Calisthenics. A cornerstone to the fitness industry. If you’ve never experienced a hard-hitting, heavy-breathing calisthenics workout, there are many reasons why you should.
Bodyweight exercises have recently seen a resurgence as a top strategy to get that full, well-muscled, lean physique normally reserved for professional athletes and Hollywood actors.
Now, with calisthenics courses cropping up left and right, it’s time to take advantage of all that fitness knowledge.
In this article, we’ll go over the eight incredible benefits of calisthenics, making them your go-to workout, as well as giving you the best calisthenics exercises so you can get started on creating the body of your dreams.
Let’s talk about some calisthenics!
What is Calisthenics?
Excellent question. Calisthenics is resistance training with your own bodyweight.
Instead of using plates, barbells, dumbbells, or machines, you use what weight you already have, moving your body through different motions to make you stronger and improve your physique Then when you get stronger, you can add a weighted vest for additional resistance.
Google’s dictionary definition for calisthenics is: “gymnastic exercises to achieve bodily fitness and grace of movement.” That is how we would define calisthenics.
All of the available exercises are movements any gymnast would know. Add to that the goals of having total body fitness as well as being graceful with your own bodyweight, and you’ve got calisthenics.
A simple search online gives you plenty – plenty – of articles, workouts, etc., regarding calisthenics.
It’s a hot, trending topic in the world of fitness as of this moment, but bodyweight exercises have been around for millenia.
The important thing when regarding calisthenics is to get some high-quality, simple information and then use it to your fitness advantage.
With that said, calisthenics are extremely beneficial for improving your overall physique, increasing strength and muscle mass, and limiting body fat. Here are the reasons you should give calisthenics workouts a try…
The Benefits of Calisthenics
1. Calisthenics is Virtually Free
This might be the best news.
When all the equipment you need for a workout is your own body, you aren’t paying out the you-know-what for a gym membership.
However, you don’t even need to do that; simply go to your neighborhood park (more on that later) and use the monkey bars.
They don’t call it “jungle gym” for nothing!
In any case, calisthenics is gymnastics with functional strength. None of the exercises you would do in a bodyweight workout requires equipment.
Therefore, no gym fees, no equipment costs. Just you, yourself, and push-up variations.
2. You Gain Functional Strength
Critical to your physique success, functional strength might be the greatest advantage to implementing a calisthenics workout routine.
Functional strength is the type of strength that gets us through life, allowing us to carry ourselves in the real world.
Because you are doing exercises that involve compound movements with your own bodyweight, you’ll be working your body in the way it was meant to be worked.
This results in looking the way you should look, which is broad-shoulders, thick-chested, and tree trunk legs
As you progress through your calisthenics workout, you will succeed at feats you could only dream of months before. And with that, you’ll gain strength similar to traditional resistance training.
The difference is, the strength – and muscle – you gain will be from compound movements your body was meant for, which results in a kickass bod. Boom.
3 – Workout Anywhere, Anytime
This is the beauty of calisthenics. With your bodyweight as your singular piece of equipment, the world is your gym.
Gymnasiums, classes, and holidays seem to control the fitness industry.
However, calisthenics has no master.
Instead of waiting until Tuesday’s spin class at 5:30 in the afternoon, you could get some sunshine by doing a calisthenics workout in the park next to your house at noon.
Or a night cap of jumping squats long after the gyms have closed for the evening. Or an early-morning jog and sprint interval workout on Thanksgiving Day.
The point is, you should be in control of how you work your body. That means having autonomy on when, where, and how you workout. Calisthenics gives you the power of control.
4. It Helps with Your Weightlifting
Funny enough, calisthenics is an awesome way to improve your progress and strength in the gym as well.
Compound movements come with the territory in both weightlifting and calisthenics. So, when you progress with your bodyweight movements, you get better at the weightlifting equivalent.
For example, if you’re having struggles with your incline bench press, get really good with decline push-ups. Maybe even add some weight to your back.
Get proficient with the push-ups, then go back to incline bench press and see if you can push past your plateau (pun intended).
If you’re thinking about doing calisthenics as an alternative to your normal resistance training, that’s a terrific idea.
It will help you maintain your strength gains from weightlifting while enhancing your compound movements with a fresh variation of the movement.
5. You Become a Pro at Cool Movements
Let’s be honest: You lift so you can look like a badass.
Well, with calisthenics not only will you appear to be an aesthetic beast, but you’ll look like that while also performing feats of human strength that make people stop and stare.
Calisthenics has some advanced movements that seem like magic to the random passerby. Exercises like planche holds, windshield wipers, and one-handed handstands are epic if you can muster them.
