Welcome to your calisthenics for beginners guide.
If you have grown tiresome of weightlifting and looking to explore a new avenue of strength training, then this is the practice you’ve been looking for.
In this article we will break down the world of calisthenics and answer all the queries you have surrounding this form of strength training. OriGym's in-depth guide into calisthenics for beginners explores:
- What Are Calisthenics Exercises?
- Calisthenics vs Weightlifting: Which Practice Offers You The Most Benefits?
- Benefits of Calisthenics
- Starting Calisthenics: The Different Disciplines
- What Calisthenics Equipment Should You Buy and Where Should You Practice?
- How to Start Calisthenics: Important Tips for Beginners
- Basic Calisthenics Exercises
- Common Mistakes to Avoid when Starting Calisthenics
Before we delve into the details on how you can safetly start calisthenics training as a beginner, have you ever considered pursuing a career in fitness? If so, head over to our course page that features OriGym's variety of REPS and CIMSPA personal training courses and diplomas. Or if you'd rather, you can download our latest course prospectus instead.
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What Are Calisthenics Exercises?
In order to understand how to do calisthenics for beginners, we first need to discuss what calisthenics actually are.
Originally developed by the ancient Greeks, calisthenics exercises are routines which rely solely on your own body weight and strength. In calisthenics, movement can vary depending on your skill level; they can be performed with different levels of intensity and in whatever rhythm you, your coach or personal trainer sees fit.
When actively practicing strength training, you can use calisthenics equipment which enables you to perform exercises such as pull ups and skipping rope. Alternatively, you can also rely solely on the use of your own bodyweight with calisthenics exercises. Basic calisthenics exercises include the likes of: pushups, situps and squats; it's possible you may have been actively practicing calisthenics without even knowing it.
You can read more about general strength training outside of calisthenics in our resistance training guide.
When breaking down calisthenics for beginners, it is important to have a basic understanding of what you can expect from the practice. From this point on in the article we will go into greater detail regarding how calisthenics exercises can benefit your strength, even as a beginner.
Calisthenics vs Weightlifting: Which Practice Offers You The Most Benefits
If you’ve found yourself questioning how to start calisthenics, it’s likely you have also wondered what the benefits of the practice are, and how it can positively impact your current training structure.
When you do calisthenics, you’re also engaging in a form of strength training - a practice which involves the performance of physical exercises that are designed to improve both strength and endurance. One of the most notable and popular forms of strength training is weightlifting, however, that is not to say that calisthenics do not promote equally as effective benefits.
Basic calisthenic exercises and perfecting the practise presents a highly effective method of strength training; one that man suggest carries even more benefits than weightlifting. To explore this, we have put together a list of factors below where we believe calisthenics to take the lead in the long debated topic of calisthenics vs weights.
If you do decide that weightlifting is more for you, ensure you educate yourself with common weightlifting injuries with our prevention guide.
Benefits of Calisthenics
#1 Versatile and Adaptable
The first talking point in this debate of calisthenics vs weights is the adaptability of both practices.
Basic calisthenics for beginners will require some existing sense of body and strength awareness; being aware of your skill set and limitations is a vital necessity if you wish to find success with calisthenics.
It is worth noting that if you’re just starting calisthenics then it is possible to make basic exercises suitable for your fitness level - preventing limitations being put on participants of calisthenics and enabling people from all fitness backgrounds to take part.
For instance, if we were to take a simple exercise such as a push-up, instead of fully extending your legs, you can alter your position to do the pushup(s) from a kneeling position, which will make it slightly easier as less load is ebing put on the upper body. Likewise, if you’re looking to challenge yourself you can modify this workout by doing the push ups one handed. For more examples on how to adapt your push up, we have 13 of the best push up variations to try right here.
Calisthenics is a practice that is naturally adaptable to each individual's lifestyle, as previously discussed you can use equipment or you can use your own body depending on your ability. This contrasts with weightlifting, which generally requires you to have access to gym space, gym equipment or your own set of homemade weights, which is of course not practical or feesable for everyone.
When approaching other forms of calisthenics equipment and exercise, you may need to get creative in your approach to make it adaptable to you. Remember to never push yourself too hard, everyone has to begin somewhere.
#2 Utilises Multiple Muscle Groups at Once
When comparing the benefits of calisthenics vs weights training, many people's interests lie in the benefits calisthenics have for the body.
One of the major benefits of calisthenics is that it involves compound exercises. These are exercises which target multiple muscle groups at once - this contrasts to weightlifting, which tend to only target specific areas of the body rather than numerous groups.
Where weight training allows one primary muscle group to work against a form of resistance, which in turn makes it easier to increase the size of said muscle at a faster rate, calisthenics on the other hand requires a lot more on your behalf in order to increase your overall muscle strength.
If you’re looking into calisthenics workouts for beginners, you should be aware that this form of training typically requires a higher amount of energy and movement when compared to other forms of weight training. However, as a result of this, it also encourages a bigger caloric burn, particularly in a short period when compared to what you would burn in weight training.
