Bodyweight Training Explained for Beginners

Hi! I am the author and founder of Old School Calisthenics

Table of Contents

Bodyweight training is a form of strength training used to develop muscular strength and endurance, where the only resistance applied is the own body mass. Calisthenics essentially derives from gymnastics. 


Most bodyweight exercises do not require equipment. Pull-ups, on the other hand, necessitate an overhead bar or gymnastic rings. The rings can also be used for dips and other exercises. Therefore, bodyweight training is a very cheap form of fitness practice.


Worldwide, bodyweight training goes under the name of calisthenics. According to Wikipedia:

“The word calisthenics comes from the ancient Greek words kallos (κάλλος), which means “beauty” or “beautiful” (to emphasize the aesthetic pleasure that derives from the perfection of the human body), and sthenos (σθένος), meaning “strength” (great mental strength, courage, strength, and determination). It is the art of using one’s body weight as resistance to develop the Greek God physique.


Depending on the calisthenics training methods, bodyweight training can perfect many abilities: strength, muscular endurance, stamina, power, speed, acceleration, flexibility, coordination, muscle elasticity, and balance.


Its popularity has grown greatly thanks to the internet and those who practice and post their results. Nowadays, many pro athletes and even the army utilize calisthenics training to improve their sports, fitness or requirements.

Types of Calisthenics Cultures or Communities

There is a style of outdoor calisthenics named urban calisthenics, and it’s a form of Street Workout, actually. This doesn’t mean they use their own mass exclusively as resistance, as many also train with elastic bands and weight vests.


Calisthenics groups perform exercise routines in urban areas or public parks. Individuals and groups train to perform advanced calisthenics skills such as muscle-ups, one-arm pull-ups, front and back lever, the human flag, and various freestyle moves such as bar spins and flips.


Military units or sports teams often do synchronized physical bodyweight training, more of a “call and response” routine to increase group cohesion and discipline. In enhancement to this, bodyweight exercises are often used as baseline physical evaluations for military organizations around the globe. Two examples are the U.S. Army Physical Fitness Test with pushups, sit-ups and running; the U.S.M.C. Physical Fitness Test with crunches and pull-ups too; many other tests involve burpees.

Furthermore, calisthenics is also a component of physical education in primary and secondary schools almost all around the globe.


Plus, it was so convenient during the pandemic. Many people had to shift from their usual routine to home training. Without much equipment and probably money to buy some, creative bodyweight training fitted perfectly.

Street Workout is a sport in itself

Although Street Workout derives from calisthenics, it fits in a league of its own. According to Wikipedia:

“The World Street Workout & Calisthenics Federation (W.S.W.C.F.), based in Riga, Latvia, orchestrates the annual National Championships and hosts the World Championships for all the national champions to compete in one competition. The World Calisthenics Organization (W.C.O.), based in Los Angeles, CA., promotes a series of competitions known globally as the Battle of the Bars. The W.C.O. created the first-ever set of rules for formal competitions, including weight classes, timed round system, original judging criteria, and a 10-point must system – giving the increasing number of athletes worldwide an opportunity to compete in these global competitions.”

Old Calisthenics

It underlines the basic and most fundamental part of bodyweight fitness. It doesn’t comprehend any bar spins and most of the feats belonging to Street Workout or modern calisthenics except for:

  • One-Arm Pull-Ups
  • Free Handstand Pushups
  • Levers and Flags, maybe.


To a certain extent, old calisthenics has similarities with gymnastics, mostly because of the gymnastic rings and ropes involved in the routine. Many prefer doing calisthenics on both fixed bars and gymnastic rings. One is no better than the other, and you must try to tell the difference.

The Most Common Bodyweight Exercises

Most Common Calisthenics Exercises

Bodyweight training revolves around simple and compound exercises, and the most common ones are:

  • pushups and many variants
  • pull-ups, chinups, body rows
  • squats, lunges, crouch walk
  • plyometric squat variations
  • twists, bridges, climbing vertically
  • sit-ups, crunches, leg raises
  • dips and variations of different grips and angles.


