Calisthenics Workout: Full Body Training for Speed and Strength – Garage Strength

Calisthenics Workout: Full Body Training for Speed and Strength

Looking to dive into the world of calisthenics and need some exercises to help you get started? The exercises in this article will touch on every aspect of calisthenics to make you a well-rounded athlete. 

Even if you are experienced in calisthenics, you might find a few gems that have been missing from your training. Training with just your body weight can get bland fast. This article is here to help you find exercises and a workout that breaks the vanilla training cycle.

Even as a beginner, you will learn how to think outside of the box, get creative with your training, and develop a calisthenics workout that hits the entire body. 


What are Calisthenics?
Calisthenics for Beginners
Benefits of a Calisthenics Exercises
7 Unique Bodyweight Exercises
Is Calisthenics for You? 

What are Calisthenics?

Defining Calisthenics Training

Calisthenics are classified as a form of exercise that uses the weight of your body rather than using external weights specifically doing an exercise. This means no barbells, no dumbbells, and no machines. It’s you and your own body weight that are tasked to get in the workout that you need. 

This doesn’t mean that you can’t use other equipment or use your surroundings that can help you build muscle. It just means that you can't load 400 pounds onto a barbell and max out on squats. At that point you are just doing resistance training and no longer a calisthenics workout. 

Calisthenics is a form of strength training, but it is done with very low volume for singles, doubles, or triples. When you start a calisthenics workout plan, your volume may be low as you start to get a hang of the movements and get used to the different style of training.

As you continue to use the entire body over time, your upper body and lower body will start to adapt. Your muscles will get used to the weight of your body then you’ll need to increase the volume to continue progressing.

Common Body Weight Exercise

You’ve probably done calisthenics before when you think about it. If you’ve ever done regular push ups, an air squat, a pull up, or even just jumping rope. All are examples of calisthenics that can form different adaptations that you are looking for. Like any type of exercise, you can do speed work, strength work, or endurance training.

Calisthenics are very broad in the fact that anything you do with your body can be considered a calisthenic movement. Your own weight can provide a lot of stimulus that resistance training with weights uses. If you are looking for something to work on time under tension, you could do something like timed bar hangs or a wall sit.

The interesting thing is that all body weight exercises are calisthenics exercises, but not all calisthenic exercises are bodyweight exercises. You can increase the load by using a partner!

If you have someone sit on you for extra weight while doing push ups, or have someone help raise you up during pull ups, that is still calisthenics. Even if you do yoga, that is a form of calisthenics because you are using the body and calisthenics exercises often need a lot of balance to perform.

As you become more advanced and increase the calisthenics that are added into your training program, you will need to adapt the way you train.

For example, if we take a basic air or unweighted squat we can make it very advanced very quick. We can then transition to something like a pistol squat or a full range sissy squat. Being able to build off that base of balance or time under tension will be a key factor to continue improving your calisthenics workouts.

The same can be said for your upper body. If you can't do a pull up right off the bat, maybe start with something easier like a chin up, assisted pull up, or just timed hangs to get used to holding your own weight.

There are many progressions you can use to improve your calisthenics workouts. But how do you start? This next session is for beginners looking to get into calisthenics.

Calisthenics for Beginners

Where to Start

Doing a calisthenics workout may be daunting to a beginner. Especially if you aren’t proficient in body weight exercises. The silver lining is that it’s easier to start than you think.

Calisthenics training is like any kind of training program or training method. There are areas to improve your lower body, pulling power, pushing power, and overall athleticism. Calisthenics are also going to test your balance and speed if you train them properly.

To start as a beginner, you want to master the air squat, push up, and pull up. As stated in the previous section, pull ups might be challenging for some beginners. Instead of pull ups, you may want to substitute the chin up or a rowing motion. Find a bar or a rail, grab it, lean back slightly and pull yourself to it for repetitions.

Training Your Core

As a beginner, you’ll also need to start establishing your core. Working the abdominal muscles and improving core strength is a big part of calisthenics.

You’ll often see advanced calisthenic athletes doing cool tricks like flag holds or plank balances. A lot of this strength and stability comes primarily from the core.

You will need to do a combination of static and dynamic trunk control exercises so that you are maximizing function. We will touch on a few good calisthenic ab exercises in the next section, but crunches, hanging leg raises, planks, and heel touches are a good starting point.

Creating Balance and Speed

With your core and other muscles being worked, you don’t want to forget about the balance and speed aspect of training. Regardless of if you are doing calisthenics exercises as an athlete or for recreation, training balance and speed will improve your fitness.

Doing springs and plyometric jumps are going to help build cardiovascular endurance over time. With improvements in cardiovascular endurance, your overall mitochondrial volume will increase. This is the key to getting stronger and being able to do more reps.

