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Calisthenics is an ideal means of getting healthy or keeping in shape for those who don’t have access to weights. While we would always encourage people to lift weights where possible (given the limitless number of variations and health benefits that can be derived), when you don’t have access to resistance training equipment, an alternative is necessary and can (in some cases) be just as good. We’ll outline below all you need to know to get started!
Remember to check with your doctor/physician before undertaking any new routine!
Calisthenics just means bodyweight training, and has been around since the Greeks (well, probably before them), but the name “Kalos Sthenos” comes from the Greek for “Beautiful” and “Strength”. The advantages of Calisthenics are that you don’t need equipment, AND that it is relatively low impact so recovery is normally not a big issue. The drawbacks are somewhat glaring to anyone hell bent on getting terrifyingly strong: you can’t load movements with weight and you won’t get the same returns on your time spent exercising if you’re looking purely for strength. This said, there is a LOT you can do with Calisthenics, and there are a LOT of people with very good physiques built on Calisthenics, so don’t let the strength limitations put you off! For those who are reading this as part of our Home Workout Series, you can head back to our HIIT page here, take a look at our Introduction To Exercises (for those with mobility issues), or continue on to the Review Page here!
The key things to remember are:
1) You DON’T need to take your top off every time you do Calisthenics and you DON’T need to shave your chest to do pull-ups… I don’t think the reduced wind drag adds too many reps. But, you CAN see from the video above that there’s a LOT of things you can do with Calisthenics AND you can develop substantial levels of relative strength without getting bulky.
2) Do not kill yourself with workouts that never end! It is far more beneficial to long term success not to push yourself to failure (inability to complete a rep) at an exercise. If you are looking for high intensity workouts that burn calories, try our HIIT guide HERE!
3) This means that instead of doing 5 sets of 8 reps, it’s better to do 8 sets of 5 Reps, and build your strength slowly.
4) Workouts (ideally) should not be more than 30 minutes, but should be frequent! If you want to see some seriously fast gains, find an overhang in your house (not off the roof!) that you could use for pull-ups and do a comfortable number of reps (so if your max is 10 reps, do 5-6 reps) every time you walk by it…don’t climb out the window to avoid the overhang. After a week or two, test your max again and it will have jumped upwards to the tune of 30-40% (sometimes more, depending on how new you are to the exercise)
5) Pick a combination of upper and lower body exercises, and try to choose a mixture of exercises that address weaknesses AND that are interesting. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best routine ever if it’s boring and you don’t want to do it!
6) When an exercise has become easy to the point that you can comfortably do 15+ reps, try increasing the difficulty of the movement (you can choose from the exercises below!)
Bodyweight training has had a resurgence in popularity in the last 5-10 years, and is seen as the best way to get in shape without getting “bulky” (bulky will not happen without seriously concentrated efforts to get bulky, so it should not be in your vernacular!). The list of exercises we give below will challenge you, offer a means of progression, and will help you to get lean and keep the muscle you need to have an attractive, athletic looking body. Here is our list of bodyweight exercises that can be done with minimal (or no) equipment. The progressions go from the easiest and increase in either mobility requirements or strength requirements depending on your goal (these are listed next to the progressions), and will also increase the intensity of your training. You can also download our free HIIT guide HERE, to help you put all these exercises together into a routine!
Ab-work has (rightfully) gotten a bad reputation as it doesn’t deliver the results promised, but it does still have its place well rounded routine.
*Cardio should be done at the end of a workout, as the movements prior to this will require perfect form to be used. Form is generally less of an issue with cardio, not because it is less important, but because the movements involved are generally not that technical.
Cardio Progressions: These are to be done back to back (as in doing no.1 3 times with a 2 minute break between each round, for a total of 10 minutes), and then progressed from 1 – 4 (or you could if you’re really looking for a challenge, do rounds 1-2-3-4 with a 30 second break between each – 10 minutes of glorious pain)
These exercises encompass most of what you need to construct a rounded and progressive bodyweight routine. A workout designed to give health should involve both strength and mobility, so stretching AFTER you workout is advised. We give some sample HIIT routines here. Eventually, you will need to start looking at including resistance training in your routine, as no amount of bodyweight HIIT or Calisthenics will allow for the (measurable and progressive) training effect of lifting weights!