The Ultimate Guide For Calisthenics: Origins, Benefits, Exercises, And Workout

 Written by 

Mauro Castillo

 Last updated on 

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Have you ever seen those videos where muscular individuals will jump on a bar and do dozens of pull-ups, and muscle-ups, followed by dozens of dips, handstand push-ups, and the famous human flag? We all have! 

Chances are you were witnessing the world of calisthenics training. A group of ripped and lean people doing all these acrobatics and making them look easy. If that sounds appealing, we’re giving you the ultimate guide for calisthenics: origins, benefits, exercises, and a workout! 

A man does calisthenics in a gym
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After reading this article, you’ll learn:

  • What is calisthenics?
  • Benefits
  • Top 5 exercises 
  • Calisthenics workout program 

Get ready to take your body to the next level! 

What is Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is a form of resistance training that focuses on using your body weight to the best of its abilities to exert power, strength, mobility, and balance. Its origin dates back to ancient Greece, where it had the armies of Alexander The Great as loyal practitioners. 

Some of the most common movements include:

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Squats
  • Dips
  • Lunges
  • Muscle-ups
  • Toes to bar 

It’s a challenging training method that attracts many participants due to its rigorous attention to detail and body control.

What Are The Benefits Of Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is one of the most popular training methods in the world. Although it is not necessarily easy to do, everyone can start their fitness journey with it. The benefits are many, and we’ll highlight our top three for you.

Muscle Endurance

The best way to build muscle endurance is to expose the muscle fibers to prolonged time under tension. This will push the fibers to stay active for longer, building tolerance and endurance to stress, and it is precisely one of the benefits of calisthenics training. 

Suppose you consider other forms of resistance training, such as powerlifting or Olympic lifting. In that case, you’ll notice how all their effort is focused on lifting the possible weight in 3 or fewer reps. This type of training drives absolute strength and differs from the calisthenics program.

After a few months of following your calisthenics workout plan, you’ll feel an improvement in your muscle’s endurance and ability to work harder and longer.

Hypertrophy

One of the main reasons people get into calisthenics training is its ability to build lean muscle (hypertrophy). Learning to move your weight with extreme control and at your own will requires enormous strength and muscle fiber recruitment.

Such a combination is perfect for inducing muscle hypertrophy. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or an advanced practitioner; most calisthenics programs will build functional strength and leaner body composition with high-quality muscle.

Accessibility

Accessibility is one of the main benefits of any calisthenics program. Since the core of it is based on bodyweight training, you’ll need minimal equipment to log in to a killer workout anywhere in the world. 

At most, you’d need some of the following:

  • Pull-up bar
  • Dip stations
  • Resistance band
  • Suspension trainers 
A man does calisthenics moves in front of skyline
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However, rest assured that you can still enjoy a strenuous street workout without needing those tools. The most challenging routines are bodyweight workouts, including dozens and dozens of bodyweight exercises with zero equipment but your body.

Top 5 Calisthenics Exercises

Although the calisthenics list of exercises is endless, we’ve compiled the top 5 that should make every workout program. The following exercises are meant to be performed with pristine form and technique. 

Suppose, for some reason, you need help executing these bodyweight movements properly. In that case, we suggest you modify them and look for challenging variations that help you build the necessary muscular strength and balance to get the most out of them.

Pull-Ups

Pull-ups are one of the most popular and foundational calisthenics exercises. Although it seems like a straightforward exercise (which it is), it’s very challenging for almost everyone starting their calisthenics journey.

It requires a pull-up bar and your arms to drive you up until your chin goes over the bar. There are many ways to hold on to the bar, such as:

  • Underhand grip
  • Overhand grip 
  • Mix grip 
  • False grip

If doing a bodyweight pull-up is too much for you at this point in your fitness journey, you can use alternatives like resistance bands, suspension trainers, jumping pull-ups, or even negative pull-ups. 

You can play around with more challenging variations once you feel comfortable mastering your body weight.

Push-Ups

Growing up as kids, push-up competitions were always present. It’s a staple of all calisthenics programs and one of the many requiring no equipment. 

The push-up consists of pushing yourself up from the ground horizontally. The starting position will have your arms slightly outside shoulder-width, wrists below shoulders, and feet close to each other while keeping a neutral spine and neck. 

