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Training Tips

Calisthenics – Bringing Back a Classic Workout

Reading Time: 5 minutes 2 seconds

By: ISSA

Date: 2022-03-02T00:00:00-05:00


The term calisthenics is old-fashioned, but don’t let that turn you off from this versatile and flexible workout. People have been taking advantage of this simple bodyweight style of exercise for thousands of years.

Anything with that kind of staying power must be good, right? Learn more about calisthenics, what it is, how to do it, and why you should introduce it to your clients ASAP.

What is Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is a type of workout that utilizes body weight and minimal or no equipment. It’s a broad category that includes a lot of different movements and exercises. Some examples of exercises that fall under this heading include:

  • Pull ups and chin ups

  • Push ups

  • Triceps dips

  • Crunches

  • Planks

  • Squats

  • Lunges

  • Jumping jacks

Calisthenics is a versatile workout. It includes far more exercises than can be listed here. It is also scalable and progressive. Beginners can get started right away with easier moves and progress. The most challenging calisthenics moves, like handstand push ups and the human flag, require incredible strength.

The Long History of Calisthenics Exercises

This is an ancient style of exercise. People have been using their own body weight and movements to improve fitness and physique for millennia. Although many cultures have used this type of training, the term comes from ancient Greece. Kilos sthenos means beautiful strength.

Since ancient times, the popularity of calisthenics has waxed and waned. It made a comeback in the 1800s with a focus on gymnastics and exercise for women and children.

Calisthenics fell out of favor for decades and became known as a boring style of workout involving endless pushups, pull ups, and jumping jacks.

But, by the early 2000s, calisthenics was back. Fitness influencers rebranded calisthenics as outdoor and street workouts, exercises anyone can do with minimal equipment and without a gym membership.

The Surprising Benefits of Calisthenics

Calisthenics is deceptively simple. This leads many people to believe it can’t provide as good a workout as weights and machines. You may be surprised at all the benefits you’ll reap by adding this to your routine.

Build Impressive Strength

It’s a mistake to assume you need weights and machines to get strong. Simple bodyweight exercise is the foundation of strength. Bodyweight training is all you need, although weights can certainly help you progress.

More than one study has compared calisthenics or bodyweight strength training to other types of training. One study found that people doing calisthenics had significant improvements in strength without using any sophisticated equipment or weights.

Another study found that ten weeks of bodyweight exercises improved multiple fitness measures in women, including muscle strength and endurance.

Try these bodyweight exercises to build significant muscle mass.

Improve Functional Movements and Reduce Injuries

The way that calisthenics training improves strengths benefits your daily, functional movements. In other words, you build strength that helps you move better and more safely when doing ordinary things, like lifting a heavy bag or shoveling snow.

Most calisthenic moves use the entire body and require core stabilization. Building strength this way improves balance and coordination. It builds foundational strength in the core, the part of your body that stabilizes you in all the movements you do throughout the day and while exercising or participating in sports.

Bodyweight exercises are great for improving back strength to reduce pain and injury. Try these simple calisthenic moves for back strength.

It’s One of the Safest Workouts You Can Do

Because the movements of calisthenics are functional and natural, they’re pretty safe and low-risk for any workout routine. This is especially important for strength training beginners.

Using weights or machines with poor form is dangerous. The added weight can be very stressful on joints. Doing a pushup or a modified burpee is much less likely to cause pain or an injury.

The exception to this is anyone with specific injuries or other health issues. For instance, if you have a client with a bad knee, a machine that isolates specific muscles and doesn’t strain the knee may be better.

Burn Fat and Calories

A calisthenic workout can be a major calorie burner, depending on how you do it. A series of jumping squats, burpees, pushups, and similarly challenging moves will get your heart racing and burn significant calories.

The more muscle you build through calisthenics, the more calories you’ll burn. Muscle mass uses more energy and therefore boosts metabolism. You can burn calories and fat while doing the workout and keep burning them as you get stronger.

Start from Zero

One of the most appealing things about calisthenics is that anyone can do it. From someone who has never worked out before to a seasoned gym junkie or advanced athlete, calisthenics is for everyone.

If you have a client who is entirely new to working out, weights and machines can be intimidating and potentially too difficult. Start with a simple, easy calisthenics routine to build cardiovascular fitness, strength, and confidence.

The flexibility and adaptability of calisthenics exercises means it’s easy to progress. Start with simple, easy moves and work up to bigger challenges.

Work out on a Budget

The COVID-19 pandemic kept people out of the gym and reintroduced many to calisthenics whether they realized it or not. People found they had to get creative, do bodyweight exercises, go for runs or walks, and use what they had on hand without the weights and machines at the gym.

Most people can’t afford to buy much equipment for a home gym, making calisthenics the ultimate budget-friendly workout. It’s also adaptable to all kinds of settings, whether you’re stuck at home or travel for work.

Are There Any Downsides to Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is versatile enough to work for most people, but it’s still not a perfect workout. Although you can work toward more challenging moves, it isn’t easy to progress within each move without weights.

It’s also challenging to isolate muscles with this type of workout. In general, it’s better to hit several muscles at once, but there are times you’ll want to use a machine to isolate. Calisthenics probably won't be enough if the goal is to make major muscle mass gains.

Clients who come to you overweight or obese may struggle with bodyweight exercises. You can start with the easiest exercises and modify them, but it still may be a challenge.

A Starter Calisthenics Workout

Getting started with calisthenics is pretty easy. You probably already do it to some degree. Creating an entirely calisthenic workout is simple and highly versatile. Here’s a good basic workout to get you started:

  • 10 pushups, on knees for modification as needed

  • 10 squats or squat jumps for added cardio

  • 20 crunches

  • 10 lunges on each leg

  • 10 burpees, modified if necessary

  • 30-second plank

  • 30-second side plank on each side

  • 30 seconds of jumping jacks

Once through is adequate for newbies, but progress by doing the series two or three times with a short period of rest between each one.

Calisthenics is a workout with some serious history behind it. Don’t let the old-fashioned term fool you, though. This is a basic, fundamental, and beneficial way to exercise. It’s worth adding to your routine and getting your clients in on it too.

The ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer – Self-Guided Study Program teaches you about all the essential workouts and how to match a workout to your client. Get your training career started today with this online, self-paced certification.

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