Calisthenics: types of exercise, benefits, importance and research

With its many health benefits, calisthenics was originally introduced to women in the 19th century, as the inventors aimed to popularise gymnastics as well.

Eventually, it was recognized as a regular exercise that both sexes could do. And now, it is making its big comeback in the 21st century.

Looks like calisthenics was your great-grandmother’s go-to exercise in her younger years! 

If you are thinking of doing calisthenics as a physical activity, it may be one of the ideal among the types of exercises.

Calisthenics is easy to do as it primarily uses your body weight. It is all about repetition and building endurance in your body. 

What is calisthenics?

Calisthenics, which originated in Ancient Greece, refers to a type of workout that uses one’s body weight with minimal or no equipment needed.

It involves repeating movements using large muscle groups – usually at a moderate pace – to improve coordination, flexibility and strength. 

As a strength training exercise, calisthenics can give your body hard muscles and more balance. It can enhance your body’s resistance and endurance in complex exercise positions.

Most people can perform calisthenics regardless of their level of athletic abilities. You only need your body weight to do calisthenics. 

Aside from being easy to do, calisthenics exercise is also relatively quick and uses most or all of your body.

You only need to repeat each exercise movement about 10 to 12 times, but you can do more than that if your body can endure, depending on your fitness level.

The exercise offers simple to advanced movements that beginners can easily follow. A squat exercise is one example of the simpler version, while pull-ups and muscle-ups are considered advanced movements. Meanwhile, gymnastics is a complex and athletic type of calisthenics [1].

what is calisthenics

What are the different types of calisthenics exercises?

There are many calisthenics exercises, such as jumping jacks, trunk twists, push-ups, chin-ups, sit-ups, planks and lunges. Calisthenics is actually wide in variations that can be grouped into the following. 

1. Freestyle calisthenics

First on the list is freestyle calisthenics, which resembles gymnastics in many ways. Most people who do freestyle calisthenics find horizontal bars or parallel bars a fun and entertaining way to exercise and build muscle.

Take note, though, that the risk can be high when you follow freestyle calisthenics, especially if you are a beginner or not used to performing it.

Hence, most of the time, professional coaching is needed to help ensure you are maintaining a proper form in doing the exercise to prevent getting injured. 

Some of the common freestyle calisthenics are bar transfer, extreme muscle-ups, switchblade, double bar hops, 270 dips, clapping dip, clap muscle-ups, 360 pull-ups, toe touch pull-ups and 360 muscle-ups. 

2. Aesthetic calisthenics

Have you seen bodybuilders and wondered what they do to have that many muscles? Well, part of their routine is performing aesthetic calisthenics. 

Aesthetic calisthenics is one of the most popular types of calisthenics, most especially for bodybuilders and people who lift weights.

There are a lot of people who perform aesthetic calisthenics solo or combine it with other types of calisthenics. 

When athletes do aesthetic calisthenics, they usually perform body-building activities as well. The idea is to start with the basic movements up until it progressively becomes harder, building maximum strength and muscle. 

3. Street workout calisthenics

The world is your gym – a principle that many people who perform calisthenics follow. You can do calisthenics anywhere you are, even in places you seem you can’t exercise, like in the street areas. 

When you perform calisthenics in the streets, it is then called street workout calisthenics. Street workouts are considered popular as people want to show off their calisthenic skills in a public space. 

The most popular forms of street calisthenic workouts are pistols and shrimp squats, handstands, one-arm chin-ups, one-arm push-ups and variations, front and back levers and the human flag. 

4. Flexible calisthenics

Flexible calisthenics is all about acquiring flexibility and mobility. Of course, learning how to properly balance your body is an absolute must when it comes to flexible calisthenics movements.

With its movements, falling during certain flexible calisthenics positions can put you more at risk of getting physical injuries. Hence, it is recommended to perform it with a professional coach first. 

Holding the same positions or headstands for minutes or even hours is possible for professionals in flexible calisthenics. They can ultimately extend their endurance and strength through intense training.