By progressing in calisthenics, you’ll get to the gymnastics movements that are too good to be true. This allows you to impress people in multiple ways.
Have an amazing physique while also doing cool shit with it. Calisthenics gives you this ability. All you have to do is take the opportunity and run/jump/push/pull with it.
6. Progression is Easy-Peasy
Even if you’re a beginner or you’ve never experienced a workout without a barbell, calisthenics is simple to start and even easier to progress in.
The reason why it’s easy to progress in calisthenics is it’s human nature. All you have to do is ask yourself, “Huh, I’ve mastered the traditional push-up.
How can I make this more difficult for myself?” From there, you can go with decline push-ups, slow push-ups, diamond push-ups, or any of the countless variations.
Or you can add weight. Or you can use one arm. The same can be said for pull-ups, handstands, dips, squats, and other classic exercises. (We cover the best calisthenics movements below.)
Begin with a calisthenics exercise you can do fairly easily. Get to a certain number of reps and sets, then move on to the next difficult variation.
Build up your reps and sets until you’re ready to tackle an even harder variation. Progress as far as you can or want, and then you’ll be doing those kickass moves we talked about in the previous point.
7. Rest and Recovery Are Quick
Weightlifting has its pros and cons. One of the cons is, if you’re lifting heavy, it takes a toll on your central nervous system.
Your recovery could take a while, plus your risk of injury goes up when you get into the ridiculous weights.
With calisthenics, however, your rest, recovery, and risk of injury are all limited. Using only your bodyweight, you keep the load relatively light.
Now, that doesn’t mean your workouts are any less gruelling; by utilizing time under tension, volume, and short rest periods within the workout, you can end up as a sore puddle of sweat next to the guy who just did regular weightlifting.
The difference is, calisthenics gets you sore and then you recover in no time. Almost like magic, your body is better equipped to handle your bodyweight.
So, when you workout with just you, yourself, and the floor, your body is more than ready to go for another round in a day or two.
You can use this to your advantage. Try out full-body calisthenics workouts.
You can recover quickly, you keep your body fresh and away from being injury prone, and you can do the same full-body routine in 48 hours.
(Caveat: Just because your risk of injury is lower doesn’t mean it isn’t existent. There’s still a risk. Know your limitations and work within the confines of what is safe for you.
You’ll progress evenly and reach new heights eventually. Slow and steady wins the race and keeps you healthy!)
8. You Keep Things Interesting
Enter calisthenics. The sheer amount of exercises you can do (which we cover next) is enough to blow your mind. Plus, the natural progression of body part movements alters your position, plane of motion, or entire body with each new variation.
Assisted pull-ups can turn into chin-ups (changing hand placement), which can turn into wide-grip pull-ups (another change in hand placement), eventually getting to one-arm chin-ups (altering entire exercise).
Or you can go for muscle-ups, which changes your range of motion and approach to your back exercise.
Keeping things interesting is key to continuing a workout habit and routine. Calisthenics is a simple way of maintaining a fresh regimen with every single workout.
Best Bodyweight Exercises
With great benefits come great calisthenics movements.
Here are the best exercises you can do with only your bodyweight, broken up by body part. (Note: These are all complex movements, so these exercises workout more than just a single body part; for example, dips work your triceps, pectorals, and deltoids, a.k.a. your arms, chest, and shoulders.)
- Chest: Any push-up variations, dips
- Back: Pull-ups (+ variations), body weight rows
- Shoulders: Pike push-ups, handstands, handstand push-ups
- Upper Legs: Squat variations, lunges, pistol squats, jumping, sprinting
- Lower Legs: Standing calf raises, seated calf raises, single leg jumps
- Triceps: Dip variations
- Biceps: Pull-up variations, row variations
- Core: Crunch variations, hanging knee raises, toes to bar, mountain climbers
We cover all of these exercises and more in detail on Athletic Muscle’s training page.
If you have a full-body workout routine that has a push-up, a pull-up, a handstand, a row, a dip, a squat, a calf raise, and hanging leg or knee raises, you’ve got an incredible workout that will hit all of your muscle groups and help you progress in strength and muscle.
For a great way to start your calisthenics journey, check out our ultimate beginner’s guide to calisthenics.
Hopefully this has given you enough reason to toss away those weights for a while and join the army of calisthenic warriors.
A terrific alternative to the stuffy gym in the warm summer months, you are now equipped with an arsenal of bodyweight movements to perfect next year.
Ditch traditional thinking for a little while and try calisthenics out!
And for the ladies, we put together a guide just for you; calisthenics for women.