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Calisthenics For Beginners | Ultimate Bodyweight Full Body Workout

Beginner Calisthenics Full Body Workout

When it comes to building muscle and strength, many gravitate towards bodybuilding or powerlifting which are great ways to develop your body but can sometimes come at a price. Heavy weight training can lead to various injuries and/or joint problems when exercises are performed improperly, especially for older individuals.
For those who want to still build their best body but don’t want to risk injury or simply don’t want to pay for a gym membership, their own weight can still do so. This is where bodyweight workouts come into play, also known as calisthenics workouts which are great alternatives for anybody. Usually when we think of calisthenics we picture Olympic athletes doing human flagpoles, iron crosses and muscle ups, which are definitely achievable but it will start much more simple and easy.
In this article, we will be going over how to begin a bodyweight routine for those who are at a normal bodyweight but would like to build some muscle and for those who are overweight who would like to lose weight and build muscle.

introduction to calisthenics

Where To Begin

Assessing where you are physically will make it easier to determine what exercises and intensity you can start with. If you are above 20% body fat and have little to no experience with strength training it will be more difficult to complete some of the various bodyweight exercises such as pull-ups, dips, hanging rows etc.
In this situation, it would be wise to begin a few cardio sessions a week in addition to the workouts in this article (I will also explain how to progress on bodyweight exercises when less than a rep can be completed). While it is possible to bench press 405 with a lot of extra body fat, bodyweight workouts rely on a strength to weight ratio making it almost a necessity to get below 20% body fat to excel.
For those who are under 20% body fat and/or have experience with strength training (can complete at least one strict pull up, dip and such workouts) can skip cardio sessions or possibly lowering their calories as a surplus will be needed to gain a good amount of muscle. Conversely, in the case of overweight individuals once they begin to lose the extra pounds they will be getting stronger without even needing to gain a good amount of muscle at first. It is also important to mention a few accessories will be needed to complete some of these workouts such as a bar to do pull-ups (one of the detachable bars that go on doorways work fine), a place to do dips (two chairs with counterweights holding them down work fine) and possibly resistance bands.

Training Chest, Triceps and Shoulders

While it might seem simple, pushups are one of the best ways to grow your chest, triceps and shoulders, especially when different variations are combined. If you cannot complete close to 30 pushups with good form though you should start either with incline pushups (with your body higher than your feet) and gradually over time lowering the incline until you can do 30 on a flight surface.
After this you can begin incorporating variations such as decline pushups (where your feet are inclined), eccentric pushups (where you focus on descending slowly and feeling the burn and either exploding up or also going slow on the concentric), clapping pushups (to also build explosiveness), and countless more (including a few I will talk about in second to focus on your triceps or shoulders).
Triceps are also quite straightforward to train using only your bodyweight with close grip pushups being one of the most popular and dips also being a great way to grow this muscle. If completing a full ROM (range of motion) dip is too difficult, you can also begin with your feet resting on either a chair or something at the same height as your legs as your arms are behind you as you dip down. This variation will be easier and will help you learn how to squeeze at the top of the exercise and focus on your triceps as it is easy to also make your chest the main muscle of the exercise.
Shoulders are definitely more difficult to isolate without weights but are quite doable with a little bit of creativity. Wide grip pushups are a simple movement that focuses more on the front deltoids, dips also work the shoulders to a small degree. Working towards the more advanced handstand pushups will be your ultimate goal. The first step will be to work on decline pushups with higher and higher incline on your feet as well as focusing on using just your shoulders instead of your chest, but certain variations such as the pike pushup (where you start in a downward dog position and complete your reps at this angle) or the bomber push up (where you begin in the same downward dog position but level out as you move into the bottom range of motion and reverse back up).

Training Back and Biceps

Back training is a little more complicated as most beginners cannot complete a good amount of pull-ups at one time, but there are ways to make the exercise easier. This is where resistance bands can come in handy, by taking some weight off you on the way up. If you put the band on the bar and pull one side through the other it will “lock” on the bar with one side still hanging. You can then step your foot into the loop still hanging to make the pulls ups considerably easier (depending on how thick the band is). Use this technique until you can complete a few bodyweight pull-ups and then you can progress from there.
Biceps are tricky because while chin-ups are a good way to train your biceps they also utilize a good amount of back muscles. There are a few ways to manipulate the chin up to focus more on the biceps though. Focusing on getting to the top of the movement and pushing your body as far away from the bar and lowering as slow as possible is a great way to get that burn in your biceps and produce more growth. Turning your hands around to face away from you but keeping them slightly wider or at shoulder width is also a good way to mimic a pronated curl (works the outer bicep for a fuller look).

resistance bands

Training Legs and Take Home Message

Lastly, probably some of the most difficult muscle groups to overload with bodyweight workouts, quadriceps and hamstrings. While it is true your leg development can only go so far, utilizing bodyweight squats, lunges, Bulgarian split squats, pistol (single leg) squats, glute ham raises, and much more you can grow your legs effectively and in proportion with the rest of your body.
Starting with either incline pushups and banded pull-ups or handstand pushups and single arm pull ups it is possible to build a great body and get in the best shape of your life when done often and constantly! Good luck in your strength and aesthetic goals.

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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye has an MSc in Sport Physiology and Nutrition, and puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding. She enjoys a pun, and in her spare time loves dog walking and eating out.


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