CALISTHENICS - an overview

Have you ever looked in amazement at those gravity defying movements like the muscle-up and human-flag?

This article will introduce to the world of Calisthenics and provide you with a guide to get started and gradual progression, even if a basic plank or a single pull-up is challenging for you.

What is Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is a form of fitness that utilises the body and gravity to challenge the natural body movements.

The word "calisthenics" comes from the Greek words "Kalos", meaning beauty, and "Stenos", meaning strength, thus referring to beauty and strength (Daniels 2018). There are lots in common with Gymnastics and Calisthenics; however having evolved separately there are some differences too.

Why should you even bother with Calisthenics? That is a personal goal, and this guide gives you the tools if you want to pursue this course. The most beneficial element is that Calisthenics is based around the body's natural movements, but what we label Calisthenics is that version that pushes the body to its extreme capability.

Another way to think of Calisthenics is as the foundation for every form of strength-training (Daniels 2018). In terms of injury potential and financial costs:

  • is it worth, attempting a bench-press if you cannot push yout body up in a press-up? (Daniels 2018)
  • if you cannot pull yourself off the floor, is it worth concentrating on bicep curls?
  • if a squat is a body's natural movement pattern, that makes gym squats a weighted calithenic exercise.

Daniels (2018) mentions a study in 2017, "The effects of a calisthenics training intervention on posture, strength and body composition", by scientists from the Sport and Exercise Sciences Research unit at the University of Palermo, Italy, found that calisthnics training is a "feasible and effective training solution to improve posture, strength and body composition wiwthout the use of any major training equipment."

Daniels (2018): "The study took 28 men, divided into two groups; one group practiced calisthenics for 8 weeks, while the other group continued with their normal workout routines. After 8 weeks, all of the participants underwent a body composition analysis, a postural assessment, a handgrip test and a press-up and pull-up test."

Results: "The men who trained calisthenics had improved their posture and lowered their fat mass, while the mumber of press-ups and pull-ups they were able to do had increased, even though their calisthenics training didn't include these specific exercises. in contrast, the group who continued with their normal training routines didn't really improve on what they could do before the eight weeks had begun" (Daniels 2018).


Conditioning before Calisthenics

Everybody has a different starting point, therefore the beginners workout that follows may appear impossible to some. What follows are some ideas to break-down the seemingly impossible beginer exercises.

If you are not able to do a PRESS-UP, begin with a Wall Press-up and progress onwards:

  1. Wall Press-up,
  2. Table Press-up,
  3. Press-up on knees,
  4. Incline Press-up,
  5. Floor Press-up,
  6. Floor Press-up x 20,
  7. Tricep Dips.

To start an INVERTED ROW, grab onto a bar such that your feet is touching the ground, and fall backwards. Pull your chest toward the bar. the more parallel you are to the ground, the harder this is going to be.

  1. Inverted Row almost upright.
  2. Inverted Row with a straight body-line.
  3. Lower the bar progressively until your body is almost parallel to the ground.

LUNGES are one of everybody's favourite exercise to hate. The exercise may target the legs, but it is a full-body workout, hence why it hurts so good.

  1. Take a long / giant stride.
  2. Take a long/giant stride and bend the trailing knee ever so gently.
  3. Progressively lower the trailing knee, ensuring that the front knee remains behind the toes.
  4. Full Lunge.

Calisthenics Workout for Beginners

Perform 2 to 3 rounds of the following exercises, and take 2 minutes of rest inbetween rounds. If you can do more than the required repetitions and do not require the full rest periods, then progress onto the intermediate workout.

Press-ups: 05 to 20 reps

Set up with your weight supported on your toes and hands beneath your shoulders. Maintain a straight body-line with your head, shoulders, glutes and heels; by keeping your core locked. Lower your body, whilst maintaining the straight body-line, until your chest is millimetres from the ground, then explosively drive up by fully extending (not locking) your arms.

Press-ups on floor

Squats: 10 to 20 reps

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and sit back with your hips. Go down as far as you can and quickly reverse the motion back to the starting position. Keep your head up and back straight throughout the move.


Plank: 30 to 60 seconds

Get into a press-up position, dropping onto your forearms rather than your hands. Make sure your back is straight by maintaining a straight body-line with your head, shoulders, glutes and heels; by tensing your core and glutes. Hold without allowing your hips to neither sag nor crest.

Plank on forearms

Close-grip Inverted Row: 05 to 20 reps

Set up a bar in the squat rack, grab it with an underhand grip, shoulder-width apart hands. Maintaining a straight body-line, pull your body up until your chest almost touches the bar, pause, then lower yourself back down to the start position.

Close-grip Inverted Row

Walking Lunges: 10 to 15 reps per leg

Lunge forward as far as you can with your right leg, bending your trailing knee so that it almost touches the floor. Use the heel of your right foot to push yourself off into the next lunge, this time leading with your left leg.

Walking Lunges forward

Side Plank on forearm: 10 - 30 seconds per side

Lie on your left side with your knees straight and prop your upper body to take its weight on your forearm. Brace your core and raise your hips until your body forms a straight line. Hold this position breathing deeply. Then roll over and repeat on the other side.

Side Plank


Davies, Daniel, 2018. The complete guide to calisthenics. Mens Health [online]. Available at <> [Accessed 23/05/2020].