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What is calisthenics? 15 beginner-friendly exercises to try at home

String these calisthenics exercises together for an at-home workout that will change your body.

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Calisthenics may conjure up images of grade school P.E. class, but recently it has become a social media fitness sensation.

The hashtag #calisthenics has more than 18.5 billion views on TikTok and popular calisthenics influencers and trainers have millions of followers. Most of the people who post these hardcore functional movements flaunt a lean, muscular figure that is referred to as “calisthenics body.” And some of the physical feats enthusiasts achieve are not just impressive — they seem almost other worldly.

For example, a video posted by TikTok user @laura.crossfitness that has garnered 4.6 million views shows her effortlessly floating into a handstand and then performing a pushup.

This “new” calisthenics puts exercises from ancient calisthenics, like pushups and pull-ups, into a modern context. The calisthenics styles that you see trending online are sometimes called “urban calisthenics” or “street calisthenics” because they utilize props you might find in a contemporary city — like telephone poles and park benches.

While the moves that go viral on social media are intimidating — the truth is, calisthenics itself is actually a very accessible practice that anyone can do.

What is calisthenics?

Calisthenics is nothing new — to the contrary, it's actually ancient. The term calisthenics comes from the Greek words for beauty (kallos) and strength (sthenos). Ancient Greek Spartans did calisthenics as far back as 480 BCE.

Calisthenics is a high-intensity workout performed at a moderate pace without much rest time. The workout primarily utilizes your body weight with little or no equipment.

Calisthenics exercises target large muscle groups, like the glutes and chest. They are typically common moves you’d do in a variety of workouts, like squats or pushups, but also include more advanced exercises like pull-ups.

The benefits of calisthenics

Calisthenics can be used to improve coordination, flexibility and strength.

Studies suggest that calisthenics has numerous health benefits. A 2017 study, for example, found that doing calisthenics for eight weeks could could enhance your posture, help you gain strength and make a positive impact on BMI (body-mass index). And a study from 2018 found that calisthenics training could improve upper-body strength.

Who should do calisthenics?

Calisthenics is a great workout option for:

  • People who prefer to work out at home — you can do calisthenics anywhere!
  • Those who don't want to buy a bunch of equipment — you can do calisthenics using just your bodyweight.
  • Anyone looking to improve endurance.
  • People who want to increase muscle strength.
  • Those who want to boost their metabolism.

How to start calisthenics

Calisthenics workouts are usually 30 to 40 minutes in length and focus on pushing and pulling motions using the lower body. However, you can easily include calisthenics exercises in your current workout routine. They make a great addition to HIIT workouts and regular strength-training workouts.

Like other types of strength training, doing calisthenics every other day is a good cadence to build lean muscle mass and help with fat loss, while giving your muscles time to recover.

Calisthenics workout: 15 beginner calisthenics exercises

Here are some calisthenics exercises that you can intersperse into your current workout routine. For a full calisthenics workout, perform them as a circuit repeated for two rounds.

calisthenics kneeling leg lift

Kneeling leg lift

Start kneeling on the ground. Extend your right leg straight out to the side. Place your right hand on your hip and lower your left hand down to the ground a few feet from your left knee. Pull your abs in and relax your shoulders. Then lift the right leg up as high as your hip, and lower it back down. Repeat for 10 repetitions and then switch sides.

calisthenics glute bridge with pulse

Glute bridge with a pulse

Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Your knees should be hip-distance apart. Slowly raise your hips by squeezing your glutes to create a straight line from your neck to your knees, being careful not to hyperextend your hips. In this elevated position, pulse up and down an inch five times. Then slowly lower down. Repeat 10 times.   

calisthenics Standing Hamstring Curl

Standing hamstring curl

Using a chair or wall for support if you need, start in a standing position. Pick one leg up and raise your heel toward your glute bending the knee to at least a 90-degree angle. Hold for two seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat 10 times and then switch legs.

calisthenics leg lift

Leg lift

Lie on your side and prop yourself up on your bottom forearm. Straighten the legs and stack them slightly in front of your body. Pull your naval in toward the spine. Keeping your legs straight, lift the top leg into the air to about shoulder height. Slowly lower the leg back down to the meet the other. Perform 10 repetitions and then switch sides.

