Some of the reasons that make calisthenic workouts preferable to traditional weight resistance are: lack of time to train at a gym, working long hours, small kids to look after or a lack of commercial gyms in your area, to name a few.
A regular calisthenic workout schedule can be beneficial for both fat loss and lean muscle gain. Unfortunately, we tend to procrastinate working out until summer time comes knocking on the door whereas in fact it could be made into a regular, healthy habit from the comfort of home.
Bodyweight workouts are not restricted to location or equipment and offer a sustainable method to keep strong and lean any time anywhere, as they can be done with little or no equipment even on vacation or while traveling at no cost.
What Are The Benefits Calisthenic Workouts?
Bodyweight routines are simple if not easy to perform correctly. They mostly consist of compound movement which are more demanding than isolation ones as they involve several muscle groups at once, increasing metabolic rate and eliciting fat loss and muscle growth.
The convenience stems from the fact that you can perform the movements by using mundane objects such as sofas, chairs, tables, door frames and so on.
The reason for this is to make any given movement more or less difficult by adjusting the distribution of your own body weight or by altering the leverage and angle of a given movement to suit your level of strength. No barbells, dumbbells or machines required.
Money Saving – It Does Not Get Any Cheaper
Bodyweight exercises, or calisthenics, are the ideal solution for those who do not want or cannot join a gym. Save for a bar or a set of parallettes at most, the workouts are the epitome of minimalism and sustainability. You can get great results for free without all the gimmicks of fancy machines and the expenses of commuting to a gym.
No need for crowded gyms or feeling self conscious, particularly when starting out. You can focus on your workout routines without the distraction of mirrors and eyes on you everywhere, you can even train in your pijama.
There are infinite variations of bodyweight exercises to suit all levels of strength and flexibility, much more so than traditional free weights, let alone machines.
You can make the exercises as hard or as light as you want depending on your goals, leaving you with a much better mastery of your body in all possible planes, from horizontal to vertical.
This will also give you a real life, functional mobility, flexibility and strength, more so than boring and repetitive machine workouts.
How Should You Train Exactly?
How much, how hard and how often you should train depends on your goal, whether it be fat loss, strength or hypertrophy.
This is an old question that should be addressed in the same way you do for weight resistance training. While you can practice calisthenics every day, you must decide from the onset what your needs are.
The key is fine tuning the 3 basic elements of a training regimen, which are:
If you want to increase strength and/or hypertrophy you simply cannot train to failure the same muscle group every day.
You need to play around the natural protein synthesis cycle, which runs approximately at 48-hour intervals, for optimal recovery and nutrient absorption.
This means that you need to let your muscle recover for a day and feed them properly, before you can hit them again. Training them every other day is a schedule that works for most people.
This is because muscles recover and become stronger when they rest, not when you work them out. If you go to failure every day, you’ll quickly over train and plateau, then suffer a set back.
For strength and hypertrophy, a full body routine 3 times a week will do nicely for most people. Alternatively, you could do a split routine like upper body and lower body on 2 different days.
Workouts could be over in as little as 20 to 45 minutes each at most, including warming up. Total volume for each muscle group should be low, like 2 working sets to failure or 3 at the very most, after warming up sets.
As for the intensity, for strength you should work around 4 reps at 90% 1 RM to 6 at 85% 1 RM, which in itself also yields result for fast twitch fiber hypertrophy.
Or you can use lighter intensity like 6 to 12 reps at 85% to 70% 1 RM: this also results in hypertrophy and strength even though to a little lesser extent. You should mix these repetition ranges for best results and optimal lean muscle growth, really.
For fat loss and keeping toned you can train the same muscle groups even every day for a full body workout if you like, providing you do NOT go to failure and always leave 2 or 3 reps at least in the tank.
A very good strategy to further boost metabolism and fat loss is circuit training, which consist of doing several exercises targeted at different muscle groups one after another non-stop for one cycle, then rest and repeat.
This method will allow you to compress your workout, making it time efficient and also more effective, as it will enhance your metabolism and fat loss rate.
Training every day like this also means than your total volume for each muscle group should be low, with moderate intensity, 50% to 70% of 1 RM, and NOT to failure.
Generally speaking, the more frequently you train, the lower should be your workout volume for each session, particularly if you shoot for high intensity sets to failure in the 70% to 95% 1 RM max range for strength or hypertrophy.
What About Diet?
Nutrition is paramount for a healthy body composition with low body fat and lean muscle. All the workouts in the world will be of no use if you are over eating, eating insufficiently, or randomly with all the carbs, fats and proteins off balance.
Eating right is not rocket science but often times diet and program fads make it sound more difficult than it really is to keep a healthy body weight, or to lose fat and build lean muscle in a safe, sustainable way.
If you need to lose fat, the single most important factor is calorie deficit. You need to eat less than your daily calorie requirements, more so at the start of your plan but less and less as you get leaner, until your reach a caloric balance to keep you in maintenance mode at your ideal body weight.
Breakfast is very important, as it will set you up for the rest of the day. A poor breakfast will have you playing catch up for the remaining time, upsetting your energy levels, protein synthesis and stored glycogen which is so important for you muscles when you workout. Have a light dinner instead.
Also, better do without processed foods as much as you can, with plenty of greens and vegetables along with your carbs, fats and proteins.