This promotes a body composition that features less body fat and increased muscle definition in your abdominal. Calisthenics is also notable for promoting a 'chiseled torso', whereas weight training focuses more towards increasing the strength in other muscle groups, such as upper body.
Do not be mistaken however, strength training as a whole is highly effective; read all of the benefits of strength training here.
#3 Improves Strength, Flexibility, Balance and Overall Fitness Levels
As we draw this mini-debate of calisthenics vs weights to a close, we can argue that due to its unique adaptability, calisthenics exercises can not only act as a form of strength training, but can also improve your overall fitness skills.
This idea can be supported by a number of available research into the effects of calisthenics on the body, such as a study conducted in 2017. Researchers found that the participants’ posture, strength and overall body composition was significantly improved after partaking in 8 weeks of calisthenics. The results showed that by the end of the study, all the participants saw a 16.8% increase in their performance during a press up and pull up test - further supporting the theory that calisthenics improve fitness levels all round.
Additionally, calisthenics is known to improve health as well as fitness levels, they can also help individuals who suffer from conditions such as COPD too.
This was highlighted in 2014, when a research study was launched investigating the effects of calisthenics on COPD patients. The research found that low frequency calisthenic training helped to improve the exercise capacity and muscle mass of participants within a COPD outpatients programs.
When tackling calisthenics for a beginner it is important to know just how it can benefit your body. Overall, you can expect to see significant improvements in strength, flexibility and balance; but keep in mind that these improvements won’t happen overnight, keep to a steady pace that is comfortable for you and you will find success at your own speed.
Starting Calisthenics: The Different Disciplines
When looking into calisthenics for beginners, it is important to be aware of the two different calisthenic disciplines prior to taking on this form of strength training.
People find calisthenics at different points in their life and often have different goals for wanting to take it up. As mentioned earlier, in order to get the most out of the practice, you should consider altering your calisthenics workout to accommodate your level and skills.
The differing calisthenics disciplines can fit into two categories: static and dynamic. Whilst all of the disciplines offer benefits for improving your overall strength, they approach calisthenics slightly differently.
Most people tend to find they they feel particularly comfortable doing one discipline over the other, but we would recommend trying your hand at both of them - even if you need to make accommodations in your approach in order to make the discipline easier on your body.
Static calisthenics, otherwise known as ‘isometric holds’, is the practice where you hold your body in one specific position whilst remaining as still as possible - which you may have guessed from the name.
For those starting calisthenics, you may be interested to know that when performing static exercises, the length of the muscle doesn't change noticeably during the execution. These exercises are great for maintaining strength, but not so effective in building more strength.
There are two main types of static calisthenics exercises:
- Holds: These moves involve maintaining a position for a certain amount of time.
- Pulls & Pushes: These exercises involve holding a certain position/exercise while preloading the muscles in order to perform a greater force.
A static calisthenics workout for beginners includes holds such as a seated wall squat and the plank. However, if you’re looking for something a little more challenging, advanced static calisthenic holds include: the human flag, front and back lever, planche and the v-sit.
If you’re looking to include equipment in your static calisthenics workout, you can choose to practice the dead hang using pullup bars.
Another example of an exercise to include in your static calisthenic workout is handstands, as they require a high control of your own body. By mastering handstands, you’ll find your balance, strength and overall physicality improves. Remember, with calisthenics it's important to set little goals for yourself - we would suggest setting the goal of successfully executing a handstand as an initial goal, as this will indirectly improve your overall performance of other exercises and calisthenics as a whole.
Static exercises are a great method of exercise used to display your strength. However, it is important to keep in mind that some of the more advanced holds can take years to master, so you shouldn’t feel disheartened if you cannot perform them instantly and have to make subtle changes to decrease the difficulty for a while.
Dynamic calisthenics, otherwise known as freestyle calisthenics or ‘bar flow’, is all about power, movement and self expression. When considering a calisthenics workout for beginners, jumping into dynamic freestyle calisthenics may be ill advised as this dynamic revolves around exercises performed on a bar.
Whilst static calisthenics involves strength training against an immovable force, such as a wall or the floor, dynamic calisthenics is all about being expressive and moving your body against a resisting force - much like dynamic stretching. You can find a full list of the benefits of dynamic stretching here.
Some of the dynamic calisthenic movements we would recommend for beginners are: ascension, inversions, muscle ups, re-catches and swings. Don't worry if you are not familiar with what these movements are, as this is a guide for calisthenics for beginners, we don't expect you to be up to scratch with the terminology; we will cover these exercises and more in greater detail later on in the article.
This form is what is most commonly used in calisthenics competitions around the world and should only be attempted by those who feel comfortable swinging from/pulling themselves up and around a bar.
Freestyle calisthenics has the potential to create a lot of adrenaline and excitement within your body, so it is important to ensure you stay focused when performing dynamic calisthenics as the potential of injuring yourself is high.
