The 4 Different Types of Calisthenics Explained

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Calisthenics is a broad term that refers to almost any kind of bodyweight workout.

These workouts rarely involve equipment, and if they do, it’s usually bars for pull-ups and dips.

You’ll find no form of traditional weights in calisthenics, as the goal is to use your own body weight to increase strength, flexibility, coordination, and endurance.

(Of course, weighted calisthenics, or adding weight to your own body, is a popular training method.)

Calisthenics is a great way to get in shape because you don’t need any equipment and you can do the workouts any time, anywhere.

But there are a lot of different types of calisthenics to consider if you’re just getting started.

Most people will use calisthenics to improve their overall conditioning, boosting both strength and cardio with general HIIT workouts. However, calisthenics can also be used to build lots of power and muscle in more of a bodybuilding style, or you can train to master flashy maneuvers like muscle-ups and flagpoles.

Let’s take a detailed look at each type of calisthenics style and which one might be right for your goals.


Calisthenics vs Plyometrics vs Isometrics

Though calisthenics can refer to almost any bodyweight workout, there are some key differences to understand when it comes to calisthenics vs plyometrics vs isometrics.

Here’s what you need to know.

Calisthenics

As mentioned above, Calisthenics are body-weight exercises made to increase:

  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Coordination
  • Endurance

Calisthenic exercises help you get in touch with your body while also increasing overall fitness and gaining muscle.

The Movements

There are tons and tons of different calisthenics exercises, but you’ll be most familiar with the classics like:

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Dips
  • Inverted rows
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • And more

Who It’s For

Calisthenics are a good fit for almost anyone who wants to get in better shape.

Push-ups and pull-ups are fundamental movements that almost anyone can start doing today to build better strength, conditioning, or both.

From there, you can customize your calisthenics training using different styles (see below) depending on your goals.

Pros

  • Great for full body workouts
  • Can offer similar fitness enhancement to weight training, according to this study
  • Suitable for fitness newbies

Cons

  • Incorrect form during the exercises can cause injuries

(Go deep on the pros and cons of calisthenics here.)

Plyometrics

Like calisthenics, plyometric exercises help you build your strength and endurance. However, they also help your speed and explosive power.

Plyometric exercises are designed to max out your muscles’ potential as quickly as you can; plyometrics vs calisthenics is comparable to sprinting vs distance running.

Plyometrics and calisthenics are similar, but plyometrics workouts are more fast-paced and explosive.

Runners frequently use plyometrics to help themselves stay in top physical shape. The explosive nature of plyometrics is great for peple who need a lot of power as well as stamina while working out.

The Motions

There are a lot of explosive movements and plenty of jumping involved in plyometrics, so someone who’s behind or simply average on their fitness will tire out quickly. 

Think box jumps, jump squats, jumping lunges, and more.

Who It’s For

It’s mostly trained athletes that engage in plyometrics, but anyone can give plyometrics a shot.

Although, the excessive jumping motions will take a bigger toll on those who aren’t used to explosive, strength-focused workouts.

Pros

  • Fantastic warmups for athletes
  • Great supplementary training for other workouts and sports involving powerful movements

Cons

  • High risk of injury if you push yourself too hard
  • Extremely tiring for beginners

Isometrics

Isometric exercises help you build exceptional muscle stamina by holding difficult poses or positions for time, rather than repeating reps.

You likely won’t build a ton of muscle from isometrics alone, but isometrics can be a great compliment to calisthenics or even weight training.

The Motions

These exercises are less active than calisthenics or plyometrics, usually asking you to hold a challenging position for a certain amount of time.

Planks and wall sits are great examples of isometric exercises.

You place tension on your muscles while performing isometrics, rather than giving the muscle an active workout through a range of motion.

Who It’s For

Isometrics-based workouts are great for people who can’t move quickly due to joint pain or minor mobility issues.

They also go really well alongside calisthenics, weight training, or other forms of strength workouts.

Pros

  • Great for people with limited workout space
  • Wonderful for people who can’t move too much while working out
  • Easy enough for beginners of any fitness level to start with

Cons

  • Can be too tame for seasoned athletes and experienced fitness-lovers

The 4 Main Types of Calisthenics

With the three workout types above differentiated, now it’s time to break down the different methods of training actual calisthenics.

The training types have their own benefits and uses, and the exercises performed within the workouts vary, too.

Freestyle or Gymnastic Style Calisthenics

Freestyle and gymnastic style calisthenics (sometimes called “playground calisthenics”) is the way to wow people, although be warned: this style can get risky.

It’s very cool to watch, but it can be deadly to perform. Although it’s technically “freestyle,” this type of calisthenics typically requires a lot of training.

You’ll need a coach, a safe training space, and plenty of safety precautions if you want to train things such as:

  • 360 muscle-ups 
  • Toe touch pull-ups
  • Switchblades
  • Flagpoles
  • And more

Freestyle Calisthenics You Can Train at Home

You can train a few cool calisthenics tricks at home or in playgrounds by yourself.

