Calisthenics Exercise for Beginners – Introduction
Calisthenics exercises are an excellent choice for beginners in fitness.
As you know, fitness trends come and go.
Workouts that seemingly arrive from nowhere and are famous for a few months often vanish without a trace and never appear again.
However, some workouts stand the test of time and stay popular for years or even decades.
One of the most long-lasting workout trends is calisthenics, so it is no surprise that calisthenics is one of the top fitness trends of 2020.
This post will give you the low down on this practical, effective exercise method, reveal the ten top calisthenic exercises, plus a beginner workout plan for you to try!
What Are Calisthenics Exercises?
Calisthenics is another word for bodyweight exercises or bodyweight training.
It’s an old word that has its origins in ancient Greece.
Two Greek words form the etymological root of the word Calisthenics – Kallos, which means beauty, and Sthenos, which means strength or power.
In the 19th century, they anglicized into the name we now know.
Calisthenic training involves little or no exercise equipment, making it popular with people who prefer not to work out in gyms.
It’s not just home trainers who like this exercise routine; it’s also popular with the military, martial artists, climbers, gymnasts, and a wide range of other fitness enthusiasts.
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The Benefits of Calisthenics Exercise
Calisthenic workout routines and exercises have been popular for centuries.
Whatever you want to achieve, this type of bodyweight workout offers some excellent benefits, including:
Easy to Learn
Unlike some weight training exercises, calisthenics is a form of exercise that is very easy to learn.
While some calisthenic exercises are hard to master, many others are much simpler.
In most cases, you won’t need a personal trainer to teach you the basics; you may already know how to do many of the top calisthenic exercises.
Good for Weight Loss
If you want to lose weight, calisthenics can help.
With no equipment to set up, you can move quickly through calisthenic workout routines, which will keep your heart rate elevated and burn many calories in the process.
Calisthenic circuits deliver a very effective cardiovascular workout without resorting to traditional cardio exercises.
You don’t need to lift free weights to build muscle mass.
As amazing as your body is, it can’t differentiate between doing push-ups with your bodyweight or doing the barbell bench press.
So long as you are moving your body and overloading your muscles, you can build strength and muscle size using nothing more than your bodyweight.
Easy On Your Joints
Many calisthenic exercises are easier on your joints than their weight training alternatives.
For example, bodyweight squats place much less stress on your joints than barbell squats or leg presses.
If regular weight training routines leave you feeling sore, calisthenics could be a useful alternative.
Train Anywhere and Anytime
Forget resistance bands, dumbbells, and suspension trainers.
The most portable strength training workout is calisthenics.
Requiring nothing more than an exercise mat, you can do calisthenics exercises anywhere and anytime.
With no gyms to join or equipment to buy, calisthenics is the most budget-friendly way to do your resistance training workouts.
That’s great news if you know you need to exercise but can’t afford to pay expensive gym fees.
Exercises for All Levels
It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or an advanced exerciser; there are calisthenics workout routines and exercises to suit your needs.
Some exercises, like human flags, hand balancing, and front levers, are very advanced calisthenics movements.
Others, like push-ups, squats, and lunges are much less demanding and ideal for novice exercisers.
Calisthenics Exercise vs. Weight Exercises
So, which is better – calisthenics or weights?
The truth is this is a non-argument because both forms of exercise can be valuable and productive.
In terms of pure strength, lifting weights is the winner because you can load a barbell or machine which huge loads.
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After all, daily feats of strength usually involve moving your body, and not pulling on handles or pushing barbells.
The truth is that you don’t have to choose between these two fantastic training methods – they both have advantages and benefits and deserve to be part of your workouts.
That said, if you are on the road, prefer to work out at home, or need a budget-friendly way to exercise, calisthenics is the winner.
How to Start Calisthenics
The great thing about calisthenic exercises is that you can start doing them right away – now if you like.
All you need is a little space and maybe a towel or mat upon which to lie.
For some advanced exercises, you may need a pull-up bar or dip bars, but these aren’t essential, as there are many moves you can do that don’t require any special equipment.
So, the best way to get started with calisthenics is to master the top ten exercises – and here they are!
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The Top 10 Basic Calisthenics Exercises
The humble push-up, working the same muscles as the bench press, is probably the most widely performed exercise in the world.
And for a good reason, because the push-up is excellent for your whole upper body.
To do push-ups, squat down and place your hands on the floor, so they’re about shoulder-width apart.
Walk your feet back until your body forms a straight line.
Holding your abs tight, bend your arms until your chest touches the floor.
Push yourself back up again and repeat.
Simply do them with your knees bent and resting on the floor.
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Squats, working all your major leg muscles, are one of the best compound moves you can do for your lower body muscle groups.
The squat is more than just an exercise; it’s also a movement pattern that most of us do many times a day.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and toes turned slightly outward.
Push your hips back, Bend your knees, and squat down until your hips are slightly below parallel to your knees.
Do not round your lower back.
Stand back up and repeat.
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If calisthenic training has any drawbacks, it is that there aren’t too many upper back and biceps exercises for beginners.
Most involve lifting your entire body weight with just your arms.
Pull-ups are an excellent upper body pulling exercise, but they can be hard for newbies.
Make them more manageable by doing band-assisted pull-ups instead.
Grab and hold an overhead bar with an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
Hang with your arms straight, and shoulders pulled down and back.
Bend your legs and cross your feet.
Without kicking or swinging, bend your arms and pull yourself up until your chin is just above the bar.