What Calisthenics Equipment Should You Buy and Where Should You Practice?
Two of the primary beauties of calisthenics are that you can take part with nothing other than your own bodyweight, as well as being able to perform it right from your home. You can train in literally any location imaginable, be it outdoors at a local park, at your gym, in a yoga studio, the list of possibilities are endless.
Some of the exercises require equipment in order to perform efficiently, however, much of this will be available at local fitness facilities if you do not wish to purchase them for your home.
To enable you to achieve the optimal results and success from calisthenics, we have put together a list of some staple pieces of equipment you may benefit from adding to your home gym kit. Some of the items are more important to your calisthenics journey than others, however when that is the case we have made a point of stressing its importance.
Perhaps the most important piece of equipment you can purchase when looking to pursue calisthenics is a pull-up bar. Calisthenics can often be primarily associated with pushing exercises, such as squats and pushups - however, in order to engage all of your muscles during strength training, you also need to incorporate pull workouts into your routine too.
Pull exercises are harder to achieve with just your body weight alone, but the addition of a pull-up bar should make this training easier, as you can slowly acclimate your body to pull exercises at your own speed.
There are several different types of pull-up bars; the ones people tend to be most familiar with is wall mounted pull-up bars. These are the ones you typically see either attached to door frames or to walls and are easy to get your hands on from most sports stores and online retailers.
Pull-up bars that are used in freestyle/dynamic calisthenics movements are what is known as the free standing pull-up bars, it is worth noting that these come in at a slightly higher price point than a standard pull-up bar, but they are a much larger piece of equipment so it is understandable.
When looking at calisthenics for a beginner, the pull-up bar is simply a must have. Both types of bars are valuable pieces of equipment that can benefit any calisthenics newbie, but do remember to listen to your own body and pursue what you’re most comfortable with.
If you really want to engage with dynamic calisthenics then the standing bar will probably be the equipment for you. Alternatively, if you’re just looking to ease into the practice of calisthenics then a regular wall mounted bar will work just as effectively - you can find a run down of the best pull-up bars here.
When you think of resistance bands, you may think of the tools typically used in yoga and pilates practises that are traditionally used for stretching and rehabilitating injuries. However, flat loop resistance bands can also be used in calisthenics workouts for beginners, and much like the pull-up bars are must haves for any budding calisthenics enthusiasts.
If you're stuck on what brand to go with, OriGym has put together a list of the best resistance bands that will help take your calisthenics workouts to the next level.
In order to get better at something, overtime we have to increase the difficulty for ourselves. Weightlifters are always increasing the load they lift, runners the distance they run, but what about calisthenics? How can you challenge yourself in this area of exercise?
The answer is simple. When it comes to training with your own bodyweight, it goes without saying that you cannot simply adjust bodyweight, so instead you must turn to the help of equipment. For example, you can add resistance bands to your standard workout which instantly intensifies the level of a routine.
Resistance bands also come in a range of different levels, varying the amount of resistance they add - so you can work you way from light, all the way up to extra heavy, progressing your calisthenics ability with this one piece of equipment alone.
You can also use resistance bands to help with your progression in calisthenics, as the can be used as a support aid for harder moves that you haven't quite mastered yet. For instance, you can tie a resistance band to a pull-up bar and loop it around your feet, in order to support your own bodyweight when doing moves such as pull-ups and chin-ups. This will make the exercise easier, and when you do eventually improve your skill level you can gradually swap the bands for lighter ones until you no longer need their assistance.
Resistance bands can be found on online retailers like Amazon and in any sports store, however we advise against buying cheap ones made for yoga. The cheap bands will not be able to support your bodyweight and could snap.
The main purpose of this article is to discuss how to start calisthenics, however, when you eventually get to the point where you are advancing in your calisthenics skill level, you may want to invest in a weighted vest. The reasoning behind this is that your own body weight will eventually no longer be able to offer you enough resistance to build up strength.
Much like the resistance bands, a weighted vest will ultimately add more resistance to your body. This allows you to increase your strength when your muscles become acclimated to supporting your body weight. Therefore, you can argue that whilst resistance bands are used to help beginners train, weighted vests are used in order to help improve those who are a little further ahead in their calisthenics journey.
If you don't know where to find a weighted vest then you will be pleased to know we have an entire buyer's guide that provides you with 23 options for the best weighted vests to strengthen your upper body.
A Pair of Parallettes
Paralletes are a great piece of equipment if you’re developing a calisthenics workout for beginners and are particularly useful in calisthenic exercises such as dips and L-sits. If you’re pursuing calisthenics at a more professional level or wish to challenge yourself, you can also use the parallettes to practice handstands - but we advise onl doing so much further down the line.
Unlike the other two entries on this list, the parallettes aren’t vital pieces of equipment to purchase. Moreso, it is a piece of equipment you should purchase if you’re looking to further develop your calisthenic practice.
If you're questioning whether it is really worth investing in parallettes, then you may benefit from reading our guide on the most essential personal training equipment, which offers further justification as to why this is a great apparatus.
