A lot of people looking to get started with home workouts immediately turn to calisthenics.
It checks a lot of boxes, especially for beginners:
- No equipment needed
- No brutal cardio sessions!
- Full-body conditioning
But is it all it’s cracked up to be? And better yet, is calisthenics the right workout for you if you’re just starting out?
In this article, I’ll break down the pros and cons of calisthenics to help you decide:
Calisthenics are a superb fitness option for free workouts you can do anytime, anywhere. You can build up exceptional strength and muscle over time, especially in your upper body, with minimal equipment and relatively short workouts.
You can only build so much muscle with your bodyweight, however, and if you’re looking for bulging biceps or tree-trunk legs, you’ll eventually need to incoporate heavy weight training. Beginners often get discouraged with bodyweight training when they aren’t yet able to do pull-ups or push-ups, however there are plenty of great progressions that can help.
Now let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons, and whether calisthenics is the right choice for you.
Pros of Calisthenics (Benefits)
There’s a lot to like about calisthenics or bodyweight training.
(Calisthenics really refers to any training you do without weights, from jumping jacks to HIIT, but people usually use it to describe bodyweight strength training like push-ups, pull-ups, etc.)
Let’s get right into the good stuff.
Free or cheap
You don’t need any equipment to get started with calisthenics.
If you’re just starting out, especially, you can get a complete workout in on your living room carpet.
(It might help to have a workout mat or yoga mat, but it’s not necessary at first.)
Your early bodyweight workouts will include simple movements like:
- Ab work
These can all be done on the floor or a mat.
In the very beginning, you can get by without a single piece of equipment.
But it’s highly recommended that you quickly start including either bodyweight rows or pull-ups into your routine.
Without these movements, you won’t be able to adequately work your back and biceps.
For that, you’ll need a pull-up bar (a simple one that non-permanently mounts to your doorway is just fine) and/or a low bar, parallel bars, a dip stand, or something like that.
You’ll want to pick a routine (not build your own) and consult it to find out exactly what you’ll need.
(I’ll recommend some routines and resources below)
Even once you graduate to advanced calisthenics and bodyweight training, you’ll need less than $200 worth of equipment to last you pretty much forever!
Workout anywhere, anytime
Hand in hand with calisthenics not needing much equipment, you’ll find that you don’t need a whole lot of space or time for a good bodyweight workout, either.
For the best results, you’ll want to treat calisthenics like a real workout program. Carve out time, track your progress, and give full effort and intensity.
(Don’t just grab a couple of push-ups here and there throughout the day.)
However, your workouts can be done quickly (under 30 minutes, in some cases), inside or outside, in a hotel room, on vacation, at the park, in the kitchen, or anywhere you can stand up and lay down!
Very few workout styles can boast this kind of convenience.
- Weightlifting requires specialized equipment, either at a gym or in a multi-thousand dollar home gym
- Running requires either a treadmill or good weather outside, not to mention a safe environment to run
If you’re busy, traveling, or just want something that’s convenient in any situation, bodyweight training will serve you well.
OK, so this is a little bit of a vain reason to love calisthenics, but it’s technically true:
Bodyweight strength looks awesome.
In the real world, no one cares if you can bench press 225 pounds.
But if you can do a one-handed pull-up, people will be amazed.
No one cares if you add 50 pounds to your deadlift.
But it’s pretty awesome if you can do a handstand push-up.
Displays and feats of bodyweight strength translate better to the real world. Even if your goal isn’t to impress other people, calisthenics is a better conversation starter and talking point than traditional weight training.
Promotes balance, flexibility, mobility & stability
You ever see massive bodybuilders or strongmen that look like they can’t reach to wipe their own butt?
This is rarely, if ever, the case with powerful bodyweight athletes.
Getting strong on calisthenics progressions will build immense strength and a good amount of muscle, but it will also help you develop awesome core strength and stability, along with flexibility.
Advanced bodyweight movements require a certain amount of mobility to master along with strength and muscle.
If it’s a well-rounded, healthy, strong body you’re looking for, bodyweight training might be the best choice.
(Learn more about the different types and styles of calisthenics you can choose from.)
Cons of Calisthenics (Disadvantages)
There’s SO much to like about calisthenics.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the perfect choice for everyone.
Here are a few drawbacks you might want to consider before you take the plunge into bodyweight training.
Hard to isolate specific muscles
You can train every muscle in your body with the right calisthenics program.
But it’s easier to train some muscles than others, and most progressions and movements are considered “compound” movements — meaning they target multiple muscles at once.
That’s not necessarily bad. In fact, compound exercises are often the best.
But it’s nice to be able to target specific muscles that may be weak or lagging, or just for visual appeal.
You can do this easily with weight training. Blast your biceps with curls or hit your lateral delts (shoulders) with side raises, for example.
It’s much harder to give a specific muscle group extra attention with bodyweight training.
Although there’s no law that says you can’t incorporate some dumbbells, barbell, or band work into your routine!
Calisthenics are extremely challenging.
But you won’t find carry over to your ability to run long distances or complete tough endurance work.
Like lifting weights, bodyweight training is mostly designed to get you strong.
For the best results, you’ll probably want to incorporate some cardio to improve your overall conditioning.
Limited leg training
There are tons of bodyweight movements aimed at strengthening your lower body, including:
- Pistol squats
- Bulgarian split squats
- And plenty more
But the legs feature huge, powerful muscle groups that need a lot of resistance to grow large.
(For example, in traditional weightlifting you may need to squat over 315 pounds to see your legs get “big”.)
Even the most challenging calisthenics workouts probably won’t result in jacked tree-trunk legs.
Powerful, athletic legs? Yes!
But you’ll need heavy weights paired with squats, deadlifts, and other resistance exercises to get those bulging quads and hammies you see on bodybuilders.
Can be difficult to get started as a beginner
A lot of beginners get frustrated or discouraged when they attempt to get started with calisthenics.
Even the “basic” movements are pretty hard for a lot of people.
Most beginners can only do a few push-ups, and many can’t do a single pull-up at first.
It’s easy to see why they might get annoyed and throw in the towel too soon.
Whatever calisthenics program you choose to follow, make sure it has easy progressions to help you get started.
A progression is simply a series of movement alterations that help you build up to more challenging movements. For example, you might start off doing push-ups off of your knees or pull-ups with band assistance until you’re strong enough to advance.
That about covers the pros and cons of calisthenics!
Bodyweight training is a fantastic way to get in shape that I’d recommend to almost anyone. Although you may want to eventually supplement with some cardio for conditioning and some basic weight training for lagging muscle groups.
If you’d like to give it a try, check out the basic free routine over on r/bodyweightfitness — it’s excellent and has everything you need to get started. Plus, it’s updated and revised all the time.
For a more advanced and detailed guide, check out the Convict Conditioning eBook — it’s a bodyweight workout guide to get you “prison jacked” with minimal equipment.
What did I miss? What do you love about calisthenics, and what are some of the drawbacks?
Hope this helps!