Looking to start bodyweight training but have no idea how to do it? Then you have come to the right place.
Here’s the truth.
Bodyweight training, or calisthenics, is one of the best options you got to improve your fitness, lose weight, and build the body of your dreams.
It’s the ideal way to work out at home, in the gym, or wherever you happen to be. Most calisthenic exercises are convenient, and by definition, require no equipment—just your body and some space around you.
Seems hard and scary, but don’t lose heart! As we’re going to see in today’s post, calisthenics is not rocket science.
Here’s your complete guide on how to start bodyweight training as a beginner.
In this sweet guide, you’ll learn:
- The benefits of calisthenics
- How to get started with bodyweight exercises
- What is a calisthenic workout
- The basic exercises you need
- How to develop proper technique
- And so much more.
Let’s get started.
What are Bodyweight Exercises?
As the name implies, bodyweight training consists of strength-building exercises that utilize body weight to create resistance for the muscles against gravity instead of resistance in the form of bars, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, exercise machines, you name it.
Typical calisthenics workouts can range from straightforward sessions of push-ups and pull-ups to an elaborate routine of muscle-ups and jackhammers.
Bodyweight training is simple to learn, efficient, and can be done virtually anywhere, at work, at home, while traveling, etc. Think of it as a portable gym.
What I like the most about bodyweight training is scalability. You can easily modify and re-adjust your routine to match your fitness skill, whether you’re a newbie couch potato or an elite gymnast.
Basic Bodyweight Exercises For Beginners
If you haven’t exercised in a long time, a good segway to the world of bodyweight training is starting with basic exercises—think push-ups and pull-ups.
These exercises are building blocks of strength training. They form the foundation of almost every move you’re going to make in the future.
Do them with good form, though. Proper technique is especially vital for beginners, as the movement habits you develop off the bat will stick you as you progress.
Once you master the basic callisthenic exercises shared below, the fancier moves will start to seem much more doable.
Not only bad push-up form is a waste of time and energy, but it could also lead to lower back pain and severe shoulder and wrist issues.
Here are some of the common push-up pitfalls:
- Lifting the butt high in the air.
- Performing half a push-up—not going low or high enough.
- Sinking the hips down.
- Holding the breath.
- Placing the palms in front of the shoulders.
- Keeping the chin too close to the chest.
- Poor head position.
- Putting the hands too far forward.
- Not fully straightening the arms on the push-up.
Begin by setting up your weight supported onto your toes and hands. Place your hands underneath your shoulders, then extend your legs straight out behind you. Keep your head in a neutral position, arms and hands slightly below your shoulders, fingers pointing forwards.
Tighten your core, squeeze your butt, then lower your body until your chest is an inch or two above the floor, elbows pulling back at about a 45-degree, then rise back up by fully extending your arms. That’s one rep.
Engage your core and buttocks and keep your elbows tucked in to your sides throughout the movement. This helps keep your body in a straight line from head to heels.
Can’t perform a single push-up? Use a bench or an elevated surface to put your hands on. I won’t recommend dropping to your knees as it instills lousy form.
As you get stronger, opt for lower surfaces for your hands until you can do clean pushups with no assistance.
Push-up variations: Military pushups, wide-stance pushups, incline/decline pushups, archer push-ups, one-hand push-ups, Hindu push-ups, etc.
The plank is one of the most basic core exercises out there, but it’s not as simple as you might think. It’s actually one of the most common mistakes when it comes to technique.
Planks are versatile exercises that increase core strength and relieve the lower back. But if performed wrong, they can do more harm than good.
Here are some of the common form errors:
- Not engaging the core muscles
- Sinking the hips
- Arching the back
- Looking up straight ahead
- Tilting the hips
- Positioning the hands too far apart
- Placing the arms behind or in front of the shoulders
- Lifting up the hips too high
- Bringing the shoulders beyond the elbows
- Not engaging the legs and butt
Begin on your knees and hands in the classic tabletop position.
Position your elbows underneath your shoulder, then tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor, and look straight toward the floor.
Engage your shoulder muscles and keep your neck aligned in a neutral position, feet together, and toes touching the ground.
Readjust your hand position until your wrists are lined up under your shoulders.
Hold the plank position for as long as possible without losing form.
Plank variations: low plank arm reach, reverse plank side start plank, low side plank, extended plank, low side plank crunch, forearm plank, etc.
Also known as a triceps dip, this is a classic bodyweight exercise. Dips target the chest and triceps and are best performed off the platform of a chair or a bench.
Here are some common mistakes to watch out for:
- Not going low enough or going too low
- Moving too fast
- Flaring the elbows to the side
- Not engaging the core
- Gazing at the ceiling
- Butt tilting
Start facing away from a chair or bench, then the front of the platform with both hands shoulder-width distance apart, extending legs out in front of you.