The gymnastic rings have become increasingly popular among the calisthenics and Crossfit community in recent years due to the fact it targets muscles in a way that no other equipment on this list does.
Used in a similar way to a pull up bar, both can be used in dynamic calisthenic practises, however, the support they offer is where the tools differ. A pull-up bar is more firm and solid, offering more support for your body to move around, whereas gymnastic rings are attached to pieces of elastic which may cause the rings to wobble and shake with your body's tension, meaning they require more balance and stability.
When approaching calisthenics for a beginner, the gymnastic rings may be a little intimidating, you should only attempt to use this equipment if you already feel confident using a pull-up bar.
Gymnastic rings are usually priced anywhere between £20-40.00, however it is important to remember you may need a pull-up bar to hang them onto.
How to Start Calisthenics: Important Tips for Beginners
In our effort to teach you how to start calisthenics, we are now going to impart some words of wisdom. These tips should help you along with your journey and are here to act a simple guiding hand.
#1 Consult a Medical Professional Before Beginning
Calisthenics for a beginner can be quite challenging on your body as you can imagine. If you suffer from any chronic medical conditions or are pregnant prior to beginning your calisthenics journey, please consult a medical professional in order to see if the practice is safe for you to do.
Due to the high intensity nature of this practice, we would recommend that pregnant women should stick to static calisthenics and remain off of elevated surfaces at all times. Remember to keep yourself safe and to never push yourself to a point where your safety becomes compromised.
Another important safety factor to take into consideration whilst pregnant is the distribution of your body weight during strength training. You may not be used to exercising with this additional unfamiliar source of weight, so exercises and holds that you were once able to do may now be more challenging. Remember to be careful when entering any pose, whether that be static or dynamic.
If you're particualrly interested in the medical and GP side of fitness, have you ever thought about GP referral? Here at OriGym, we host a level 3 GP exercise referral course that opens up the doors for you to support those with chronic physical conditions or illnesses by improving their health and wellbeing.
#2 Progress at a Pace That Is Comfortable For You
When you first begin calisthenics, it is likely you will notice a quick rate of improvement in your skills - this is due to the fact you’re consistently working hard on the same areas of your body and building up strength. This quick progress can become somewhat addictive, so it is important to be careful and continue at a steady progressive state that allows your strength to improve gradually.
When starting calisthenics as a beginner, you are exposing your body and mind to a very new kind of training and simulation, and as a result it can be easy to get lost in the excitement of progress. It is important to bare in mind you need to learn to walk before you can run, so take things slow and steady.
Build a good foundation before pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It's important to know your body's capabilities, if you build a good relationship with static calisthenics first for example, then you will be more confident when faced with a bigger challenge such as dynamic calisthenics.
#3 Never Compare Yourself To Others
Alongside the physical considerations that come with calisthenics for beginners, it is important to be aware of the physiological implications that come with pushing yourself in this method of training.
Not comparing yourself to others can be applicable to every form of exercise - and life in general - however it is particularly notable to calisthenics for beginners.
When beginning anything new it is easy to get envious of people who excel or are further along in their journe than you are, but instead allow these people to be your motivator. Remind yourself that they were once in your shoes as beginners, but through hard work they were able to achieve their desired calisthenics goals. Try to keep a positive and clear mindset when approaching calisthenics, this should be a fun experience.
No two people are the same and no two journeys are identical, so there is little to achieve from comparing your ability with that of someone elses. Take your time and allow yourself to progress at your own speed, remember calisthenics are very much an individualistic practice. It’s important to set your own goals and never force yourself to do something that looks too challenging, this is when accidents will occur.
#4 Set Goals For Yourself
A great way to track your progress in calisthenics is through setting yourself goals. This will allow you to monitor the progress you have already made, whilst looking forward to your future calisthenic workout goals and milestones.
When it comes to calisthenics, we would recommend following the ‘SMART’ goal setting technique, which stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. It is about setting yourself a specific goal that is achievable with your current skill set, which can also be measured to see your improvement over the course of time. For instance, as a calisthenic beginner your initial goal may be to do 5 pull-ups, over time this could be changed to 10, 20 and so on.
You can read more about this method of goal-setting in our SMART Fitness Goals ultimate guide.
It’s important to be real with your expectations; don’t aim to be swinging off a bar doing freestyle calisthenics only a month into beginning your calisthenics workout for beginners.,
Be reasonable and rational with yourself, if you aim too high too soon, the liklihood is you will end up disappointing yourself. Just like calisthenics is all about adapting your body to the practice, make sure your goals are tailored specifically for you.
#5 Equipment Is An Add On - Not A Necessity
If you’re looking to build muscle, contrary to popular belief you don’t have to lift a crazy amount of weights, as your own body weight will often be enough to present a challenge and promote progress.
