What is Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is basically a fancy name for bodyweight training. However when we look into the origin of the name ‘calisthenics’ we start to learn why it’s become one of the most popular fitness trends in the world!
Calisthenics comes from the two Greek words, Kalos and Sthenos, meaning ‘beauty’ and ‘strength’ respectively. So at the very centre and essence of calisthenics is the notion of being beautifully strong. This gives real meaning and purpose to calisthenics. It means it’s more than simply ‘just bodyweight training’. It encompasses both beauty and strength. Beauty that comes from control of your own body. Strength that comes from controlling your own body and co-ordination to produce beautifully strong shapes.
A push up is no longer a push up. It’s one of many steps towards a handstand. A pull up is no longer a pull up. It’s one of many steps towards a muscle up and the list could go on.
Benefits of Calisthenics
There are a number of huge benefits to calisthenics and that’s why we are so passionate about it and helping people get started. Firstly it requires little or no equipment, which just means it’s accessible to anyone!
It requires you to learn new skills, new movement patterns, linking body parts together and training the body as one complete unit. This allows you to explore what your body is truly capable of, your physical potential. You might not think it when you start but impossible things like Human Flags start to become a reality and eventually when you redefine your impossible, it changes the way you look at everything, not just your training!
Finally we believe with calisthenics we are being encouraged to have a different goal or purpose to our training. Rather than focusing on how much we weigh, what our body fat percentage is or how we look, we are striving for an outcome, trying to achieve a handstand for example. The net result of learning how to handstand, for example, would be; you’ve learned a new skill, can take cool holiday photos but you’ll also have built up shoulder strength and stability, core strength and body alignment, getting fit and having fun along the way!
Beginners Calisthenics Workout
So lets look at getting you started with an easy to follow beginner’s calisthenics workout. Follow the video coaching tutorials below, it requires no equipment at all, so it can even be done at home or even in your bedroom!
The warm up will focus on the shoulders for two key reasons. Firstly calisthenics requires both good range of motion or mobility of the shoulder but also strength. Secondly modern life with extended periods of sitting at desks, driving and hunched over mobile phones creates a certain degree of tightness and potentially damaging dysfunction at the shoulder.
Resorting posture and facilitating good movement patterns at the shoulder is key to staying injury free but also keeping the shoulder joint healthy. A healthy shoulder joint will help improve it’s stability, which in turn will help with strength development and your overall progress and Gainz!
So we’ve given you two warm up exercises below; one focus on self release and mobility, the other on activation to help to improve and start restoring postural alignment.
Exercise: Self Release Lats + Shoulder Mobility (1-2 minutes each side)
Here we are looking to mobilse and loosen off tight muscles that are affecting our posture and shoulder position. We are looking specifically at the lats (latissimus dorsi), which when tight and overactive pulls the shoulder forward, internally rotate it, restricting overhead position as well as affecting the pelvis alignment potentially causing anterior tilt (arching of the lower back) which will affect our trunk alignment and core stability, when we go into the ‘cool’ stuff. So he’s a pretty decent guy to get sorted out early doors!
Watch the video tutorial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA8Tw2uZ4wI&t=64s
Exercise: Floor YTW – Posterior Shoulder Activation (12 reps x 2 sets)
Once we’ve loosened off the lats and increased some range of motion by taking some tension and slack out of that huge muscle the job isn’t done. We then need to look at activating the muscles that help to control and stabile the shoulder. There’s a number of muscles that need hitting for this but rather than doing a different exercises for each muscle these ‘YTW’s hit everything at once!
Watch the video tutorial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEMCH5U8G8I&t=8s
Beginner Bodyweight Circuit
So we are warmed up, we’ve restored some range of motion and posture, the shoulder stabilisers are ready to go! So lets get into the meat of the session.
It’s a circuit of four exercises working on building some basic strength and body control. So make sure you watch the video tutorials that explain the perfect technique and always focus on keeping good form over doing more reps. Poor reps will only hold you back on your long term progression.
The four exercises are;
1. Push Up Plus (6 to 10 reps)
2. Walkout (6 to 10 reps)
3. Pike Push Up (8 to 12 reps)
4. Leg Lowers (12 to 20 reps)
Take 10 to 30 seconds rest between exercises before moving on to the next one. See if you can complete 3 to 5 rounds of the circuit with 1 to 2 minutes rest between each circuit if needed.
1. Push Up Plus
The push up plus is a great beginner exercise that takes the standard push up and adds in some extra range at the top.
What it works: Like a normal push up it will work the chest, shoulders and triceps but the added range at the top works a smaller set of muscles called the serratus anterior (commonly know as the ‘boxers muscle’) and he’s not often trained particularly well but is a key player in shoulder stability.
What the video tutorial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62mAIzn6LIc
Abdominal isometric strength doesn’t just make for a good-looking six-pack but helps build strength that you can use to do ‘cool’ things like Human Flags and Levers!
What it works: One of my personal favourites when it comes core or abdominal exercises. This really make you engage your core otherwise you’ll feel your lower back kick in and take the strain, which we never want to happen. Your glutes should be engaged to counteract an arching lower back and your shoulders get a bit of a workout for free too!
Watch the video tutorial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQxNVHL4bAk
3. Pike Push Up
This is the younger brother of the Handstand Push Up aka the “upper body squat”!
What it works: Great exercise for shoulder pushing strength that works anterior deltoid, triceps as well as a bit of core and hamstring flexibility for free!
Watch the video tutorial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnsLpLhywgk
4. Leg Lowers
If you want to target both upper and lower abs then leg lowers are a great way to work the whole of your six-pack, especially because it’s so easy to adapt the exercise to make it a little easier or harder just by changing the angle of the legs in the air.
What it works: Leg lowers really target your entire abdominals, hitting both the upper and sought after lower abs! The slow eccentric contraction will create some fatigue and soreness (DOMS), but who are we kidding sore abs the next day is kind of a nice feeling!
Watch the video tutorial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFTk1ige0xM
We are passionate about helping people get started in Calisthenics as we love the benefits of bodyweight training but we also know first hand the barriers to getting started. That’s why we have a FREE Beginners Guide to Calisthenics eBook on our website filled with video coaching tutorials of all the basics you need to build some solid foundations. Where you’ll end up, who knows… but one thing’s for sure, if you stick with us we’ll teach you to redefine your impossible!
Mr Jackson (Head of Education + Human Flags)