Calisthenics is deceptively quaint sounding. Probably because in the olden days — aka the 80s — calisthenics was what a lot of grade school P.E. classes were called. Well, those days are over, and now calisthenics is the latest social media fitness sensation.
Calisthenics is actually an ancient practice
Not only is calisthenics not new, it’s actually ancient. The term calisthenics comes from the Greek words for beauty (kallos) and strength (sthenos). Ancient Greek Spartans did calisthenics as far back as 480 BCE.
This “new” calisthenics borrows a lot from ancient calisthenics — push-ups, pull-ups and the like — but puts these exercises into a modern context. Some people call the calisthenics styles that are popular right now “urban calisthenics” or “street calisthenics” because they utilize the kind of props you might find in a contemporary city — like telephone poles and park benches.
The hashtag #calisthenics has more than 18.5 billion — with a B — views on TikTok and popular calisthenics influencers and trainers have millions of followers. It’s easy to see why. Some of the physical feats calisthenics enthusiasts achieve are not just impressive — they seem almost other worldly. For example, a video posted by TikTok user @axelmarilyn shows her effortlessly floating into a handstand as a crowd of onlookers gape in awe.
The things is that some of the calisthenics moves that go viral on social media are intimidating — how could any regular person do these crazy things with their body? Well, the truth is that most of us may never become calisthenics celebrities, but calisthenics itself is actually a very accessible practice.
What is calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a high intensity workout that utilizes your body weight with little or no equipment. Many calisthenics exercises are everyday workout moves you’d do in a variety of workouts, like squats or push-ups, but also include more advanced exercises like pull-ups.
This type of workout involves exercises that use large muscle groups, like the glutes and chest. Calisthenics exercises are performed at a moderate pace with little rest in between exercises and can be used to improve coordination, flexibility, and strength.
The benefits of calisthenics
Recent studies suggest that calisthenics has numerous health benefits. A 2017 study, for example, found that doing calisthenics for eight weeks could could enhance your posture, help you gain strength and make a positive impact on BMI (body-mass index). And a study from 2018 found that calisthenics training could improve upper-body strength.
Who should do calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a great fitness option for:
- People who don’t want to train in a gym — you can do calisthenics anywhere!
- Those who don’t want to buy a bunch of equipment — you can do calisthenics using just your bodyweight!
- Individuals who want to increase endurance.
- People who want to improve muscle strength.
- Those who want to boost metabolism.
How to do calisthenics
Calisthenics workouts are usually 30 to 40 minutes and focus on pushing, pulling, and using the lower body muscles. However, you could easily integrate calisthenics-type exercises into your pre-existing training style (like HIIT workouts or regular strength training workouts.)
Since this is a type of strength training, doing calisthenics every other day is a good cadence to build lean muscle mass and also help with fat loss.
11 beginner-friendly calisthenics exercises
Here are 11 calisthenics exercises that you can intersperse into your current workout routine or perform as a circuit repeated for two rounds for a complete calisthenics workout.
Stand with your feet hips-width apart and your toes pointed forward. Squeeze your abs as you move your weight into your heels. Slowly sit back into a squat position with your chest up, your shoulders back and abs in. Make sure that your knees are not pushing past your toes and are as close to a 90-degree angle as possible. Squeeze your glutes and press into your heels to stand back up. Perform 10 repetitions.
Jump both feet out to the sides as you raise the arms out to the sides and overhead. Bring the arms down as you jump the feet back to center.
Lie face down on the floor. Place your forearms flat on the mat and bend your knees so that they are touching the mat. Engage your core and lift your body up off the mat, creating a straight line from your head to your heels.
Start by getting down on all fours with your palms on the mat a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Make sure your arms are straight. Reach your legs straight behind you, tucking the toes under to come into a plank position. Bend at the elbows, lowering your body until your chest almost touches the mat. Pause in this position for a few seconds, then press down into the ground to straighten your elbows and push your body back up.Return to starting position and repeat 10 times.
Get into plank position with your palms on the mat and your arms and legs straight. Hold one time for 10 — 20 seconds. Gradually increase the amount of time you can hold the plank until you reach one minute.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Perform a regular squat, bending at the knees and sitting back into a squat position. Then, push off your toes and jump up explosively. Bring your arms up straight into the air as your feet lift from the ground. Try to keep a controlled movement, landing softly and in control before exploding into the air again. Perform 10 repetitions.
Step your right foot forward and bend the right knee, making sure the knee tracks over the ankle. Bend the left leg so that the knee reaches toward the floor. Push down through the right heel to press back to the starting position. Repeat 10 times, then switch sides.
Sitting on the ground, place your palms on the ground behind you with your fingers facing your body. Move your butt back toward your hands and press down through your feet to lift your butt up. Keep your knees bent. Bend your elbows straight back to lower down into the dip, then press down through your hands to come up to the starting position.
Lie down on your back with your knees bent, feet as wide as your hips and feet flat on the floor. Tighten your abs, pulling your belly button in toward your spine and making sure to engage your core throughout the exercise.With your hands placed gently behind your head and elbows wide, use your abs to bring your shoulder blades off the floor. Exhale as you lift your body. Slowly release the position, inhaling as your rest your head on the mat. Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times.
Begin in a squat position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place both hands on the ground in front of you, shifting your weight to your hands. Kick your feet behind you so that you’re in plank position. Perform one pushup, making sure your back is straight and your core is engaged. Jump your feet forward so that you are back in a squat position and stand up. Jump upreaching your arms above your head. Land softly with knees bent and immediately drop into a squat position. Repeat 10 times.
Start lying on your back with your hands behind your head. Slowly lift your shoulders off of the floor and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle, looking at your thighs. Squeeze your abs while you reach your right elbow toward your left knee while straightening your right leg. Move through center and then reach your left elbow toward your right knee, straightening the left leg. Alternate for 10 times to each side.