When it comes to creating strength training/calisthenics workouts for beginners, many personal trainers will encourage you to use equipment such as free weights, weighted vests and resistance bands. Whilst these are great pieces of equipment to have on hand when strength training, they are by no means a necessity. If you would like to read more information on how additional equipment, specifically resistance bands, can be advantageous to your workout, we have a thorough report on the benefits of resistance bands for you to check out.
In research conducted in 2019, the Journal for Experimental Gerontology found that bodyweight training was just as effective at gaining muscle mass as regular weightlifting. In fact, they dubbed the two practices as interchangeable, meaning that you could participate in either practice and expect to see results (note: of course, the more weight you use, the more muscle you will build).
#6 Take Care of Your Joints
Whilst this article is focusing primarily on tips for calisthenics for a beginner, this tip relates to those who may want to move beyond the basics. As you begin to advance in the practice, you will begin to use stretches and holds that will require a greater range of motion in your joints, think dynamic calisthenics.
During the calisthenics movement you will begin to load your connective tissues, at a greater speed than traditional weight training would allow. However, these connective tissues do not get the same amount of blood flow as muscles do, meaning that they take a longer time to adapt to training.
It's so vitally important that you look after your joints, particularly your wrists, elbows and shoulders. For these are the joints that will support your bodyweight the most during calisthenics exercises.
#7 The Calisthenics Diet
Many of you may have read this tip and questioned what the calisthenics diet actually is. Much like the practice itself the calisthenics diet is rather straightforward. You won’t need to measure or weigh foods, nor will you have to keep a food diary, because this recommended diet is flexible to you and your fitness goals.
To achieve the optimal outcome of the calisthenics diet we would recommend only eating fresh and lean produce whenever possible. Whether it is meat or fish, lean is always the way forward, if it's packaged with a million ingredients or additives avoided at all costs. Additionally, we would also recommend loading up on as many fruits and vegetables as you stomach, in order to fill your body with vital vitamins and minerals.
Some calisthenics athletes also practice intermittent fasting, which is when they limit themselves to eating at certain points in the day and never eat outside said points. This allows the athletes to fill their meals with nutrient dense foods, which fuel their body for long periods of time and stop them from snacking.
Research conducted in 2011 highlights the advantages of intermittent fasting, as it found that it can be an effective tool of losing weight whilst maintaining muscle mass.
It’s important to note that intermittent fasting is not for everyone, if you try it and don’t like it or find yourself getting too hungry stop immediately. Don’t make yourself sick in pursuit of this calisthenics diet.
#8 Limit Intake of Specific Foods
Let’s face it, we all love treating ourselves to a takeaway every now and again, and that is absolutely fine. But, the biggest piece of advice we can give if you’re pursuing the calisthenics diet is to cut out junk food whenever possible.
A rule which also extends to empty carbs (carbs that have gone through a process which removes their nutrients) and processed food. It’s easy telling people what to eat, but most of us don't know when a food is bad for us. If you’re planning to follow the calisthenics diet, here is a handy list of other foods that you should avoid eating in mass consumptions.
- Sweets, Cakes and Pastries
- White Rice and Pasta
- Sugary Cereals
There are a great variety of healthy alternatives at your local supermarkets, as well as independent retailers. Why not try out a new brand or a new food entirely, who knows you could find your new favourite treat.
#9 Align Your Body
An important tip we can pass along in this calisthenics for beginners guide is to always ensure that your body is aligned when working out.
Our body alignment refers to how the head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles line up with each other, with proper allignment putting less stress on the spine and therefore promotes a good posture.
If you’re practicing the traditional form of static calisthenics then you won’t have anything to support you other than your own body weight. When it comes to bodyweight training, your core is everything, it is the factor that keeps you balanced. If your core is off or loose, then your whole body will feel the effect and when attempting to enter a calisthenics movement you could hurt yourself.
A good way to align and strengthen your core is to practice a basic planking pose before beginning your calisthenics workout.
#10 Setting Your Shoulders
The shoulder is one of the most important and complex joints in our body, as it has the ability to wield the greatest range of motion. For this reason, when approaching calisthenics for beginners it is important to ensure that your shoulders are strengthened, the stronger they are the easier the calisthenic workouts will become.
To improve your shoulders through pulling exercises, we would recommend using the ‘active hang’ technique on a pull-up bar. Begin this by hanging slack and matching the height level of your ears with your shoulder blades. Begin to pull your body up with your hands, pulling down on the bar - as if you’re trying to snap the bar in half. You should be attempting to drive the shoulder blades down together, making them level with the opposite hip.
Likewise, when it comes to setting your shoulders up to push against a resistance, we would recommend doing a basic push up technique. Keep your hands under your shoulders at all times, with your body being positioned in the shape of a diagonal line. When you push your way down to the floor, in order for your shoulders to feel the most benefit ensure that your chest touches the space between your hands.
#11 Practice Hand Balancing
Starting calisthenics is an exciting process, and learning how to develop your skills offers a great sense of achievement. For many who participate in calisthenics, balancing on their hands is a great stepping on this journey, with it being the ultimate end goal for others. With that being said, the practice is often overlooked or labelled as too hard.
