Read our in-depth calisthenics guides and latest workouts
The history of calisthenics can be traced back to ancient Greece. With such a long and illustrious history, the art of calisthenics hasn’t changed much in all that time. The fundamentals and objectives of calisthenics remain the same and are now one of the most popular types of workout in the world.
What is Calisthenics?
Stemming from the Greek words “Kalos” which translates as beauty and “Stenos” meaning strength, calisthenics is formed of exercises and movements that rely on the use of one’s body weight, as opposed to weights to target large muscle groups.
Calisthenics can be carried out with different levels of intensity and with a range of equipment, meaning it is accessible for beginners through to advanced trainers. Due to the fact it can be carried out just about anywhere, calisthenics training has become known as a “street workout”.
Calisthenic exercises focus on the development of strength, mobility, cardiovascular health, and muscular endurance. These exercises allow you to become a well-rounded and health athlete, all while focusing on bodyweight movements.
Once you understand basic movements and progressions, you can create whatever type of training workout you want. If you’re looking to target your legs, focus more on those exercises; if you’re looking for a full-body workout, combine the exercises together. Allow for a 30-second rest before each set and a longer rest between each circuit.
The original. With your hands and legs on the ground, your body in a plank position, bend your elbows and lower your body down. Be sure to keep your elbows tucked into your sides and your butt is down. Once you are about an inch above the ground, rise back up to complete the rep.
Variations: Push-ups on knees, incline/decline push-ups, wide stance push-ups, archer push-ups, Bulgarian push-ups, planche hold, planche push-ups, one-hand push-ups, etc.
Severely underutilized, these are actually known for being better for developing your chest than push-ups. Start with your hands gripping a pair of parallel bars and suspending your body in the air. Lower yourself towards the ground, bending your elbows until they make a 90-degree angle. Then push back up.
Variations: Leaning forward helps target the chest more than the triceps. Other than that, you can add weight for a combination of weights and calisthenics, as well as upping the difficulty, which is the name of the game.
Like a regular push-up, but this time you are in a downward dog position, forming an upside-down V. The up and down motion is shallower, using your shoulders to carry and lift the load. For best results, place your hands on the ground facing each other, so that your elbows flare out during the descending part of the movement.
Variations: Continue to elevate your legs, putting them on a bench, in rings, etc. Basically put more and more of your body weight above your body, adding to the weight your shoulders are carrying. Wall-assisted handstand, wall-assisted handstand push-ups, free handstand, free handstand push-ups.
Grab a horizontal bar above you so that you hang, with your hands at shoulder width and facing away from you. Make sure you shift your shoulders up and back, flexing your traps. Pull your body up towards the bar, reaching your chin above the bar. Slowly lower your body back down for one full rep. (If you are unable to do pull-ups, here are some alternative back exercises you can do to build the strength up for pull-ups.)
Variations: To start, you can do either chin-ups (with your palms facing you and closer together). Then you can work your way up to archer pull-ups, assisted one hand pull-ups, and even muscle-ups.
Get underneath one of the lower parallel bars, with your upper body hanging beneath. Hands are gripping the bar at about shoulder width. Pull your body towards the bar, flaring your elbows out and flexing your upper back. Be sure your entire body stays straight and rigid. Slowly lower back down for a complete rep.
Muscle Groups Variations: Front lever w/ knee tuck, front lever w/ one leg tucked, front levers, front levers w/ pull.
Stand on the ground with your feet just past shoulder width. Remaining up and back, with your weight on your heels, lower your entire upper body towards your feet. Go as far as you can – that familiar “ass to the grass” saying – and drive back up by contracting your quads and glutes.
Variations: One-legged squats (pistols), shrimp squats (a version of pistols), jump squats, jump tuck squats. These are great for high volume.
With your feet under a low horizontal bar, on your knees, you slowly lower your upper body and midsection towards the ground. Embrace the impact with your hands, then continue to go until you’re laying on your front. Help push yourself back up, with the top of the movement being dictated by only your hamstrings. This is killer and does not need a variation.
Hanging Knee Tucks
The one abdominal exercise that hits the main muscle groups, start by hanging from the high horizontal bar. Point your toes down, and lift your knees to your chest while also tucking your tailbone under you. The tuck is important – this is how you feel the burn within the transverse abdominal muscle (TVA), or your deep core.
… I’m going to assume you’ve got this one.
So, for a sample workout structure and sticking with our three-day split, we have:
Monday/Friday: Push-ups, Dips, Pike Push-ups
Tuesday/Saturday: Pull-ups, Australian Pulls, Hanging Knee Tucks
Wednesday/Sunday: Air Squats, Hamstring Curls, Sprints