Recently, there has been a resurgence in calisthenics training. By calisthenics, we don’t just mean jumping jacks while a military instructor yells and spits in your face. These full body workouts can be done with minimal equipment even in your hotel room. They require no gym memberships and a simple pull up bar is more than enough. With CrossFit, HIIT, and at-home programs taking the fitness world by storm, tried and true exercises are great options for building muscle mass and losing unnecessary body fat.
But how do you get started? There are so many options, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Thankfully, we have an epic calisthenics workout plan that can take you from an absolute beginner to doing intermediate and even advanced body weight movements. Not only that, but you’ll look and feel like an outstanding beast, with lower body fat and incredible muscle.
Surprisingly - or, perhaps not - calisthenics exercises are essential to being fit and healthy. The basic components of any bodyweight exercise are movements that directly correlate to our everyday lives. Plus, it appears that calisthenics workouts enhance coordination (when compared to other, calisthenics-esque workouts) .
Another reason why calisthenics is king: Compound movements. Every exercise that simply uses your bodyweight works multiple muscles at once: Push-ups work your entire upper body (pecs, triceps, and delts), while pull-ups are tremendous for your latissimus dorsi (a.k.a., your back) and biceps. Our bodies rarely use a singular muscle for anything; rather, getting stronger as groups of muscles will help us out for the other areas in life.
Speaking of which, calisthenics workouts get you in incredible shape for sports and other activities. Whether it’s shredding waves, getting back and forth on a court, or becoming a better overall athlete, explosive strength training - fast and hard calisthenics - has to be your go-to workout.
In fact, “explosive strength training” actually improves your neuromuscular efficiency, which means your brain and the rest of the nervous system utilizes the right muscles at the right time. It also stabilizes your body in all three planes of motion .
Lastly, you can do these workouts anywhere - the park, the hotel room, your home, a jungle gym, etc. Our calisthenics workout below uses only a handful of bars and that’s it! A free workout opportunity in the sun? Sign us up.
For these reasons (and many more), it’s a no-brainer that a calisthenics workout is the way to go if you want to become a badass athlete!
The WorkoutDo these exercises one after the other, in a circuit:
Push-ups - three variations (diamond, normal, wide), one set each until failure
Pull-ups - three variations (wide grip, normal, chin-ups), one set each until failure
Squats (ass to grass!) - three sets of 50 reps (or failure if you can’t do 50)
Dips - three sets until failure
Australian pulls - get below a low horizontal bar, pull your body up to the bar with feet on the ground, at an angle; three sets of 30 reps (or failure if you can’t do 30)
Handstand push-ups - three sets until failure (or, if you can’t do handstand push-ups against the wall, elevated pike push-ups)
Jumping lunges - three sets of 50 (25 each leg)
Hanging leg raises - three sets until failure
Sprints - three all-out sprints for fifteen seconds
Perform this workout 3-4 times per week (Monday/Wednesday/Friday is a good split). On rest days, still do active recovery (like BJJ or surfing).
Breaking It Down
Time Under Tension
The key is time under tension. This is where the muscle is built and the fat is burned. Time under tension is essentially “how long a muscle is under strain during a set” . The longer a muscle is under tension, the more growth it should experience because it experienced more strain.
Therefore, every rep in your sets ‘til failure (or a specific number) should follow a 1/0/5/0 cadence. That means it takes one second to reach the top of the movement (the push part of the push-up, your chin over the bar in a pull-up), zero seconds pause, five seconds going back to the starting position, and zero seconds at the bottom.
For example, you will take five seconds squatting down until your ass is in the grass. Then, without pausing at the bottom, you explode up in a single second, squeezing your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Without waiting, start your five seconds back down again.
This does a few things: One, it gives the muscles you’re working a nice stretch before the strength and power part of the movement. Zero pausing means continuous time under tension, which is what we’re going for. And, finally, the single second explosion of strength and power gives you the muscle type you want: Fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Because our focus is on tension, we want to maximize the amount of time we’re straining our muscles. Also, “failure” should be less and less reps the farther along you go within your workout. So, we’re keeping rest times to only 30 seconds. Performed as a circuit, your specific muscle groups should recover enough until they’re utilized again, while simultaneously keeping your heart rate up throughout the whole workout.
If you need to take a longer break in between circuits, that’s more than okay. Take two to three minutes to catch your breath before attacking your second and third circuit. Especially after that sprint, you may need it!
How to Progress
This is another key, which is very important if you want to see results (i.e., more muscle and less body fat). Progressing - or, getting better, faster, stronger - in your calisthenics workout will allow you to do more in both your workout and in other athletic areas.
The only way you can measure progress is to keep track. Before your last, failed rep, how many reps did you do? Were they clean? Did they follow the correct cadence?
Once you record your rep number, come back in two days and make sure you beat that number. If you did 10 pull-ups, shoot for 11. If you repped out 40 squats, try and get 42, 43, 45 squats this time around.
If you need to build up to these actual movements, start with easier versions and then move up to the basic movement (push-ups on knees, regular push-ups, weighted push-ups; negative pull-ups, assisted pull-ups, pull-ups).
Of course, we could do this until you’re doing 100 reps of everything. This would no doubt take too long and you couldn’t recover in time for the next workout session. So, once you hit 20-30 reps in a single set without failure, it’s time to add more weight. While this undermines the exact definition of a “bodyweight workout,” you want to keep progressing.
Thankfully, adding weight to these movements is easy-breezy. Simply take an old backpack, cinch it up tight to your body, and add some weighted plates and towels into the backpack. If you don’t have official 25-pound plates, any heavy object will do: Books, rocks, cinder blocks… use your imagination.
(Note: For squats you can progress to jumping squats. Hanging leg raises and sprints don’t have to be progressed; just go as hard and as fast as you can.)
Continue to get stronger and lift more with each and every workout. Your muscles will be forced to adapt to a higher level of output, which results in more muscle.
After time under tension and progression, there’s one more key to complete the trifecta: Consistency.
You want to have a workout routine that you love and have fun with, so that it’s simple and easy to get your workouts in throughout the week. If you follow a MWF split, add in some of your favorite sports or activities on non-workout days to keep things fresh. Surfing, martial arts, sports, long runs or even walking are great ways to use your newfound skills from calisthenics.
Become a Badass!
If you stick with your routine, continue to build your reps and resistance, and focus on time under tension for the right muscles for each exercise, you’ll become an absolute aesthetic beast in four weeks. Even if you start with push-ups on your knees or a handful of squats, you’ll be hitting those upper levels - and even adding weight - after just 12 sessions.
Now let’s go workout!
For more amazing, natural, organic fitness and lifestyle advice, tips, and tricks, keep it locked in on the ATH blog!
Ozer, D, et al. “Effects of Calisthenics and Pilates Exercises on Coordination and Proprioception in Adult Women: a Randomized Controlled Trial.” PubMed.gov, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2012
Rønnestad, B R, and I Mujika. “Optimizing Strength Training for Running and Cycling Endurance Performance: A Review.” PubMed.gov, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2014
“How to Gain Muscle Faster with 'Time under Tension' Training.” Men's Journal, Men's Journal, 28 June 2018