However, practicing hand balancing needn’t be as scary as it looks. As a beginner you can incorporate hand balancing and handstands into basic calisthenics, which allow you to develop your strength even when you haven't quite mastered the end form - for example we would recommend trying the frog stand.
This basic calisthenics pose will be a small stepping stone in your overall journey, but will help train your hands to hold your full bodyweight.
As we have already discussed, starting calisthenics is quite addictive and when pursuing your fitness goals it is easy to get carried away and work non-stop. However, we cannot stress how important it is to rest in between your calisthenic workouts. Your recovery days are vital to keeping your body in peak condition, allowing time for any strained muscles and joints to repair themselves.
One of the benefits of rest days is that you can interpret them however you please. If you want to take some time to unwind with a relaxing jog, yoga session or meditation that is entirely up to you, or if you want to take it literal and do nothing other than rest - again, this is also acceptable. Simply avoid any strenuous exercise that could be too taxing on your body.
A 2006 study also found that our bodies need rest days in order to build muscle through the process of protein synthesis. The study found that the participants involved gained an increase in muscle mass and fiber hypertrophy when they integrated rest days into their training schedule.
If you don't believe us however, have a read of our article which looks at the importance of rest days and how many you need to achieve natural progression and optimal results.
So if you’re tackling a calisthenics workout for beginners in the hopes of gaining muscle mass, rest days are a vital necessity.
#13 Enjoy the Journey
As this is our last tip in the calisthenics for beginners guide we feel it is necessary to stress the importance of having fun and enjoying the process. While this may seem like a futile tip, it can be easy to dismiss that exercising should be enjoyable, especially a form that is built on uniqueness.
Calisthenics promotes a form of training that sees participants improve their strength and mindset whilst simultaneously learning new skills.
Like most forms of exercise, if something is causing you distress or if you dread going to the gym or studio, then it simply isn’t for you. Listen to yourself and to your body, if it's not meant to be don’t force yourself into the practice. Likewise, if you don’t enjoy one specific part of the practice or find it too hard, then make it fun and easy for yourself - this is the beauty of calisthenics.
With calisthenics, there aren’t many rules you have to follow, you decide what you do and where you do it. Make this experience as uniquely fun and entertaining for you as possible.
If you have found this article useful, then the chances are you'll benefit from reading the following blogs too:
- 11 Benefits of Calisthenics Training
- 11 Best Calisthenics Apps of 2021
- Calisthenics for Beginners: Ultimate Guide
Basic Calisthenics Exercises
Now you understand the fundmentals, we can now move on to giving you some examples of calisthenics workouts for beginners. In the list below we have explained how to accurately perform the exercises to give you a good understanding when approaching them. The calisthenics exercises mentioned won’t be anything too difficult to achieve and we have tried to keep them as simple as possible to ensure they’re accessible for beginners - even if it is for one rep.
Pull ups are rather self explanatory as the exercise is all in the name.
- Start by standing directly below a pull-up bar, placing your hands in an overhand grip (your palms facing away from your body) with your hands slightly further than shoulder-width apart.
- From there, lift your feet from the floor so that your body is hanging from the bar. Engage your core and pull your shoulders back and down.
- You then want to engage the muscles in your arms and back, bend the elbows and raise your upper body up toward the bar - ideally until your chin is over the bar. If it helps, imagine bringing your elbows toward your hips.
- As you pull up, it is important to avoid swinging your legs or shrugging your shoulders up. Your shoulder blades should remain back and down throughout the entirety of the exercise.
- When you reach the top, remember to inhale, and then extend your elbows and lower your body back down to the starting position.
Note: If you can’t reach the bar when standing on the floor, you can place a chair/box beneath you to enable you to take up the starting position.
Chin ups are rather similar to the pull-ups, however they do differentiate ever so slightly.
- Grip the bar with your hands approximately shoulder width apart. Palms should be facing away towards you with an supinated/upperhand grip.
- Hang from the bar with your arms fully extended. Squeeze your shoulder blades together slightly, pulling your shoulders backwards.
- Engaging your abdominal muscles, draw your stomach inwards towards your spine (this helps to activate your core and ensure you’re using the right muscles, while also aiding your balance).
- Next is when you will pull yourself up. Do this by closing the elbow joint and squeezing your shoulder blades down and together. Continue pulling yourself up until your chin is above the bar.
- Pause for a moment at the top and then slowly, under control, lower yourself back down to the starting position.
One of the less complex calisthenic exercises, but do not be fooled as these are a killer move.
- Start by standng tall with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing slightly outwards.
- Lower your hips backwards and down gently into a squat position, with your thighs remaining slightly higher than your knees.
- As you reach the full squat, exhale and press your feet down to explode off the floor and jump as high as you can - driving hard with your legs and pushing yourself further into the air with the balls of your feet. Your body should remain straight throughout the entire movement and your hands should be above your head – keeping your core engaged to prevent your body from rotating.
