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November 30, 2020

How to Start Calisthenics Training

With the amount of information we’re exposed to, it”s easy to overcomplicate our training. When it comes to calisthenics, it appears to look unsafe because we see the end product from the best athletes, but calisthenics is for all levels.

There are various forms of calisthenics/bodyweight training that you can do, based on your goals.

It’s important to keep things simple. You need to ask yourself this question “Does my training match my goals?” I see many times that people aren’t training specifically for the goals they want.

They say they want apples, yet they are planting orange trees.

This article is meant to simplify calisthenics training, guide you from beginner to advanced, and show you how all levels can use the body as a paintbrush to create a masterpiece.

General Strength- Beginner to Intermediate

I know the temptation to advance as quickly as possible is significant, but it will only lead to injuries, massive weakness, burnout, and frustration.

If you haven’t done this style of training before, then start with the basics. Work on the big six:

  1. Pullups
  2. Dips
  3. Rows
  4. Pushups
  5. Handstands
  6. L-sit

These are the pillars of calisthenics training because they cover the muscle groups used in many advanced skills. Do this for 3-6 months.

It may seem long, but it is the quickest way to advance.

If you skip this vital stage in your development, you’ll still have to come back to it because the chinks in your armor will show, and progress will be slow.

During this phase, the aim is to learn your first pullup.

For example, get comfortable with doing 12 + reps. As you progress, begin implementing different variations of these moves in the free beginner calisthenics program, Bodyweight Strong.

Use this time to improve your mobility and flexibility so that it won’t restrict you later.

Keep in mind less is more. More time in the gym and more days of training will not make for better results.

As a beginner, train 2-4 days a week. One hour per session is enough time to put in good, quality work while allowing adequate time for your body to recover.

Specific Strength- Intermediate to Advanced

This is when you start to focus on specific goals like static skills, freestyling, and rings.

Choose 2-3 goals to focus on:

It really depends on what you want and where you want to take your training.

Design your program in 4-8 week blocks, with your overall training 3-6 days per week.

Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun
High Intensity Low Intensity High Intensity Low Intensity High Intensity Rest Rest
Pulling Strength Handstand Balance Grip Pulling Strength Handstand Balance Core Pulling Strength    

For example, if your goal is the muscle-up and handstand pushups, each exercise you choose for your program should improve some aspect towards reaching those specific goals.

I see too many people trying to cover every movement pattern and work on every weakness.

Less is more. You can always change your focus in the next program.

Build Strength

The word strength is used too loosely in fitness, so let’s define it. When I mention strength, I refer to absolute strength as 1 rep max and maximal strength (85% to 90% of 1 RM).

The stronger you are, the more calisthenics skills you can do.

Understand that your body has three energy systems that it uses independently or simultaneously to contract your muscles.

  1. Creatine phosphate lasts 1-12 seconds and is used for high intensity and demanding tasks such as heavyweight or difficult bodyweight exercises that you can only do for low reps.
  2. The glycolysis and oxidative system are used for muscle building, conditioning, and endurance.
  3. The anaerobic system lasts for 10 seconds – 2 minutes. The aerobic system is low intensity and lasts for a long time. This is your endurance training or for daily tasks.

How to Start Calisthenics Training - Fitness, 1 rep max, Training, endurance training, bodyweight exercise, calisthenics, mobility, flexibility, rings, handstand, energy systems, static balance, pullups, handstand push up, rows, l-sit, hand strength, bodyweight workout

Strength training is taxing on the nervous system, requiring a minimum of 24 hours to recover between strength sessions.

  • Train 2-4 days per week.
  • Training your absolute strength to failure should be used sparingly to test your current level or gain that motivational boost.
  • You cannot train like this all the time because your nervous system will not recover between sessions, and it will ruin your progress.
  • Instead, train your maximal strength leaving 1 rep in reserve. If you know/ think that you can do 3 reps of an exercise max (e.g., muscle-ups), do 2 reps for all your sets.
  • This builds strength while not overtaxing the nervous system.
  • Train high sets in the 4-8 and 1-5 rep range.
  • For isometrics (during contraction, the muscles don’t noticeably change the length, and the affected joints don’t move), 1-12s.
  • Eccentrics (contraction caused by the muscle’s lengthening) 1-5 reps, each rep 7 seconds long.

Remember, if you feel the pump or burn in your muscles, you’re no longer training strength.

Build Muscle

Run from anyone who says, “You can’t build muscle with calisthenics.”

Your muscles don’t know the difference between bodyweight exercises, weights, or a table.

It can’t identify whether you’re picking up a 6 kg, 20 kg dumbbell, or bodyweight. Your body feels the resistance, intensity, and how taxing a movement is.

How does the training look? A rep range of 6-12 reps (working at 65-85% of 1 rep max) is the most effective way to stimulate muscle growth.

Instead of increasing the weight, you increase the difficulty of the bodyweight exercises.

Choose exercises that are challenging to you in this rep range.

When pullups become easy, do a harder variation such as close-grip pullups. Utilize the same muscle-building techniques you would with weights such as mechanical tension, eccentric damage, metabolic stress, push-pull splits, or drop sets.

The current culture wants to create a rivalry between calisthenics and weights when the reality is you can use both.

Gymnastics is a bodyweight sport, and they utilize weights in their training.

Many sports, football, basketball, athletics, use weights to improve performance, calisthenics is the same.

  • Doing weighted calisthenics, such as weighted pull-ups and weighted dips, is a great way to build strength and muscle.
  • Bodyweight exercises and weights are great for training compound movements (multiple muscle groups and joints).
  • There’s a wide variety of isolation exercises (multiple muscle groups and one joint). With isolation exercise, you can target certain muscles, which is great for improving aesthetics.

The lower-body is naturally powerful, so bodyweight training can only go so far. That’s why weighted squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts are excellent for building muscle.

Match Training to Goals

I always say there’s no perfect way to train. It depends on your abilities and goals.

Make sure your training matches your goals, and train specifically with them in mind.

Train like a powerlifter if you want to do those advanced calisthenics skills.

Train like a bodybuilder if you want to be in the best shape of your life.

Train like an athlete if you want to be crazy fit or do freestyling.


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