What are calisthenics?

Calisthenics are exercises that don’t rely on anything but a person’s own body weight. These exercises are performed with differing levels of intensity and rhythm. Sometimes these exercises are done with light handheld tools like rings and wands.

These exercises allow for the development of strength, endurance, flexibility, and coordination.

Calisthenics were developed in ancient Greece and became popular again in the early 19th century. Today, fitness training of athletes, military personnel, law enforcement officers, and people trying to keep in shape use these exercises for warming up for strenuous sports or to help build up their bodies. Scientist are also now studying the use of calisthenics to help treat various health conditions, from obesity to COPD.

Exercise routine

Here is a calisthenics workout for beginners that works various parts of the body for a complete, full-body workout:

Perform the following exercise circuit three times, with a 30-second rest between each exercise set, and a three-minute rest between each circuit repetition.

10 pullups

pullups
  1. Stand facing an exercise bar.
  2. Grasp the bar from the top with your arms slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Use your shoulder muscles to pull you up, bringing your head up over the bar.

10 chin-ups

  1. Stand facing an exercise bar.
  2. Grasp the bar from underneath with your arms in a tight, slightly closer than shoulder-width grip.
  3. Use your biceps to pull you up, bringing your head up over the bar.

20 dips

  1. Stand inside a dip bar and use your arms and shoulders to lift you off the ground.
  2. Bend your elbows back using your tricep muscles to move you up and down.

If you do not have a dip bar, you can also perform dips off an exercise ball or bench by keeping your feet on the ground and knees bent at a 90-degree angle.

25 jump squats

  1. Stand with your body facing forward and your feet parallel, directly underneath your shoulders.
  2. Move your feet a few inches apart with your toes pointed slightly outward.
  3. Lower yourself into the squat, lowering your hips back and down while bending your knees.
  4. Keep your chest upright, with your head and face forward.
  5. Get into as deep a squat as possible, and then explode forcefully upward into a jump.

Never extend your knees over your toes, as that moves the strain of the squat to the knee joints. This can injure your knee joints.

20 pushups

  1. Get on your knees and place your hands underneath, but slightly outside, your shoulders.
  2. Extend your legs while holding your body up with your arms, getting into “plank” position.
  3. Be careful not to let your back sag or backside stick up into the air.
  4. Lower your body by bending your elbows close to your body until your chest almost touches the floor.
  5. Your upper arms should form a 45-degree angle when the top part of your body is in the lower pushup position.
  6. Pause while you are in the lower position, and then push back up to the starting position quickly.
  7. Keep your abdomen, or core, flexed during the entire movement.

50 crunches

  1. Lay on the ground with your back flat.
  2. Place your feet flat on the ground, bending your knees up at a 90-degree angle to your body.
  3. Cross your hands on top of your chest and keep your head about a fist’s distance from your chest.
  4. Keeping your core tight, sit up until your elbows or chest touch your knees.
  5. Focus on using your core muscles to pull you up, breathing out as you sit up and breathing in as you lie down.

10 burpees

  1. Stand facing forward with your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your weight in your heels and your arms at your sides.
  2. Push your hips back, bending your knees and lowering into a squat.
  3. Put your hands palms down on the floor in front of you, a little narrower than you are keeping your feet.
  4. Put your weight into your hands and jump your feet back, landing softly on the balls of your feet, your body in a straight plank position.
  5. Be careful not to let your back sag or backside stick up into the air.
  6. Jump your feet forward so they land next to your hands.
  7. Push your arms up over your head and jump quickly into the air.

30 seconds of jump rope

  1. Grasp the jump rope handles and hold your hands roughly the same distance from the center line of your body.
  2. Rotate the rope with your wrists — not your elbows or shoulders — while jumping off the ground about one to two inches into the air, clearing the rope.
  3. As you jump, keep your toes pointed down and a slight bend in your knees.

Calisthenics vs. weight exercises

Calisthenics exercises require a person use their own body weight to perform strength-training movements. Weight exercises, on the other hand, require a person use dumbbells or other weighted apparatuses to perform strength-training movements.

According to researchers, calisthenics and weight exercises produce similar physical results, at least in the short-term. For example, in one study researchers had 15 men follow a weight-based training workout and 17 men follow the U.S. Army’s calisthenics-based Standardized Physical Training program for 1.5 hours a day, five days a week, for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, both groups’ fitness increased to a similar degree.

The takeaway

Calisthenics exercises appear to increase physical fitness to a similar degree as weight-based training exercises. The benefit of calisthenics over weight-based training exercises is that calisthenics requires little-to-no additional equipment — all you need is your body!