Doing some kind of running, swimming, or plyometrics will help with muscular strengthening exercises so you will fatigue less as you build volume.

Balance goes hand in hand with cardiovascular endurance for calisthenics exercises. When you start to fatigue and increase volume, you may lose balance. Especially when you start to do more advanced and isolating movements.

Holding isometrics, doing yoga, and doing any controlled bodyweight exercise is going to improve your functional balance. So let’s take a look at some of the benefits of calisthenics exercises.

Benefits of a Calisthenics Exercises

Increased Muscle Size and Strength

Calisthenics exercises, such as push ups, pull ups, and squats, engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, promoting muscle growth and strength. As you progress through your training, you'll find yourself capable of performing more advanced movements, further challenging your body and leading to increased muscle size and strength.

Obviously with any training program, you will need to progressively adapt over time. You will need to increase the volume of your reps week over week and increase the intensity of your calisthenics workout.

If you are accustomed to traditional weight training, calisthenics will be pretty easy at the basic level. Although, if you are just getting started with strength training, you will see a good increase in lean muscle mass when you start training calisthenics.

Improved Balance and Coordination

Calisthenic exercises require you to maintain control of your body as you move through various positions. This helps develop a stronger sense of balance and coordination, which not only enhances your athletic performance but also reduces your risk of injury in everyday activities.

Like we talked about in earlier sections, your core is everything in calisthenics. You will be able to learn how to brace properly without the assistance of something like a belt. Your unassisted balance, stability, and coordination will see improvements within the first few weeks of training.

Weight Loss and Lean Muscle

Combining calisthenics with a healthy diet can be an effective strategy for weight loss.

Calisthenic exercises burn calories and build lean muscle mass, which boosts your metabolism and helps you shed unwanted pounds. Plus, the increased lean muscle mass will give your body a more defined and sculpted appearance.

If you are looking to get shredded, the volume, intensity, and hypertrophic work of calisthenics is a great introduction to the world of strength training.

Better Cardiovascular Endurance

Performing calisthenics exercises in a circuit training format, with little rest between sets, can significantly improve your cardiovascular endurance.

This type of training, often referred to as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), has been shown to be effective in increasing heart health, lowering blood pressure, and improving overall cardiovascular fitness.

It’s not just HIIT training that will improve your aerobic endurance and mitochondrial volume. You can incorporate distance, and sprint training throughout your program to become a more well-rounded athlete.

Increased Speed and Agility

The explosive and dynamic nature of many calisthenic exercises helps develop speed and agility. These exercises often involve quick, powerful movements that require your muscles to contract and relax rapidly, translating to improved performance in sports and other physical activities.

Sure you can do tuck jumps and lunge jumps, but getting creative with your environment will make training more enjoyable. Let’s face it, calisthenics might get bland really quick if you are doing the same exercises over and over. The same can be said for any form of weight training.

Diversifying your training with different types of calisthenics like parkour, yoga, plyometrics, or climbing can help you identify special outlets where you shine.

Low Cost and Accessibility

One of the biggest advantages of calisthenics training is that it requires minimal equipment, making it an affordable and accessible option for anyone looking to improve their fitness. Most exercises can be performed using just your body weight and a few basic pieces of equipment, such as a pull up bar or parallel bars.

You can even use your surroundings like benches, ledges, and stairs. There is a lot of variety when you allow yourself to get creative with exercises. Try doing stair jumps to increase power and jump height. You can even use a ledge to do decline or incline push ups for isolating specific muscle groups.

Enhanced Flexibility and Mobility

Calisthenics exercises, like leg raises and bridges, can improve your flexibility and range of motion. By working through a full range of motion in each exercise, you'll stretch and strengthen your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, leading to improved mobility and a reduced risk of injury.

By engaging in a calisthenics workout, your body is learning and adapting how to absorb the power it produces. Often people will use weights to simulate this, but they might only do a limited range of motion due to weight limitations.

With little to no extra loads, you can have the opportunity to train at a full range of motion for a large duration of your workouts. It’s actually preferred to do a full range of motion throughout all exercises to get the most development out of your muscles.

Mental Health Benefits

Lastly, calisthenics exercises offer a variety of mental health benefits. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and increase self-confidence. As you progress in your calisthenics journey and accomplish new fitness goals, you'll feel a sense of pride and achievement that can positively impact your overall well-being.

This can be said for any kind of exercise you do because of the endorphins your body releases. Specific to calisthenics, it’s a niche community. Not many people focus solely on calisthenics like they would something like powerlifting, bodybuilding, or another sport.

Many people that train in a gym environment with a lot of equipment don’t focus on the technical aspects of body control. Many people probably can’t do a crane balance position, flag hold, or other positions that are known as part of calisthenics culture.

Finding a sense of community in any hobby is important for longevity and calisthenics definitely has a strong community behind it.