Calisthenics relies on simple motor abilities such as bending, twisting, and balancing, especially for practitioners who commit to dedicated training like free handstands and many others. The most popular exercises, though, are the pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups.

Common Calisthenics Exercises:

  • muscle-ups, high pull-ups, towel pull-ups, lever, and uneven pull-ups, plus other grip variations;
  • body rows, Australian pull-ups, commando pull-ups;
  • free handstand pushups, hand walking, wall-assisted handstand pushups, handstand pushups on paralettes;
  • diamond/regular pushups, inclined/decline pushups, narrow pushups, close/wide pushup grips, backward pushups;
  • front lever, back lever, the human flag, plus some variants like moving the legs or doing pull-ups in a front lever hold;
  • planche and planche-pushup;
  • planks and variants;
  • leg raises, L-sit, v-raises, toes-to-bar, crunches and sit-ups, plus many other combinations done on the floor;
  • shuttle runs, burpees, jumping jacks, stair climbing or running (athletic-based but still bodyweight exercise);
  • crouch walk, bridges, calf raises, hyperextension on the floor, walking lunges, squat jumps, Bulgarian splits, pistol squats or one-legged squats, box jumps etc.

Is Running Considered a Calisthenics Exercise?

Running and Sprinting is Bodyweight Exercise

First, running or sprinting is bodyweight exercise unless you intentionally attach weights. In Ancient Greece, running was composed under the roof of gymnastics, except they ran totally naked. A strong reason why Romans made fun of them. Therefore, if it’s body weight, then why does it matter in which category you place a certain exercise?


Calisthenics is a form of training consisting of various bodyweight movements that exercise large muscle groups, and running just as much as pushing or pulling is a gross motor movement.

What Is a Gross Motor Skill?

Gross motor skill is an ability usually acquired during childhood, and bodyweight training supports its development. It continues in refinement throughout most of the years of development into adulthood. These gross movements come from large muscle groups and whole-body movements.


The gross motor skills are divided into:

  1. Gross locomotor skills. It includes running, jumping, sliding, and swimming;
  2. Object control skills. It includes activities such as throwing, catching, and kicking.


We also have fine motor skills that are involved in smaller movements that occur in the wrists, fingers, hands, feet and toes. Picking up objects and writing carefully are two examples.


Gross motor skills and fine motor skills work together to provide coordination. 


The more advanced and higher your fitness is, the more you’ll focus on fine movements. That’s why you should concentrate on essentials mostly, on basic bodyweight training, which helps enhance gross motor movements.


Therefore, if you father kids, then introduce them to bodyweight training without much hesitation. However, kids should do a variety of sports and bodyweight exercises. They can reach peak physical performance as they gradually enhance their gross motor skills during adolescence.


Advantages of Bodyweight Training

  • Calisthenics exercise makes you run faster, jump higher, lift more weights, be more explosive, endure more workload, and enhance endurance to overall physical exertion or stress. Not only that, but bodyweight fitness includes a large variety of exercises that trains all three muscle fibers associated with hypertrophy.
  • It requires minimum equipment or almost none. For many, a horizontal tree branch and an empty floor space are sufficient.
  • Another advantage of bodyweight fitness is that there are no costs involved unless you pay for a gym membership and do your workouts indoors.
  • It’s less taxing for the tendons and ligaments. In fact, calisthenics has the potential to improve flexibility and stability in the joints.

Disadvantages of Bodyweight Training

  • Women usually find difficulty in bodyweight training because most of the essential upper-body exercises require too much strength and may be discouraged from undertaking these exercises in their routine: pull-ups, dips, and pushups.
  • Another disadvantage is that from a point on, it requires a lot of experience, mastery, trial and error, to know how to continue to stimulate the nervous system. Experienced athletes find most calisthenics exercises easy, whereas most novices find them frightening.
  • It requires a lot of time and creativity to overcome these plateaus or milestones.
  • You shouldn’t get discouraged by all this and believe me that you should first master your body weight before even lifting anything, although many prefer to lift weights and do calisthenics after. That’s not the correct way of approaching your training routine.

In case you are convinced to try calisthenics, I recommend you my free 2-week plan: 2-Week Calisthenics Plan.

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