Engage your core, flex at the elbows to slowly lower your body until your arm at the forearm forms a 90-degree angle. Pause at the bottom for a one to tow count, then lift yourself powerfully using your triceps. That’s one rep.
Once you can breeze through 12 to 16 reps, move on to a more advanced move, like close grip push up.
Bench Dips Variations: band-assisted dips, dip to leg raise, assisted dip machine, weighted dips, jumping dips with negatives, etc.
Squats increase lower body strength and endurance, shed mad calories, promote mobility and balance, and improve functional fitness.
They may seem easy, but form eludes many. Unlike the other exercise, it’s quite easy to cheat with squats.
Improper squat technique can cause knee and lower body pain. Not to mention it’s a complete waste of time.
Here are some of the common mistakes:
- Rounding the shoulders and curving the back as you squat.
- Excessive forward knee bending until they extend past the toes.
- Knees falling inward or outward.
- Dumping weight into the toes, which places strain on the knee joints.
- Misalignment of the knees and toes.
Stand with feet hip-width distance apart, toes facing forward. Keep in mind that it’s okay to assume close or wide stances. Reach your arms straight out in front of you, palms facing down.
Next, While engaging your abs by pulling the navel up and in towards your spine, shift your weight into your heels, lower your entire upper body toward your feet.
Go down as far as possible, at least until your quads are parallel to the ground, then drive back up by engaging your glutes and quads. Keep your back as flat as possible throughout the movement, with the shoulders squeezed back down and knees in line with the toes.
Lower your butt until your thighs and hips are parallel or as low as possible without breaking form. Exhale to rise back up to standing.
Be careful if you have any history of knee problems or experience knee pain at any stage during the exercise.
Squats variations: sumo squats, jump squats, front squats, pistols (one-legged squats), shrimp squats, etc.
Another fantastic lower body exercise for building up the glutes and the quads.
Lunges also help improve coordination and balance, and they’re great for improving proprioception.
But they are also extremely and commonly easy to get wrong. Bad technique doesn’t just look sloppy; it could also cause injury.
Avoid these common pitfalls:
- Bending the torso forward
- Leaning forward or back
- Turning the foot inward
- Externally rotating the back knee
- Lowering the rear knee too fast
- Not maintaining a straight back
- Losing balance
- Taking very short strides forward or backward
- Extending the knee past the toes on the lunge
- Shifting the weight from the heel to the toes—or riding the toes.
- Pushing the hips forward
Assume an athletic position, with the feet hip-width apart, back flat, and core engaged.
Take a slow, controlled step forward with your right leg as far as possible. Your front heel is roughly two feet in front of your rear knee as it bends toward the ground.
While keeping the weight in the heels and spine flat, lower your body until both of your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Avoid leaning back or forward throughout the movement.
Hold for a moment, then take a big step forward with your left leg. Keep alternating the legs to move forward across the floor. Avoid bouncing or using too much momentum.
Lunge variations: jumping lunges, static lunges, isometric lunges, reverse lunges, step up reverse lunge, rear foot elevated lunges, lung with reach, weighted lunges, etc.
Pull-ups are maybe the best back exercise and better done with a pull-up bar. It’s also one of the hardest, so take your time and start with easier variations.
Here are some common pull-ups mistakes:
- Not getting the chin above the bar
- Gripping too wide
- Staying straight as an arrow
- Not using the full range of motion
- Letting the elbow flare
- Not keeping the back flat
- Not keeping the shoulders back
- Not going to “dead hang”
Grab a horizontal bar with both hands, palm facing away from you and hands at shoulder-width apart.
Next, while flexing your traps and shifting your shoulders up and back, pull your body up toward the bar, then slowly lower down to complete one rep.
Pull-ups variations: chair-assisted pull-ups, close grip pull-ups, wide grip pulls, butterfly pull-ups, kipping pull-ups, etc.
Also known as the hip raise, the bridge is a fantastic pose for increasing strength in the hamstrings, back, and glutes.
When performed incorrectly, the bridge can lead to neck, lower, back, or knee issues.
Here are some of the common blunders:
- Lengthening the muscles within the quads
- Having the feet too close to the butt.
- Lifting the heels off the ground
- Not keeping the toes in line with the knees
- Put too much force on head and neck
Begin by lying down flat on your back. Pull your shoulders back and down.
Place your arms alongside your body, then bend your knees and place your feet on the ground, a hip-width distance apart.
Walk your feet back towards your butt, then, on the inhale, press into your arms and feet to lift your hips towards the ceiling. Squeeze your glutes as you rise to create a straight line from your knees to shoulders.
