Working Out at Home with Calisthenics
With most gyms and workout studios still closed, it can be hard to find new ways to exercise. And if you're not the biggest fan of cardio like me, you may not be too fond of the idea of early morning runs or evening walks. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t work up a good sweat in the comfort of your own home!
Now, I’m not suggesting you go spend a couple hundred dollars on a full gym set. In fact, you don’t have to spend a dime. You can enjoy all the benefits of a complete at-home workout with no equipment whatsoever by trying out calisthenics.
What is calisthenics?
With a long history dating back to ancient Greece, calisthenics was developed before most gym equipment was even invented.  In the past, ancient Greek warriors used calisthenics to train for battle, but today calisthenics has become a workout sensation that just about anyone can try. Fundamentally, calisthenics describes the group of exercises that rely solely on a person’s own body weight. That’s right—no dumbbells, no bench presses, just pure creativity in training.
Today, there are a variety of calisthenics exercises to choose from. You may already be familiar with some of the more common ones, like push-ups or squats. But there are also more advanced workouts such as the bear (or Bruin) crawl. Overall, calisthenics covers a wide range of exercises designed to train your body how you see fit and is a great at-home alternative to free weight workouts.
What are the benefits?
Aside from the fact that you don’t need any equipment, there are a lot of benefits that come with calisthenics. Here we outline some of the major ones:
Whether you’re an olympic athlete or someone who hasn't run a mile in ages, calisthenics can be a great workout for any person at any fitness level. In general, bodyweight exercises emphasize progression more than anything else, so you can start out with the beginner exercises then slowly train your body to tackle more complex ones by adding more reps. Who knows? Maybe after a month of getting into calisthenics, you’ll be crushing those one-handed pushups!
Because calisthenics can be done just about anywhere and anytime, it’s also relatively easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Have a short break between Zoom calls? All you need is a little room to move around and a killer workout playlist to keep you motivated.
It trains the whole body.
Another great feature of calisthenics is that it can train multiple muscle groups simultaneously. For example, mountain climbers target the leg, core, shoulder and chest muscles all in one movement.  This efficient exercise is particularly helpful if you’re pressed for time but still want to work multiple body parts.
Moreover, compared to weightlifting, bodyweight exercises can often be safer and easier on your joints.  Instead of putting the pressure on a specific muscle group, calisthenics spreads out the strain to your whole body. As a result, these exercises can greatly improve muscle strength, endurance, and even balance, making it a great option for people who are still recovering from injuries or therapy!
It increases your flexibility.
Studies have shown that bodyweight exercises can improve flexibility while also providing some great strength conditioning.  Often, it can also lead to improved balance and body-mind coordination, allowing for a great form of functional movement training.
One great example is something you may already be familiar with: yoga! In one study, participants who attended one session of Bikram yoga, a type of yoga performed under hot temperatures, showed increased deadlift strength, flexibility, and modestly decreased body fat.  If you want to learn more about the benefits (and potential dangers) of Bikram yoga, check out Bikram Yoga: A Heated Topic.
What exercises should I try?
The beauty of a calisthenics workout is that there are so many different variations within just one exercise. One article even listed over 82 different push-up types of varying difficulty!  So if you’re looking to get into calisthenics, you can definitely mix-and-match exercises to create a workout tailored to your current fitness level and designed to help you achieve your fitness goals.
Want to get a toned tummy or six-pack abs? Start out with more core-focused exercises like planks, superman holds, or leg raises. Looking to build up some strength and endurance? Try out some more advanced exercises. But make sure to complete the full range of motion—no cheating!
the bottom line
If you’re looking for a way to stay fit while we wait for gyms to open up again, calisthenics may be the perfect tool for your fitness goals! With a long history and even longer list of potential benefits, calisthenics are a great way to challenge your body physically as you’ll be able to see results slowly but surely.
Of course, exercise is only one part of staying healthy! Remember to fuel your body before and after every workout if you truly want to see results. To learn how you can maximize your daily workouts with good pre- and post-workout nutrition, check out From Start to Finish: Fueling Your Workout.
"8 Calisthenics Exercises for Beginners.” healthline.com. (2017).
“Effect of Calisthenics Workouts for Weight Loss and Flexibility.” International Journal of Physiology, Nutrition and Physical Education. (2019).
“Sports, Joint Injury, and Posttraumatic Osteoarthritis.” Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. (2003).
“Basic Principles Regarding Strength, Flexibility, and Stability Exercises.” American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. (2012).
“Bikram Yoga Training and Physical Fitness in Healthy Young Adults.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. (2013).
“82 Push-Ups You Need to Know About.” greatist.com. (2019).