Even if you have never stepped foot in a gym, or it’s been so many years that you can’t remember any of the exercises you used to do, there’s a good chance that you’ve done calisthenics at some point in your life.
Although calisthenics certainly has a fancy, complicated-sounding name, if you transport yourself back in time to physical education class or early days in youth sports, you can probably picture yourself doing exercises like push-ups, jumping jacks, or sit-ups.
If so, you not only know what calisthenics are, but you know you can do them.
So, what may sound complicated and overly challenging, is, in reality, a type of exercise even beginners can readily take on.
In this article, we will discuss the basics of calisthenics exercises, the benefits of calisthenics, and a list of calisthenics exercises to try.
We will cover:
- What Is Calisthenics?
- Calisthenics vs. Weight Training
- 8 Benefits of Calisthenics
- Examples of Calisthenics Exercises
Let’s get started!
What Is Calisthenics?
Calisthenics refers to a type of strength training that involves performing bodyweight exercises to strengthen your muscles, increase cardiovascular fitness, and improve mobility and coordination.
Examples of calisthenics exercises include bodyweight squats, push-ups, jumping jacks, and crunches.
By using the resistance of your own body weight and gravity, calisthenics exercises can strengthen your muscles without the need for external resistance by way of strength training equipment like dumbbells, resistance bands, weight machines, or kettlebells.
Note that some calisthenics exercises require simple equipment. For example, pull-ups and chin-ups require a pull-up bar and dips require parallel bars or a bench or chair.
Additionally, some people do choose to add resistance bands to calisthenics exercises to increase the difficulty of the movement, though traditionally, calisthenics exercises are bodyweight exercises.
Calisthenics workouts are versatile in that you can not only tailor the intensity to your fitness level (beginners to advanced athletes), but they can also be performed anywhere, from at-home workouts to cramped hotel rooms, to outdoor parks.
Calisthenics vs. Weight Training
So, what’s the difference between regular weight training and calisthenics?
Although both calisthenics and weight training are considered forms of strength training, and both share the common goal of strengthening the muscles, calisthenics exercises use only body weight for the resistance, whereas weight training exercises use some sort of external load such as dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, medicine balls, etc.
So, when you’re trying to design your training plan, you might ask, “Is it better to do weight training or calisthenics?
From a functional standpoint, both calisthenics exercises and weight training exercises can strengthen your muscles, but the benefits and goals of each type of strength training vary somewhat.
Therefore, the type of training that’s best for you will depend mostly on your goals; moreover, because the benefits of calisthenics and weight training exercises are slightly different, it’s usually ideal to incorporate both types of exercise into your fitness routine.
The primary difference in the benefits of calisthenics vs. weight training is that calisthenics tends to be better for increasing muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness, whereas strength training exercises with weights are better able to increase muscular strength and build muscle mass because you are using an external load.
With that said, it’s absolutely possible to increase strength and build muscle with calisthenics exercises, particularly if you are a beginner and/or you progress your calisthenics workouts by increasing the difficulty of the actual exercises (for example, moving from the kneeling push-ups to feet push-ups). It’s also possible to increase volume by doing more reps and sets.
8 Benefits of Calisthenics
As touched upon, there are many benefits of calisthenics exercises, including the following:
#1: Calisthenics Increase Muscular Strength and Endurance
Calisthenics uses the weight of your own body coupled with the resistance imposed by the force of gravity to load your muscles during each movement. This can increase muscular strength.
Depending on the particular exercises you perform in your calisthenics workouts, you can easily get a total-body workout by targeting all of the major muscles in the body, or you can focus specifically on upper-body, lower-body, and/or core calisthenics exercises.
Calisthenics exercises can also increase muscular endurance, which refers to the ability of your muscles to sustain movement or continually contract against resistance over time.
You can improve your muscular endurance by performing longer sets—more reps— for each exercise.
For example, beginner calisthenics exercises might involve performing 10 to 12 repetitions of each exercise, and as your cardiovascular and muscular endurance improve, you might build up to 25 to 30 repetitions per move.
Another way to increase your muscular endurance is to reduce the rest or recovery between sets. By decreasing the “break“ between exercises, your muscles have to start working again when they are already fatigued from the previous set.
