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-Fight–Club 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.”
“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.
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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?
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.
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.
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?
Wright: Bodyweight squat then kick one leg up and in front of your body reaching your opposite hand to your foot.
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.
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.
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