The secret is all about focusing on the joints being kept at all times, as they need to stay aligned and in the right position.

Stretching is half of the workout in flexible calisthenics; hence, it is not an ideal exercise if your goal is to lose weight. It is best for people recovering from an injury to get them back to their regular workouts quicker. 

5. Military calisthenics

This one basically involves push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups–more about strength exercises. The perfect way to think about military calisthenics is by envisioning the exercises at the boot camp. 

Moreover, most movements in military calisthenics are considered basic and can be done by anyone.

To start with military calisthenics in the easiest way possible, you can perform low repetitions and small sets first and then build your endurance to do more. 

Keep in mind that military calisthenics usually can’t help with losing weight that much; rather, it is best performed just to stay in good body shape.

If you are aiming to lose weight and still want to do military calisthenics, you can combine its movements with other types of calisthenics or cardio workouts. 

6. Static calisthenics

Static calisthenics primarily holds a position or movement for a long time. Most people who perform static calisthenics have a strong physique but still, look lean. They can be skinny rather than having more muscle mass. 

Static calisthenics commonly does not need that much training, making it easier for beginners to do this initially.

It starts by holding movements for a short time and short repetitions, and then gradually, as you gain balance and control, you can increase your time period and repetitions.

There are many well-known movements in static calisthenics, such as the planche and the front lever, that you can do if you are a beginner. 

Static calisthenics trains your muscles differently compared with other types of exercise, particularly in the state of the muscle.

In static calisthenics, the concept is to keep your muscle at the same length the whole time, while in traditional exercises, your muscle has a concentric and eccentric phase [2]. 

What are the benefits of calisthenics?

Following the types of calisthenics, there are specific health benefits in performing different movements. However, generally, the concept of calisthenics is to provide you with the following health benefits: 

1. Increases body strength and endurance

Calisthenics can build muscle that makes you stronger using your body weight. It happens because you put stress on some of your muscles and muscle groups when doing calisthenics, causing you to experience hypertrophy. 

Microscopic damage to your muscle tissue can also occur, which is then regenerated with new muscle tissue.

During your rest between workout periods, you actually grow your muscles where the microscopic gaps in them receive new muscle fibre, resulting in bigger, stronger muscles overall. 

Unlike bodybuilding and weight lifting, calisthenics focuses on enhancing your stamina as well.

As a beginner, of course, it may be hard to prolong movements, but over time, as you follow the routine, you will find yourself doing more sets and performing advanced positions easily. 

Calisthenics builds up your muscle’s endurance–your strength and holding power. It is a practical strength that you can use every day rather than simply lifting weights up in one direction. 

2. Improves biomechanics (posture, balance and flexibility)

Here’s another reason to love this exercise. Calisthenics is known to improve posture, balance and flexibility, considering it is a movement-oriented sport.

The routines primarily involve stretching muscles which is why it can help with flexibility and preventing locked-up or shortened muscles. 


On the other hand, keeping balance is essential in calisthenics too. You have to learn to balance yourself as you lift up your body weight through your muscles.

As you master balancing your body in calisthenics, it can be easy for you to do other types of exercise. 

Improved posture is another end result of calisthenics. As you enhance your strength, balance and flexibility, there goes also having proper posture.

You may find yourself walking more upright, and your muscles become more relaxed, preventing you from slumping or experiencing joint and backaches.  

3. Enhances physical aesthetics

Who wants a great physique? Because calisthenics can give you exactly that! Performing calisthenics regularly can enhance your physical attributes that relate to weight, not to mention you also gain a healthy body. 

If you aim to have a healthy body with lesser fats, calisthenics is the best way to achieve that.

As you follow its agility- and strength-improving movements, you consciously sculpt your body in a certain way where you get abs and muscles. 

4. Improves mental health

A healthy body homes a healthy mind. We all know that exercising has a direct, intrinsical impact on your mental wellness, and calisthenics can be your ultimate buddy in improving your mental health. 

As you take good care of your body and do regular exercise, you will feel more confident in how you present yourself.