- As you appoach the ground, allow your knees to bend at a 45 degrees when you land, and then gently control yourself back down into the squat position. Jump again.
- Start by lying down on your back, facing the ceiling with a slight bend at the knees with your arms bent at the elbows and hands lightly touching your head by the ears (you can cross your hands to opposite shoulders if you prefer).
- Engage your core and stabilise your lower body.
- Using your core, lift your head and shoulder blades from the ground in a controlled manner - as opposed to a puling yourself up with your arms. Exhale as you rise.
- Lower, returning to your starting point. Inhale as you lower.
Tip: Ensure your breath is steadied, inhale as you’re laying flat on your back and exhale as you sit up.
Press Ups can be executed in a number of variations depending on your ability, however for this purpose we will explain how to perform a traditional press up. For a more challenging variation, you may want to invest in one of the products from our top push-up bars to strengthen your upper body shortlist.
- Starting by getting down on your all fours, place your hands shoulder-width apart and assume a high plank position with your feet, knees, hips, and shoulders in a straight line.
- Engage your core and keep your arms extended to fulfil your starting position.
- Bend your elbows and pull shoulder blades together to lower your chest towards the floor.
- Pause for a moment and then press through your palms to straighten your arms back to starting position. Repeat.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms by your sides.
- Lower into a squat position and place your hands on the floor.
- Kick or step your legs back into a plank position.
- Jump or step your legs forward to return to a squat position.
- Return to the standing position.
While you can perform l-sits with your bodyweight, we recommend for the purpose of calisthenics adding in the use of paralettes.
- Start with both feet on the ground, placing your hands on the paralettes and extending your arms so they're straight.
- With straight arms, place your hands on the floor or on the equipment.
- It may help as a calisthenics beginner to start the movement by bringing one foot off the ground at a time, ensuring your legs remain straight and pointing your toes.
- Next, lift up the other leg to meet the one already extended until they're both parallel to the floor so your body makes an "L" shape.
- As you do this, draw your shoulders back and down, keep your back straight, and look straight ahead with a neutral neck and hold.
These exercises, as you can imagine, also require a dip bar however are typically easier to attempt compared to L-sits.
- Begin by grabbing the parallel bars and jump up, straightening your arms while your legs are bent at the knees (feet should be behind you).
- With your shoulders down and back, lower your body by bending your arms - ensure you are leaning forward.
- Keeping your elbows by your side, lower yourself/dip until your triceps are parallel to the floor.
- Just before you're able to lock your elbows, lift your body back up by straightening your arms.
- Lock your elbows at the top, then repeat.
Another effective exercise that requires the addition of equipment; this time a jump/skipping rope. Differing from the rest of exercises on this list, jumping rope can be executed in a number of ways; of course they all follow the same theme of holding the ends of the rope with two hands and jumping, however there are many variations of jumping rope workouts.
We recommend checking out this one from the Calisthenics Family.
Common Mistakes to Avoid when Starting Calisthenics
Now that we have covered exercises and tips for starting calisthenics, we will now make you aware of the mistakes many beginners make, before informing you how you can avoid falling into the same traps.
#1 Neglecting Calluses
When attempting calisthenics workouts for beginners, it is more than likely you will develop calluses on your hands, this may even be noticable in your first couple of weeks of working out. This is a very natural result from all the bar work you may be doing, and presents no harm or concern.
While it is not deemed a major issue, by not actively working to treat or prevent calluses, you’ll put your body through unnecessary pain and may even result in skipping workout days because you simply cannot provide yourself with the support needed for some calisthenic exercises.
You can avoid calluses all together by wearing gloves when exercising. This will not only prevent skin irritation in your hands, but will also provide your wrists with added support.
#2 Neglecting Your Lower Body
One of the most frequently recorded mistakes calisthenic newbies make is dismissing their legs when it comes to training. A lot of the calisthenics stretches and holds rely solely on your upper body as they rely on the strength of holding yourself up. However, that does not negate the fact that it's also necessary to exercise the lower body if you wish to uphold your whole body fitness.
We would recommend alternating ‘leg day’ workouts around your calisthenic exercises. Try to workout your whole body, and not just relying on specific muscle groups in the upper half of your body, you may even benefit from OriGym's run down of the 13 best calf exercises for bigger calves.
#3 Waiting Too Long To Add More Weights
We have previously touched on the importance of adding weights in calisthenics, but we're here to stress it again. A great stepping stone when you begin mastering holding your bodyweight with some exercises is by starting to introduce light weights into your workout.
This will enable you to both build strength and improve your calisthenics technique and level. You can add weights in a number of forms, such as weighted vests of resistance bands.
It is important to be aware of your body and understand when you’re still progressing and when you have hit a plateau. If you find your workouts becoming stagnant, this is when you should add the weight. Be honest with yourself, only you know your limitations.
#4 Cheating On Range of Motion
Whilst on the subject of being honest with yourself, sometimes in the pursuit of success and development, people will often cut corners in a bid to hit new milestones at quick paces.
