Skip to main content

Is Calisthenics Right For You? A Guide to Bodyweight Workouts

Calisthenics sounds like an ’80s Jazzercise workout, but this form of bodyweight training may be the only thing you need to get jacked. Like, Brad Pitt-in-FightClub jacked. Or Brad-Pitt-in-Snatch jacked. You get the picture.

If you’re stuck at home right now without any access to fitness equipment, calisthentics is the perfect solution. The Manual asked three professional trainers what exactly calisthenics is, the best moves, and realistic expectations to have when you ditch the dumbbells.

What is calisthenics?

“Calisthenics is simply body-weight exercises where gravity is the resistance you are working against,” explains Gerren Liles, Hyperwear athlete and Equinox master trainer. “Think of it as your body being its own gym.”

Calisthenics Stretch
Kolostock/Getty Images

“It can be practiced outdoors and is often referred to as a ‘street workout,’” says Ethan Connellan, Livekick fitness trainer and calisthenics bodybuilder. “One of the major benefits of this style of exercise is that it can be done anywhere, without any equipment.” Like in a hotel room or in front of the TV on football Sundays.

Breaking the boundaries of a standard gym, you may work your muscles more and therefore see more gains. (It’s all about the gains, kids.)

Does calisthenics make you fit?

“Calisthenics is great, particularly for men, because it can give you that ripped look,” says Liles.

Connellan seconds that. “When I think of the most ridiculous bodies I’ve ever seen on a man, I think of gymnasts. And what makes up 99.9% of their routines? Calisthenics.” Connellan adds that “more often than not, calisthenics moves take more energy and cause you to burn more fuel during and after workouts.”

For those already doing weights, there are still more benefits to be had. “For guys who lift a lot, calisthenics will help with the mobility and flexibility that’s needed to continue to let muscles grow,” says Paul Wright, coach at Tonal.

Realistically, can you get the same results as using weights?

“Calisthenics is limited in the gains … because the resistance cannot be increased in a meaningful way … gravity will always be what it is,” admits Liles. “One way to increase the intensity of calisthenics is by wearing a weighted vest.”

Connellan says, “It’s true that when using only the weight of your body, you will reach a point where your muscles probably won’t grow any further without added resistance.” He suggests playing with elevated surfaces or changing the angle of an exercise.

Further Reading

What are the biggest mistakes to avoid when starting calisthenics?

“Rushing! Callisthenic movement is meant to be done with control,” says Wright, which is why you can gain more stability and awareness of your body doing these exercises.

“Neglecting the lower body” is the biggest mistake, according to Connellan. “Many calisthenics aficionados focus all of their time on their chest, arms, or abs and completely forget about their legs. Keep crushing those bodyweight squats until they’re perfect, and then you can move onto those elusive pistol squats.”

What is a beginner calisthenics workout?

Liles says, “Do simple exercises like squats, pushups, and lunges to warm up, as well as any flexibility or mobility drills you can incorporate. If you happened to be very limited with your flexibility and mobility, address that first before attempting anything explosive.”

What are the best calisthenics exercises?

Muscle Ups

Calisthenics Muscle Ups
Patrik Giardino/Getty Images

Liles: One of the gold standards for true athleticism is the ability to pull yourself up over a bar. Think of it as an aggressive pullup into a tricep extension. Hanging from a bar, hyper-extend your trunk, use momentum from the hip flexion, simultaneously pull to swing your chest over the bar. From there, straighten your arms to lock down. Lower yourself down and repeat. Try not to do more than five or 10 in a row.

Tricep Dip to Leg Raise

Calisthenics Tricep Dip to Leg Raise
Khosrork/Getty Images

Wright: Grab even parallel bars with your legs hanging down. Complete one tricep dip and once you get to the top of your rep lift your legs up, bringing your feet to the sky.


Calisthenics Burpees
Nattrass/Getty Images

Liles: Everyone hates them, but there’s no denying their effectiveness in spiking your heart rate and working your entire body. From standing, drop into a low squat, placing your hands on the floor. From there, jump your feet back into plank position. You can add a pushup or drop your chest to the floor and return back to plank. Jump your feet forward back to the low squat position and complete a squat jump. Land in a squat and repeat. See how many you can do in one minute?