Also, your body releases endorphins during and after a workout. Endorphins refer to hormones in your body that can make you feel good and happy [3]. 

Why are calisthenic skills important?

Why are calisthenic skills important?

Generally speaking, exercise is important to maintain a healthy body. You must perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week for healthy adults and at least 60 minutes of active play on a daily basis for kids [4]. 

Calisthenics can contribute to improving a wide range of body functions, including cardiovascular health, gut health and heart health.

It can improve mobility, reduce aches and pains, lower the risk of injury, prevent type 2 diabetes and enhance sleep quality.

Fight and prevent obesity

Obesity is the number one cause of major fatal diseases, and calisthenics can help you overcome it. 

Staying healthy and fit is achievable when you perform calisthenics. It is a great way to lose weight and reduce cholesterol. With its intense movements and positions, you will surely shed some weight on your body.

You can start by following the basic positions and then eventually perform the advanced ones; however, it is advisable to have a professional coach to prevent getting injuries. 

Lower blood sugar

Diabetes is a strong disease to fight with. You may develop diabetes if you are obese or have had an unhealthy lifestyle for a long time.

However, you can lower your risk of having diabetes with calisthenics by preventing you from obesity or being overweight. 

You can manage your weight by doing different calisthenics such as lunges, squats, push-ups, planks and sit-ups–these are beginner-friendly exercises that you can perform without any experience beforehand.

As you will be using your weight to strengthen your muscles, going to the gym is also not an option when you do calisthenics.

Additionally, calisthenics can develop your muscles’ capacity to absorb more glucose. When you build your muscle to take more glucose, you are allowing your blood sugar to lower at a normal level [5]. 

Lower risk of heart disease

As you lower your blood sugar, you are also lowering your risk of heart disease through calisthenics. In fact, exercise alone can do the trick.

You can manage your high cholesterol and high blood pressure by keeping your body active. Plus, combine it with a proper diet and healthy lifestyle choices.

Incorporating calisthenics into your lifestyle can improve a ton of health advantages in your body. 

Help insulin effectively

As a type of workout that utilises a person’s body weight, calisthenics is important to help your body transport glucose from your bloodstream to the muscles by improving muscular and aerobic endurance. As your body pumps more glucose in your body, the less insulin you need. 

Meanwhile, strength training like calisthenics can produce insulin and the more strength training you perform, the less insulin your body requires to lessen your blood sugar. With healthy foods, you can further help your body manage insulin effectively. 

Focus the mind and relieve stress

As mentioned earlier, calisthenics is good for your mental health too. The reason is it also focuses on relieving stress and clearing the mind. It’s like it comes with some yoga concepts. 

Some people who perform calisthenics believe that only 50 percent of it is physical, while the rest is all about mental exercise.

Taking some time to focus on sustaining the positions in calisthenics can relieve stress and bring back focus to your mind.

Moreover, calisthenics has the element of meditation, as it helps clear the active mind and allows you to become more conscious about your body. 

Boost confidence

Furthermore, calisthenics can boost your self-confidence as you keep a healthy mind and body. Any body insecurities may lessen when you do regular calisthenics as you are shaping your body the way you like it.

Having self-confidence can be a long-term effect of possessing a healthy, strong and attractive body.

Choosing a type of calisthenics can help in how you want your body to look–either thinner, more abs, simply losing some weight or removing excess fats.

However, it is not overnight. It is a gradual process and conditioning your mind that you are acceptable whatever your body type is. The most important thing is being healthy!

Research about the health benefits of calisthenics 

As an ancient exercise, calisthenics has been the topic of research in different levels for many years, most relevantly in the 21st century.

It is quite an interesting research topic considering it started in the year when the gym was not really a thing, and the majority of people back then relied on non-equipment exercises. 

Calisthenics vs other types of exercises

Similar to the old times, you actually don’t need to use some equipment, like weighted bars, dumbbells and weight stacks, to gain muscle. Calisthenics can give you results similar to those when you do weight training. 

In one small study in 2017 published in the Journal of Exercise & Fitness, the research results revealed that push-up training and low-load bench press exercises have similar results in muscle thickness.