For example, clapping pushups are relatively safe and easy, but you should practice them on a soft mat with a pillow under your head area, first.

Clapping dips are also relatively safe to train alone if you have the right gear.

Your feet or knees will be there to catch you if you don’t grasp the railings in time while performing the move.

You could also impress people by mastering the one-arm push-up or pull-up, which both require serious strength and technique.

However, don’t be afraid to consult a coach, even when you’re training something like a clapping dip. Form is vital in all calisthenics, and a coach will be able to help you with yours.

Calisthenics for Muscle and Power

Using calisthenics for muscle and power, or bodybuilding-style calisthenics, is more strategy-based than freestyling.

You’re not looking to show off what you can do, you’re looking to train intelligently so you can increase your strength and build muscle, just like lifting weights in the gym.

Bodybuilders often use this style of calisthenics to complement their regular weight training.

Once you build your strength, then you’ll be able to perform tricks like the muscle-up, clapping pushup, clapping dip, and more.

The one-armed pushup is a popular move to master when you’re training calisthenics for muscle and power.

However, impressive feats of strength will only be a test and a small part of your training. Most of your workouts will consist of more common moves and variations of those moves, performed to failure to stimulate muscle growth.

How To Train

Your exact training regime will vary depending on your abilities and what your coach/trainer (if applicable) recommends.

However, you’ll be performing moves such as:

  • Push-ups and variations
  • Pull-ups and variations
  • Squats and variations
  • Dips
  • And a lot more

You’ll likely include weighted versions of these movements once you become strong enough, which will allow you to keep building muscle.

Just like lifting weights, you’ll train to (or close to) failure for several sets on each exercise to maximize your muscle growth.

(Learn more about the results from calisthenics you can expect when you get started.)

Military-Style Calisthenics

Military-style calisthenics regimens focus on strength and endurance, training the way soldiers do.

This means you use little to no equipment, and you can do extremely high reps in your chosen exercise. 

Pushups and pullups are common for this training style. These have a low risk of injury and they build incredible upper body and core strength.

If you want to get strong and fit but don’t have the time or interest in a lot of complicated programming, you’ll do great just hammering out extremely high reps of push-ups and pull-ups.

How To Train

Moves involved in military-style calisthenics include:

  • Pushups (various types)
  • Pullups
  • Chinups
  • Planks
  • Sit-ups
  • Crunches
  • Squats

You generally perform these exercises and more in a circuit with very little rest between reps and different exercises. 

You can take more breaks between reps and exercises if you wish, but your workout won’t be as authentically military-style.

You should aim to build up your stamina to the point where you require very few breaks when using this style of calisthenics training.

Military-style calisthenics is often accompanied by going on 20–50 minute runs.

Running helps build your endurance to high-intensity activity, and it’s a great way to strengthen your legs while still working out your whole body.

General Health and Fitness Calisthenics

General health and fitness calisthenics are just that: generic bodyweight workouts that help you get fitter, but you’re not trying to gain muscle or master any particular skill.

They may be done to lose weight, increase heart health, or decrease breathlessness after tackling the four flights of stairs in your office building.

Most workouts from fitness apps and follow-along video HIIT workouts, especially those to be performed at home, are forms of calisthenics workouts.

You’ll typically find that these workouts come as short routines with some time to rest between each exercise.

How To Train

Here’s a good example of a video dubbed a HIIT workout that’s full of basic calisthenics moves.

It contains pushups and squats as you’ll see in other, more controlled calisthenics workouts, and there’s no equipment involved in the quick 10-minute session.

This type of workout is a great way to get your blood pumping, and it will increase your health and fitness level if performed regularly.

However, you won’t gain huge muscles or master any cool skills while doing it.

You’ll feel fitter in general, though, and you’ll definitely see a decrease in breathlessness after tackling those four flights of stairs at the office.

You can use apps and videos to find examples of this type of workout, or you can create something of your own.

Set a time limit, pick exercises that work for you, and perform them within the time limit.

(Here are some good HIIT Apps to check out.)


Wrapping Up

“Calisthenics” works as both a broad term for all bodyweight exercises, but calisthenics workouts are generally performed to work on strength, flexibility, coordination, and endurance.

You can use calisthenics to zero in one or more of these goals. Bodybuilding style calisthenics will get you strong and help build muscle. Military-style calisthenics will get you insanely fit with incredible endurance and conditioning.

Playground or freestyle calisthenics is all about learning the hardest and flashiest moves possible, and of course there’s always general HIIT calisthenics for just getting in better overall shape.

Calisthenics workouts are usually easy for beginners and low-risk, but the gymnastics style and muscle and power style workouts are a little risker than the rest. Be sure to work with a coach when needed, and never push yourself too hard when exercising.

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Hope this helps!

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