In this article, our calisthenics athlete and partner, Felix (Flex), gives you all the important information about how to find the right training plan for yourself, as a calisthenics beginner.
Structure of the article
- For whom is calisthenics suitable?
- How do I define my goals?
- What are my strengths / weaknesses?
- Top exercises for the start
- How often should I work out, as a beginner?
- What should I pay attention to?
- What is the perfect workout plan?
- Where can I work out?
- Can I build muscle with calisthenics?
For whom is calisthenics suitable?
Calisthenics is a progressive weight-training sport, which means that each basic exercise / skill can be classified into easier and more difficult exercises. This is the reason why absolutely every person can take up calisthenics, regardless of gender, age or level of skills. For every level, there is a suitable exercise to begin with.
Let me explain it to you, based on the example of push-ups.
Push-ups are a basic exercise that can be made either easier or more difficult. If you are not yet able to do a push-up, you can do it on your knees or against a raised object. If you find push-ups too easy, you can put your legs on a raised object, do one-armed push-ups or use push-up grips for a more effective workout. This way, everyone can use the same basic exercise, at a level that suits them.
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To begin with, you should be aware of your current level of performance. Which exercises can you do and which exercises are you not yet able to do, because you lack the necessary strength?! Armed with this knowledge, you can determine your goals, which should be realistic, and based on your current level of performance. Assuming that you still find it difficult to do push-ups, your primary goal should be to master 5-10 properly executed push-ups. Your long-term goal should be to learn how to do dips.
Apply the same system to pull exercises and leg exercises. You should always place a lot of focus on your body tension, because you need it for EVERY exercise in calisthenics. With a stable core, you will find it much easier to reach your goals in the long run. Therefore, you should not neglect this aspect, under any circumstances. You can strengthen your core very effectively with a parallettes workout or stomach exercises on the pull-up bar.
Identify strengths and weaknesses
After you have defined your goals, you can take it a step further and analyse your strengths and weaknesses. This is especially important when developing your calisthenics workout plan, because it should be designed to eliminate your weaknesses by specifically choosing exercises in which you struggle to improve. But you should also be aware of your strengths, so that you can utilise them and develop them further. For example, if you struggle with pull-ups, you should analyse the movements involved in a pull-up, so that you can find out where the problem lies.
Are your arms too weak? Is your shoulder girdle too weak? This is often the reason if you cannot get from the hanging position into the pull-up motion. In this case, it would make sense to incorporate easier pull-up progressions into your workout. Exercises like scapula pull-ups are incredibly important, because they strengthen the shoulder girdle, and are the basis for a properly executed pull-up. You will also find many useful articles about pull-up workouts in our blog.
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The top calisthenics exercises for beginners
By now, you should be clear on where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and what goals you want to achieve with calisthenics. The next step is to choose the exercises.
The absolute basic exercises for calisthenics are push-ups, dips, pull-ups and squats. Besides these, you also need exercises that strengthen your core. Here, you can use the plank to begin with. Another advanced exercise to stabilize your core is the hollow body hold. The Hollow Body Position is the most important exercise in calisthenics. You need to use it with every exercise, in order to have maximum control over the individual exercises, and to make sure that your spine is in the most efficient and healthy position for each exercise.
In this video, you can see how to do the hollow body position, and the important aspects thereof. For push-ups, dips, chin-ups and squats, there are easier and more difficult progressions, which you should choose, according to your performance level.
How many times a week should you do a calisthenics workout?
Once you have selected the right exercises, the next question is how often you should work out every week. For beginners, there are two basic problems. Firstly, your body is not yet adjusted to a high training load, and secondly, calisthenics workouts are a new element in your everyday life. What I am saying is that many beginners start their training super over-motivated, and take on far too much.
This results in very sore muscles, which will make it impossible for you to work out for two whole days. If you have decided to train four times a week, you can forget it.
As a result, you will not reach your goal, which was set much too high, and you will be demotivated and quickly lose interest in the sport. The danger that you will stop working out sooner is very high.
If you are a "complete beginner", I recommend that you work out twice a week, to prevent this from happening to you. You should then do a full body workout. For the first four weeks that should be your goal. During these four weeks, your body will slowly get used to the new load, you will have enough time for regeneration and you will make progress. After the first four weeks, you can sum up how easy or difficult you have found it working out regularly, and then you can consider adding a third training day.