Pictured: Stephanie Mansour
SquatsCourtesy Stephanie Mansour

Squats

Stand with your feet hips-width apart and your toes pointed forward. Squeeze your abs as you move your weight into your heels. Slowly sit back into a squat position with your chest up, your shoulders back and abs in. Make sure that your knees are not pushing past your toes and are as close to a 90-degree angle as possible. Squeeze your glutes and press into your heels to stand back up. Perform 10 repetitions.

Pictured: Stephanie Mansour
Jumping jacksCourtesy Stephanie Mansour

Jumping jacks

Jump both feet out to the sides as you raise the arms out to the sides and overhead. Bring the arms down as you jump the feet back to center.

Pictured: Stephanie Mansour
Forearm plankCourtesy Stephanie Mansour

Forearm plank

Lie face down on the floor. Place your forearms flat on the mat and bend your knees so that they are touching the mat. Engage your core and lift your body up off the mat, creating a straight line from your head to your heels. 

Pictured: Stephanie Mansour
Push-upsCourtesy Stephanie Mansour

Pushups

Start by getting down on all fours with your palms on the mat a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Make sure your arms are straight. Reach your legs straight behind you, tucking the toes under to come into a plank position. Bend at the elbows, lowering your body until your chest almost touches the mat. Pause in this position for a few seconds, then press down into the ground to straighten your elbows and push your body back up.Return to starting position and repeat 10 times.

Pictured: Stephanie Mansour
PlankCourtesy Stephanie Mansour

Plank

Get into plank position with your palms on the mat and your arms and legs straight. Hold one time for 10 — 20 seconds. Gradually increase the amount of time you can hold the plank until you reach one minute.

Pictured: Stephanie Mansour
Jump squatCourtesy Stephanie Mansour

Jump Squat

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Perform a regular squat, bending at the knees and sitting back into a squat position. Then, push off your toes and jump up explosively. Bring your arms up straight into the air as your feet lift from the ground. Try to keep a controlled movement, landing softly and in control before exploding into the air again. Perform 10 repetitions.

Pictured: Stephanie Mansour
LungesCourtesy Stephanie Mansour

Lunges

Step your right foot forward and bend the right knee, making sure the knee tracks over the ankle. Bend the left leg so that the knee reaches toward the floor. Push down through the right heel to press back to the starting position. Repeat 10 times, then switch sides.

Pictured: Stephanie Mansour
Tricep dipsCourtesy Stephanie Mansour

Tricep dips

Sitting on the ground, place your palms on the ground behind you with your fingers facing your body. Move your butt back toward your hands and press down through your feet to lift your butt up. Keep your knees bent. Bend your elbows straight back to lower down into the dip, then press down through your hands to come up to the starting position.

Pictured: Stephanie Mansour
CrunchesCourtesy Stephanie Mansour

Crunches

Lie down on your back with your knees bent, feet as wide as your hips and feet flat on the floor. Tighten your abs, pulling your belly button in toward your spine and making sure to engage your core throughout the exercise.With your hands placed gently behind your head and elbows wide, use your abs to bring your shoulder blades off the floor. Exhale as you lift your body. Slowly release the position, inhaling as your rest your head on the mat. Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times.

Pictured: Stephanie Mansour
BurpeesCourtesy Stephanie Mansour

Burpees

Begin in a squat position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place both hands on the ground in front of you, shifting your weight to your hands. Kick your feet behind you so that you’re in plank position. Perform one pushup, making sure your back is straight and your core is engaged. Jump your feet forward so that you are back in a squat position and stand up. Jump upreaching your arms above your head. Land softly with knees bent and immediately drop into a squat position. Repeat 10 times. 

Pictured: Stephanie Mansour
Bicycle crunchCourtesy Stephanie Mansour

Bicycle crunch

Start lying on your back with your hands behind your head. Slowly lift your shoulders off of the floor and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle, looking at your thighs. Squeeze your abs while you reach your right elbow toward your left knee while straightening your right leg. Move through center and then reach your left elbow toward your right knee, straightening the left leg. Alternate for 10 times to each side.