What Is Calisthenics?

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Woman and man planking

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Calisthenics is a form of resistance training that uses the weight of your body along with gravity to help strengthen your muscles, increase your endurance, and improve your mobility. Exercises range from simple movements that do not require any equipment to more intense moves like a pull-up or a burpee, as well as common exercises like push-ups, lunges, squats, and crunches. Some people even consider gymnastics a form of calisthenics.

Because these exercises easily fit into almost any training style or exercise regimen, they are ideal for beginners as well as advanced exercise enthusiasts. Overall, calisthenics is an excellent way to work out that is accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels. Here is what you need to know about the benefits of calisthenics as well as how to get started.

The Benefits of Calisthenics

Calisthenics is a great way to build functional strength and improve your fitness level—no matter your current fitness level or experience. This form of resistance training has a number of health benefits, too. Here are some of the more notable advantages of incorporating calisthenics into your workout.

Increases Strength

Calisthenics consistently boosts muscle strength through movement. A small study of 28 men found that calisthenics can improve strength in a relatively short period of time. After eight weeks of calisthenics, participants increased the number of push-ups and pull-ups they were able to do even though their workouts did not include these specific exercises. Meanwhile, those studied who did not do calisthenics did not see the same improvements.

Improves Fitness Levels

Consistent use of calisthenics in your workout routine may lead to improved cardiovascular health, including increased endurance and a healthier heart. Research shows that you improve your fitness levels when doing high-intensity movements like burpees or mountain climbers. In fact, researchers have found fast-paced calisthenics to be equivalent to running on the treadmill or doing intervals on a track.  

Helps With Weight Management

Calisthenics can help reduce body fat while maintaining or increasing muscle mass. Additionally, calisthenics tend to be more aerobic in nature, which may help with weight loss as well.

Improves Posture

The movements required to perform calisthenics stretch and strengthen your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Regularly incorporating these exercises into your workout plan can not only help improve your balance and flexibility, but also improve your posture.

Researchers also have noted that short bursts of calisthenics can be particularly useful for beginners who previously were more sedentary. In fact, they found that breaking up sedentary time with calisthenics may be an effective way to increase steadiness and dynamic balance, which is particularly important as you age.

Boosts Mood and Wellbeing

While exercise can boost your mood, reduce your stress, and improve your overall sense of well-being, calisthenics may offer additional benefits for your mental health. For instance, research has shown that calisthenics may reduce cognitive decline and could be useful for dementia prevention. Calisthenics may even be useful for improving mood in those with certain diseases like multiple sclerosis or ankylosing spondylitis.

How to Start Calisthenics

If you want to start doing calisthenics, it is important to have a plan in place. To start, determine when you want to workout and where you are going to do it. It also can be helpful to schedule your workouts just like you would a meeting or a date. This way, you will be more likely to prioritize your workout and stick to it.

You should plan what moves you are going to do and for how long. If you are having trouble coming up with a plan, it can be helpful to work with a certified personal trainer or find a video or tutorial online. Just make sure it fits your fitness level and is something you would enjoy doing.

If you are looking for ideas on what exercises to incorporate into your workout plan, here are some popular calisthenics that you may want to try.

Push Ups

  1. Lie flat on the floor with your face toward the floor.
  2. Place your hands a little wider than shoulder width.
  3. Push straight up until your arms are fully extended, while keeping your core tight and your back straight.
  4. Lower yourself to the ground and then repeat the motion.
  5. Perform three to five sets of 10 to 20 repetitions, if you can. (It is OK to change how many reps you do if you need and work up to 20 reps.)

You can modify this move by putting your knees on the ground, or by doing the push ups standing and using a wall to "push up" rather than the floor. 


  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart.
  2. Lower your hips to about 90 degrees while trying to keep your body upright.
  3. Return to standing position and repeat.
  4. Perform three to five sets of 10 to 20 repetitions, if you can. (It is OK to change how many reps you do if you need and work up to 20 reps.)

You can modify this move if you want by using a chair. Slowly sit down and then rise again.


  1. Begin in the "up" position of a push-up and hold your body still.
  2. Keep your core tight for 30 seconds.
  3. Do this exercise in between other exercises for three to five reps.
  4. Work toward a plank hold of 60 to 90 seconds and repeat a few times.


  1. Stand in a split stance with one foot roughly two to three feet in front of the other foot.
  2. Keep your torso straight, your shoulders back, and your hands on your hips. 
  3. Bend your knees and lower your body until the back knee is a few inches from the floor. 
  4. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed between both legs.
  5. Push back up to the starting position, keeping your weight on the heel of the front foot.
  6. Perform three to five sets of 10 to 20 repetitions, if you can.


  1. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and your arms at your sides. 
  2. Bend down and place your palms on the floor in front of your feet. 
  3. Jump your feet out behind you to assume the high-plank position. 
  4. Keep your core tight and spine straight. 
  5. Perform a push-up. 
  6. Make sure your hips don’t sag and keep your back from arching. 
  7. Jump your feet outside of your hands for a squat. 
  8. Stand up and jump stretching your arms above your head. 
  9. Land with your knees bent to absorb the impact. 

You can modify burpees move by eliminating the push-up portion. This alternative is good for people with the endurance to do burpees but not the strength to perform push-ups yet.

Tips for Beginners

Here are some tips to help you get started if you are new to calisthenics.

Who It's For

Calisthenics is ideal for both the beginner and the experienced exercise enthusiast who want to work out without needing equipment. Because most of these exercises rely on your body weight for resistance, you can perform these movements in short intervals in any small space.

Keep in mind, too, that calisthenics activate multiple muscle groups and involve a lot of movement. While these characteristics encourage improvement in your mobility and increase your heart function, they also can pose some risks if you have stability issues, certain medical conditions, or joint inflammation. But if done properly—and with a healthcare provider's consent—calisthenics is an ideal full-body workout that can be done by anyone.

A Quick Review

Calisthenics is a type of resistance training that uses your body weight and gravity to help you build strength and endurance. Calisthenics has many health benefits and can improve your fitness level, boost your mood, better your posture, and help with weight management. If you are interested in incorporating calisthenics workouts into your exercise plan, it is important to start small and focus on consistency. You also should set attainable goals, prioritize your workouts, and ensure you are using the proper form. If you are unsure how to make a plan or how to do certain moves, working with a personal trainer can be helpful.

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3 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Thomas E, Bianco A, Mancuso EP, et al. The effects of a calisthenics training intervention on posture, strength and body compositionIES. 2017;25(3):215-222. doi:10.3233/IES-170001

  2. Bellissimo GF, Ducharme J, Mang Z, et al. The acute physiological and perceptual responses between bodyweight and treadmill running high-intensity interval exercisesFront Physiol. 2022;13:824154. doi:10.3389/fphys.2022.824154

  3. Taspinar O, Aydın T, Celebi A, Keskin Y, Yavuz S, Guneser M, Camli A, Tosun M, Canbaz N, Gok M. Psychological effects of calisthenic exercises on neuroinflammatory and rheumatic diseasesZ Rheumatol. 2015 Oct;74(8):722-7. doi:10.1007/s00393-015-1570-9

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