Extend your arms and repeat.
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4. Parallel bar dips
While you will need a set of parallel bars for this exercise, you may find some in the local park that you can use for free.
Parallel dips are a progression from push-ups and work your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Grab the bars with a shoulder-width grip.
Step or jump up and support your weight on straight arms.
Bend your elbows and descend until your upper arms are roughly horizontal to the floor.
Push yourself back up and repeat.
Like pull-ups, you can make dips easier by using a resistance band to support some of your body weight.
Planks are a useful exercise for increasing strength in your core.
The core is the collective term for the muscles that make up your midsection.
To do this exercise, kneel and put your forearms on the floor in front of you.
Walk your feet back until your body is straight, and your weight is resting on your arms and toes only.
Hold this plank position (but not your breath!) for as long as you can.
Increase the time as you get stronger.
6. Leg raises
Like planks, leg raises work your core.
Leg raises are a challenging exercise that can be hard on your lower back but done with care; it’s an excellent move for strengthening your abdominals.
To do it, lie on your back; your legs and hands flat on the floor next to your hips.
Contract your abs and lift your legs, keeping them straight, until they are vertical.
Lower your legs back down and repeat.
You can also do this exercise while hanging from a pull-up bar.
Lunges work one leg at a time, which makes them useful for spotting and fixing left to right strength imbalances.
They are a one-legged squat with an alternating leg action.
Stand with your feet together and your arms by your sides.
Take a big step forward, bend your legs, and lower your rear knee toward the floor.
Stop with your knee just above the deck.
Push off your front leg and spring back into the starting position.
Do another rep but, this time, lead with your opposite leg.
Continue alternating legs for the duration of your set.
This classic exercise has fallen out of favor over the last few years, with more people doing crunches instead.
That’s a shame because done right, it’s still a useful abdominal conditioning exercise.
Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor.
Place your hands on your temples and NOT behind your head.
Contract your abdominals and sit up until your torso is vertical.
Lie back down and repeat.
Your feet should remain in contact with the floor throughout.
Avoid back and neck problems when doing this exercise by not pulling on your head and not sitting up past vertical.
It’s also inadvisable to anchor your feet.
You can make this exercise easier by crossing your arms over your chest or placing your hands on your thighs.
9. Jump squats
If regular squats and lunges aren’t challenging enough for you, give jump squats a try.
They work all the same muscles but, because you have to do them explosively, jump squats make your work much harder.
Stand in the same squat position as before.
Bend your legs and descend until your thighs are about parallel with the floor.
Stand up so quickly that your feet leave the floor.
Use your arms for extra momentum if you wish.
Land on slightly bent knees and then drop straight down into another rep.
Jump squats can be hard on your knees, so avoid this exercise is you have a history of knee pain or are overweight.
10. Back Extensions
This exercise works your erector spinae, which is the collective term for the muscles that make up your lower back.
Keeping these muscles in good shape is an excellent way to improve your posture and ward off lower back pain.
Lie on your front with your legs straight and your forehead resting on the floor.
Clasp your hands behind your lower back.
With your feet on the floor, lift your head, shoulders, and chest off the floor.
Do not hyperextend your spine; you only need to raise your upper body a few inches.
Lie back down and repeat.
Best Calisthenics Exercises for Beginners (at home, no equipment)
12 Week Calisthenics Workout Plan for Beginners
The best way to get results from calisthenic training is to follow a program.
Here is a 12-week workout plan that uses many of the exercises described above.
Do your best to do each exercise correctly, so you get the results you want while keeping your risk of injury as low as possible.
1. Weeks 1-4
3. Weeks 9-12
1. Sets x reps
2. Sets and reps
3. Sets x reps
2 x 10
3 x 12
4 x 15
2 x 10
3 x 12
4 x 15
2 x 10
3 x 12
3 x 15
2 x 5
3 x 6
4 x 8
2 x 5
3 x 6
4 x 8
2 x 20 seconds
3 x 25 seconds
4 x 30 seconds
2 x 12
3 x 15
4 x 30
2 x 12
3 x 15
4 x 20
- Rest 1-2 minutes between exercises
- Reps quoted are for guidance only.
- Do more or fewer reps based on your fitness level
- Warm-up before and cool down after each workout
- Do the workout 2-3 times per week on non-consecutive days, e.g., Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Recommended Gear for Calisthenic Training
While you don’t need a lot of gear for calisthenic training, you could use a few things to make your workouts more accessible, more comfortable, or more effective.
1 – Resistance bands
Bands are useful for making calisthenic exercises easier or harder.
If you find pull-ups or dips too demanding, a good band can help.
2 – Exercise mat
Lie down in comfort and protect your floor from sweat with a good exercise mat.
3 – Push-up bars
Make push-ups harder, more comfortable for your wrists, and more productive by using push-up bars.
4 – Doorway pull-up bar
Do pull-ups at home and without having to install a permanent fixture with a doorway pull-up bar.
5 – Portable dip bars
Do parallel dips and other upper and lower calisthenic exercises at home with portable dip bars.
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Calisthenics Exercises – Final Thoughts
Calisthenics exercise is something of a fitness industry buzzword right now, but it’s not a new workout.
Instead, it’s been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years, which means that, unlike many exercise trends, calisthenics does work!
Whether you are stuck at home, in a hotel room far from the nearest gym, or just prefer to work out in your garden, garage, or spare room, calisthenics is a great way to get fit, burn fat, and build muscle and strength – all at the same time and with minimal exercise equipment.
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