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How to Start Calisthenics at Home With MINIMAL Equipment!

Updated: Jan 20, 2022

So you want to get started with calisthenics.

You dream of building a strong, muscular physique and mastering all those crazy looking party tricks you see people doing on Instagram and TikTok.

But you don't know where to begin.

In a world of so many opinions and crazy promises that seem too good to be true, it's hard to know what really works and what doesn't.

That's why we've sat down and come up with a complete beginner's guide to starting calisthenics and bodyweight training from home, covering everything that you need to know from the best exercises, to sample workouts and equipment requirements.

The key to getting anywhere is to simply get started, and we're here to help you do that.

Workout beginner doing pull ups and getting started with calisthenics

The Beginner's Guide to Starting Calisthenics From Home

First of All: What Even is Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is another name for bodyweight training, which is exactly what the name suggests.

You're training to build strength, muscle and control with your very own bodyweight.

Even if you don't fully understand what it is, you've surely seen it before.

At the most basic level, the push ups that we used to do in our bedrooms as kids were an example of calisthenics and bodyweight training.

The pull ups that we did at the local park were an example of calisthenics.

And as you get more advanced, you'll see people doing exercises such as the planche (left of image) and the human flag (right of image).

Calisthenics exercises for advanced athletes and for beginners to learn

These are the party tricks that everybody loves to show off.

By the time you reach and master these advanced movements, you're going to have developed a ton of strength and muscle mass in your body already.

However, to progress even further and really take the cap off of what you can do and achieve, you can go weighted and add external resistance to your exercises.

For example, you can get yourself a pull up/dip belt and add some weight plates to your exercises.

Some people get good enough to do weighted dips with over 80kgs strapped to their waists!

If that isn't crazy impressive in your books, we don't know what is.

Calisthenics is a very creative kind of exercise that can be fun, unique and INCREDIBLY effective at building strength and muscle if you do it properly.

As long as you're performing a strength exercise with just your bodyweight, you're going to be training with calisthenics.

How Does Calisthenics Compare to Weight Training?

Calisthenics and weight training are both popular forms of strength training that can be used effectively yo achieve similar goals.

Most of the time, the main goal to be achieved through these two exercise types are: gaining strength and building muscle.

And while the end goals are pretty similar, each one does actually have its own advantages over the other when it comes to effectiveness and what you're able to achieve.

We do have a complete article breaking this down, which you can read here. (It'll take about 15 minutes to get through the whole thing).

However just for this post, we'll give you a run down of the benefits that each one has to offer over the other.

The Advantages of Calisthenics:

  • Minimal equipment required

  • More core engagement

  • More creative

  • Can be more fun

  • Could help burn more calories

  • More training flexibility

The Advantages of Weight Training:

  • Easier muscle isolation

  • More straightforward progressions

  • Better for lower body development

  • Could be more beginner friendly

  • Better for raw strength gain

  • Slightly better for optimal muscle development

As you can see, both training styles do have their own advantages over the other.

And neither one is going to be the 'best' overall choice, you just have to weigh everything and take it all into consideration when you come to choose the one you're going to go with.

If you've had a look and decided that you'd rather train with weights, go ahead and check out our beginner's guide to that, which we'll leave a link to here.

Otherwise, if you've decided to stick with calisthenics, great. You can keep on reading!

The Best Bodyweight Exercises

There are a TON of bodyweight exercises that you can choose to perform to suit your preference and meet your goals.

No, you're not just stuck to push ups and pull ups.

There are loads of variations to each basic exercise that can either be easier or tougher to perform, depending on your choices and how you go about doing them.

We'll start with the most basic movements, show you some of the more advanced exercises that you can expect to work towards and then get into easier alternatives in the next section.

We'll divide the exercises up into three categories:

  • Pushing exercises (pressing with the upper body)

  • Pulling exercises (pulling with the upper body)

  • Leg exercises (all lower body movements)

We'll give you a couple of exercises for each so that you can learn about all the movements you need to hit your entire body.

The Basic Movements

The Push Up

This is the most basic bodyweight movement.

Almost everybody on this planet knows the push up. Everyone has done (or at least tried) a push up at some point in their lifetime.

This is a great foundational calisthenics movement for the chest, shoulders and triceps. Plus, you'll get some good activation in the abs as well.

To do the push up:

  1. Assume a high plank position

  2. Tighten your core and align your body into a straight line

  3. Put your hands just outside of shoulder width apart.

  4. Keeping your elbows tucked in at 30-45 degrees, lower yourself down with control until your chest reaches just above the floor.

  5. Explode back up by pressing your hands hard into the ground.

  6. Lock out the elbows at the top to complete one rep.

  7. Repeat

Check out the video below by CrossFit® to see a demonstration!

Please note that taking a slightly narrower grip and tucking the elbows in a little more is going to shift the emphasis of the weight onto your triceps.

For most people, the push up is going to be your foundational upper body pressing movement if you're training with just your bodyweight.

The Pull Up

While the push up and the pull up are clearly both upper body exercises, the pull up is going to work the rest of the major muscle groups that the push up does not.

The pull up is going to work the muscles of the back and the biceps, with some great engagement in the abs and the forearms at the same time if done correctly.

Similarly to the push up, most people are going to have attempted a pull up at least once in their lifetime.

It's not necessarily an easy exercise, but it's a very basic movement in the world of calisthenics and bodyweight training.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Hang completely relaxed on a bar with your palms facing away from you. Hands should be just outside of shoulder width.

  2. Pull your shoulder blades down and back. You should feel tension in your back immediately.

  3. Keeping your back arched, pull yourself up by thinking about driving your elbows down into your side.

  4. Get your chest up until it's just under the bar and squeeze the muscles of the back.

  5. Lower yourself back down with control.

  6. Repeat.

See the video below by Pivot Cycles to see what this movement looks like!

Please note that gripping the bar with your palms facing towards you instead is going to have you performing chin ups, which basically work the biceps a little more and shift some of the emphasis away from the upper back.

Both are great movements, and you can learn about the difference as well as the better overall choice in our blog article about that.

Air Squats

Air squats or bodyweight squats are an easy way to target the muscles of the quads and glutes, with a little bit of assistance from the hamstrings.

However, the lags are a very strong muscle group, and air squats simply aren't going to be challenging enough for most people to actually get a good workout and stimulus.

Even for some complete beginners, a set of 30+ bodyweight squats is going to feel like a walk in the park.

Still, it's worth noting as some of you reading this will still be able to get a good stimulus for growth with this exercise.

And, it can be played around with in terms of time under tension and other techniques to make it more difficult.

To perform the air squat:

  1. Stand with your feet just outside of shoulder width to start. Or stand wherever feels the most comfortable and you feel you're the strongest in.

  2. Make sure you're standing stable and are feeling the majority of the weight on your mid foot.

  3. Brace your core by taking a breath in and holding it. Keep a neutral spine throughout the exercise.

  4. Squat down by bending at the knees and hips until your upper thighs are parallel to the ground.

  5. Bend forwards as much as you need to to keep the weight centered.

  6. Drive yourself back up by pressing your feet hard into the ground.

  7. Squeeze the quads and glutes hard at the top of the movement.

  8. Repeat.

Check out the video below by Bupa Health UK to see what this looks like!

If you find that this exercise is too easy (there's a high chance you will), then you can look to perform some of the tougher variations that we'll share with you below.

The Dip

The dip is another great compound pressing exercise that also works the muscles of the chest, shoulders and triceps.

Dips are slightly tougher than push ups due to you carrying much more of your bodyweight, but they're still a pretty basic movement. Most people will be able to perform them with control after a little while of consistent training.