Beginner Calisthenics Workout: How To Build Strength

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Posted On December 2, 2019

Most people that enter the world of calisthenics are inspired by Instagram and YouTube, and are keen to hit all the big skills. They are soon disappointed to learn that calisthenics is not easy and that the big skills are the result of countless hours of training.

Everything in calisthenics is possible for everyone. It just requires time and dedication. The best way to start is to lay down a strong foundation. This foundation is two-fold. It’s made up of strength and body awareness. In this blog post we will concentrate on strength.

Strength in calisthenics is achieved by practising fundamental movement patterns. It’s likely that you have come across many of these exercises, however it is imperative that you don’t dismiss them, but instead attempt to master them. Mastering exercises in calisthenics means building volume and perfecting technique.

Exercise 1: Push ups


Push ups are a great beginner exercise that will build chest and tricep strength. At the very beginning you may need to start on the knees or by elevating the position of your hands. That is completely okay! Just remember concentrate on the lower back position and the range of motion. Having mastered this, and built some volume, it’s time to move to standard push ups on the toes. Your push up journey truly begins here.

It is suggested that you are able to complete at least 50 standard push ups in a row, before playing with the different variations of push ups. Once you are able to successfully complete 50 push ups in a row it is time to start incorporating push ups with different hand and body positions.

Push up progressions include: diamond push ups, shoulder (or pike) push ups, and bicep push ups. Additionally, the speed of the movement can be modified. Explosive or clap push ups are a great tool for building power.

Exercise 2: Pull ups


There are 2 main types of pulling in calisthenics. Vertical pull ups (think of your standard pull up) and horizontal pull ups (where your body is parallel to the ground). Both are quite hard. As with all strength training it is important that you work within your limits and maintain good technique.

It is also important that you are able to correctly apply the principle of progressive overload. Progressive overload requires a 10% increase in intensity for strength exercises. It is possible to apply this principle to low rep ranges, however progress will be very slow. Instead you should aim for a minimal of 8 repetitions.

If you are unable to hit 8 repetitions in a row, the exercise is too difficult, and you should make it easier. Bodyweight exercises are different to traditional weightlifting where you can slightly increase the weight you are lifting, instead you must adjust lever lengths and angles.

It is recommended that beginners start with Australian pull ups. These pull ups are usually done with parallel bars, while keeping the feet on the ground. This exercise is done at 45 degrees and therefore equally builds vertical and horizontal pull strength. Once you are able to achieve 20 Australian Pull ups in a row, it’s time to move on to standard pull ups.

Exercise 3: Hollow body hold (Dish)


The hollow body hold is the best abdominal exercise, hands down. There are a million abdominal exercises, many of them are not useful for calisthenics. The hollow body hold is so useful for calisthenics because it is prevalent in many calisthenics skills. It makes up the first essential position in calisthenics, the ‘dish’. It is recommended that you work towards holding the hollow body hold for a minimum of 30 seconds at a time, making sure your lower back remains on the ground. Hollow body holds are often too difficult for beginners, so perhaps you will need to regress.

As someone who has neglected their core, it is recommended that you regress the hollow body hold, and instead start with dead-bugs. This exercise has all of the benefits of the hollow body hold. In this regressed exercise the abdominals are essentially holding up 50% of the weight as only 1 leg and 1 arm are extended.

Exercise 4: Superman


The superman is the perfect lower back exercise. As with any workout regiment it is important to work antagonistic muscles to prevent imbalances in muscle groups. The lower back works antagonistically to the abdominals and should receive the same amount of dedication that most people spend trying to hone their six packs. The superman makes up the second essential shape in calisthenics, the ‘arch’. It is recommended that you work towards holding the superman for a minimum of 30 seconds at a time.

Although the superman is considerably easier than the hollow body hold, for some people it may be too difficult. To regress the superman, instead try an exercise from yoga called the ‘bird-dog’. The relationship of bird-dogs to superman is the same as dead-bugs to hollow hold. It allows our lower back to hold 50% of the usual load of the superman exercise.

Get your FREE Beginner Calisthenics Program PDF 

Have you tried calisthenics training?


Calisthenics is a fantastic way to change up your routine. The great thing about it is that it’s not about reps or sets or doing the same thing over and over again. Calisthenics is all about pushing the body to its limits by hitting various static and freestyle skills – while simultaneously burning calories and getting super strong! Get in touch with our Melbourne-based calisthenics personal trainers for more details! 

Written by Vic

Melbourne-based Personal Trainer, Calisthenics Athlete and the Founder of Street Workout St Kilda. Super passionate about bodyweight training and the art of movement.
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