Have you ever heard mention of the word calisthenics before? Most people have- surprisingly, but can't say much more beyond that. However, time spent learning about calisthenics is a worthwhile endeavor, since you can improve your health and fitness by leaps and bounds in the process.
Not sure where to start? That's ok. By the end of this blog, you'll be armed with a trove of knowledge and ready to start your journey.
So What Exactly Is Calisthenics?
Calisthenics, simply put, is an exercise discipline that relies on the usage of bodyweight to build strength and muscle mass. Even though there are many variants of calisthenics, the most common versions tend to be those that rely on high-rep training and little or even no equipment.
One big reason why people love calisthenics is that it can be performed practically anywhere. As long as there's a solid surface to support your weight, you're good to go. This means that you don't have to make a trip to the gym or lug around any heavy equipment- all you need is your body and some motivation (but heck ,ensuring you cover your nutritional and supplement base will go a far way!)
Why Should You Do Calisthenics?
The fact of the matter is that it doesn't matter which tools you use to improve your health and fitness. But why not use the tool you were born with. the "self-sharpening blade", so to speak?
Yes, learning to move in patterns that is natural to your body can improve real functional fitness and health. But that's merely one reason why you should consider calisthenics. There are so many more.
What does it cost to partake in a calisthenics-based workout? Absolutely nothing, as it turns out. The only investment you need to make is in yourself and your willingness to learn.
There are some people who will spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the latest and greatest exercise equipment, only to find that it was a waste of money. With calisthenics, there's very little risk involved, especially if you don't have the option of taking large financial liberties.
You Can Literally Workout Anywhere
As we alluded to before, one of the great things about calisthenics is that you don't need a lot of space or equipment to do it. All you really need is your body and some motivation.
This means that you can quite easily work out in your living room, at a park, or anywhere else that suits you. It's ideal for people with busy schedules or who need to be away from home for a while, but still want a way to stay in shape.
This also takes away many excuses that are frequent roadblocks for people who are trying to stay consistent with their workout routines, as you can get something done in your bedroom or using just a chair.
Have access to a local park? Even better. The monkey bars can build serious strength and there are many other options for a great workout if you get creative.
You Don't Need Any Experience or Training History
Calisthenics is one of those rare things in life where you don't need any experience or training history to get started and see results.
Of course, as with anything else, the more you learn and the more time you spend focused on this discipline, the more progress you're likely to make.
But even if you only give it a try for a few weeks or months, chances are that you'll still see some positive improvements in your overall fitness and health.
As a quick example, anyone can start doing pushups- but the question is how many? A beginner may only be able to do a handful, while someone who's been at it for a while could do dozens or even hundreds.
But regardless of where you're starting from, the fact is that you can still make progress and see results by doing calisthenics.
And best of all -it doesn't matter where you currently are. You can start from absolutely any stage, even if you're currently overweight or out of shape, or have never worked out a day in your life.
You Can Progress at Your Own Pace
Calisthenics is completely scalable, which means that it can be adapted to fit anyone's individual fitness level.
This is important because it allows you to progress at your own pace without feeling overwhelmed or discouraged.
For instance, if you're a beginner, then it's very easy to start out doing pushups and crunches until you can build up some strength.
But once that happens, you might want to move on to more difficult variations of those exercises or even try something like pull-ups or burpees.
And as your fitness level improves over time, it's easy to add additional variations or increase the difficulty of any given movement pattern.
Improve Body Composition In Dramatic Fashion
Calisthenics type workouts have the dual distinction of being able to trigger muscle hypertrophy and burn calories since they elevate heart rate to such a great extent.
The best way to get both of these benefits? By doing circuit-type workouts. Circuit-type workouts consist of performing a series of exercises in quick succession with little to no rest in between sets.
This forces your body to work much harder, and as a result, you'll see more gains in muscle mass while also burning significantly more calories.
Plus, these types of workouts tend to be very enjoyable since they're high intensity and always varied, so you won't get bored as you might with traditional weight lifting routines.
Calisthenics Offers Greater Safety While Training
This is not to say that lifting weights is unsafe, but compared to using your body as resistance, it is much safer. When you're younger, this is not so much of a concern- but fast forward to your late thirties and beyond, and your risk for injury goes up significantly.
Not necessarily life-threatening, but minor injuries have a way of dragging on for weeks, causing undue discomfort and loss of productive hours. This has something to do with the fact that most calisthenics-based exercises are referred to as closed chain kinetic exercises, or those done while an extremity of the body remains in contact with a fixed, solid object, such as the floor or a bar.
Think of pushups and pullups. These types of exercises have a much greater degree of safety and are often the exercise of choice in physical therapy rehabilitation.
Of course, it's also necessary for you to take due caution. One way is by ensuring you provide your body with the building material it needs to recovery sufficiently, such as collagen protein.
