What is calisthenics? The health benefits of bodyweight exercises and example workouts for beginners




a woman sitting on a table: Calisthenics exercises like planks and push-ups are easy to do anywhere. Halfpoint Images/Getty Images


© Halfpoint Images/Getty Images
Calisthenics exercises like planks and push-ups are easy to do anywhere. Halfpoint Images/Getty Images

  • Calisthenics are functional bodyweight exercises that require minimal equipment. 
  • The benefits of calisthenics include better long-term health, improved mobility and ease of movement, reduced injury risk, and more calories burned. 
  • Some of the best example calisthenics workouts for beginners are push-ups, squats, planks, and jumping exercises. 
  • This article was medically reviewed by Joey Thurman, CSCS, CPT, FNS, a Chicago-based fitness expert and MYX Fitness coach.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Calisthenics is a great way to reach your fitness goals without needing to go to the gym or invest in much equipment. 

“It’s one of the easiest exercises for anyone to do at home without expensive equipment,” says Adam Rivadeneyra, MD, a sports medicine physician with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California. “Most exercises rely on body weight for resistance and can be performed in short intervals in any small space.” 

Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of calisthenics, with some example workouts for beginners. 

What is calisthenics?

Although you might not be familiar with the name, you’re probably already doing some calisthenics exercises.

“Calisthenics is a type of training that uses predominantly body weight training to improve our overall ‘functionality’ while getting us fit,” says celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels, creator of The Jillian Michaels Fitness App. 

Functional exercises are those that mimic the way we move everyday, Michaels says. For example, some of the basic human functions are pushing, pulling, and jumping, and those are the types of moves you’ll do during calisthenics. 

“Exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and squats improve everything from our strength and flexibility to our coordination, balance, and agility,” Michaels says. 

Calisthenics exercises also use your body’s own weight, with no extra weight or dumbbells required.  “Many newer workout programs like boot camps or HIIT workouts incorporate many of the classic calisthenic exercises,” Rivadeneyra says.

Benefits of calisthenics 

Calisthenics are appealing because they engage large muscle groups, which increases your calorie burn. In addition, they can be done anywhere, with minimal access to equipment. 

Here’s why you might want to add calisthenics to your workout routine:

Calisthenics help you move easier throughout the day

The functional movements you perform in calisthenics can improve your mobility, reduce aches and pains, and decrease your risk for injury. 

Calisthenics essentially train us in the way we function throughout our everyday life,” Michaels says. “This type of training not only helps us get healthier and look better, it also makes us perform better in our everyday activities and lessen any chance of accidental injury like rolling your ankle or wrenching your back when you turn to grab something.”

Calisthenics burn calories

Calisthenics engage major muscle groups like those in the chest, core, back, arms and legs. In addition, you’ll use multiple muscle groups at once. All that muscle engagement means more calorie burn. 

For example, a 155-pound person will burn about 167 calories in 30 minutes of moderate calisthenics. With vigorous calisthenics, you’ll burn 298 calories in 30 minutes.

Calisthenics can improve your long-term health 

According to Rivadeneyra, calisthenics exercises may reduce your risk for health complications in the following ways: 

Calisthenics are convenient

While you can buy some equipment like a jump rope or pull-up bar if you’re doing calisthenics, you don’t really need anything. In addition, calisthenics exercises like squats and planks can be done at home, even if you only have a small space. 

“It can be done anywhere, requires no necessary equipment, and gets people in shape quickly,” says Michaels. 

Beginner calisthenics workouts 

If you’re just getting started with calisthenics, you’ll want to master the following body-weight exercises and their modifications. To do so, follow these instructions and watch the video tutorials from Stephen Navaretta, a fitness trainer specializing in functional movements and calisthenics. 

Push-ups

To do a basic push-up, start with your body flat on the floor face-down. Place your hands a little wider than shoulder width, about even with your chest. Push straight up until your arms are fully extended, while trying to keep your core tight and your back straight throughout the movement. 

 

There are many challenging push-up variations you can use to push yourself. You can also make the exercise easier by putting your knees on the ground, or doing them standing and using a wall to ‘push-up’ rather than the floor, Rivadeneyra says. Overall, try to perform 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 20 repetitions.

Squats 

To do a basic squat, start with your feet about shoulder width apart. Lower your hips to about 90 degrees while trying to keep your body upright, then return to standing position. 

 

Try to perform 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 20 repetitions. You can also try advanced squat exercises, like jumping squats, when you have the proper form down. 

Planks 

To do a basic plank, start in the raised position of a push-up and hold your body still, tight through the core for 30 seconds. Work your way up to plank holds of 60 to 90 seconds and repeat a few times, Rivadeneyra says, doing a plank between sets of your other exercises.

The main health benefits of planks include a stronger core and improved posture. You can also try modifications like side planks to target the obliques, or reverse planks to boost upper body strength. 

Jumping exercises 

Jumping exercises like jumping rope or doing jumping jacks will boost your heart rate during a calisthenics workout, Rivadeneyra says. Perform 3 to 5 sets of jumping for 30 seconds, with 30 seconds of rest in between. As your fitness improves, try to jump faster or longer. 

How often you should do calisthenics 

Michaels suggests incorporating calisthenics into your workouts four times per week for optimal training and recovery time. 

“For example, Monday and Thursday I train by push function and work all the push muscles, like chest, shoulders, triceps, quads,” Michaels says. “Then Tuesday and Friday I train muscles with pull function and work all the pull muscles, like back, biceps, hamstrings.” 

Takeaways 

Calisthenics are probably already a part of your workout routine. However, if you’re just getting started or are looking to avoid the gym, incorporating more calisthenics can help you reach your fitness goals. 

“It’s accessible to all from a financial and physical perspective. It’s effective. And anyone can do it no matter their fitness level,” Michaels says. 

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