After a healthy and solid breakfast, you can take most of your remaining calorie allowance from a medium sized lunch and a lighter dinner, with few occasional snacks in the day like nuts, fruits, or yogurt, rather than cookies and candies.
Drinking plenty of water is also very important to clear your body from toxins and help your kidneys getting rid of creatinine while keeping your muscles hydrated and your body functioning properly.
Few Basic Calisthenics Exercises To Progress On
These exercises can be done anywhere with little or no equipment.
By changing your body leverage and angle of approach or by using bilateral and unilateral variations, you can make these exercises very light or extremely hard, or anything in between to mach your current levels of fitness and progress from there.
Lighter Basic Calisthenic Movements
Lean your back against a wall and slowly go down so that your thighs reach a parallel position. Keep you lower and higher back always in contact with the wall all the way down for correct form. You can later move to a free standing version of the movement, and even pistols when ready.
You can use a raised objects such as a table or a sofa if regular pushups on the floor are too hard to start with. With your arms straight out, keep a 45 to 60 degree angle to your trunk with your hand positioned a little bit wider than your shoulders, then move up and down in a controlled manner, keeping your back straight and engaging your abs and core for stability.
Use full range of motion and avoid cheating with an arched back or a hunched position. Let your pectoralis, shoulders and triceps do the job. A wider position will target more your pecs and shoulder, while a closer hand position, like in a diamond pushups, will put more stress on your triceps.
Australian Pull Ups
This is an easier variation of traditional pull ups on the bar, if you are not ready yet to lift the whole of your body weight.
You can use something like a dinner table and place your hands over the edge while laying down below, then pull your self up with your straight body, engaging your core to stabilize it while your back and biceps do the job.
You should position your hands a bit wider than your shoulders. However, a wider position will place more emphasis on your lats, a closer position on your biceps.
Harder Basic Calisthenic Movements
These are a really hard variation of regular bodyweight squats. You may work you way up to proficiency by doing assisted pistols, placing yourself next to a post or a doorway and helping your working leg with an arm for lift and stability.
As your strength increases over time, you can gradually lessen the help from your arm until you can do unassisted pistols and even weighted pistols.
Pseudo Planche Pushups And Planche Push ups
These are much harder variations than regular pushups. Pseudo planche are so called because they mimic a proper planche pushup while still keeping your feet on the floor for stability.
In a proper planche pushup you lift your whole body off the floor maintaining an horizontal position while balancing on your hands below your hips, while on the pseudo planche your feet are still on the floor, but your hand position is still very close to your hips like in a planche.
What makes the planche and pseudo-planche pushups much harder is the position of you hands below your waist and near your hips, which completely alters the exercise mechanics comparing to a regular pushup.
For a start, you have a much greater bodyweight shift onto your hands comparing to a standard pushup.
In a regular pushup you may shift 60% to 70% at most of your bodyweight onto your hands, but in a pseudo planche you can go all the way up to 99% until eventually you may reach 100% and be able to lift yourself in a full planche pushup, with your feet in the air.
This is a very advanced exercise that requires considerable shoulder, core and arm strength, if done correctly with proper form and full range of motion, and not kipping your legs up to help momentum.
But another more important reason for the difficulty of this movement is that the position of your hands next to your hips completely change the way your shoulder and scapula work, shifting the job from your pectorals to your shoulders, or deltoids, a naturally smaller muscle group than pecs that now have to lift your body.
Also your biceps become very much engaged, especially in the top part of the movement because of the disadvantageous position required for balancing your bodyweight.
You can increase or decrease intensity of the pseudo planche pushups by positioning your hands more or less down your waist and hips to suit your current level of strength, and progress from there.
By the time you can do full planche pushups, you should have developed considerable strength and size in your shoulders, core and biceps. More advanced variations include weighted planche pushups.
Regular Pull ups Or Chin Ups And Variations
Regular pull ups, bar to your chest and palms facing forward, engage your lats a little bit more than chin ups, but put less stress on your biceps, while chin ups with your palms facing toward you make your biceps work harder but you back a little less.
You can normally crank out few more reps on chin ups than pull ups, but the pull ups are better for your back and also work as a foundation for your muscle-up advanced variations one day down the line, if you wish.
You can make pull ups and chin ups more or less hard with added weight or single and assisted arm variations for the very advanced, or less hard by off loading some of your bodyweight with your feet resting on an elevated plane somewhere below the bar.
A terrific core exercise that works by keeping your body straight while resting on your forearms and feet. It is an isometric exercise very useful to develop overall core toughness with a lot of carryover effect in most bodyweight exercises where the core is engaged for stability, which means basically all calisthenic routines!
There are tons of calisthenic exercises available, these few can’t even begin to even scratch the surface.
However, if you want to progress with the most basic but effective bodyweight exercises that give you a lot of bang for your efforts, it all boils down to 3 main compound movements and their variations plus your core. These basic movement target the whole of your body.
1 – pushups < pseudo planche pushups < planche pushups < weighted planche pushups or one arm pushups.
2 – low bar pull ups (so called Australian) < high bar pull ups – assisted with your feet resting < high bar pull ups < weighted high bar pull ups or one arm pull ups
3 – wall squat < free bodyweight squat < pistols < weighted pistols.
So there you have it, you do not need to lose your mind on endless theory to start training the calisthenic way, saving time and money in the process.