The conclusion was derived after the researchers observed two groups who performed the two different exercise routines twice a week within two months [6]. 

In another study in 2018, it was also proven that calisthenics and weight training have similar benefits in improving a person’s upper-body muscle strength or thickness. The results of the study showed no statistical difference between these types of exercises [7].

The claim: increase muscle strength, mass and endurance

Time and time again, calisthenics proves to have positive effects on muscle strength, mass and endurance. 

In a Harvard Health study, the researchers discovered that bodyweight exercise aids in building muscular strength and endurance; this is independent of an external load [8].

Furthermore, another study in 2017, which was published in Isokinetics and Exercise Science, found that calisthenics helps improve posture, strength and body composition without the use of major training equipment [9]. 

The claim: better posture and a healthier weight

Well, achieving a better posture and balanced weight through calisthenics are not myths but are backed up by science. 

Among its many studies, a 2017 research discovered that performing calisthenics in just eight weeks can enhance your posture, strength and body mass index (BMI). Also, strength training, like calisthenics can help in losing excess pounds to maintain a healthy weight [9].

In a more recent study, 2022 research revealed that calisthenics, as a body weight workout, counts as high-intensity interval training (HIIT). The participants who performed calisthenics exercises at a vigorous pace received similar cardio benefits when they did interval running, sprinting and walking on a treadmill [10]. 

Debunking the myth: women are not for calisthenics

Debunking the myth: women are not for calisthenics

Well, it’s a little ironic, don’t you think? Calisthenics was introduced first to women in the 19th century with the hope of popularising gymnastics, and here we are, underestimating the capacity of women to do calisthenics. 

While women may not have similar strength or body size as their male counterparts [11], it is proven that both men and women show similar strength gains when training regularly over a period of time. 

In fact, in a 2016 study published by the National Institutes of Health, the researchers observed men and women participants within ten weeks of resistance training if it had an effect on upper-body strength gains.

The results showed no significant differences in strength gains between the sexes. Therefore, creating a different design of resistance training programs is not needed for each man and woman [12].

Calisthenics vs diabetes 

The calisthenics exercise has been proven to help people with diabetes. In a 2022 study, the researchers involved 210 people with type 2 diabetes and it showed that calisthenics could have a positive effect on regulating blood sugar levels and managing BMI and blood fat, including cholesterol and triglyceride levels [13]. 

Moreover, a 2015 study used 73 participants with neurological and chronic inflammatory conditions, revealing that callisthenics could positively impact psychological health [14].

While the study looked at intense calisthenics exercises, such as squat jumps, burpees and jumping lunges, you can also change the exercise routines and perform them slower for lower-intensity interval training (LIIT). 

Why should you try calisthenics? 

Simple, it is easy, convenient and versatile. Calisthenics has been around for many years for a reason. In today’s era, calisthenics is still relevant that even athletes and people who want to lose weight are doing it. 

Do it anywhere

Anywhere is your gym with calisthenics! As calisthenics uses your body weight, you don’t need to use any equipment from the gym or at home. You can still see amazing workout results with a very simple and affordable setup by following this versatile workout style. 

Pair it with other training styles

Calisthenics is quite flexible, so you can combine it with different training styles and still see positive results. For example, you can do calisthenics to improve your muscle endurance and still run or jog for your cardio. 

Adding a new set of skills in fitness is possible as well. You can change your routine and challenge your body further by using simple pieces of equipment, though not normally needed in calisthenics, to level up your training. 

You can do the following: 

  • Parallettes – using two bars on stands that sit parallel to one another. 
  • Pull-up bar – refers to a horizontal pole you can utilise for exercises, including hanging knee raises, pull-ups and muscle ups. 
  • Resistance band – when you use a thick elastic band, it can create a sort of variable resistance, making your exercises more challenging. 

Beginner-friendly exercise 

Intimidated when you see people do calisthenics? Don’t be because it is a very beginner-friendly exercise.

First-timers can master simple routines with a lower risk of injury, particularly when they do body-weight squats and push-ups.

