In this post, you’re going to learn an efficient calisthenics warm-up routine that you can use every day.
Specifically, you’ll learn:
- What a good calisthenics warm-up should include,
- The best warm-up exercises for each major joint, and
- When you should use dynamic vs static stretching.
Let’s get started.
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Okay, let’s get started.
The 3 types of warm-ups
In general, there are three types of warm-ups you can do before a calisthenics workout. They include:
- Mobility drills,
- Stretching (dynamic), and
- Muscle activation.
Mobility drills are movement patterns designed to loosen up and improve the pliability of your muscles. They’re usually specific and focus on particular problem areas.
The second type is dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretching is different from static stretching in that you move your joints into and out of their end range in an active and controlled manner.
These tend to be more general and less specific than mobility drills.
Finally, muscle activation is the process of turning on and increasing the blood flow to the muscles you will be training. This is usually done using low resistance to help prepare you for more intense activity.
What should a good calisthenics warm-up include?
Any pre-workout warm-up should include at least two of the following three components:
- Mobility Drills
- Dynamic stretches that focus on the larger muscle groups of your body, or
- Muscle Activation Drills
The beauty is: there are several warm-up exercises that target more than one of these components at the same time!
In general, I do not recommend static stretching before a warm-up. Static stretching refers to taking a muscle to its end range of motion and holding that position for time.
Studies show that static stretching might not be beneficial prior to training because it could decrease the muscle’s ability to produce force.
It is best to reserve static stretching for post-workout cool-downs.
Now let’s go over the best warm-up exercises to include.
What are the 5 best warm-up exercises for calisthenics?
The best calisthenics warm-up exercises include:
- Shoulder Mobility Drills
- Wrist Mobility Drills
- Scapular Mobility With Serratus Anterior Activation
- Thoracic Spine Mobility
- Specific Muscle Activation
This warm-up is specifically tailored towards upper body calisthenics.
Let’s go over each one by one.
Warming Up The Shoulders
Most calisthenics exercises require good shoulder mobility.
Band dislocations are a great way to mobilize the shoulder because they take your shoulder through a full range of motion. This warm-up also activates the rotator cuff and upper back muscles.
You will need a long resistance band to do it.
Here’s what it looks like.
Be sure to keep your elbows locked and your spine neutral (don’t arch.)
Perform 8-10 repetitions going backward and 8-10 repetitions going forward.
Alternatively, you can also do arm circles.
Make big circles as wide as you can, while keeping your elbows straight.
Be sure to go forward and backward.
Perform 8-10 repetitions going forward, and 8-10 repetitions going backward.
Shoulder Extension – Reverse Bridges
Lastly, we need to practice extending the shoulder joint. The reverse bridge does a great job at improving the shoulder range of motion, while also activating the muscles of the upper back.
Here’s what it looks like:
Perform this exercise for 10 repetitions with a 1 second pause at the top.
Warming Up The Wrists
To do calisthenics effectively, you need healthy wrists. This is especially important for push-up and handstand exercises.
The best way to mobilize the wrist are wrist circle variations.
Here are three ways to do it:
Wrist Circles out to the side:
Hand Clasp Wrist Circles:
Wrist Extension Rolls:
To do this exercise, get into a quadruped position, lean forward to place some pressure on the wrist.
From here roll your upper body around in circles while maintaining enough weight on the wrist joint.
Make sure to move in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions.
Pick 1 or 2 of these wrist exercises and do 8-10 rolls/circles in each direction.
Warming Up The Scapulae
The scapula is one of the most underlooked areas in calisthenics. They are the key to shoulder health and stability during pushing and pulling movements.
To have strong scapulae, you need to train both scapular retraction and protraction. You probably already train retraction with upper back exercises.
Protraction on the other hand is not used very often. This is the best way to train the serratus anterior muscle.
The best exercise to train protraction and depression are:
The scapular “push-up” is a great way to activate the serratus muscles and teach you how to control the movement of the shoulder blades.
Here’s how it looks.