This can be done through small actions, for instance, some people will not fully extend their arms during pull-ups/push-ups or don't go low enough into a lunge. It is important to take care with your form and perform calisthenic exercises correctly, otherwise you are only hindering your progress and could even injure yourself.
If you're looking for alternative ways to improve your range of motion, it happens to be one of the many benefits of flexibility training.
#5 Ignoring Progression
When it comes to calisthenics movements, we have used the metaphor of stepping stones in relation to progression. But a mistake that many newbies make is not building towards something, and rather just attempting things outright.
For reference, if we look at handstand calisthenics, attempting to do one without progression training has a high risk of resulting in an injury. Progress towards the goal of a handstand by mastering the froggy stand first, or using a wall to support your legs and feet. Remember, buildup what you know and progress to your goals, it may take more time but better to be safe than injured.
#6 Training Too Often
If you’re using calisthenics to gain muscle, then yes training often will help you increase your muscle mass in a fast and efficient manner. However, consistently training the same muscle groups over and over again has a high chance of leading to injury, and in turn could have the opposite effect and actually hinder your training.
As we have already discussed, calisthenics predominantly focuses on the top half of your body, which is why it is so important to intersperse your calistheics training with days that focus on leg exercises, along with rest days.
#7 Muscles Over Movement
While calisthenics is a form of strength training, we would typically advise against using this form of training if your primary goal is to build muscle mass. A common error that some beginners of calisthenics face is prioritising muscle growth over perfecting movements.
While you will of course benefit from enhanced muscle mass if you choose to approach it this way, it will in turn slow down the progress you see in calisthenics technique, such as holding movements for longer periods and performing more of a difficult exercise (such as pull ups).
Development of strength comes part and parcel as you progress through calisthenics, therefore we encourage focusing on your technique and the increased muscle mass will inevitably follow.
However, if you are looking to prioritise enhanced muscle mass, then you can always head over and take notes from our article that covers how to get biggers arms fast.
#8 Inconsistent Schedules
These days we all have busy schedules, and some days are more busier than others. In order to improve consistently at calisthenics you should look to sustain a regular training structure. This idea is supported by research conducted in Sports Medicine, which found that participants who had a regularly scheduled workout were more likely to gain muscle and strength than those who exercised with no schedule.
Avoid inconsistent workouts by keeping a specific workout regime, we suggest sticking to the same days and maintaining this throughout your progress.
Is There Any Calisthenics Terminology I Should Be Familiar With Before Starting?
Below we have listed a few basic calisthenic phrases and terminology that we feel you’ll benefit from familiarising yourself with before you jump into your first class:
- Repetitions (reps) - A rep is one completion of an exercise, for example, 30 push-ups would be considered as 30 reps.
- AMRAP - This is a short abbreviated term of ‘As Many Reps As Possible”. A phrase regularly used by fitness enthusiasts, it essentially means there is no set criteria for the number of reps to complete, instead do as many reps as your body allows.
- Tabata - A workout that lasts specifically for 4 minutes and consists of 8 rounds. Each round involves 20 seconds of pushing your limits and 10 seconds of rest.
- Pyramid - This is a phrase that is usually used to describe an exercise with a decreasing number of reps. For example, you may start off with 10 reps, then rest, then return with 9 reps and then rest again. And so on until you reach 0 reps.
Do I Need To Have Prior Muscle/Strength Training Experience?
No previous strength training is required to practice this method of strength training. However, our advice when looking at calisthenics for a beginner would be to take things slow and make it as easy as possible for yourself.
If you have no prior fitness background then you’re not going to master the process overnight, so we advice you to enjoy the process. Listen to your body, if you feel like you’re overworked or something looks a little too advanced, adapt it to fit your fitness level.
Is There an Online Service to Learn Calisthenics?
With the growing number of online personal trainers, fitness influencers and live virtual gym classes, it is difficult to find a form of fitness that hasn't found its way to the internet - which offers great news for calisthenics participants.
For those looking for calisthenic classes that you can access online, we highly recommend using The School of Calisthenics.
On the site you have access to many different classes, expert instructors, a plethora of different programmes, further guidance on how to get started and just between you and us - it comes with a free 7 day trial!
Before You Go!
That brings our calisthenics for beginners guide to an end. We hope with this information we have sparked a desire to at least try out this unique form of strength training.
With its many benefits, its adaptable nature and plenty of room for progression, it is a great style of training for those who like to challenge themselves and an area of fitness that there is always scope to develop in.
There is no denying that starting calisthenics can be difficult and knowing where to begin can be overwhelming, but congratulations by reading this article you have already taken your first step.
The fitness industry is one that is extremely versatile and can be adapted to fit everyone's abilities and goals. If you're interested in helping others find ways to integrate fitness into their lives, then enquire about OriGym’s REPS and CIMSPA accredited personal training courses today!
Alternatively, download our latest course prospectus, where you can find all the information on our courses and services.
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