Calisthenics For Dummies
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Calisthenics and bodyweight exercises are all you need to work out your entire body, whenever you want, wherever you want. Whether you’re an elite athlete or someone who hasn’t exercised in decades, calisthenics provide the quickest and most effective way to form your fitness foundation and build your peak physique. In fact, because most bodyweight exercises utilize your entire body, you can get a fantastic full body workout in just nine minutes!

What’s different about calisthenics is that they don’t train you for a specific sport. They train you for life. Each workout helps prepare you for the muscular, joint, bone, and even mental stresses of life. That’s what real fitness does. Put simply, the more fit you are, the more you can move through life with ease.

Less is more

People give away so much of their money, time, and energy to get fit, often without reaching their goals. In an already overly busy and complicated world, we’ve watched fitness fads become more complex, while our society is statistically getting in worse shape. A lot of modern exercise fads are just too darn complicated.

Unlike other fitness programs, the program in Calisthenics For Dummies seeks not to create complex ways for you to suffer, but instead to provide you with the easiest and simplest solution to true, lasting fitness. It does this by precisely targeting exactly what’s needed.

Debunking calisthenics myths

Myths and misconceptions surrounding calisthenics and bodyweight exercises scare off many would-be practitioners. This section debunks some of those myths so you can confidently add bodyweight strength training to your schedule.

Bodyweight exercises don’t allow you to adjust the difficulty of an exercise

Not true! In fact, here are four simple ways of changing the difficulty of an exercise without adding weight:

  • Increase or decrease the amount of leverage.
  • Perform an exercise on an unstable platform.
  • Use pauses at the beginning, end, and/or middle of a movement.
  • Turn an exercise into a single limb movement.

For example, consider the push-up, a standard exercise that works your chest, shoulders, triceps, abs, obliques, and lower back. If you do push-ups standing up with your hands against a wall a couple of feet in front of you, the exercise is pretty easy. Then try them with your hands on an elevated surface, like the edge of a bureau or windowsill. The lower the surface you use — a desk, a couch, a coffee table — the harder they get. Putting your hands on the floor, as a standard push-up, is harder. If you put your feet on the coffee table and your hands on the ground, the exercise becomes significantly more difficult. This is using leverage to increase the exercise’s difficulty.

Exercise machines were built for you

You’re not a cyborg. You don’t need machines to move your muscles through a fixed range of motion. Besides improving strength, endurance, and body composition, your training should develop stability, effective movement patterns, and coordination. Since calisthenics forces you to move your body how it was intended to move, you improve in all these areas.

Men and women should train differently

Women’s muscles are composed of the same fibers as men’s. The only difference is usually quantity, due to hormones. It’s true, men and women often have different goals. But surprisingly, these different goals can be achieved with the same calisthenics program.

You can’t build muscle and lose fat at the same time

If you’re just beginning a calisthenics program after a long period without much exercise, with proper nutrition, you’ll experience gains in strength while losing fat at the same time. For more advanced athletes, it’s tough, but not impossible. With a perfect balance of complex carbs, good fats, and enough protein, your body can achieve these seemingly separate goals.

Going hungry means looking healthy

People often starve themselves in order to lose weight. That’s a no-no.

The body is very resourceful, and it will slow down its metabolic rate in order to compensate for the lack of calories. It tries to hold onto every calorie you consume, since it is unsure when it will be fed again. Then, once you resume your normal caloric intake, your metabolic rate remains slowed down. This is why people who try restrictive diets usually gain their original weight back and often some more too.

The good news is that if you want to lose weight, you should never be hungry. A well-balanced diet consisting of small frequent meals (every 2.5 – 3.5 hours) is the key to keeping your metabolism fueled.

Discovering the secrets to success with calisthenics

Bodyweight exercises produce myriad rewards. Yes, they will help you gain strength, lose fat, and increase flexibility. But it doesn’t stop there. A short workout pays enormous dividends once it’s over. Stress is washed away, your mind and body are revitalized, your self-esteem is lifted, and those feel-good endorphins explode through your body. Here are a few secrets to success.

Don’t do too much

With a well-designed program, about 90 minutes or less of strength training a week is all that’s needed, for novice and elite athletes alike.

Stay consistent

You’ll make better gains with small, frequent workouts than you will with long, infrequent workouts. This is partly why bodyweight exercise is so incredibly affective. Because you can do them at home and without a lot of prep, calisthenics allows you to achieve more for less.

Schedule exercise as part of your life

The perfect time to work out will rarely fall into your lap. You need to make time. So look at your schedule and listen to your body.

If working out in the morning gets your blood flowing and energizes you for the rest of the day, make that time. Some people hate working out in the morning! If that’s you, find a few minutes during your lunch break, your afternoon, or your evening. Stick to that time every day. It’ll soon become second nature.

Strengthen your weakside first

If one arm is weaker than the other, give it the advantage of starting with it first, when possible. Doing exercises a single limb at a time is one of the most effective ways to build all the components of fitness. Not only does this correct any imbalance that goes unnoticed when both limbs are working at the same time, but one limb working alone has more than half the power of both limbs moving together. This is because when you work both limbs at the same time a defense mechanism (called the bilateral deficit) kicks in, hampering some of your motor units in an effort to prevent injury to your body during your heaviest lifts.


Your body changes not while you work out, but while you are resting. By the same token, seven to eight hours of sleep is paramount. Train hard, but train smart. Leave yourself valuable time to recover, instead of pushing yourself too hard.

Show up

As with many things, the hardest part is often getting started. Next time you don’t feel like training, try tricking yourself: Tell yourself that you’re just going to do a few sets. What you’ll find is that usually, after you get warmed-up, you start feeling better, and those few sets turn into a full-blown workout. Worst case, you end up with an abbreviated workout. It’s still better than doing nothing!

Keep a playful mindset

Heck, if you’re really not feeling it, just play around with some exercises. It doesn’t always have to be so structured or serious. The great thing is that you don’t even have to leave the room you’re in. Have fun with it.

Count your wins, not your losses

Even Delta Force, arguably the most elite (and clandestine) military unit in the world, only counts the people they save, not those lost. Focusing on your successes helps you stack them up.

Congratulate yourself when you can do one more rep than last week. Or when you can properly execute a new movement you couldn’t before. You’re literally changing yourself for the better.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Mark Lauren is an internationally recognized expert in bodyweight training. For 15 years, he trained U.S. Special Forces as a military physical-training specialist. With Joshua Clark, he is coauthor of You Are Your Own Gym and Body By You. Joshua Clark is an international best-selling and award-winning author, editor, filmmaker, music producer and journalist.

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