Get into a push-up position, and keep your elbows completely straight the entire time.
From here retract the shoulder blades, and then protract as much as you can.
Really focus on protecting hard at the top and rounding the upper back.
Do 8-10 repetitions.
When hanging from a
Keep your elbows completely straight and hold the top position for 1 second.
Do 8-10 repetitions.
Warming Up The Thoracic Spine
Mobility of the thoracic spine is important because it helps to maintain good posture, and is essential for shoulder range of motion as well.
This is important for handstand and overhead work.
You should be able to flex and extend at your thoracic spine freely.
Here are the best warm-up exercises to help with that.
The cat-cow is a dynamic stretch that accomplishes several things. It loosens up the thoracic spine, mobilizes the scapula, and it activates the muscles of the upper back.
Here’s how it looks:
Slowly transition between the two movements, holding each stretch for 1-2 seconds. Do 8-10 repetitions.
Cobra With Arm Raises
The cobra is the best way to train thoracic extension while activating the upper back muscles.
The arm raises further activates the shoulder, rotator cuff, and lower trapezius muscles as well.
Here’s what it looks like.
Hold the top position for 1 second, and perform 8-10 repetitions.
Specific Muscle Activation
The last component of your calisthenics warm-up should include some low-intensity variation of the exercises you are training.
Common examples include
- incline push-ups,
- resistance band lateral raises,
- bodyweight squats,
- bodyweight lunges,
- resistance band lateral walks etc.
Only do enough to feel the blood flowing to the desired muscle groups.
How long should a warm-up take?
A calisthenics warm-up should not take longer than 5 minutes. You should do a minimum of 5 different warm-up exercises targeting mobility, activation, and dynamic stretching for a total of 8- 10 repetitions.
You can even do 1-2 minutes of a general warm-up before the warm-up exercises to increase your body temperature and get your heart rate up. This includes jumping jacks, a light jog, cycling, etc.
Is a warm-up necessary before any calisthenics work out?
Warm-ups are highly recommended before working out because it helps to increase your body temperature, blood flow, and muscle activation while decreasing the risk for potential injuries.
It also helps prime your muscles for training while increasing joint range of motion.
As you get more advanced, you will see that warm-ups are completely necessary for all your training.
How do beginners start calisthenics?
Beginners can start with calisthenics by learning how to properly train all the major muscle groups in the body safely and efficiently.
I go over the 6 fundamental movement patterns all beginners should learn when starting with bodyweight training in Calisthenics for Beginners: How to get started with bodyweight exercise.
How many days of rest do I need for calisthenics?
Calisthenics is like any other form of resistance training. You should aim to rest at least 2 days a week, and 48 hours before training the same muscle group again.
Check out my article: How often should you workout and why to learn more.
Are 20 minutes of calisthenics enough?
20 minutes of calisthenics is a great place to start for beginners.
In order to get the most out of a 20-minute workout, you’ll need to learn the best and most efficient exercises to get the biggest bang for your buck.
You’ll also have to learn how to move from exercise to exercise and maximizing your rest periods.
I discuss how long you should rest between sets in more detail here.
What about the lower body?
Similar to the upper body, the lower body has several joints that should be mobilized prior to strength training.
I go over how to warm up the legs, hip flexors, and knees in my general warm-up post – How to warm-up before lifting weights.
Final words on warming up for bodyweight exercises
So there you have it.
A comprehensive guide to creating your warm up routine.
You now know…
- what to include and what not to include pre-workout,
- what the most efficient and effective calisthenics warm-up exercises are,
- why they are important, and
- how to get started with calisthenics
Now I want to hear from you.
How have you been warming up?
Any exercises you’d like to include?
Comment below and let us know!
- Chaabene H, Behm DG, Negra Y, Granacher U. Acute Effects of Static Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power: An Attempt to Clarify Previous Caveats. Front Physiol. 2019;10:1468. Published 2019 Nov 29. doi:10.3389/fphys.2019.01468
- Paine R, Voight ML. The role of the scapula. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013;8(5):617-629.
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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.