Calisthenics, also known as bar workout, street workout or urban gymnastic, is a great low-equipment bodyweight training method to become strong, build dense muscle and achieve amazing skills.
Calisthenics is using your bodyweight regardless of the environment you are in.
The world is your gym.
You can workout wherever you feel like it. Many outside parks have parallel bars for dips and high bars for pull ups. Or maybe you like training at your home using a home pull up bar and nothing but the floor.
When used correctly, calisthenics can be as effective as lifting weights in a gym. It is all about setting the necessary parameters right.
To read more about how to build size and strength with bodyweight training, read:
How big and strong you eventually become, is dependent on your genetics, work ethic, consistency and the quality of your calisthenics training.
This is how big Eero Westerberg has become in just a few years:
Moreover, there are countless of calisthenics stars who are jacked and incredibly strong. Like I said above, it all depends on setting the parameters right to build size and strength.
Before we had access to a proper CrossFit gym which has everything we need, we spent years training in the outside parks and at our own homes.
We were doing workouts after workouts doing pull ups and dips using everything at our disposal.
How to Begin Calisthenics Exercises
Upper body exercises are categorized in four different basic movement patterns:
- Horizontal pulling exercises such inverted rows.
- Horizontal pushing exercises such as push ups.
- Vertical pulling exercises such as pull ups.
- Vertical pushing exercises such as pike presses and handstand push ups.
For the lower body, nothing beats the basic squat.
It's super important to train all of the basic movement patterns to ensure the structural balance of the body, and to prevent injuries.
1. Horizontal Pushing: Push Ups
Form: start from straight arms and lower yourself until your chest almost touches the ground, then push yourself up.
If the basic push up is too difficult for you, you can start doing incline push ups against a box or a table.
Push ups will work your chest, front deltoids, triceps and core. Basically, all the muscles you have in the front of your upper body.
Push up will take you a long way, but eventually you need to start increasing the difficulty of the exercise by focusing on one arm or adding resistance with a weighted vest.
2. Horizontal Pulling: Inverted Rows
Form: start from straight arms and pull yourself up. Keep the body tight.
Inverted rows will build size and strength in the back muscles. This is the best compound exercise to add thickness and strength to your middle back. Biceps and forearms are worked to some extent as well.
Eventually this exercise might become too easy. In that case, focus on harder variations such as one arm inverted rows. More about these progressions will be on this site.
3. Vertical Pushing: Pike Press And Handstand Push Ups
Form: aim to keep your legs as straight as possible and move them as close as your flexibility allows. Lower yourself vertically and then push yourself up.
This exercise will develop your anterior and lateral deltoids, triceps and upper trapezius muscles. Upper chest is developed to some extent as well.
This is the first and easiest bodyweight vertical press progression. Eventually you can elevate the legs and do handstand push ups.
4. Vertical Pulling: Pull Ups
Form: start from straight arms and pull yourself as high as you humanly can.
Pull up has been considered the king of all upper body exercises. No exercise will build better functional strength in the back, biceps and core than a basic pull up.
Pull ups have a great carryover to almost any sport and any physical activity that you can do.
If you cannot do a single repetition of the basic pull up, then you need to work on negative pull ups and assisted pull ups. Working on the inverted row will directly build pull up strength as well.
To increase the difficulty of the basic pull up, you can start working on one arm chin up progressions, or just add weight with a dipping belt or a weighted vest.
A basic bodyweight squat is one of the most rudimentary movement patterns humans can do.
Working out your leg strength and mobility is extremely important for good health and fitness. The squat has great benefits for overall health, digestion and your body's hormonal balance.
Normal bodyweight squats will become easy at some point. Then, you can start working towards a pistol squat (also known as a single leg squat) or add weight with dumbbells, kettlebells or barbells.
A proper goblet squat with a kettlebell is one of the best exercises you can do for your lower body mobility.
Advanced Calisthenics Skills
If you are a beginner, you should first focus on building overall strength using the basic movement patterns from above.
Eventually, you can begin to work on advanced calisthenics skills such as front levers, body levers, planche work and L-sits.
Most of these advanced bodyweight skills require very specific and precise training methods and progressions, which we will cover in the near future.
For learning a perfect and strict muscle up, you can subscribe below to get access to our very extensive muscle up guide. I honestly believe it is the most comprehensive guide on the market.
Beginner Calisthenics Workout Routine
You can use this basic workout routine to start working on calisthenics.
Reps x Sets
A1: Pull Up
5 x 5
A2: Pike Press
5 x 5
B1: Inverted Row
5 x 5
B2: Push Up
5 x 5
5 x 5
Why 5 x 5? We believe it is the perfect amount of sets and repetitions to build both strength and muscle with calisthenics exercises.
How much rest between sets? We recommend taking between 1 to 2 minutes of rest between sets. We find this to be the optimal range.
How often? We recommend doing this calisthenics workout minimum of 2 times per week, preferably 3-4 times per week.
The information on this article should get you started on your first calisthenics workout.
Train hard, stay safe.