Starting anything new can be daunting and calisthenics is no different, it’s really important when starting calisthenics that you build up a really solid base strength and the only way to do that is by focusing on the basics.
I know it’s not always fun to do the basics as there are so many skills that are a lot more fun but take it from me you will progress a lot faster and have fewer injuries if you build up the required strength before trying more advanced skills/exercises.
The exercises below are perfect for the complete beginner as there are numerous progressions to each exercise allowing you to build strength up meaning you can do multiple reps and perform these exercise with the correct form which is more important than how many reps you can do.
Pull-ups are an exercise sometimes overlooked by beginners as they are hard, there’s no getting past the fact pull-ups are hard at first but there are so many progression that can be worked through there’s no excuse not to train for the pull-up.
The first progression I would recommend is the bodyweight row, the body weight row is perfect because it works the same muscle as a pull up just at a different angle.
If you’re a member of the gym using a smith machine is recommended for this exercises as the smith machine will allow you to adjust the height of the bar easily.
The higher the bar the easier the exercise will be, always start higher and work your way down to a lower position as you get stronger.
How To Perform A Bodyweight Row
The next progression would be band assisted pull-ups, I personally love resistance bands as they allow you to practice the exercise while keeping good form, keeping good form may not be possible without the band as you may not be strong enough at this stage.
When using a resistance band it’s good to have a range of different bands available so you can work your way down the band strengths as you get stronger.
HOW TO PERFORM BAND ASSISTED PULL UPS
The final progression is the negative pull up, negative pull-ups are a great a way to build the required strength to do a full pull up and learn how to fire all the required muscles to perform the pull up with good form, it’s important that you don’t skip the steps before as you may injure yourself if you do.
To perform the negative pull up jump above the bar and lower yourself as slow as possible until you’re at the bottom of the pull-up and repeat, if the bar is high you may need to use a box/step to help you get above the bar.
HOW TO PERFORM NEGATIVE PULL UPS
Once you have followed all these progressions and you feel comfortable you are now ready to give your first unassisted pull a go!
HOW TO PERFORM A PERFECT PULL UP
The chin-up is great for building grip strength and building strength in the shoulders, back, chest, core and biceps.
When performed correctly the chin up is one of the best upper body exercises you can do as it uses so many muscles.
Like the pull up there are a few progressions to help you build up the required strength to do your first chin up.
The first progression is the band assisted chin up, the band will really help you practice the correct technique and build up the required strength to start working on the next progression.
HOW TO PERFORM A BAND ASSISTED CHIN UP
The next progression for the chin up is the negative chin up, your muscles are stronger in the lowering part of virtually any exercise which makes this ideal for a beginner.
Depending on the height of the bar you may need to use a step or a box to help you reach the top of the bar.
Once you have followed all these progressions and you feel comfortable you are now ready to give your first unassisted chin up a go!
HOW TO PERFORM A PERFECT CHIN UP
Squats have so many benefits and that’s not just building strong legs, squats can also aid weight loss and muscle toning, it’s really important that you learn the correct technique before you start adding in squats to your training.
Because squats are a compound movement this means you are using multiple joints to complete the movement, these joints are your hips and knees.
A bodyweight squat uses almost every muscle group in the body meaning our bodies create an anabolic hormone response which helps with fat loss and muscle gain.
Squats will help strengthen your whole body which will have a positive impact on your calisthenics training.
Once you have mastered the bodyweight squat you can start adding weights to the exercise, this will help increase your strength and weight loss gains, there are a variety of weighted squats you can do that includes the hack squat and front squat.
Learning how to dip has lots of benefits especially when it comes to skills training that requires controlled push strength.
There are a few ways to dip but I have found the most beneficial to build push strength is to perform the dip as slow as possible e.g. count to 5 seconds on the way day, hold at the bottom for 5 seconds, push up to the top of the dip for 5 seconds.
The benefit to this method is it gets you used to pushing up from the lowest point of the dip which you will experience when learning to muscle up and transiting from a frog stand to handstand.
HOW TO PERFORM A BODYWEIGHT DIP
Having a strong core is important not just for calisthenics but also has an effect on our posture and how well we can stabilize ourselves when performing certain exercises.
A strong core will help with other exercises like the squat and calisthenics skills like the front lever and handstand.
The plank is a really effective exercise when performed correctly and will help build your core strength up which will benefit you massively when you start your skills training.
HOW TO PLANK
The pushup is one of the simplest and most beneficial exercises you can perform to gain strength and muscle.
Push Ups target the chest, pectorals, shoulders, delts, triceps and the core which is a great way to build strength throughout your body.
The push up may be hard when you first start training but there are a few progressions that you can work towards that will help you achieve your first push up.
The first progression is wall push-up, the wall push up will allow you to focus on form and build up your pushing strength safely, the strength gained from this exercise will allow you to move onto the next progression.
The next progression is the knee push up, knee push-ups are great for getting a feel for the real thing, they also allow you to control the downwards movement which will help build strength through the eccentric movement.
One fear when learning how to do a pushup is falling flat on your face, the knee push-ups stops this happening as you are in full control the whole time.
HOW TO PERFORM KNEE PUSH UPS
Once you feel comfortable in this position you can start working on the full push up movement, all these exercises take time and will require patients so if you can only do one that’s great keep going and soon enough it will be 5,10 and maybe even 30!
HOW TO PERFORM A PERFECT PUSH UP
Hollow body hold (dish)
The hollow body hold (or dish to some) is the most important exercise in the list especially if you are looking at learning calisthenics skills, the hollow body hold is used in some of the most advanced skills including the planche and the front lever and it’s essential that you learn this as soon as possible.
The technique is so important with this hold and the video below will demonstrate how to perform this correctly.
Also, did I mention that this exercise will build a solid core?