Calisthenics is a fitness practice that uses your body weight for resistance and to change the intensity of the workout. This form of exercise is similar to lifting weights at the gym, only instead of using dumbells or other free weights, you move your body to add resistance and target specific muscle groups. It is an effective alternative to going to the gym, and many of the exercises do not require any special equipment.

Long-term Effects of Calisthenics

Calisthenics has many long-term benefits when done consistently, including building muscle and strength and improving metabolism and physical performance. It helps maintain and even increases muscle mass during weight loss, while decreasing the amount of visceral fat. It is also beneficial for older people as it helps them avoid age-related muscle loss.

woman doing pull up in gym


Other Benefits

Calisthenics can be extremely beneficial for cardiovascular health. It can lower blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides and increase "good" HDL cholesterol. Regularly doing calisthenics can also help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity. There are mental benefits to this form of exercise, too, including improved mood and cognitive functioning.

two women working out and smiling


Calisthenics Versus Weights

The effects of calisthenics are similar to lifting weights, as long as you use the correct technique. Movements should be controlled and smooth, and you should focus on building strength and improving balance. A good thing about calisthenics is that you can modify most exercises to make them more or less difficult, depending on your skill level.

woman doing body weight exercise on jungle gym



Research shows that calisthenics improves body composition, balance, and endurance and builds strength even in beginners and untrained people. It is easy to learn and accessible to everyone, making it an ideal form of fitness for those who do not have access to a gym or other workout equipment.

two women doing lunges in outdoor gym



One of the reasons that calisthenics is so accessible is that you do not need extensive equipment to get started, and you can make alterations using only the positioning of your body. That said, those with access to rings, pull-up bars, resistance bands, and a dip station can perform a wider range of exercises.

woman working out in playground with resistance band



One common exercise in calisthenics is push-ups. Proper form is important when doing push-ups. Keep the hands shoulder-width apart or more, keeping the body straight from the toes or knees to the head. Push up, straightening the arms, then slowly lower the chest back to the floor. To make this exercise easier, or if the low back dips, lower the knees. Push-ups work the chest, arms, and shoulders, and strengthen the core as well when done from the feet.

woman in plank position top of pushup exercise



Crunches are a calisthenics exercise that focuses on the upper abdominal muscles. To do crunches, start by lying on the floor and bending knees. Place your hands behind your head or next to the body, depending on how much resistance you want. The higher you place your hands, the more challenging the exercise becomes. Slowly curl the shoulders off the floor, then roll back to the original position. You can rest the legs on a bench to increase the difficulty.

young woman doing crunches exercise on yoga mat


Trunk Lift

Try a trunk lift to work the upper back muscles. Lie face down with your arms extended, but not touching the floor. Firm the core to raise the head and chest off the floor, then slowly return to the starting position. You can also place your hands behind your head or down at your sides to make this exercise easier. Raising the legs as well can make this exercise more challenging, incorporating the glutes. Focus on elongating the body when you lift, rather than getting higher.

man doing trunk lift or superman exercise



If you have a bar, pull-ups are an excellent calisthenics exercise to strengthen the arms and shoulders. Hold onto the bar with your palms facing forward, about a shoulder-width apart. Pull up, touching your chest to the bar, then slowly lowering the body. To work the biceps instead of the flexors, do the same exercise with the palms facing you. If you cannot do a pull-up yet, straight arm holds and negative pull-ups — using a chair to start with the arms bent and only performing the lowering part of the exercise — are excellent ways to work up to the full version.

young woman hanging from pull up bar in gym



Although a dip station is not necessary to do calisthenics at home, dips are an effective way to work the back and triceps. Start by grasping the bar with your palms facing in, keeping the arms straight. Slowly lower the body until your upper arm is parallel to the floor with the elbow at a 90-degree angle. Then, extend the arms to the starting position and repeat.

man using dip station to perform calisthenics exercise


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