Getting Started With A Calisthenics Routine
Can't get the creative juices flowing? One way to get started with calisthenics is to just pick some of your favorite exercises and do them on a regular basis.
While this certainly won't result in gains as quickly, it's a great place to start if you're looking for simple health and fitness benefits from the practice.
So whether you're looking to start slow or go all out, give calisthenics a try- you may just be surprised at the results.
Here are some excellent exercises to choose from:
The push up is very well known across the globe- if you don't, then it's time to get caught up. Simple to execute, this exercise works your upper body muscles while also hitting your core.
To perform, simply get down to the floor, with the balls of your feet and hands on the ground, then lower yourself down to about an inch off the floor before pushing back up quickly.
Unable to do even a solitary pushup? Start with a simpler variety. This might be the incline or even the wall version. Gradually, as you are able to perform 40 reps of any variety, attempt to move on to the next most difficult one in the queue, going as far as the single-arm version.
The pull-up is another excellent option for working out your entire upper body, but especially your lats. In fact, it's often lauded as one of the most effective exercises for doing so.
To execute, stand beneath a stationary bar, and using an overhand grip, pull yourself up until your chin is level with the bar. Lower yourself down slowly before repeating.
Don't have access to a bar? Many people don't- in which case, you can try the inverted row. This is done by lying underneath a table and using an overhand grip, pulling yourself up until your back is straight.
Chin-ups can also be done, using an underhand grip to recruit more of the biceps to offer support.
One of the most popular exercises for working out the triceps, dips are also very effective for targeting the chest and shoulder muscles, depending on the tilt of your torso.
To execute, you will need two stationary objects- these could be chairs, benches, or anything else that can support your weight. A dip station is ideal, but if you're unable to access one, the aforementioned alternatives can work.
Place your hands on these objects, and using them for support, lower your body down until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Push back up to the starting position before repeating.
To primarily emphasize the triceps, your torso should remain vertical throughout. To hit the chest, angle your torso forward about 30 degrees. Crossing your ankles and bending the knees backward also help you shift your torso to the desired angle.
The squat is an excellent exercise for targeting all major muscle groups in the lower body as well as the core. To perform this exercise correctly and with minimal risk of injury, it's important to keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your back straight.
Extend your arms out in front of you for balance or cross against the chest, and lower yourself down by pushing your hips back and bending the knees. Once your thighs are parallel with the floor, drive back up to the starting position by pressing through the heels.
If you find that your mobility limits your ability to perform a full squat, try a shallower version instead. This can be done by placing a chair behind you and lowering yourself down until your butt taps the seat before standing back up.
Alternatively, wall burpees can be done, as well as the single-leg squat for advanced training sessions.
A great exercise for targeting the gluteus medius, quadriceps, and hamstrings, the lunge is often used as a functional movement to improve balance and coordination.
To execute, start in an upright position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a large step forward with one leg, and lower your body down until both knees are bent at 90-degree angles. Your front knee should be directly above the ankle, and the back knee shouldn't touch the floor.
From here, drive back up to the starting position by pressing through the front heel before repeating with the other leg. You can also perform this exercise with dumbbells in each hand for added resistance.
This deceptively simple exercise is sure to surprise you. One of the most effective exercises for targeting the core muscles, the plank is great at improving stability and balance while also working out many accessory muscles.
To perform a plank, start in an upright position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put your forearms on the floor with your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Lower yourself down so that you're supported by your forearms and toes. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your heels.
Engage your core muscles and hold this position for as long as you can before lowering yourself back down to the starting position.
There are many variations of the plank that can be done to target different muscle groups. These include the side plank, which targets the obliques, and the forearm plank, which is easier on the wrists.
Warmly known as the "destroyer" (LOL cue heavy breathing), burpees are a beginner and finisher at the same time. They are a total body exercise that will help you build your muscles while also getting your heart rate up.
To do a burpee, start in an upright position with your feet shoulder-width apart. From here, lower yourself into a squatting position with your hands on the floor in front of you.
Kick your feet back so that you're in a pushup position, and perform a pushup. Immediately jump back up to the original squatting position and explode upwards into a jump.
This is one rep of this grueling exercise, which you can do for 1-3 reps depending on your fitness level or as many as eight rounds of burpees with rest in between each round.
A sample workout might look like this:
3-5 rounds of:
10 lunges (each leg)
As you get better, you can start to add more rounds, or even mix in other exercises like pull-ups, dips, and push-ups.
Putting It Together
There's no need to jump headfirst into a calisthenics intense workout. Start by mastering the movements, and testing your limits.
This could mean seeing how many reps you are capable of, and if you should use another variation to start. Over time, as you get better at the movements and your strength and endurance increase, you can start to add more reps, or even start linking them together into a circuit.
The beauty of calisthenics is that the only limit is your imagination. There are an endless amount of variations and progressions that can be done to make the workouts more challenging, so get out there and start bettering your body.