Calisthenics For Beginners: [How to Start + Free Workout Plan PDF]

This is a complete guide on calisthenics for beginners.

Specifically, you’ll learn how to use your body weight to build muscle, gain strength, and get fit from anywhere.

You will also get a free calisthenics workout plan PDF so that you can get started right away.

So if you are ready to learn how to start with calisthenics, let’s dive right in.

Disclaimer:

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Okay, let’s get started.

What Is Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is a type of training in which you use your own bodyweight to build muscle and strength.

This is in contrast to traditional weight training, where you lift external resistance like barbells and dumbbells.

The beauty of calisthenics is that it focuses on developing fundamental human movement patterns that we do every single day.

Also, once you master your own body weight, you can work up to cool skills like the front lever- an advanced calisthenics exercise.

calisthenics-exercises
The Front Lever – An Advanced Calisthenics Exercise

How Do Beginners Start Calisthenics?

In this next section, I will cover everything you need to know to start calisthenics the right way.

It all starts with:

  • Learning the fundamental calisthenics exercises to build basic strength,
  • Knowing the importance of proper form, and
  • Warming up appropriately

Let’s go over them one by one.

Learning The Fundamentals

The most important thing that you need to know is the 6 basic calisthenics exercises.

They include:

  • The horizontal push
  • The horizontal pull
  • The vertical push
  • The vertical pull
  • The squat
  • The hip hinge

You must train each one of these patterns on a weekly basis.

I’ll go over these exercises in more detail below.

Proper Form

It is extremely important that you do every exercise with intent. Don’t just go through the motions. 

Proper form is essential for:

  • Ensuring you are training the proper muscle groups
  • Producing the most amount of force 
  • Decreasing your risk of musculoskeletal injuries

Once you establish bad form, it is extremely difficult to unlearn.

Learn proper form right from the start.

You can find instructional videos and fully detailed descriptions of several exercises in our tutorials section.

If you cannot get into the proper position for an exercise – DONT DO IT.  Instead, focus your time on improving your mobility in any tight or restricted areas.

This leads us to the next point…

Warm-Up & Mobility Exercises

The last prerequisite that you need to know is how to warm up for your bodyweight workouts.

A proper warm-up serves three major purposes:

  • It increases your body temperature
  • It increases blood flow to your muscles and joints
  • It Improves the range of motion of tight or restricted muscles

You should always dedicate 5 minutes before your workout to warm up properly.

Focus on choosing warm-up exercises for muscle groups that you are training that day, and ones that promote mobility- (particularly in the hips, shoulders, and thoracic spine.)

We have an entire post on warming up before calisthenics which you can find here.

You can also use this time to target any problem areas you may have.  

Alright, now let’s get on to the actual exercises you need to master.

What Are The Top 5 Calisthenic Exercises?

In this next section, we will cover the basic calisthenic exercises you need to master. These exercises will train every major muscle group in the entire body while improving your functional strength.

Remember, there are 6 of them. The horizontal push and pull, the vertical push and pull, the squat, and the hip hinge.

#1 The Horizontal Push

For the horizontal push, you need to master the push-up and its variations.

The push-up trains the horizontal pressing muscles which include the chest, triceps, and anterior shoulders.

This movement is important because it will teach you how to maintain a stable shoulder position while reaching out in front of you.

#2 The Horizontal Pull

For the horizontal pull, you need to master the bodyweight row (aka inverted row, or Australian pull-ups).

This exercise will require some piece of equipment to do it properly. You can do it with a fixed barbell, a pair of Olympic Rings, a suspension trainer, or a sturdy table.

The bodyweight row trains the pulling muscles of the upper body including the rhomboids, the lats, the middle traps, and the biceps.

In general, most people have tight and overactive chest muscles from everyday life and repetitive motions.

This movement will help balance out your training and help maintain neutral shoulder and thoracic spine position.

#3 The Vertical Push

For the vertical push, you must master the pike push-up and its variations.

The pike push-up will train your shoulder muscles and triceps, which will improve your overhead strength.

This exercise is a lot harder than it looks if done correctly.

This movement is important because it strengthens and develops your shoulders in a dynamic range of motion.

Once you master this exercise, then you can work up to the handstand pushup.

#4 The Vertical Pull

For the vertical pull, you need to master the pull-up and its variations.

This is the one calisthenic exercise that you cannot do without a specific piece of equipment.

There is no substitute for having a pull-up bar.

There are several options you can choose from, such as 

  • Bars that you can screw into the wall 
  • Bars that rest on your door frame
  • Pull-up towers
  • Or you can find a pull-up bar in almost every playground.