Squat to High Kick

Calisthenics Squat to High Kick
Cavan Images/Getty Images

Wright: Bodyweight squat then kick one leg up and in front of your body reaching your opposite hand to your foot.


Calisthenics Moguls
Drazen/Getty Images

Liles: Moguls are a progression of mountain climbers where you’re likely to work your abs even more. From plank position, jump both knees toward your right elbow, jump back to plank, jump them to your left elbow, back to plank, and repeat. Try to keep your butt out of the air. See how many of these you can crush in one minute.

Push Up to Shoulder Tap

Calisthenics Push Up to Shoulder Tap
Stígur Már Karlsson / Heimsmyndir / Getty Images

Wright: From a high plank, do one push up then tap your shoulder with your hand right to left, complete another push and alternate again.

How can you find more calisthenics workouts?

If you’re always on the move, use an online fitness platform that connects you to a personal trainer in exactly the training you’re looking for, i.e. Connellan on Livekick. Through live sessions, Livekick is a pocket-trainer with real interaction from anywhere.

Other fitness apps like Tonal can be beneficial if your goal is tracking progress. This is the perfect app for people who love setting personal records and getting into the details of measuring performance. Here are some more of our favorites that can whip you into shape.

Editors' Recommendations

Jahla Seppanen
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Born and raised off-the-grid in New Mexico, Jahla Seppanen is currently a sports, fitness, spirits, and culture writer in…
8 Educational YouTube Channels for Learning Something New
youtube learning education

In the year 2020, if you can’t find the digital version, does it even really exist? Aside from food and beverage, it doesn’t seem it does.

The same applies to the power of YouTube and its library of educational videos and Ted Talks. If you want to learn how to change the headlight on your 2008 VW R32, no problem. If you want the cheat code for putting your comforter back into the duvet without a single bead of sweat, consider streaming. And if it’s as simple as learning how to properly slice and dice an onion, YouTube has the answer sans tears. As we continue on through the #quarantinelife, use the spare time to learn something new with these YouTube channels.
How to PROPERLY Repair a Rust Hole in your Car or Truck (DIY for Beginners)

Read more
The Best Non-Fiction Books About Pandemics, Diseases, and Outbreaks of the Past
reading book bed

For some of us currently living through the COVID-19 pandemic, reading a book about another outbreak that afflicted humanity might sound like the last tome on Earth to crack open right now. Others, however, will find reading about epidemics of the past just the right thing for the moment. A good nonfiction account can help the reader gain a better understanding of how pandemics start, spread, and ultimately end, potentially offering comfort in these uncertain times. It can also offer a broader and deeper context that the daily news cycle might not.

If a book about a past disease was a compelling read before the novel coronavirus spread around the globe, it's still a good read post-COVID-19. Viruses and bacteria have done so much to shape the history of the world that it's impossible to imagine our human story without them. From the deadly role malaria played in ancient Rome (Roman Fever, as it was known) to the devastating bouts of bubonic plague that swept Europe, to smallpox ravaging the native populations of the Americas, to the Spanish flu coming on the heels of World War I, epidemics have caused death on a scale second to none. Just take the Spanish flu, properly called the 1918 Pandemic: that pandemic killed somewhere between 50 million and 100 million people in just over a year, whereas WWI, immediately before it, caused 40 million casualties.

Read more
The Best Fiction Books About Pandemics
Man reading a book and drinking coffee

If misery loves company, those of us stuck at home during the COVID-19 lockdown will love these compelling works of fiction about pandemics. (Not that being stuck at home at all equates to the misery felt by people actually suffering from sickness or from those spread thin on the front lines fighting it, but I categorically reject the fallacy of relative privation, so you feel however you need to feel in these times and others.)

While the pandemic currently plaguing the world is new and strange in many ways, it bears many of the hallmarks of all past (and surely future) strife; be it war, famine, plague, or other times of struggle, compelling stories emerge. We read of doctors, nurses, drivers, and others who refuse to be cowed by the threat they face, knowing their work keeps others safe and indeed alive. We watch videos of communities coming together, even as, this time, that means drawing apart. And of course, we hear stories of suffering, pain, and death.

Read more