What is calisthenics training?

Calisthenics is a bodyweight regimen that was first popularised in Eastern Europe. Since then it has made its way all over the world, infatuating millions. It attracts people of diverse physical ability, from total beginners to professional athletes.

Calisthenics takes elements of traditional bodyweight training and integrates them with elements of gymnastics and other related disciplines. The result is a comprehensive type of bodyweight training with its own unique flavour.

The sport uses altered gymnastics apparatuses such as the high bar and parallel bars, as well as gymnastics rings, parallettes and resistance bands. Calisthenics can be done in specialised calisthenics gyms or in calisthenics parks, which are a type of outdoor fitness station.

Calisthenics can be broken down into fundamentals, statics and calisthenics freestyle. Fundamentals are the fundamental bodyweight exercises that are done for reps to build muscle and lose weight. Statics are isometric strength holds that are the basis of advanced strength work in calisthenics.

Calisthenics freestyle is the flashy, high flying element of calisthenics, that has athletes smash out gymnastics inspired momentum-based skills on the high bar.

How is calisthenics different from traditional weights training

Weights training is the most popular way to build strength. There are many different types of weight lifting, including olympic lifting, powerlifting, crossfit, etc. With minor differences, all of these teach basic lifting patterns. The goal in each one of these disciplines is essentially to do more reps with heavier weight.

Yes, this can be both exciting and rewarding when first starting out. You will get results very quickly in the beginning. However, after some time your results will plateau, and you will quickly become bored of doing the same thing day in and day out.

Calisthenics is an alternate way of getting shredded. Although you may see diminishing returns to a smaller extent, calisthenics stays fresh. This is largely because calisthenics focuses on skills rather than repetitions and heavier lifts. Strength and aesthetics still have a place in calisthenics but they take a back seat to mastering movement.

Training skills is overall more enjoyable and gives a greater sense of progression. Enjoyment in training is super important for motivation. Not only this, but it ultimately allows you to train harder by having a clear goal in sight.

Building core strength with calisthenics

All 3 aspects of calisthenics require a strong core. The core is made up of muscles around the torso and hips that give stability to the entire body. They are largely responsible for posture and stabilisation. These muscles include the abdominal muscles, obliques, glutes, hip flexors and lower back muscles such as the erector spinae.

There are many exercises in calisthenics that can improve your core strength, each having progressions and regressions. The following guide will systematically break down calisthenics core exercises by muscle group and ability.

Calisthenics abs exercises

Your abdominal muscles are used for flexion of the torso as well as stabilisation. Crunching exercises are the most common type of ab exercise and are used to improve power, while static holds can be used to improve core strength and endurance. Here are some awesome exercises to get you those 6 pack abs!


Dead Bugs

Man doing core workout outdoor

Dead bugs are a beginner core exercise that can be done by vertically anyone.

1. Lie down on your back

2. Curl up into a ball bringing your shoulders, hands and feet off the ground.

3. Extend opposite limbs down while keeping the lower back in contact with the ground

Man exercising outdoor

Aim for 16-20 reps / 2-3 sets

Pro tip: If the exercise is too hard and/or is causing back pain, consider lowering down with bent limbs.


Hollow Body Hold (Dish)

Man stretching on the ground outdoor

The hollow body hold is a much more challenging exercise. This is an isometric hold that is fantastic for the abs and helps develop body tension. This is also one of the key shapes and is used for a ton of advanced calisthenics exercises such as the handstand!

1. Lie down on your back
2. Take your shoulders, hands and feet off the ground. Keep your hands and feet suspended close to the ground in an extended position.
3. Hold the position while maintaining contact between the lower back and the floor.

Hold for 30-45 seconds/ 2-3 sets

Pro tip: If the exercise is too difficult consider hovering the arms just above the thighs instead of having them by your ears.

Calisthenics lower back exercises

The lower back in many ways is composed of muscles that are antagonistic to the abs (i.e. they are involved in the opposite action). Where the abs flex the torso, the lower back extends the torso. It is therefore important to balance ab exercises with lower back exercises.


Bird Dogs

Man exercing on the ground outdoor

Bird dogs are a beginner lower back exercise that’s great for balance, stability and strengthening the core. It’s essentially the polar opposite of the dead bug exercise, biomechanically, as you against gravity in the opposite direction.

  1. Start in the all 4’s position, with your hands and knees on the ground
  2. Raise opposite limbs as high as you can

Man doing single arm and single leg raise

Aim for 16-20 reps/ 2-3 sets

Pro tip: To make the exercise harder do 1 side at a time without touching the ground with your hand and knee, and try to touch your elbow to your knee.



Man doing back exercise superman style

The superman is another isometric hold that is the opposite of the hollow body hold.

  1. Start by lying on your stomach
  2. Take your hands and feet off the ground

Hold for 30-45 seconds/ 2-3 sets

Pro tip: If too hard you can bend your arms, or keep opposite limbs on the ground.

Getting started with Calisthenics

It’s always best to have professional advice when starting something new. Street Workout St Kilda is a personal training service that specialises in calisthenics training. Street Workout St Kilda provides mobile personal trainers that come to you in Melbourne’s South East. Start training today!

Author Bio: –

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