The pull-up trains the lats, the upper back, the posterior shoulders, and the biceps.

The vertical pull is an important movement because it mimics one of the most fundamental human patterns known to man- the ability to pull yourself up in any situation.

#5 The Squat Pattern

For the squat pattern, you need to master, well, the squat.

There is no exercise that is more fundamental to human existence than the squat.

There are many ways to do this exercise incorrectly- make sure to focus on form first!

The squat trains the quadriceps, the adductors, and the glute muscles.

As you get stronger, you can work your way up to a single-leg pistol squat!

Bonus: The Hip-Hinge

Lastly, for the hip hinge, you need to master the glute bridge and the Romanian deadlift.

The hamstring is a unique muscle group in that it crosses both the knee and the hip joint. As a result, it is best to train your hamstrings with exercises that involve flexion of the hip and exercises that involve flexion of the knee.

best-calisthenic-exercises

The hamstring/glute Complex is a neglected muscle group.

They are important in helping you maintain a neutral pelvic and spinal position. Also, they are the main drivers in a lot of strength exercises that involve the lowering body.

To find a complete list of all of these calisthenics exercises as well as ways to progress or regress them, check out this article.

Okay, now that we’ve covered the fundamental 6, it’s time to cover a few other points.

No-Equipment Exercises

What if you only want to do exercises that involve no equipment at all?

First up, you can train both of the pushing movements with no equipment- the push-up and the pike push-up/handstand complex.

Second of all, you can also train the two major lower body movements (squats and hip hinges) with just your body as well. 

Where it gets challenging is training your back muscles without any equipment at all.

You do have a few options.

In this post, the best bodyweight back exercises, I give alternatives to the horizontal pull and vertical pull which you can do just about anywhere.

One of the simplest is the wall pull.

It’s all about getting creative.

With that said, I highly recommend you get access to a pull-up bar as pull-ups have no alternative.


Starting A Calisthenic Workout For Beginners At Home

Ok, now let’s talk about designing your calisthenics routine.

You already know the exercises you are going to perform. Now it’s time to put them into an intelligent calisthenics program. 

Let’s start with the number of exercises you should do.

How Many Exercises Should I Do In My Calisthenics Training?

You should only do 3-4 exercises per workout. 

I am a big fan of concise workouts.  By doing 3-4 exercises, you have to be very selective about the exercises you are going to perform.

Pick the best ones and move on.

There is very little benefit to doing 5+ exercises in one day unless you want your workout to last over an hour.

You can read more on my reasoning for this in our article discussing exercise number here.

How Long Should A Calisthenics Workout Be?

I am also a big fan of short workouts.  There is no reason to work out beyond 30-60 minutes a day.  In fact, the shorter the workout the better. 

If you are a beginner, your workout should last 30 minutes.  If you are an intermediate athlete, your workout should last 45 minutes max.  Only advanced athletes should do workouts that approach 60 minutes.

In general, the more advanced you are, the more time you will need to warm up for each exercise, and the more specificity you will have to add to your training.

You can read more about workout duration in our article here.

How Many Sets And Reps Of Each Exercise Should You Do?

In general, there are 4 different rep ranges you can work in.

GoalSetsReps
Endurance2-3 sets12-20 reps
Hypertrophy3 sets7-12 reps
Strength3-4 sets4-6 reps
Max Strength3-5 sets1-3 reps
  • In the muscular endurance zone, you will do 12-20 repetitions per set, and do 2-3 total working sets. The endurance zone is for you if want to improve the capacity of your muscles and/or you want to improve the stability of a specific exercise.  
  • In the hypertrophy zone, you will do 7-12 repetitions per set, and about 3 total working sets. The hypertrophy zone is meant to help develop and strengthen your muscles and joint tissue.
  • In the strength zone, you will do 4-6 repetitions per set and about 3-4 working sets. The strength zone builds on the strength developed in the hypertrophy zone and improves your neuromuscular connections.
  • In the maximal strength zone, you will do 1-3 repetitions per set and about 3-5 working sets. This zone is reserved for pure strength athletes like powerlifters and strongmen.

I recommend that you use the hypertrophy zone for the majority of your training.

Once you feel comfortable enough, feel free to use the strength zone from time to time.

You can read more in our in-depth discussion of sets and reps here.

The Best Beginner Calisthenics Workout (Little To No Equipment)

Ok, now you have your exercises and your training parameters. Now it’s time to actually set up the workout. 

In general, I recommend that you choose between one of two workout splits.

You can choose the upper-lower split – in which you train the major muscle groups in the upper body on one day, and then the major muscle groups of the lower body on the next.

