How to Start Calisthenics, The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Calisthenics training involves any exercises performed using no added weight, and is commonly referred to as body-weight training.

Calisthenics training can be done as a stand-alone routine, or programmed into any weight loss, bodybuilding or fitness workout.

It has many benefits and is convenient, and it can be tailored to suit beginner, intermediate or advanced trainees.

Upper-Body Exercises

The most well-known upper-body calisthenic exercises are pushups and pullups.

Pushups are great for building muscle in your chest, shoulders and triceps muscles, as well as improving your core stability and muscular endurance.

Pullups work your back, biceps and grip, and are a great test of upper-body strength. You don’t have to stick to regular versions of the exercises, though.

For pushups, strength coach Nick Tumminello recommends trying T pushups or clap pushups, doing them on a stability ball or medicine ball, or even doing them with just one arm.

For pullups, try changing your grip width, or use a tree branch or pair of gymnastic rings for an extra challenge.

Lower-Body Exercises

One of the most effective lower-body calisthenics is the squat. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and your toes turned out about 10 degrees.

Squat down by pushing your hips back and knees out, until you can go no lower, then stand back up again.

You can perform different variations of the squat to get a whole lower-body workout.

Change your foot placement and speed, or try Tabata squats, where you perform as many repetitions as you can in 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then repeat for another seven rounds.

One-legged squats, known as pistols, are a challenging variation that can increase your lower-body strength, balance and mobility.

Lunges, in which you take a large step forward, and then lower your body until your front leg is parallel to the floor, are another effective body-weight calisthenic.

This exercise targets your quads but uses a number of other muscles.

How to Plan Calisthenics Training

If you’re looking to lose weight or increase your fitness, then you can rely solely on calisthenic training to get you great results.

Plan four sessions per week–two focusing on upper-body exercises and two focusing on the lower body.

As well as the exercises listed above, you can add in others, such as burpees, mountain climbers, planks, crunches, inverted rows and lunges.

If, however, you’re training for muscle size and strength, then calisthenic training should be done alongside your weights workouts.

After three of your weights sessions every week, set up a full-body body-weight exercise circuit, containing four or five exercises, and complete as many rounds as you can in 15 minutes.


The main benefit of calisthenic training is that it can be done anywhere, and you require minimal equipment to do it.

The U.S. Army recommends calisthenic training to its recruits, saying that it helps to build muscular strength and endurance, as well as improving bone and joint strength, which aids in preventing injuries.

If you’re a beginner, then this method of training is also perfect to help you develop a basic level of coordination, stability and muscular control, before moving on to weighted exercises.

How do I decide if calisthenic workouts are right for me?

It’s up to you, do whatever you enjoy the most. I’m biased towards bodyweight fitness because it’s what I enjoy doing.

I aspire to be strong, lean, flexible, agile, and have great endurance. I don’t care if I’m huge, I want to have as much control over my body as I possibly can.

If you don’t care about those things, calisthenics might not be for you.

What are some good beginner calisthenic exercises?

Chances are you already know a few of them, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and squats are all calisthenic workouts. 

It may sound boring but there is actually a lot you can do with calisthenics, and you can work every main muscle group with these four exercises.


When there is no weight and no machines around, you have to be creative with what you do to help build muscle and get a nice physique.

It’s pretty tough to get a good physique and build mass without weights, but you can use resistance.

A lot of various exercises with body weight can be enough or you could get someone to apply pressure and resistance to help increase better stimulation of the muscles.

You can also just use their whole body on certain exercises you are strong on. And if you can, invest in bands if you’re traveling or just got nothing else to workout with.

Calisthenics Exercises


Push ups

This is a good exercise to build your upper body with. It works your pectorals, triceps, and anterior deltoid. For this exercise work up to high rep range and then add weight.

Say someone could only do 12 body weight push-ups, well then they shouldn’t add weight and work on getting the rep ranges up. Then start to add weight gradually with some standing next to you pushing down on your back (lightly or hard depending on strength).

Chest Dip

This is another good exercise to develop and strengthen the pectorals, triceps and anterior deltoids. Most people will not have any equipment as seen in the demonstration above.

You can easily use two couches put together or two chairs together. Be creative with whatever you have, and make sure you are safe doing it. A bad setup can lead to instant injury, so be careful with how you set this up.

Incline Push ups

I don’t have a movie to show you how to perform this, but I will explain it the best I can so you can understand. Perform a regular push up and then elevate your feet with a bench, bed, chair, etc. This will target more of the upper pectorals and developing those.



This is one of the best mass builders for the back. It develops the lats well, more so than most exercises, and can really build a nice back. Find a place were you can do these safely that is sturdy. If you can do these for a high amount of rep ranges then get someone to push down on your shoulders standing on a chair.

Underhand Chin-ups

This is the same exercise just with a different grip. Most feel more comfortable doing the underhand grip. You will be able to lift more when you do these, so use resistance if needed. 


This exercise is good to strengthen the lower back. Another way to perform this exercise is on the edge of a bed or chair with someone holding your feet so you’re solid in place and won’t fall. Make sure you do this exercise safely; injury can happen if you fall.



Now for this exercise you don’t need to do weight. Go all the way deep and back up and when you need resistance, get a friend or someone to hold your shoulders and apply pressure downward. This is great for developing the quadriceps.

Sissy Squats

This is another great exercise to develop the quadriceps. Be careful with this exercise and grab a hold of a sturdy structure to help support you through the movement. Most of the time you won’t need this weighted, but if you do have a friend apply pressure to your shoulders.


This is a good exercise for developing the quadriceps. Just focus on getting low on this exercise and high repetition sets. It is hard to add weight, unless you want someone to sit on your shoulders.

Split Single Leg Squats

This exercise is good without weight, great developer of the quadriceps. It is one of my favorites. You can put your leg up on a chair, step and anything you can find that is sturdy and safe.

Glute-Ham Raise

This exercise is really good for developing the hamstrings. You will need someone strong to support you on this exercise, basically like a hyperextension, but you curl your leg when you go up.

Straight-Leg Deadlift

This exercise is a little more difficult. You will probably need to add some resistance with it when performing it. Always keep your lower back straight through this whole movement. Apply pressure to the shoulders and do it safely.


Upside-down Shoulder Press

Stand up against a wall and do a handstand, have someone spot you when you do this. Then bend your arms to a 90º angle or until your head touches the ground.



This hits the biceps as well, good mass builder that some don’t realize.


Bench Dips

Basic exercise that builds the triceps. Good for mass and strength. Set-up two chairs and do dips, add resistance to shoulders if needed.



Just a basic crunch is all you need to work your abdominals.


Calf Raises

Do calf raises on a step or block that is sturdy.

The Routine


  • Push ups, 3 sets, max reps
  • Chin-ups, 3 sets, max reps
  • Single Leg Squats, 3 sets, 3 max reps
  • Bench Dips, 2 sets, max reps
  • Ham-Glute Raises, 3 sets, max reps
  • Calf Raises, 3 sets, max reps
  • Upside-down Shoulder Press, 3 sets, max reps
  • Crunches, 5 sets, 25 reps
  • Neck, 3 sets, max reps