scratch.
Start with slow, high-quality repetitions so that you can completely master the form. It’s better you do 5 perfect pull-ups than 20 ugly pull-ups!
When starting your training, focus on progression:
- Each workout, aim to do more repetitions than the workout before (but don’t sacrifice form for reps). If the last workout you did 5 sets of 5 pull-ups, try to do 5 sets of 6 pull-ups. Then 5 sets of 7 pull-ups or 3 sets of 10 pull-ups.
- Once you feel confident with a basic exercise, progress to a more challenging exercise. Then progress in form and reps with the more difficult exercise. For example, you can do 25 bench dips, so you attempt to progress to the full body weight dip. You might only do 3-4 reps, but then next workout you do 5 dips. Then you do 7—and you continue your progression.
Examples Of Calisthenics Exercise Progressions:
When you develop more practical strength, you’ll be able to progress to more advanced and difficult exercises. And these more challenging exercises will help you continue building muscle.
Once you get comfortable with these exercises, you can easily develop your own calisthenics workout plan!
A Calisthenics Workout Plan For Beginners
This workout will help you master the basic calisthenics exercises. You’ll develop the strength and balance you need to move on to more advanced exercises.
For each circuit, perform each exercise until near failure. Rest for 1 minute between each exercise. Once you finish a circuit, rest for 3 minutes and then repeat. Do each circuit 3x.
Note: This is a basic workout designed by our editorial team. If you’re looking for an in-depth course, with video demonstrations, mobile apps, pdfs, and more, here are our recommendations:
Calisthenics For Beginners – Full-Body Circuit:
Calisthenics For Beginners – Leg/Abs Circuit:
Once you finish Month 2, you should feel comfortable with the basic exercises and ready to advance your workout. If you need additional training, repeat Month 2 again.
Intermediate Calisthenics Workout Plan
Now that you’ve developed at least base levels of practical fitness, you’re ready to move on to the intermediate workout.
Follow the same instructions (above) for these circuits.
Calisthenics For Intermediates – Fly High Circuit:
Month 3 & 4
Expert Calisthenics Workout Plan
This workout routine incorporates some more difficult calisthenics exercises.
Follow the same instructions (above) for these circuits.
Calisthenics For Experts – Muscle-Up Quest Circuit:
Month 5 & 6
Beyond Expert Calisthenics
Once you can perform the circuits above, you’ve achieved a high-level of practical fitness.
But there are still many advanced exercises you’ve yet to progress to. Continue bodyweight exercises and develop your muscles and strength to reach “beyond expert” calisthenics. This approach prevents injury and helps you reach your fitness goals.
Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. Many times the content is not written by a single author, instead it is usually a team effort.