Everything you need to know about calisthenics and how to try it yourself


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Sure, megaformer Pilates and boxing/treadmill/weights hybrid workouts are fun and all, but it’s just as effective to stick to the basics when you exercise. If you’re looking for a truly OG workout experience, hit up calisthenics. “Calisthenics exercises are one of the simplest ways to work out,” says Megan Bradley, coach and experience coordinator for Row House. “It includes a variety of muscle groups that activate your larger muscle groups by only incorporating your bodyweight.”

So rather than using weights or something like a medicine ball, gravity helps you to get in a good work out. Think fundamental moves like squats, push-ups, lunges, and crunches. It’s not like incorporating weighted equipment isn’t great—it is—but there are particular perks to doing calisthenics.

You may be wondering: If squats are a staple of strength training, how is calisthenics different than that? Besides the fact that calisthenics uses solely bodyweight, the difference lies in the muscle groups you’re recruiting. “You’re typically focusing on total body movements with calisthenics as compared to your ability to isolate certain muscle groups, which is easier with strength training,” says Steve Stonehouse, a trainer and director of education for Stride. So calisthenics are a form of strength training, but not all strength training is calisthenics.

“Calisthenics exercises are generally compound exercises, which work two or more joints and multiple muscle groups at once,” adds Cori Lefkowith, trainer and founder of Redefining Strength. And they’re actually really ideal for fitness newbies or those who want to master the basics in their fitness routines. “Calisthenics create a fitness base—they allow us to find body awareness, stability, and mobility,” says Bradley. “Finding those three things helps us to build a foundation as we progress in our fitness journey and stay healthy while doing it.”

The whole fundamental aspect also, in a way, protects you from getting injured. “Basic calisthenic movements are fundamental movement patterns we need to master if we want to avoid injury as we build strength,” says Lefkowith. “If you can’t perform a basic bodyweight squat, you shouldn’t be adding weight or jumping around. A foundation is key if we want to move well.”

A five-move calisthenics workout

1. Squats: With your feet hip-width apart, toes slightly pointed out, keep your chest upright as you shift your hips back and down as if you’re sitting in a chair. Make sure to engage your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core, and squeeze your glutes at the top.

2: Pull-ups: Use a neutral grip on a pull-up bar, and engage your lats, rhomboids traps, and core as you pull up to meet the bar. Clear it with your chin, then lower down with control. If you can’t pull yourself up all the way yet, you can use a hanging resistance band underneath your feet for a boost.

3. Plank: Plant your hands underneath your shoulders, shoulders over wrists, legs extended back into a high plank. Keep your back flat and hips in line as you activate your core and squeeze your glutes.

4. Push-ups: In the plank position, move your hands to be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Push down onto the floor with your hands and raise your body back up by extending  your arms. Keep your abs tight throughout the movement.

5. Bridges: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted, hands on the sides of your head and fingers pointing toward your toes. Push your hips up, rounding your back and squeezing your abs, butt, and leg muscles as you do so. Hold at the top before lowering down and repeating the move. For a modification, place your hands on an elevated surface.

Oh, and here’s what trainers have to say about doing cardio or strength training first in a workout. And these are the surprising benefits of strength training that go beyond just being stronger.

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