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Calisthenics: the WHAT, the WHY and the HOW

Young Athletic Man Doing Push Ups


What are Calisthenics?

If you’ve ever looked into the field of self-improvement and working out, chances are you’ve stumbled across this quite trendy word—calisthenics. The word comes from the ancient Greek as a combination of 2 words: kalos (κάλλος) which means “beauty” and sthenos (σθένος) – strength.

In short, calisthenics is the merger of the raw, unadulterated aesthetic appeal of a fit body and the strength that comes with building one—both physical and mental.

The keyword here is body. It’s not the challenge of picking up the largest dumbbells in the gym or using industrial tractor tires as your barbell weights. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. People who practice calisthenics strive to get as fit as possible without expensive gym equipment and year-round memberships. It is also known in the workout world as body weight training.

In calisthenics, you don’t need exercise machines with adjustable weights or expensive weightlifting shoes and belts for that perfect squat. All you really require are the 3 big D’s: determination, drive, and dedication. Okay, okay, maybe just a few pieces of equipment, but I’ll get into that later!

Why do people do calisthenics training?

Before getting into how calisthenics work, we should first get to grips with the reasons behind this style of training. It is definitely not for everyone, and it requires a certain set of traits that not everyone is willing to bring to the table. An easy way to assess the question is to list some pros and cons of calisthenics:


  • Price. While setting up a high-end calisthenics station in your home will require some gear, simply getting into the practice requires no investment. You literally only need a pair of shorts, a T-shirt, and determination.
  • Strength. Bodyweight exercises are part of an exercise group titled Compound Exercises. These are essentially exercises that involve multiple joint movements and several muscle groups at once. Performing these exercises builds excellent overall strength and burns more calories than isolated exercises. They are also great for strengthening your core.
  • Versatility. While weightlifting exercises require a gym membership or a robust home gym setup, calisthenics can literally be done anywhere—at home, at the beach, or even on a business trip.
  • Uniqueness. The range and complexity of body-weight exercises are incredibly expansive. If you master the most impressive calisthenics exercises out there, you will literally be able to perform movements that seemingly defy gravity.
  • Safety. Even working with low-key weights on weightlifting machines can be dangerous if the exercises are done incorrectly. Injuries when working with bodyweights are possible but not as severe.
  • Excuses. There are none. You can always find excuses for things like weightlifting or CrossFit:
    don’t have the money to do it, there are no gyms nearby, people will laugh at you (this one is a complete and total myth for ANY workouts), etc. But the only excuse for you not doing body weight training is your own laziness. There is nothing more to it.


  • Complexity. While the basics of calisthenics are intuitive to most and doing push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and squats is simple, as you get stronger, the complexity of exercises becomes progressively more difficult. Comparatively, when working with weights, the only requirement is adding more weight.
  • Progress. Closely connected with complexity, in weightlifting, your progress can be easily tracked by evaluating the increase in the weight that you work with. Calisthenics, however, is not as easy to track, and progress in this field is slower and harder to achieve. For some exercises, it can take as long as 4-6 months before you notice active progression and results.
  • Injury training. The compound nature of calisthenic exercises means that training with an injury becomes close to impossible. When training with weights at the gym, you are free to perform isolation exercises that allow you to be joint-specific, meaning that training around an injury is much easier to achieve.
  • Leg training. Your legs are the strongest muscle group in your body. While there are definitely some challenging leg moves in calisthenics like the dragon pistol squat and the shrimp squat, they can only offer so much in terms of raw leg power and bulk. Developing large, muscular legs with just body-weight training is simply not possible.
  • Motivation. Due to the above-mentioned reasons, maintaining motivation in calisthenics is one of the biggest challenges you will face. This is especially true in the winter months, when working out in a park is impossible and training at home feels way more lethargic.

Now there is no way of knowing whether calisthenics is right for you. There isn’t really a test you can take or a form to fill out. The good news is that it doesn’t really require a whole lot of planning either—at least not to get started. And there are definitely heaps of benefits to reap!

How do people get into calisthenics?

This is the reaction many people have to the very notion of physical training. And that is definitely a tough mindset to get out of. But that’s literally how you start. You drop down. And give somebody 20. It can literally be anyone—you, yourself, your wife, or that poster of Arney that you always wanted to put up but never got around to doing it.

In fact, that’s exactly what you should do right now while reading this article. 20 pushups to start your road to calisthenics greatness. Can’t do 20 in a single go? Do it over a few attempts, but get to number 20. If you think regular pushups are too hard, try doing them on your knees instead of your extended legs. Make sure to get to that magical number, 20.

If you found the 20 push-ups manageable, try to do these variations:

Diamond push-up – hands in a narrow position, forming a diamond shape with your thumbs and index fingers.
Wide push-up – hands in a wide position, using your arms and shoulders to get yourself off the ground.

These are called basic exercise progressions. You start with a regular, military-style push-up, and then you work your way from there. It may seem like a simple concept, but as with most calisthenics' exercises, it can scale to crazy lengths, right up to performing a full planche.

And the great part of calisthenics is that virtually all exercises work in a similar fashion, whether you’re working on lifts, pulls, pushes, squats, or raises—they all have an amazing array of progressions to master, and there is literally no end point for your training.

Interested in finding out more? Check out part 2 where we go into the methods of calisthenics training, exercise variety, and the common gear that most calisthenics enthusiasts use.

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