Now, you should also do a full body workout, but with different priorities on the individual training days. On the first day, you should focus on push exercises, such as push-ups, dips and bench dips. On the second day of training, focus on pull exercises, such as rowing, pull-ups and Australian pull-ups. On the third day, the focus should be on leg exercises, such as squats, lunges and Bulgarian squats.
Despite varying priorities on the individual training days, you should include one or two exercises from the other days, in order to keep the exercise frequency high, so that your body can get used to the new movement sequences, and to strengthen your mind - muscle connection. This is particularly important, because as soon as your body knows when it has to control which muscle, and how much energy it needs to do so, you will make extreme progress.
By now, you should have managed to design your calisthenics workout plan. If you are still having trouble choosing the right exercises, and getting them into the right order, I have put together just the right workout programme for you.
To your calisthenics workout plan.
Warm-up – the foundation stone of your calisthenics workout
Before each workout, make sure that you warm up properly and sufficiently. A good warm-up guarantees a good workout. During the warm-up, you prepare your muscles, joints and tendons for the subsequent stresses and strains, thereby minimising the risk of injury. The saying "the workout starts in your head" is based on the warm-up. In your warm-up, you not only prepare your body for the upcoming strains, but you also prepare yourself mentally, so that you can forget about everyday stress and focus completely on your workout!
Here is a summary of my upper body warm-up routine, with explanations and recommendations. You can participate as you watch the video:
What is the perfect calisthenics workout plan for me?
This question is very tricky to answer, because individual goals, strengths and weaknesses differ, but there are specific aspects that make a calisthenics workout plan perfect for you. The intensity should not be over or underchallenging for you, and you should be able to integrate the training plan into your everyday life. The best plan will not help you if you do not actually work out.
Here is an example for you. This plan is an extract from the calisthenics workout programmes – "Handle Your Body – Level 1-3 "
Training Day 1 (75 min)
|EXERCISE||SETS||REPS||BREAK IN MIN.|
|Scapulla Pullups – 0-1x-3||3||5||2|
|Plank Pushups||3||45 seconds||2|
30 seconds rest after each round – no break between exercises
|Jumping Lunges||1||10 / leg|
|Wall Sit||1||60 seconds|
This is an extract from the "Handle Your Body - Level 2" programme. This programme is about achieving your first pull-up. In a structured way, you will be guided to performing your first chin-up, over a period of 10 weeks. All exercises are also demonstrated and explained in videos, so that you know exactly what you have to do.
In this example from Week 1, you begin with a "strength block" that is designed to increase your maximum strength. This is done exercise by exercise, with the respective sets and reps. The second part of the plan is conditioning, which is designed to increase your endurance and make you fit. Conditioning is very much focused on the legs and core, because the strength block mainly involves upper body workouts.
Calisthenics = Independence!
The great thing about calisthenics is that you can work out independently, anytime and almost anywhere. You don't need much equipment, but a pull-up bar is a good idea. But even this is not always necessary. Therefore you are not bound to a specific workout location. Whether at the gym, the cross-fit box or in a park, you can work out anywhere. The best solution for an independent workout is the pullup & dip bar, because it enables you to do your calisthenics workout on any tree or pillar, or at home.
Can I build muscle with calisthenics?
Yes, with calisthenics you can build muscle. In order to do so, you should do the exercises in a repetition range from 8 - 12. This is the hypertrophy range in which the focus is on increasing muscle mass. However, this is not the ideal workout area for getting stronger and learning new skills. For this purpose, you should rather work out in a lower repetition range. 1-5 reps in 4-6 sets would be the correct system here. To increase your maximum strength and build muscles, you could do the first 1-2 exercises for maximum strength and the remaining exercises for hypertrophy. Another alternative is to work with different cycles. For example, focus on hypertrophy for 4 weeks and maximum strength for the next 4 weeks.
All that remains to be said in conclusion is that you need to be patient when it comes to calisthenics workouts. Making progress requires the right workout and a certain amount of time for the body to get used to the new stresses. If you do not take this into account, injuries are often the result, and this can set you back weeks or, in the worst case, months. For that reason, give your body the time it needs!
I wish you lots of fun for your workouts, and maximum results. If you have any questions, please feel free to get in touch with us.
Every success for your workouts,
Flex & the Pullup & Dip Team
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