Your Guide to Calisthenics for Beginners, Plus 6 Exercises to Get You Started
For most of us, the word “calisthenics” conjures memories of high school gym class: butt kicks, jumping jacks, and smelly school-issued tracksuits. But calisthenics are making a new-school comeback.
Showcased in the new Openfit program Just Bring Your Body — or JBYB for short — calisthenics are the bedrock of functional fitness, encompassing a broad range of moves from the plyometric to the straight-up gymnastic. As JBYB highlights, you can get workouts that combine strength, cardio, and core with only your body weight. No equipment needed!
What Is Calisthenics?
Broadly defined, calisthenics involves any exercise in which body weight provides the only resistance. But what truly propels calisthenics above more isolating movements is its functionality. “Calisthenics is a form of bodyweight training that requires full-body control using functional movement patterns,” says Cody Braun, CPT, Assistant Manager of Fitness at Openfit.
For example, calisthenics workout routines often use squat, push-up, lunge, pull-up, and plank variations. All of these exercises challenge multiple muscle groups at once, recruiting smaller stabilizing muscles, and honing neuromuscular communication (the mind-body connection) to control the body and its natural movement patterns.
“One of the main functions of calisthenics is to gain full-body control, which is essential to living a healthy active lifestyle,” Braun says.
The simplicity of calisthenics makes it critical to hitting your fitness goals virtually anywhere and anytime.
In a 60-day program like JBYB, you can remove many of the road blocks to a more active lifestyle, the most common of which include time constraints, heavy equipment, and costly gym memberships, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You also get a structured approach that builds in rest days, taking the guesswork out of creating a calisthenics workout program.
Calisthenics vs. Weights
With its focus on large, compound movements, calisthenics training is an efficient way to build strength and muscle as well as burn calories. But just as with traditional strength training routines that incorporate free weights, maximizing a calisthenics workout routine requires using a challenging load. That load in this case, of course, is your own body weight. And that can be a pro or a con, Braun says.
For people who have poor relative strength (how strong you are in relation to your body weight), calisthenics can sufficiently challenge the body to build muscle and lose fat. With time, of course, you’ll have to increase the challenge to continue progressing. That could involve either increasing reps, changing the tempo, adding a plyometric component, or trying more challenging variations.
That’s why JBYB offers plenty of modifications, to help you progress over time. Even if you take the 60-day program multiple times, you’ll have a range of options when it comes to each move.
“As you advance from the basic movement patterns to the more advanced exercises, you gain better body control and strength, which is the foundation of bodyweight training,” Braun says. To build a calisthenics body, the key is pushing yourself. By tailoring your calisthenics exercises to your current strength levels and performing them to fatigue, you can easily build muscle and strength using only the weight of your body.
6 Calisthenics Exercises for Beginners
These basic bodyweight moves featured in JBYB can be made more or less challenging to fit your unique needs.
1. Air squat
- Start standing with your feet hip width and parallel.
- Bend your knees, sit your hip back and keep your chest up as you descend into your squat.
- Push through your heels to stand.
2. Reverse lunges
- Begin standing with your feet close.
- Step one foot back into a staggered stance and bend both knees to 90 degrees, while keeping your shoulders stacked on top of your hips.
- Step back to center and repeat on the other side.
- Continue to alternate.
3. Good mornings
- Start standing with your feet hip width and parallel, with a slight bend in your knees.
- Place your fingertips behind your ears and hinge at the hips, bringing your chest parallel to the ground (or until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings).
- Slowly come back up to standing and repeat.
4. Side lunges
- Start standing with your feet together.
- Step your right foot out to the side, bending your right knee, sitting your hips back and keeping your left leg straight.
- Keep your feet parallel and flat on the ground.
- Push through your right heel to come back to center and repeat on the other side.
5. Superman lift
- Start by lying on your stomach with your legs extended, arms fully extended overhead and neck neutral.
- Squeeze your glutes as you raise both arms and legs off the ground.
- Release both arms and legs about an inch off the ground and repeat.
- Lie on your back with your fingertips behind your ears and your legs fully extended.
- Raise your heels off the ground and bend your right knee, keep your left leg straight.
- Simultaneously raise your left shoulder off the ground and try to touch your left elbow to right knee in the center of your body.
- Repeat on the other side and continue to alternate sides.