5 Effective Calisthenics Workout Routines

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

For people who want to exercise in simple but effective ways, calisthenics is one of the best options to get yourself into peak fitness. However, before you can add these exercises to your workout regimen, it is important to understand the history, details and potential benefits of this workout style, as well as the best practices to try.

What is Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is a workout strategy, done without special equipment, which uses the movement and manipulation of your own weight to improve your physique. Some of the basic examples of these physical movements are pushing, running, standing, pulling, bending, jumping and swinging, among others. Also known as body-weight training, it rarely involves equipment or any type of workout machine, and is solely based on the resistance of your own body to hone the muscles and manage inertia. Due to the simplicity of these exercises, and the potential to perform them almost anywhere, calisthenics are considered some of the most important exercises for an average person to understand and be able to complete.

Calisthenic activities such as push-ups, pull-up and crunches are extremely common in schools. They help to set a calisthenics foundation for children as they grow up. These exercises are also popular among professional athletes, and one’s ability to perform calisthenics if often considered a measurement of overall fitness. Other forms of exercise, such as resistance training and weightlifting, are considered more specialized. Calisthenics, on the other hand, as the Greek origin of the name implies, is a combination of “beauty” and “strength”. [1]

A woman performing calisthenics at the gym

Calisthenics training increases both strength and size across your entire body. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

There are quite a few benefits of calisthenics, such as increased weight loss, boosted endurance, better muscle growth, a lower likelihood of injury, and better flexibility. With these exercises, your body will inform you when it is reaching a boundary of comfort, allowing you to pull back, give the body time to rest and repair, and then come back the next day with even more endurance and determination. Furthermore, in addition to building muscle and endurance, the repetitive nature of calisthenics will raise the heart rate, thus classifying it as an aerobic exercise.

Beginner’s Guide to Calisthenics

If you are just starting out with calisthenics, there are a few tips mentioned below that will keep you safe. Also, they will improve the efficacy of your workout, such as stretching, changing your diet, being patient, mastering the basics and adding a cardio workout to your regimen.


You can’t simply expect to start working out and then see immediate results; you also need to alter your diet to provide the materials for muscle growth and physique improvement. Speak to a nutritionist or a personal trainer about the best diet that will complement your goals and preferred calisthenic exercises. [2]


Before you start any form of exercise, it is wise to stretch out your muscles, warming them up and preparing them for more strenuous demands. This will help reduce your risk of injury, and will also provide more flexibility and endurance during your workout. [3]


People usually become frustrated when they don’t see positive results immediately but it is critical to remain patient. Results may not be instant, as it takes time for your body to get back to its normal level of fitness. However, trust that your efforts are helping, and don’t give up before your body has a chance to respond.


Calisthenic exercises are relatively simple, given that they require no extra equipment. However, having a proper form is crucial, both for the efficacy of the exercise and for your own safety. Injuries during these exercises can definitely happen if you are pushing your body too far and not using proper form.


While calisthenics is considered an aerobic form of exercise, it doesn’t get your heart rate up in the same way that traditional cardio does. Most people combine their calisthenics with more intense cardio exercises to give their body a full workout that delivers results. [4]

Calisthenics Workouts

The most popular and effective calisthenics workouts include squats, lunges, chin-ups, push-ups, crunches, bench dips, leg lifts, calf raises, chest dips, and headstand shoulder-presses, among others.


Start on all fours and then raise yourself up to a plank position, your back straight. Push up and down, bending at the elbows. You should feel the workout in your arms, shoulders, core, and back. [5]


Using a stationary bar, grasp the bar with your palms facing you, then pull yourself up until your chin clears the top of the bar. You can also turn your palms outward to exercise different muscles in the arm or alternate back and forth. [6]

Leg Lifts

Lie with your back flat on the ground and avoid arching it during this exercise. With your legs straight out, lift them to approximately 45 degrees and then gently lower them to the ground. [7]

Calf Raises

Standing firm on two feet, raise yourself up onto your toes and hold that for at least 10 seconds, take a rest and then repeat, trying to stay on your toes for as long as possible. [8]

Bench Dips

Position yourself as though you are going to sit on a bench, and then sit directly in front of it. Place your palms behind you around the seat of the bench, and keep your legs straight in front of you. Now, try to lift yourself up from the ground. You can put your feet flat on the ground for a slightly easier variation. [9]


Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Keeping your feet on the ground, lift your torso until you are near to a seated position, then lie back down slowly. This ab-intensive exercise has dozens of variations, all of which are valuable to know for great abdominal muscles. [10]


Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms straight in front of you. Lower yourself into a squatting position, at least until your thighs are perpendicular to the floor, before rising back to a standing position. [11]


Step forward with one leg, dropping your hips until both knees are at approximately 90-degree angles. From there, complete the step and stand up straight again. Repeat the same with the other leg. [12]

Quick Calisthenics Workouts

One of the best things about calisthenics is that a complete workout may only take 15-20 minutes if you know how to maximize your time. This can allow you to get your workout in when you’re on your lunch break, relaxing in the park, starting your day at home, or out with friends on the beach.


Many people enjoy calf raises, bench dips and chin-ups at the beach, particularly if your beach provides a small calisthenics workout area (many do). All you need is a sturdy bar and a few elevated objects/posts on the ground to complete these exercises, and then you can take a dip in the water to cool off.


A quick at-home workout is a sequence of 40 push-ups, followed by 40 crunches, ending with 25 leg lifts. The entire sequence shouldn’t take more than 8-10 minutes, with brief breaks between, and it targets almost all of your body’s major muscle groups between those three workouts.


An excellent calisthenics workout that you can do at work is squats and lunges. These are relatively non-obtrusive exercises and are closer to stretching than working out. This can help with circulation issues, which can be a problem if you are sitting down at work all day, and quick 10-15 lunges and squats in the middle of the day can have surprisingly good effects on your hamstrings and glutes!


When you are outdoors, calisthenics can take all forms, from high leg lifts while you hike to “pull-ups” if you are hiking a difficult trail. However, squats and lunges are also good to keep the blood flowing to the extremities, whether it is a camping trip or a simple stroll with friends.

Calisthenics Diet

When it comes to a diet that is complementary to calisthenics, you should stick to organic produce, high-quality proteins from lean meat, whole foods, and a very limited amount of fat. It might be hard to cut out your junk food and take your grocery shopping more seriously, but it will be worth it in the long run.

Lean Meat

Lean forms of protein are the ideal resource to build muscles, as those amino acids in the protein are necessary for the repair and growth of the muscles that calisthenics is stimulating. [13]

Whole Foods

These foods are relatively low in calories, fat, and cholesterol, in comparison to other types of grain and empty carbohydrates, like those found in junk food, fast food, and pastries.

Organic Produce

This will provide you with a good supply of healthy sugars, fiber, minerals, and antioxidants to promote additional growth and protect the immune system. [14]

Low-fat Intake

Eliminating most sources of fat from your diet is critical, as this will promote better heart health and energy levels. Some fats are good, such as those found in nuts, avocados, seeds and certain meat, but generally, a calisthenics diet will have a limited amount. [15]

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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