Learning the correct form of calisthenics is easy as well. It will gradually give you confidence as you progress to more variations, like adding weights. 

You can try learning squat basics, mastering movements on a pull-up bar and improving your balance and focus with single-leg or arm exercises.

There are a lot of ways to make your training fun and exciting as you build strength, endurance and flexibility. 

Easy to modify

It may take some creativity, body awareness and practice to modify calisthenics exercise, but it is still doable and easy. 

You only need to find an intense consciousness about your body and how it moves to determine when to change your workout routines.

It is actually not that abrupt; big modifications. For instance, you can place your knees on the floor while doing push-ups with one arm to make it more challenging. 

Precautions and risks in calisthenics

Of course, not all are unicorns and rainbows for this type of exercise. Calisthenics comes with some precautions and risks you must know about before starting and incorporating it into your lifestyle. 

For people with medications, it is better to ask your physician before making any changes in your physical activity.

Similar to pregnant women, they must ask their doctor when they can do simple calisthenics to stay active during pregnancy.

It is also advisable to monitor your heart rate during and after doing calisthenics exercises. The target heart rate must be between 64 to 76 percent of your maximum heart rate for moderate intensity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [15].

If you have a fitness band or watch, you can definitely use it to track your heart rate from time to time to ensure your workout routine is safe.

Also, a few reminders:

  • You must stretch before starting calisthenics to ensure your body is warmed up for some action. 
  • Following the basic exercises first is recommended before moving to more advanced routines. Don’t skip the process, or else you might get injured! 
  • Breaks and rest periods are essential as the workout itself. You should allocate 10 to 15 minutes of breaks for intense calisthenics routines. 
  • After a very intense calisthenics session, you must be self-aware of when to have recovery periods to prevent any injuries. Don’t overdo it! 
  • Lastly, stay hydrated! 

Longevity in calisthenics

As a form of exercise, calisthenics is a perfect way to achieve healthy longevity. Not only will it build up your functional strength, but calisthenics also reduces stress on your joints, resulting in a longer lifespan of joints. As you know, our bones and joints become fragile when we age. 

Calisthenics also helps in preventing your body from developing any fatal diseases that may increase your risk of death. Keeping your body active through calisthenics and a proper diet can ultimately slow down aging. 

FAQs

What is the main purpose of calisthenics?

The main purpose of calisthenics is to develop physical fitness using one’s body weight through exercises like push-ups, squats, and planks.

What does calisthenics do for a person?

Calisthenics helps individuals build strength, increase muscle tone, improve cardiovascular fitness, and enhance overall body function.

Can you do calisthenics without equipment?

No, calisthenics primarily uses your body weight as resistance, so you don’t need specialized equipment. However, you may choose to incorporate pull-up bars or parallel bars for certain exercises.

How many times a week should I workout calisthenics?

Aim for at least three to four sessions per week to see progress in strength and fitness. Ensure proper rest between workouts to allow muscles to recover.

Is calisthenics good for older adults?

Yes, calisthenics can be adapted to suit individuals of all ages, including older adults. It helps improve balance, flexibility, and functional strength, contributing to better quality of life.

[1] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/calisthenics#exercises 
[2] https://thehybridathlete.com/types-of-calisthenics/ 
[3] https://health.clevelandclinic.org/calisthenics/ 
[4] https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
[5] https://thehybridathlete.com/revamping-health-benefits-of-calisthenics-for-diabetes/ 
[6] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1728869X17301028 
[7] https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2018/03000/Effect_of_Progressive_Calisthenic_Push_up_Training.9.aspx 
[8] https://www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/the-advantages-of-body-weight-exercise 
[9] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317321468_The_effects_of_a_calisthenics_training_intervention_on_posture_strength_and_body_composition 
[10] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2022.824154/full 
[11] https://scholar.princeton.edu/sites/default/files/brzycki/files/mb-2002-01.pdf 
[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4756754/ 
[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9197618/ 
[14] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00393-015-1570-9 
[15] https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/measuring/heartrate.htm 

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