#2: Calisthenics Improve Cardiovascular Fitness
One of the benefits of calisthenics exercises is that they tend to be more vigorous in terms of the pace at which they are performed and may have more of a cardio component compared with traditional strength training exercises with weights.
Because you are only using your body weight, the risk of injury when moving vigorously is much less.
Examples of calisthenics exercises that are particularly effective at increasing your heart rate and improving your cardiovascular fitness include jumping jacks, high knees sprinting in place, mountain climbers, jump squats, bodyweight squats, and burpees.
Any calisthenics exercise that increases your heart rate can strengthen your heart and lungs and improve the efficiency of your cardiovascular system.
The more vigorously you move your body, and the longer you exercise without stopping, the more your aerobic endurance will improve.
#3: Calisthenics Increase Mobility and Coordination
Many calisthenics exercises, such as jumping jacks and mountain climbers, involve moving your joints through their full range of motion, so they can improve mobility.
These exercises also improve coordination, stability, balance, and flexibility.
#4: Calisthenics Can Increase Bone Density
Strength training exercises increase bone density because stronger muscles pull more forcefully on the bones, signaling them to adapt and strengthen.
Additionally, certain calisthenics exercises are actually plyometrics, or jumping movements, which directly increase bone density by loading the bone through impact.
#5: Calisthenics Workouts Burn Calories
Depending on the specific exercises you choose, calisthenics workouts can burn calories fairly efficiently, particularly if you include high-intensity exercises like burpees, jump squats, and mountain climbers.
#6: Calisthenics Are Beginner Friendly
One of the best benefits of calisthenics exercises is that they are great for all fitness levels, but especially beginners.
Although technique is extremely important when performing any type of strength training exercise, it is often easier to master the foundational movements of calisthenics exercises than also having to navigate the challenges of working with dumbbells or other weights.
Many people also have some familiarity with a couple of basic calisthenics exercises, such as sit-ups, push-ups, running in place, and jumping jacks, so beginners can often get started with calisthenics workouts without much guidance or coaching.
Also, because you are just working with your own body weight, calisthenics exercises are easily scalable to your current fitness level.
#7: Calisthenics Can Be Done Anywhere
With just a little bit of room to move, calisthenics can be done anywhere.
Even if you don’t have the space or money to buy exercise equipment, you can do at-home calisthenics workouts.
#8: Calisthenics Are Fun
Okay, so this one is subjective, but calisthenics can be really fun!
Because they are often exercises we did as kids, there is an inherent “play”-like component to certain calisthenics exercises, helping make your workouts more enjoyable.
Plus, you can exercise outside!
Examples of Calisthenics Exercises
Putting together the best calisthenics workout involves considering your fitness goals and level and your intended workout duration.
You can also add a handful of calisthenics exercises to other strength training workouts or before or after a cardio workout as part of a dynamic warm-up or cool-down.
Here are some of the best calisthenics exercises by body region or type of exercise:
|Total-Body Calisthenics or Cardio Exercises||Lower-Body Calisthenics Exercises||Upper-Body Calisthenics||Core Calisthenics|
|Jump squats||Split squats||Regular push-ups||Crunches|
|Bodyweight squats||Walking lunges||Clapping push-up||Plank|
|Jumping jacks||Reverse lunges||Incline push-ups||Bicycle crunches|
|Side-to-side hops||Forward lunges||Decline push-ups||Reverse crunches|
|Marching in place||Side lunges||Knees bent chair dips||Hanging leg raises|
|Jogging in place||Plié squats||Legs straight dips||Bird dog|
|High-knees||Curtesy lunges||Parallel bars dips||Dying bug|
|Butt kicks||Calf raises||Chin-ups||V-ups|
|Single-leg hops||Steps-ups||Pull-ups||Russian twist|
|Crab walk||Glute bridges||Spiderman push-ups||Side plank|
|Bear crawl||Side-lying leg raises||Dolphin push-ups||Up-down plank|
|Mountain climbers||Donkey kicks||Pull-up dead hangs||Plank jacks|
|Seal claps||Straight leg raises||Planks with forward reaches|
|Alternating jumping lunges|
Check out some of the fun and engaging ways to structure calisthenics workouts, such as AMRAP workouts and alphabet workouts.