I first got into calisthenics (aka bodyweight exercise) 8 years ago… Back then I lived and trained in typical small and narrow apartment in the Netherlands. I had no equipment in the beginning, plus I had just lost my left leg a few months ago (a story for a different day). But all that didn’t stop me from getting started and eventually getting in the best shape of my life! Since then, I’ve become healthier, stronger and most importantly – happier. I’ve also learned a lot more about working out. A lot of it from studying, a lot of it from self-experimenting and putting in the work, and an important part of it from training others. That is the beauty of making calisthenics and exercise part of your lifestyle. They can trigger a domino effect of positive change that can spread to every area of your life.
“Making calisthenics part of your lifestyle can trigger a domino effect of positive change that can spread to every area of your life!”
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PS: You can watch the complete video-version of this post here.
PART 1: How to Stick to your Workout Plan
Especially when you’re new to working out (or if you haven’t trained for a long time), you don’t need a complicated workout plan or special equipment to get results. All you need is a) to find a practical whole-body plan that focuses on a few good exercises and b) to stick to that plan… And that last part is the most important and the trickiest part when you’re getting started. You see, beginner’s enthusiasm might be what gets us started with anything new, but… turning something into a habit is how we stick to it. As most books on habit-forming conclude, in the beginning, a habit must be easy and convenient enough that you can’t say no to – no matter what’s going on in your life on any given day.
Even on days that you’re overworked, pressured by time or tired. Days you feel down, unmotivated or just plain lazy. This way you’ll build up enough Even on days that you’re overworked, pressured by time or tired. Days you feel down, unmotivated or just plain lazy. This way you’ll build up enough momentum that will keep you going until your workout plan becomes a rigid habit of your weekly schedule. Something you do no matter what, just like brushing your teeth.
TIP #1: Keep it short and simple
PART 2: Do I need any Equipment?
Don’t worry if you have no equipment at all. This guide includes 100% equipment-free options for every exercise. The most important thing right now is that you get started! However, if you want to make your first investment on bodyweight equipment, here’s my advice:
If you like to shop at amazon and support this project with a small commission, you can get my recommended equipment here.
a) Door-way Pull up Bar: When it comes to pull-up bars, the cheapest and easiest option solution for most people getting started is the doorway pull up bar. You can find a simple model like this nowadays for less than forty dollars. This was also my first piece of calisthenics equipment. It definitely got its money worth back since I used it repetitively for four years without anything happening to it. The door-frame itself though did start to have some degeneration through time. Something you want to take into consideration.
b) Wall-mounted Pull up Bar: The second option is a wall pull-up bar. This is a more invasive option for your home but it’s also a more durable and safe solution. If it fits your budget and you have a sturdy wall to drill on, I highly recommend one.
c) Gymnastic Rings: Nowadays I never train without them. This is my favorite piece of equipment. Especially if you enjoy training outdoors these are a no-brainer. I love Gymnastic rings because they are a pull up bar, a dip station and a suspension trainer – all in one. Also, if you don’t mind drilling some heavy-duty screws on your ceiling, or if you have something tall and sturdy to hang them on, you can also use them at home.
Accessories: As to accessories, pull-up assist bands are a great option for those who can’t do pull ups yet and want to get started working on them. I also use these for stretching and they are also ideal for strength training (great for upper-body isolation). They don’t take any space and they are light and easy to carry around.
What about Pull up towers? I’ve also tried pull-up towers in the past, but I just find them impractical and not worth the investment. They take too much space, they are difficult to move and the ones that are light are usually too unsteady for beginners…
TIP #2: You don’t need anything to get started.
PART 3: Whole-body Vs Split Training
One of the most simple, practical and effective body-weight training structures to get started with, is a Pull, Squat, Push and Core routine. This format allows you to train your whole body in less than half an hour (including a proper warm-up)! Especially when it comes to bodyweight training, whole-body routines are much more efficient than split routines. Most importantly though, whole-body training make your programming as easy as possible. As a beginner, the only thing you want to remember is to space your workouts by at least one day of rest.
Taking a day off minimum between each workout as a beginner makes sure that your neuro-muscular system recovers properly for your next training. This doesn’t mean that you can’t stay active during the rest of the week which is why I’ll give you some ideas and options for your none-strength-training-days at the end of this post. But since it’s important to always build one habit at a time, my advice is that you focus on your bodyweight routine during your first month. If you feel like doing anything extra during the rest of the week think of it as a bonus – something you do when you feel like it, without considering it mandatory.
TIP #3: Always train whole-body
PART 4: Circuit training for beginners
You can also train linearly (meaning doing one exercise after the other with 1-2-minute resting periods between each exercise), but… nowadays I find that circuits are the type of training most people enjoy and stick to. Watch the video below to learn about the advantages of Circuit-training.
TIP #4: Circuit training trumps Linear training
Resting time between stations (10-15″): During a circuit, you perform each exercise one after the other with a very short resting period in between. Try fifteen seconds for starters and if you feel they are more than enough, you can gradually go down to ten.