Or you can choose the push-pull legs split.  In this split, you train only the pushing exercises on one day, only the pulling exercises on the next day, and then lower body exercises on the third day.

The upper-lower split works best if you can work out 4 days a week.

The push-pull legs split works best if you can work out 3 days a week.

In fact, I have created two different Calisthenics Workout Plan PDFs that you can download to get started.  

The first is a PDF workout of a 4 day/week upper-lower split.

The second is a PDF workout of a 3 day/week push-pull leg splits.

How To Progress On The Beginner’s Workout

Now that you have your workouts outlined – let’s talk about how you are going to progress on the template.

But first, a few ground rules.

Always start nice and easy. Focus on your form, and make sure that you feel the appropriate muscles being stimulated.

Choose a variation of each exercise in which you can do 8-12 repetitions without difficulty.

Continue with the same variation for at least 4 weeks and make every single session better than the one before it. What do I mean by this?

  • Add one more repetition to each set
  • Or add one more repetition to the first set (followed by one more repetition to the second set as well the following week)
  • Or add 5 lbs to your body and do the same number of sets and reps
  • Or move on to a more challenging progression

It doesn’t matter what you do, just as long as there is some measurable difference from workout to workout.

That’s is the definition of progressive overload. 

Keep the difference small, to give your body the appropriate time to adapt.  

Add Variety Every 4-8 Weeks

Once you have mastered the particular variation that you are training, (i.e. you have done it for 4-8 weeks and you can easily do 12 reps per set) feel free to move onto a more challenging progression.

It doesn’t matter which progression you choose, so long as it is still training the specific goal that is outlined in the template. Don’t forget, the goal is to stick to the hypertrophy rep range.

Every once in a while, feel free to use the strength rep range too.  Just be sure that you have established a strong foundation and your technique is excellent.

Add A Bonus HIIT Day

Last but not least, you can also add a High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) session into your calisthenics workout routine.  This is by no means necessary, but an excellent way to further improve your aerobic capacity and fitness.

This article by Healthline goes over all of the benefits of HIIT training.

A HIIT cardio workout should last anywhere from 10-15 minutes and should get your heart rate up throughout the entire duration.

You can use bodyweight exercises such as burpees, sprints, and squats just to name a few.  We have an entire article on HIIT which you can check out here.

I recommend only doing this once a week.

Now let’s go over any lingering questions you may have.


What Are The Benefits of Calisthenics?

Bodyweight training provides a unique set of benefits that weight training exercises do not.

You can do calisthenics at home.

You don’t need a gym membership, you don’t need to commute back and forth to the gym, and you don’t need to deal with crowded rush hours.

Your house, your rules.

You do not need fancy equipment to get started.

Gym equipment is expensive and often not portable. 

By eliminating your reliance on equipment, you are free to exercise any time, anywhere.

If you happen to be traveling, or at an unfamiliar gym, it really doesn’t matter. 

With that said, I go over some good pieces of equipment you might be interested in below.

Almost every bodyweight exercise is highly functional.

In general, calisthenic exercises tend to mimic natural human movement patterns. As such, they are highly applicable and translate into real-world strength.

Also, almost all calisthenics exercises are compound exercises. This means that you will train multiple muscle groups at once as you move your body in space.

You can train your whole body with only a handful of exercises. (Plus they build a ton of core strength).

Lastly, calisthenics exercises can be scaled to your fitness level.

There are dozens of variations of each exercise that you can do. You will be able to find a variation that is suitable for your fitness levels.

Push-ups are too easy for you? You can do close grip push-ups or archer push-ups.

Are push-ups too difficult? You can do push-ups against an incline or against a wall.

I go over a few more benefits in more detail in 15 Unique Benefits Of Calisthenics [Why You Should Consider doing it].

What Is The Best Calisthenics Equipment I Should Get?

While your body weight is great all by itself, it is ideal if you have certain pieces of equipment to get the best calisthenics workout. These are by no means obligatory, but they will enhance your workouts!

Here are the best calisthenic items you need to maximize your workouts.

Parallettes

Parallettes are little bars that you can use to keep your wrists neutral when performing pressing exercises.

If you are someone whose wrists bother them when doing push-ups or you have limited wrist flexibility, parallettes are great for you.

In addition, you can use them to increase the range of motion of pressing exercises. This can help to increase the difficulty once you begin to master the basic variations.

I have two pairs from Amazon, including these short portable versions.

Pull-Up Bar

This one is pretty obvious. Pull-up bars will allow you to do all vertical pulling exercises as well as hanging ab exercises such as hanging leg raises.

As far as which one you should get, there are hundreds of different products you can choose from.

Just read the reviews and go with one that fits best in your household.

