“Calisthenics” are not just about the tests and drills that we may remember from middle school gym class. In fact, a beginner calisthenics workout is actually a great way to bring some fun, bootcamp-style cardio into your regular workout routine.
Calisthenics are bodyweight exercises that you do to build strength and improve your cardio abilities, certified personal trainer Francine Delgado-Lugo, CPT, movement and strength coach and cofounder of Form Fitness Brooklyn, tells SELF. Calisthenics tend to be full-body exercises that mimic functional movements like pushing, pulling, and rotation, Delgado-Lugo explains. And while you might think of pull-ups and sit-ups when you hear “calisthenics”—thanks, Presidential Fitness Test—calisthenics exercises are more varied than you may think, and include moves like squats, mountain climbers, push-ups, and inchworms.
“A calisthenics workout doesn’t always have to be grueling,” she says.
There are tons of benefits of calisthenics workouts too. For one, they’re super convenient—all you need is your bodyweight, so you can do them anywhere. Plus, they’re very modifiable for a bunch of different fitness levels. You can do calisthenics for reps or for time, and you can make them as intense or as easy as you want by adjusting the speed, volume, and rest time, says Delgado-Lugo.
What’s more, calisthenics are super functional exercises that can help you move more efficiently and safely in day-to-day life—whether you’re climbing the stairs, getting up from a chair, or pushing a cart of heavy groceries.
“When you can use your own body to create resistance and tension and to work against it to build strength, that’s just going to put you at a tremendous advantage in a real life setting,” says Delgado-Lugo.
Calisthenics also play double-duty in your workout schedule: They provide strength work and cardio. Since you’re just using your bodyweight, you’re able to do more repetitions at a faster pace—while keeping your form on target—than you would if you were lifting heavy weights. And the more repetitions you do and the faster you go, “the more of a heart rate uptick you can get,” explains Delgado-Lugo. In other words, hello breathlessness! That makes calisthenics routines a great option for people who want to get in some cardio, but aren’t quite jazzed about traditional cardio exercises, like running or hitting the elliptical.
Feeling ready to give calisthenics a go? Try the below beginner calisthenics workout Delgado-Lugo created for SELF. This six-move routine—which features lots of suggestions for modifications to make the moves more accessible—will jack up your heart rate and work your entire body with simple, effective, and functional exercises. Just be sure to do a quick warm-up before you get started so you don’t go in with cold, tight muscles. Adequately warming up can help improve your performance and reduce your risk of injury in your workout. Here are five pre-workout stretches designed to warm you up for any routine.
Ready to get started? Grab a timer and get ready for a fun workout!
What you need: Just your bodyweight. You may also want an exercise mat for comfort.
- Jumping jack
- High knees
- Inchworm to push-up
- Mountain climber
- Dead bug
- Do each move for 40 seconds, then rest 40 seconds before starting the next exercise.
- After you’ve done all 6 moves in the circuit, rest 1–2 minutes.
- Complete 3–4 rounds total.
Demoing the moves below are Jowan Ortega (GIFs 1 and 5), a personal trainer, sports performance coach, and partner at Form Fitness in Brooklyn; Nikki Pebbles (GIFs 2 and 4), a special populations personal trainer in New York City; Francine Delgado-Lugo (GIF 3), cofounder of FORM Fitness Brooklyn; and Gail Barranda Rivas (GIF 6), a certified group fitness instructor, functional strength coach, Pilates and yoga instructor, and domestic and international fitness presenter.