Resting periods between circuits (2-3′): When it comes to resting periods between each circuit, I’m an advocate of long enough breaks that allow you to enter each round fully charged. For a beginner, two minutes will usually be enough but don’t hesitate to go up to three minutes if you feel your body needs it.
Sets / Rounds (3-4): Three circuits per workout are enough during your first two weeks of training as a beginner. After that, you can increase your circuits up to four rounds for the next three weeks. Next, if you feel like kicking it up a notch, you can move to more a intermediate/advanced workout plan.
How many reps / Isotonic exercises (5-12 reps): You should be able to do at least five reps for each exercise that you’re getting started with. Less reps won’t produce enough stimulation for your neuro-muscular system to improve fast enough when you’re a beginner. If that’s not possible, choose an easier variation. As a body-weight trainee, your goal is to increase your repetitions up to at least twelve before you move to more challenging progressions.
How much time under tension / Isometric exercises (20”-40″): For isometric exercises, you should be able to hold a minimum of twenty seconds and aim at increasing your time under tension up to at least forty seconds before trying a more difficult progression.
Training frequency: The recommended training frequency for this routine is three sessions per week. That means you can train any day you want as long as you space it by at least one day of rest (not doing any strength related training). Have a look at the schedules below and pick one that suits you.
How hard should I train: It’s important to maintain good form through each set and never sacrifice technique for more reps. Push yourself hard enough to squeeze out those last repetitions but stop once you feel things such as: your body doing jerky moves, using momentum (i.e. swinging) and bad posture (i.e. rounding your shoulders during push-ups).
Your reps in each circuit also shouldn’t have a big discrepancy. You want to push yourself hard enough during your first two circuits but only reach failure during those last reps or seconds of each exercise during your last circuit.
|Important side-note: Although you can do more reps by using momentum and bad form it doesn’t mean that you’ll gain more strength and muscle. Your muscles don’t understand reps – they understand tension. Using proper form, maximizes muscles tension in the right places , and reduces unwanted stress from the wrong places (joints & connective tissues)… Now, doing more of those reps – that is going to help you build more muscle – especially in the long-term!|
TIP #5: Your muscles understand tension – not reps
PART 5: Exercise menu
1. Pull (Back & Arms)
Your top three options here are a) King of bodyweight exercises The Pull-up, b) it’s less popular little brother The Inverted row (still a great exercise though) and c) our no-equipment option – The Prone Angel. Check out the video for more details on each exercise.
Links mentioned in the video:
– How to master Pull ups (Video)
– How to master Pull ups (Book)
2. Squat (Lower body)
Unless you are carrying a lot of extra weight, a simple bodyweight squat won’t challenge your lower body to grow stronger. It will only serve you as a warm-up exercise. This is where plyometrics (jumping exercises) come in handy. Plyometric type of bodyweight exercises might seem easy but if you put enough effort in them, they become challenging for both your lower body and your cardiovascular system. One of the best beginner plyometric exercises are plyo-burpees. For those with more sensitive lower-body joints, if you find that plyometrics are too hard on your knees for example, the wall-sit is one of the best alternatives and my favorite recommendation for beginners. Watch the video above for more details.
3. Push (Chest, Shoulders & Arms)
When it comes to pushing body-weight movement patterns, I recommend that beginner’s practice one exercise until they master it. That is no other than the old-time classic push-up – one of the best strength-exercises you can do. Done right, this isn’t an easy exercise at all. It can be humbling even for the advanced body-weight trainee.
Links mentioned in the video:
– How to master Push-ups (Video)
– How to master Push-ups (Book)
4. Core (Rectus Abdominis, Obliques, Transversus Abdominis)
The not so popular hollow-body and the famous plank are the top two abdominal bodyweight exercises you can get started with. I won’t try to sell you on the plank since it’s one of the most popular abdominal exercises. Yet, the hollow body is my #1 choice when it comes to training the core. In the following video I explain why that is and I also give you some helpful tips for doing a proper plank.
Make sure you also watch my Hollow-body tutorial as mentioned in the video above.
Staying active during the rest of the week?
Especially if getting lean is important to you, you want to stay active during your resting days. As a beginner I used my resting days to practice handstands and go for big walks (either enjoying the peace of the Dutch woods or walking across town listening to audio-books).
I am a big proponent of walking. Especially for complete beginners and people transitioning from a sedative life to a more active one, it can be a great activity to get started with. If still you want something more dynamic and maximizing fat-burn is an important priority for you, you can add some extra cardio and/or HIIT (High-intensity-interval-training) such as hill sprints (my favorite workout to do in between strength training days).
- Option 1: Walking five to eight thousand steps
- Option 2: Learn a simple body-weight skill like Hanstands
- Option 3: 30-40 minutes of low intensity cardio
- Option 4: Hill or Stair sprints (video tutorial)
Part 6: Choose your Custom Workout Plan
I’ve created three workout plans based on the equipment one might have available to him (including an equipment-free plan). You can get these for free just by subscribing to my newsletter. Each plan includes a one-pager summary with all the information that you’re going to need from this blog-post to start training. Through this email list you’ll receive tips and updates regarding bodyweight exercise topics such as more advanced training techniques but also subjects regarding motivation and discipline.
Subscribe below to get your beginners guide!