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 summertime comes knocking on the door. In contrast, you could make it into a regular, healthy habit from the comfort of home.
The outcome of a training regimen based on body weight routines is a much improved functional strength and a well-rounded, sculpted physique.
Bodyweight workouts are not restricted to location or equipment. They 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 of Calisthenic Workouts?
Bodyweight routines are simple if not easy to perform correctly. They mainly consist of compound movements that 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 using mundane objects such as sofas, chairs, tables, door frames, etc.
The reason for this is to make any given movement more or less challenging by adjusting the distribution of your body weight or by altering the leverage and angle of a given movement to suit your level of strength. No barbells, dumbbells, or machines are 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.
There is no need for crowded gyms or feeling self-conscious, particularly when starting. 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 real-life, functional mobility, flexibility, and strength, more so than dull and repetitive machine workouts.
How Should You Train Exactly?
How much, how hard, and how often you should train depends on your goal, whether fat loss, strength, or hypertrophy.
This is an old question that you should address 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 three essential elements of a training regimen, which are:
If you want to increase strength or hypertrophy, you cannot train to failure the same muscle group every day.
You need to play around with 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 overtrain and plateau, then suffer a setback.
For strength and hypertrophy, a full-body routine three times a week will do nicely for most people. Alternatively, you could do a split routine like upper body and lower body on two 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 two working sets to failure or three at the very most, after warming-up sets.
As for the intensity, for strength, you should work around four reps at 90% 1 RM to 6 at 85% 1 RM, which in itself also yields results for fast-twitch fiber hypertrophy.
Or you can use light 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.
An excellent strategy to boost metabolism and fat loss is circuit training, which consists of 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 more effective, enhancing your metabolism and fat loss rate.
Training every day like this also means that your total volume for each muscle group should be low, with moderate intensity, 50% to 70% of 1 RM, and NOT to muscle failure.
Generally speaking, the more frequently you train, the lower should be your workout volume for each session, mainly 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 healthy body composition with low body fat and lean muscle. All the workouts in the world will be of no use if you are overeating, eating insufficiently, or randomly with all the carbs, fats, and proteins off balance.
Eating right is not rocket science, but diet and program fads often make it sound more complicated than keeping healthy body weight or losing fat and building lean muscle in a safe, sustainable way.
If you need to lose fat, the single most crucial factor is a calorie deficit. It would help if you ate 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 crucial, 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 essential for your muscles when you work out. 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 correctly.
Few Basic Calisthenics Exercises To Progress On
You can do these exercises anywhere with little or no equipment.
By changing your body leverage and angle of approach or using bilateral and unilateral variations, you can make these exercises very light or extremely hard or anything in between to match your current fitness levels 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 your 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 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 a 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 your pecs and shoulder more, while a closer hand position, like in a diamond pushup, will put more stress on your triceps.
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 yourself up with your straight body, engaging your core to stabilize it while your back and biceps do the job.
It would be best if you positioned your hands a bit wider than your shoulders. However, a wider position will emphasize your lats, a closer position on your biceps.
Harder Basic Calisthenic Movements
These are a challenging variation of regular bodyweight squats. You may work your 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. The pseudo planche is 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 a horizontal position while balancing on your hands below your hips; while on the pseudo planche, your feet are still on the floor. However, 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 your 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 more significant bodyweight shift onto your hands compared to a standard pushup.
In a regular pushup, you may shift 60% to 70% at most of your body weight 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 a full range of motion, and not kipping your legs up to help momentum.
But another more important reason for this movement’s difficulty is that your hands next to your hips change the way your shoulder and scapula work entirely.
They shift the resistance 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 body weight.
You can increase or decrease the 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 typically 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 challenging by offloading some of your body weight 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 beneficial to develop overall core toughness with many carryover effects in most bodyweight exercises where the core is engaged for stability, which means all calisthenic routines!
There are tons of calisthenic exercises available; these few can’t even begin to scratch the surface.
However, if you want to progress with the most basic but practical 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 movements 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 calisthenics way, saving time and money in the process.
Jay always had a passion for fitness. A former skinny guy, he built himself 35 lb of lean muscle over the years using different training strategies, going through failures and eventually succeeding, and now wants to share his knowledge with those who value fitness as a way of life.