7 Unique Bodyweight Exercises

Bulgarian Split Squat

Bulgarian split squats, also known as single leg squats, are an excellent exercise for targeting the major muscle groups in your legs, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. By placing one foot behind you on an elevated surface and performing a squat with the front leg, you effectively isolate and work each leg independently. This helps to address muscle imbalances and improve overall lower body strength and stability.

In addition to targeting the lower body, Bulgarian split squats also engage your core muscles. Throughout the movement, your abdominal and lower back muscles work to stabilize your torso and maintain proper alignment. This means that, while focusing primarily on your legs, you're also reaping the benefits of dynamic trunk control work.

One of the key advantages of Bulgarian split squats is their ability to improve balance and coordination. Since this exercise is performed on one leg at a time, it requires you to maintain control and stability throughout the movement. This helps develop better balance and proprioception, which is essential for athletic performance and injury prevention.

Incorporating Bulgarian split squats into your calisthenics routine not only strengthens the legs and core but also enhances your balance, coordination, and flexibility. This multifaceted exercise is a must-try for anyone looking to take their training to the next level. So, don't hesitate to give Bulgarian split squats a go and experience the incredible benefits this powerhouse exercise has to offer.

Handstand Push Up

One such exercise that stands out for its ability to build impressive upper body strength is the handstand push-up. This advanced calisthenics movement requires a solid foundation of strength, balance, and coordination, but once mastered, it offers a myriad of benefits.

Handstand push ups are a powerful exercise that primarily targets the shoulders, triceps, and core. By inverting your body and using your arms to press yourself upwards, you engage the deltoid muscles in your shoulders and the triceps in your arms. Additionally, the inverted position requires your core muscles to work overtime to stabilize your body and maintain balance throughout the movement.

It's crucial to note that handstand push-ups are not a beginner-friendly exercise.

Attempting this movement without proper preparation and strength can lead to injury or frustration. Before diving into handstand push-ups, it's essential to follow a progression of exercises that will build the necessary foundation of strength and balance.

Some recommended progressions include:

Wall-assisted handstands: Practice holding a handstand against a wall to build shoulder and core strength while getting comfortable with being upside-down.

Pike push-ups: Perform push-ups with your hips elevated, mimicking the movement of a handstand push-up, but with less weight on your shoulders.

Negative handstand push-ups: Kick up into a handstand against a wall, and slowly lower yourself to the ground to build strength in the eccentric phase of the movement.

Once you've developed the required strength and confidence through these progressions, you'll be ready to tackle handstand push-ups and reap the benefits they provide.

By incorporating handstand push-ups into your calisthenics routine, you'll not only develop exceptional upper body strength but also improve your balance, coordination, and body awareness. This challenging exercise may require patience and consistent practice, but the payoff is well worth the effort. So, invest the time in mastering the progressions, and unlock the incredible potential of handstand push-ups to take your calisthenics training to new heights.

Jump Lunge

This plyometric movement offers numerous benefits for those looking to improve their overall athleticism, dynamic trunk control, and boost their training. Jump lunges primarily target the glutes, core, and legs, making them an excellent lower body workout.

As you alternate between lunges and jump explosively from one leg to the other, you engage your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles. Simultaneously, your core muscles are activated to maintain balance and stability throughout the movement.

One of the key benefits of jump lunges is their plyometric nature, which involves rapid, powerful movements that require your muscles to contract and relax quickly. This type of training is crucial for building speed, power, and agility, which are essential components of athletic performance.

In addition to their impact on speed and power, jump lunges are also an effective exercise for improving cardiovascular endurance. When performed in a circuit training format, jump lunges can elevate your heart rate and challenge your cardiovascular system. This can lead to improved heart health, increased stamina, and better overall endurance.

Incorporating jump lunges into your calisthenics routine can provide a well-rounded, full body workout that targets multiple aspects of fitness. By engaging your lower body and core muscles, improving your plyometric abilities, and boosting your cardiovascular endurance, jump lunges offer an efficient and effective way to elevate your training.

Explosive Push Ups

Another advanced movement that showcases the power and versatility of calisthenics is the explosive push-up. This exercise not only targets key muscle groups but also improves power production in the upper body, making it a valuable addition to any calisthenics routine.

Explosive push-ups primarily target the triceps, chest, and shoulders, as well as engaging the core muscles for stability. As you perform the exercise, you'll explosively push your body off the ground, leaving the ground, and landing on an elevated platform like a box or a bench. This powerful movement requires your triceps, pectoral muscles, and deltoids to work together, generating impressive upper body strength and power.

By requiring rapid, forceful contractions of the muscles, this exercise helps develop the fast-twitch muscle fibers responsible for explosive movements. This increased power can translate into better athletic performance, from throwing a ball to executing powerful punches in combat sports.