From this position, flex your elbows until your torso hits the ground while keeping your entire body stacked (aligned), and press up until your elbows are fully locked. Once you’ve mastered the traditional push-up, you can progress to other variations such as:

  • Incline Push-up
  • Decline Push-ups
  • Clapping push-ups 
  • Diamond push-ups

These variations will target your triceps, shoulders, and chest muscles.

Muscle-Ups

Muscle-ups are considered the hardest progression of the pull-up. The entire movement showcases an incredible amount of upper-body muscular strength that many people can only dream of. 

The starting position for the muscle-ups is the same as the pull-up. Once the movement starts, the pull-up will have your chin reaching the bar, while the muscle-ups will have your entire body on top of the bar, only supported by your hands. 

It’s considered an advanced movement and one of the harder exercises to master in the calisthenics world. It will also challenge your back muscles, biceps, forearms, and core muscles.

Dips

Dips are another staple of calisthenics exercises. It’s another variation of pressing up, but it differs from the push-up because dips usually require a dip station mainly consisting of bars or any other surface that allows for safely placing the hands and exerting power.

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The starting position for the dips will have both hands supported on top of the bars (usually metal), with the body as straight as possible. Flex your elbows while slowly bringing your body down until the elbows hit a 90-degree angle, then press up again until your elbows are fully locked. 

Most calisthenics routines will include this exercise since it’s terrific for building upper-body muscle endurance on your triceps, shoulders, and lower portion of your pectoral muscles.

Handstand Push-Ups

Handstand push-ups are one of the most brutal calisthenics movements because, more than muscular strength, they also involve balance and core strength. 

This movement will have your entire body resting vertically (upside down) on your hands. The starting position will have your body as straight as possible, your feet together, with your elbows fully locked. 

From this position, slowly descend by flexing your elbows until your head makes contact with the surface, and then press up until your elbows are fully locked again. This very challenging exercise will take most people a few months to master and execute safely.

Calisthenic Workout

Now that you’re familiar with everything calisthenics, it’s time to put all the knowledge into practice! Below, you’ll find a calisthenics workout routine that can be done by anyone from beginners to elites. 

If you find any of these exercises too hard, feel free to modify them and adjust them to your current fitness level. Without further due, let’s jump right to it! 

Block A:

A1) Decline Push Ups

4 sets 10-12 reps

A2) Squats

4 Sets 10-12 reps

A3) Chin Ups 

4 sets 7-8 reps

A4) Lunges 

4 sets 10-12 reps (each leg)

A5) Australian Rows 

4 sets 7-8 reps

A6) Calf Raises 

3 sets 20-24 reps

A7) Leg raises 

3 sets 8-9 reps

Try to execute all movements one after the other. For example, perform 10-12 reps of decline push-ups, then move on to the squats, and keep that trend until you finish the core exercise. That will equal 1 set. Perform the sets as prescribed. 

Block B 

B1) Wall Walks or Handstand Push Ups 

4 sets 7-8 reps

B2) Pull Ups 

4 sets 7-8 reps

B3) Pike Push Ups 

4 sets 7-8 reps

B4) Squat Jumps 

4 sets 15 reps

B5) Glute Bridges 

4 sets 20 reps

B6) Nordic Curls 

3 sets 9 reps

B7) Toes to bar 

3 sets 7-8 reps

If you feel like you can go harder with some of these movements, feel free to push yourself harder, but be safe! 

FAQ’s

Does Calisthenics Build Muscle?

Yes, calisthenics builds high-quality muscle. This is due to the constant muscle activation, slow tempo, and vast range of motion that all bodyweight exercises go through. If you’re a beginner, you’ll notice how even the starting position from basic exercises will make your muscles burn and grow.

Why Are Calisthenics Guys So Strong?

One of the reasons calisthenics guys are so strong is because they focus on mastering their body weight and work hard to control every muscle fiber involved in every form of exercise. They work their entire body, building absolute strength with every calisthenics program.

What Is A Calisthenic Exercise?

A calisthenic exercise is a natural movement using minimal equipment and no more than your body weight. Some examples are pull-ups, pistol squats, traditional push-ups, core exercises, and dips. Most calisthenics workouts would include some variation, if not these exact exercises.

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About

I've been in the world of CrossFit since 2016. Started as a client, later became a coach, and eventually bought an affiliate with two friends from January 2020 to January 2022. In 2018 I won 1st place at a local competition in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. After I sold my shares in January 2022 I moved then to another city to run as the general manager of another affiliate STI CrossFit.

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