While keeping your knees, hips, and chest aligned, hold the top of the movement for three to ten seconds. Do not let your hips sag or drop.
Slowly lower down and repeat.
Bridge variations: single leg bridge, bridge with a squeeze, weighed bridge, pulsating bridge, etc.
one of my favorite bodyweight exercises—the notorious burpee.
This is a staple in my bodyweight training and an exercise every trainee should add to their workout routines—regardless of their fitness level and training goals.
I cannot emphasize it enough.
Burpees are a beast.
As a full-body plyometric exercise burns mad calories, builds strength and endurance, and revs up fitness level and conditioning like nothing else.
Since burpees consist of at least five movements—push-up, jump, squat, jump, then squat again—few trainees perform them correctly.
Here are a few of the sad burpees errors that bring tears to my eyes:
- Going too fast while ignoring proper
- Not properly stabilizing the core.
- Allowing for the back to sag when doing the push-up.
- Holding the breath.
- Sacrificing reps for form.
Assume an athletic position, then, while keeping your knees facing straight, lower into a squat and place your hands directly in front of your toes.
With control, walk or kick your feet behind you, so your shoulders are directly over the hands—that’s a basic plank position.
Perform a pushup with proper form (as shown before), then jump or walk your feet forward to meet your hands.
Immediately explode straight up off the ground, clapping your hands overhead. Land softly into the squat position and repeat.
Burpee variations: push-up burpee, superman burpee, side burpee, start jump burpee, mountain climber tuck jump burpee, dive bomber burpee, etc.
This is a unique variation of the standard lunge that builds strength in the hamstring, abductors, quadriceps, and glutes. This lateral exercise is also great for coordination.
When side lunges are performed incorrectly, they can result in pain or injury to the lower back, hips, and knees.
Here are some of the common form errors:
- Not keeping the torso uprightand engaged core
- Extending the knees out too far
- Stepping too wide while performing the side lunge movement
- Not keeping the weight distributed evenly
- Not keeping the toes in line with the lunging knee.
Assume an athletic position with your feet together, knees and hips slightly bent, and head and chest up.
On the inhale, take a slow, lateral step to the right side, then bend into the right knee and sit your hips back as you’re going to sit in a chair.
Stay low while keeping the weight in your heel and bending your knee to a 90-degree angle, knee staying in line with the toes.
Exhale and press through the right heel to straighten the leg and step back to starting position.
Switch sides and repeat.
Side Lunge variations: Plyo side lunge, dumbbell lateral lunge, reverse side lunge, curtsey lunge with a kick, single-leg deadlift to reverse lunge.
The Bodyweight Beginner Plan You Need
We’ve all heard of the saying, “failing to plan is planning fail.”
You need a concrete plan if you want to reach your fitness goals. Not only does it improve your training consistency, but it also allows you to monitor your progress and see where you need more work.
The following plan has been designed to increase endurance, build strength while burning some mad calories in the process.
Perform the exercises in order, two to three times a week, with at least one day of full recovery between each go. Take 30 to 60 seconds to rest after each round. Repeat five times.
Whatever you do, make sure to start in line with your current fitness skill, training goals, schedule, and personal preferences. Give it a few months, and you’ll be a leaner, stronger athlete for it.
To get you started, try the following 3-day program.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Full body circuit
- Ten push-ups
- 30 squats
- 20 sit-ups
- Ten chair dips
- Five pull-ups
Repeat the entire circuit 5 times.
As you get fitter, feel free to add in more bodyweight exercises of various intensities and reps. Some of these include:
· Bodyweight Y Squats
- X Pushup
· Bodyweight Single-Leg Deadlift
· Bodyweight Lateral Squat
- Mountain Climbers
· Bodyweight Shoulder Taps
- Calf raises
· Dead Bug
· Bird Dog with Rotation
· Bodyweight Bird Dog
· Double Lunge with Reach
· Back Extensions
- Hand Curls
- Leg raises
- Cross-Body Mountain Climbers
- Squat Thrusts
- Reverse Lunge and Hop
- Cross-Body Extension
- Elbow to Knee
- Wall Slides
- Side Plank with Rotation
- Dive Bomber Push-Ups
- Side Plank with Extension
- Jump Squats
- Plank to Push Up
- Single-Leg Up and Down Dogs
- Figure 4 Mountain Climbers
- T Push-Ups
- Jumping Lunges
- Single-Leg Burpee
- High Knees
- Cross Overs
- And so much, so much, more.
There you have it. If you’re looking to start bodyweight training, then this article should be enough to set you upright.Feel free to mix and match your movement based on your goals.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.
Keep training strong.