As with any advanced calisthenics movement, proper form and progression are crucial to avoiding injury and ensuring success. Start by performing explosive push-ups on the ground, and gradually introduce elevation as you become more comfortable and proficient with the movement.

V Up

One essential exercise for developing a strong and stable core is the V-up. This dynamic movement engages multiple muscle groups and challenges your abdominal muscles through a full range of motion, making it a valuable addition to calisthenics workouts.

V-ups primarily target the abs and obliques, effectively engaging your entire core. As you perform the exercise, you'll simultaneously lift your upper body and legs, bringing them together in a V-shaped position. This movement requires the activation of your rectus abdominis (the "six-pack" muscles) and your external and internal obliques, which are the muscles running diagonally along the sides of your abdomen.

One of the key advantages of V-ups is their ability to work your core muscles through a full range of motion while maintaining good time under tension. This dynamic exercise requires your abs and obliques to contract powerfully to lift your body, and then to control the descent as you return to the starting position. This continuous engagement of the core muscles throughout the movement leads to greater strength gains and improved muscular endurance.

Incorporating V-ups into your calisthenics routine can help you develop a strong and stable core, which is essential for overall fitness and athletic performance. A well-conditioned core can improve your balance, posture, and stability, making it easier to perform other exercises and daily activities with greater ease and efficiency.

V-ups are a versatile calisthenics exercise that can be modified to accommodate varying fitness levels. Beginners can start with bent-knee V-ups or perform the exercise with their hands on the ground for added support. As your strength and proficiency improve, you can progress to the full V-up and even add a twist to the movement to further engage the obliques.

Pistol Squat

Next up on the list is the pistol squat. This advanced single-leg movement offers numerous benefits, making it a valuable addition to any calisthenics routine.

Pistol squats primarily target the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, effectively working the major muscle groups in the lower body. As you perform the exercise, you'll descend into a squat position on one leg while keeping the other leg extended in front of you. This movement requires the engagement of your quadriceps, gluteal muscles, and hamstrings to maintain balance and control throughout the exercise.

One of the key benefits of pistol squats is their ability to improve balance, mobility, and flexibility. As a single-leg movement, pistol squats require you to maintain stability on one foot, which helps develop better balance and proprioception.

Additionally, the deep squat position and extended leg demand a high level of ankle flexibility and hip mobility, making pistol squats an excellent exercise for enhancing joint range of motion and overall flexibility.

While pistol squats are considered an advanced movement, intermediate athletes can still work toward incorporating this exercise into their calisthenics routine. Progressions such as assisted pistol squats (using a powerlastic band or holding onto a stable surface) or box pistol squats (squatting to a box or bench) can help build the necessary strength, balance, and mobility needed to perform full pistol squats with confidence.

Pull Up

Last, but certainly not least, how could we forget the pull up? This classic upper body movement engages multiple muscle groups and develops grip strength, making it a valuable addition to any calisthenics routine.

Pull-ups primarily target the lats, biceps, and upper back, effectively working the major muscle groups in the upper body for pulling strength. As you perform the exercise, you'll lift your body up by pulling on a bar or overhead ledge, engaging your latissimus dorsi (lats), biceps, and the muscles in your upper back, such as the trapezius and rhomboids.

For those who cannot yet perform a full pull-up, there are several progression exercises to help you build the necessary strength and technique.

Chin-ups (with palms facing toward you), pull-up bar hangs, and assisted pull-ups (using resistance bands or training partner) can help you gradually develop the upper body strength needed to execute full pull-ups with confidence.

One of the key benefits of pull-ups is their ability to build lean muscle and enhance grip strength. As you lift your body weight during the movement, you challenge your muscles to work against gravity, resulting in increased strength and muscle tone. Additionally, pull-ups require a strong grip, which can improve forearm strength and overall grip performance.

Pull-ups can be performed using various equipment, such as pull-up bars or overhead ledges. This versatility allows you to incorporate pull-ups into your calisthenics training regardless of your workout environment or available equipment.

Is Calisthenics for You?

The easy answer is YES!

Even though calisthenics may not be as popular to train as body building, powerlifting, or crossfit, there is still a community around it. Many athletes and general fitness enjoy some kind of calisthenics in their workout routine.

There are so many ways you can incorporate body weight movements into your training without a specific, majority focus on calisthenics. Doing plyometrics, core exercises, and high volume body weight exercises are great accessories to any strength program.

If you want more exercises that cater to the resources you have available and take your goals into account, try out the Peak Strength app. It’s an app we created here at Garage Strength that puts elite, world class programming in your pocket and adjusts as your goals adjust.

Give these calisthenics a try, become more athletic, and become a champion. PEACE!

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Yo, It's Dane

Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!

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