I personally went with a pull-up tower. The advantage is that it is not near a wall or a door which can interfere with the movement. In addition, you can also attach Olympic Rings to the tower as I did, to further increase the functionality of your home gym.

Lastly, the tower allows you to train more advanced movements like front levers and back levers.

The downsides of the tower include instability and portability. Unless your form is spot on, you will notice a little bit of shaking of the tower. 

This isn’t a big deal unless you are swinging around and doing kipping pull-ups which I would not recommend.

Also, the tower isn’t super tall. You will have to bend your knees to do pull-ups – which is an issue with the door frame pull-up bars too.

Lastly, it is heavy and takes up a decent amount of space, making it a piece of equipment that shouldn’t be moved around much.

This is the one I have from Amazon.

best-calisthenics-equipment

Olympic Rings

The rings are an advanced piece of equipment that adds a ton of variety to your exercises.

You can do just about every single upper body exercise you can think of with them.

These include 

  • pulling exercises like pull-ups and bodyweight rows
  • pressing exercises like pushups and dips
  • Core exercises like planks and rollouts
  • And isolated exercises like bicep curls and tricep extensions

Similarly to Rings, you can also use a suspension trainer which can serve a very similar purpose.  You won’t be able to do dips on them, but you can do just about everything else with a little creativity.

I prefer rings. You can go with wood (better material, more durable) or plastic. I have both.

Weight Vest

Because you are limited to lifting whatever your current bodyweight is, a weight vest is a simple way to add intensity.

This is known as weighted calisthenics.

A good weight vest will allow you to increase your body weight from 2.5-60 lbs.

This is the easiest way to make your workouts more challenging.

Weight vests are also highly portable. All you have to do is wear it!

I have a 60 lbs vest which can be adjusted by 2.5 lbs increments.

You can also use resistance bands.

I go over 5 more pieces of calisthenics equipment you can get here: The 9 Best Calisthenics Equipment You Should Invest In.

Other Related Questions

Calisthenics vs Weights: Which Is The Better Option?

So how do calisthenics fair against weights? Is calisthenics better than the gym?

You will be happy to hear that both are extremely effective at building muscle, increasing your strength, and improving your fitness.

Almost every major exercise you can do with weights, you can do with your body weight.

The biggest disadvantage of calisthenics is that you cannot train your legs as hard as you could train your upper body, and you cannot isolate very specific muscles using bodyweight exercises.

calisthenics-vs-weights
You Cannot Mimic A Deadlift With Calisthenics

With that said, calisthenics is an excellent way to get started on your fitness journey, as its advantages far outweigh its disadvantages.

Still unsure if it’s right for you?

We have a comprehensive post on how to decide if you should do calisthenics or weights right here.

Is It OK To Do Calisthenics Every Day?

It is okay to do calisthenics every day provided you create a balanced workout routine that allows for adequate recovery of all of the major muscle groups.

With that said, it is not necessary to train every day. 4 days a week will be sufficient in seeing great results. The PDF above will show you my recommended workout schedule.

Can I Just Do Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is sufficient for building muscle, strength training, and improving your fitness. So yes, you can build muscle with only calisthenics.

What Calisthenics Skills Should I Learn First?

The major calisthenics skills are Handstands, Back Levers, Front Levers, Planche, and Human Flags.

You can start learning whichever skill you wish to develop first. You can also learn multiple skills at once.

With that said, I recommend that you learn the fundamental 6 movement patterns first, as these are the exercises that will help build your muscle and strength the most.

Go Start Your Calisthenics Journey Today

Okay, you are now armed with everything you need to get started with calisthenics.

You have no more excuses.

Start Training from home and see your strength and lean muscle mass increase.

Come on, all you need is 30 minutes a day.

Wrap Up

So here’s everything you learned today.

To recap: 

* Start by learning what the 6 fundamental human movement patterns

* Select 3-4 exercises to do per workout and arrange them according to the workout split you have chosen

* Focus on the Hypertrophy rep range for the majority of your training 

* Progress slowly by creating small measurable progressions to each exercise 

* Always strive to improve your form

If you would like a complete calisthenics program that tells you exactly

  • what exercises to do and when
  • how often to train
  • how many sets and reps you should do
  • when to progress to the next variation
  • and has video tutorials of every single exercise,

Then check out our ready-made beginner program that incorporates all of these factors be sure to check out The WCT Home Workout Program here!

Alright, good luck.

Anything you would like to add to the post? Anything you would take away?

Let us know by leaving a comment below? 

Related Posts On How To Start With Calisthenics


Get Started With Four Free Tried and Tested Beginner Workouts That Only Take 30 Minutes A Day!

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader’s Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

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