How to start Calisthenics – Learn Calisthenics

Darek Woś

Author

So you’ve discovered calisthenics. You saw someone doing a handstand at the gym, maybe, you saw a muscle-up online. Seeing the human body move in a superhuman way awoke your desire to evolve; to do things impossible for a body without training. So, now you want to know how you can start training. But before answering how,the perfect first question would be, what is calisthenics training? The Oxford language dictionary defines calisthenics as gymnastics exercises to achieve bodily fitness and grace of movement. The etymological origin of calisthenics comes from the Greek words, kalos and sthenos, which means, beauty and strength. I would define calisthenics as the art of super human movement. Calisthenics can be bodyweight exercises, animal flow, dance, gymnastics, martial arts, break dancing; anything done with the human body that defies the limitations of its normal movement capabilities. Calisthenics is performing a robotic dance on the pullup bar or holding a front lever with a flawless line. When acquisition and mastery of a skill is the goal, you are training calisthenics.

So how do you begin training to become a superhuman? The good news is, any difficult movement you have ever accomplished with your body, was in fact, the start of your calisthenics training. To start your training, you will now start focusing on developing different calisthenics skills. The standard skills most people work towards are the handstand, the muscle-up, the back lever, the front lever, and the planche. All of these skills are easily recognized as requiring a level of strength that is nearly impossible without an extensive amount of training. Let’s make the impossible possible.

Handstand: Balancing upside down on your hands.

  • place your hands on the ground and elevate your hips and feet. Start with a basic pike. Bend at the hips, keeping your hips as high as possible, and place your hands on the floor as close to your feet as possible.
  • increase the elevation of your lower body by stepping your feet up onto a box, chair, or any raised surface. You can use a wall. Walk your feet up higher and higher as you gain strength, or be a bit daring and kick up into a handstand and use the wall for balance
  • learn to cartwheel! Most people fear training for the handstand because of the risk of flipping onto your back. This happens any time your feet go too far over your head. This is no big deal though if you can cartwheel. Cartwheels make it incredibly safe to train the handstand

Muscle Ups: Pulling from a dead hang to the top of a dip.

  • The transition from pull up to dip is where most of the difficulty lies. The transition is very complex and requires an article of its own, so for now, I will focus on the pullup and dip.
  • If your goal is bar muscle ups, straight bar dips and plyometric pull ups are essential. Find a low bar and train your dips as deep as possible. When you think you are at a full ROM, go deeper. For the plyometric pull ups, pull as hard as you can and use your momentum to fly. Start by sliding your hands to different widths, until you can pull high enough to let go of the bar and then catch it. I always loved grip switches from pull ups to chin ups.
  • If ring muscle ups are your goal, the training will be similar. Do your dips on the rings as deep as possible and keep your hands close to your body and stay stable. For your pullups, always train them with a false grip and strive to pull to the height of the bottom of your dip.

The Front and Back Lever: Hanging with your body parallel to the ground.

  • In my opinion, there is no better beginner exercise for the levers than Skin the Cat. This is where you hang from a bar and lift your body through your arms, and then hang with your arms behind you.
  • Start with a low bar or ring and use the ground to assist as you are learning
  • Once you can do full repetitions of Skin the Cats, start adding in front and back lever holds
  • Use progessive shapes for a mechanical advantage. Start with tuck, then advance tuck, then straddle tuck, then single leg, then full straddle, then half lay, and finally, the full lever.
  • Begin training lever shapes by lowering from inverted hang, then as you get stronger, start pulling up into your lever shapes.

The Planche: Holding pushup position with your feet off the ground

  • Get into the starting position of a pushup and lean forward so that your hands move from beneath your shoulders to you under your hips.
  • Always use a hollow body. Round your upper spine (thoracic) and push your shoulders forward while spreading apart your shoulder blades(scapula protraction.) Lean forward until your feet feel like they are about to lift off the ground.
  • When you start to feel comfortable in the lean, start doing pseudo planche pushups, by performing pushups with your hands beneath your hips.
  • Learning the elbow lever is a fantastic way to train the planche with bent arms while also building confidence. 

For more information on these skills and much more, I am @thenoodnick on all major platforms and an author/coach for learncalisthenics.fit

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