Ditch the thought that you need every new gadget or that sparkly weight set to get toned because you don’t. With calisthenics—really, a technical word for bodyweight training—you don’t need to buy anything to get in a serious sweat. It's a no-equipment-needed modality that dates all the way back to the ancient Greeks (really) that you can do anywhere. And, you may be doing calisthenics workouts already without even knowing it.
Calisthenics workouts have stood the test of time thanks to way you can craft beginner-friendly circuits with straightforward moves (think: pushups, squats, and lunges). And they come with serious benefits. “Calisthenics are movements performed with just your own body weight,” says Angelica Segura, CPT, the co-founder and trainer for MELTPrjct, a boxing-inspired fitness program. “So a calisthenic workout relies on a person's body weight for resistance and can always be progressed or intensified by the use of rings, bars, or wands.”
Plus, you can do a calisthenics routine multiple times a week. Start with just 20 minutes, which is enough time to get your heart rate up, work muscles from head to toe, and sweat, says Segura. “Calisthenics has great benefits, especially for beginners with little access to equipment,” she adds. “You can engage some major muscle groups with just body-weighted exercise and definitely see a calorie burn.”
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Read on for everything you need to know about calisthenics, including why you should start doing calisthenics workouts (hello, strong muscles!) and a beginner-friendly circuit from a trainer.
The Benefits Of Calisthenics Workouts
Bodyweight training with calisthenics doesn’t need to be some daunting feat with crazy moves that you’ve never heard of to reap the rewards. Simple bodyweight exercises, like squats and pushups, will prove beneficial to your body, heart, and even posture.
- They can help you build muscle. In calisthenics workouts (like the ones below), you are working with your “muscles to overcome force, and the muscle will then adapt to the stress,” Segura says. Often, she finds her clients think that you can only build muscle by exercising with weights, but as long as you are applying the right amount of force and tension (even by using your body), you definitely can.
- They're great for all abilities, and especially beginners. With no equipment needed, calisthenics and popular calisthenics movements are newbie-friendly. Another bonus: with no added weights or equipment, all fitness levels can fine-tune body awareness.
- You can lose weight and lower your cholesterol. Calisthenics was more effective in reducing total cholesterol and weight than yoga and Pilates, according to a study in the International Journal of Physiology, Nutrition and Physical Education.
- They're good for your heart. Resistance training, both with added weights or with just your bod, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. (The science says so.) The more you sweat, the better your heart and whole self, will feel.
- The moves help improve your posture. We could all use a good back stretch to de-hunch ourselves as we work hours at a desk. Luckily, whole-body aerobic resistance training is here to help. This type of calisthenics and resistance training increases your skeletal muscle endurance (the muscles that attach to your bones, as opposed to cardiac or smooth muscle groups) and in turn, aids in your body’s structural support and overall posture.
- You can do them anywhere. The bodyweight moves mean the method is super flexible. You don't need anything but your bod to sweat it out during a calisthenics workout.
6 Beginner Calisthenics Exercises To Try
If you are new to strength training with only your bod, try out these six beginner-friendly moves for a complete routine from Segura.
Instructions: Perform each move for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds, then switch to the next. Once you’ve completed all six moves, rest for 1 minute, then repeat the circuit. Work up to completing 8 rounds of the entire circuit. (FYI, 2 circuits will take about 14 minutes and 8 will fill 55 minutes.)
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hands at sides. Engage core and keep chest held high as you sit hips back. Lower down until thighs are parallel to the floor. Engage glutes to return to standing.
2. Incline Bench Pushup
How to: Begin in high plank position with hands on a bench (or other elevated surface) and shoulders over wrists, chest broad, core engaged, and toes tucked. Then, bend elbows to lower chest down toward bench and stop when elbows hit 90 degrees. (Peep these trainer tips to perfect your pushup form and get the most out of the move.) Aim to point your elbows at 4:30 and 7:30 on the clock, per Segura.
How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Then slowly bend over and touch the floor in front of feet with both hands. While keeping legs as straight as possible, walk hands forward until you reach a high plank position. Pause, but don't let hips dip, before slowly walking hands back toward feet to stand up.
4. Alternating Reverse Lunge
How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart. Step back with right leg and bend both knees as you lower until left knee is bent 90 degrees and hovers near the ground. Push through left foot to stand, then repeat on the other side. Keep a tight core for stability throughout.
5. Plank Knee Tuck
How to: Start in a plank position on hands or forearms. Then, slowly bring right knee toward the midline of body near chest. Step it back with control, and repeat with the left leg. Continuing alternating legs. (Think: mountain climbers in super slow motion.)
6. Steady Tempo March
How to: Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Slowly lift left leg up until knee is at hip height. Then, with control, lower leg down to the ground. Repeat, alternating legs and pumping arms.
Misconceptions About Calisthenics Training
Here are some of the most common myths about calisthenics workouts and what's actually legit, according to Segura.
- You can’t build muscle with just calisthenics. That is simply not true. In fact, athletes have been using body-weight training and calisthenics for years and years. With the right routine, you can build strength and muscle. Working your muscles with no external load (aka, body weight only) can still increase muscle size, similarly to if you were lifting weights, according to a 2016 University of Mississippi study published in Physiology & Behavior.
- Calisthenics is only for beginners. Even though the moves are beneficial and approachable for beginners, calisthenics isn’t just for newbies. “A lot of the calisthenic movies are functional exercises,” says Segura. That means you are mimicking everyday moments and building that functional strength, which helps with your core strength and stability.
- You don’t need rest days. Like any fitness routine, working in rest days is important to allow your muscles time to recover. If you aren’t feeling super sore from a calisthenics workout and are jazzed for more movement, opt for some active recovery like yoga, a hike, or an easy walk, per Segura.
Bottom line: Calisthenics workouts are a great way to build strength and work your whole body with no equipment or experience needed.