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How to Start Calisthenics – 8 Basic Principles

When I first found out about Calisthenics I was incredibly impressed… All those guys with athletic physique doing all kind of exercises and having that astounding control of their own body? I said to myself “Come on, that’s so cool and unbelievable!“. So I started working out daily because I wanted to become like those guys and I wanted to achieve those skills. And more of that, I just fell in love with the idea of Calisthenics in no time.

The problem was that I was so ambitious and slowly I started to overthink about everything. “What if I’m not doing this exercise right and I’m not going to progress? What if I don’t eat right? What if this is not a good workout for me? What if…?” Let me tell you that back then I had little to no knowledge about this sport (probably like you, which is completely normal since you’re just getting into it) and slowly, my motivation started to decrease because I was overthinking, like I said before, everything.

I chose to get myself very well-informed instead of quitting. And I continued.

Today I want to present you 8 basic things that I wish I knew when I first started training, so you can have a very good idea of how to start Calisthenics, without overthinking anything and being able to concentrate only on your journey!

#1 Ask Yourself What Is Your Goal

When you start doing something, it’s necessary that YOU SET A GOAL. If you’re not going to set a goal, you simply won’t know where you should head to. It is exactly like a navigator, if you’re not going to introduce the destination it won’t tell you if you’re going to take the left or the right, you get me?

Before starting your journey in Calisthenics, take a moment and decide what is your goal. Everybody has different objectives depending on their time, on their schedule, either they have a job or not, either they’re students or they have all the time in the world. I strongly recommend you to ask yourself a few questions right now:

  • How much free time do you have?
  • How much time are you willing to put in your training?
  • Do you consider yourself ambitious enough to reach your goal?

And finally…

  • WHAT IS YOUR GOAL?

You should ask yourself “What is my goal?” so you can know how to plan your training in order to get the best out of it. Anyway, whatever your goal is (to lose weight, to gain weight, to become strong, to master the skills, etc.), you need to believe in it! You are NOT going to achieve it if you’re not going to believe in yourself. And please, believe me, YOU CAN DO IT!

#2 Do not Compare Yourself With Others

This is a big mistake that a lot of people make. It is very important to avoid it. When I started working out, I did it as well. I was going outside to a local park to train and there were some guys more advanced than me that were looking way better. I was skinny at the beginning so I compared myself with them and I got discouraged.

Never compare your level 1 to another person’s level 20.

You have to understand a basic principle: you have to start from somewhere. Nobody started from “level 20”. Everyone who has ever started something, has done it from the bottom. Those guys that you admire at the gym or in the training parks started from the beginner level. They weren’t born like that. They were either skinny or overweight. What got them there is a lot of ambition, dedication and self-discipline!

You should never compare yourself with anybody else because your only competition is YOURSELF. You are not competing with other people. Everybody is different. Everybody has a different body type. You are competing only with yourself. “You can’t win the war against the world, if you can’t win the war against your own mind.” – Will Smith.

#3 Set or Follow a Structured Workout Plan

This is another very important rule you need to take in consideration when you start working out. A common mistake is that people don’t set or follow a training plan, they just go and work out “how they feel to”. Well, let me tell you… With that mentality you’re not going to reach your goals EVER! And here’s why:

You have to know that no matter how ambitious and motivated you are, there WILL be some days when you just won’t feel like training. You just won’t feel like getting out of the bed sometimes. Maybe because you didn’t get enough sleep or you’re very tired from the last workout. And if you don’t have a workout plan, it is very possible that you will say “You know what, I’m not in the mood today. I won’t train.” YOU DON’T WANT THIS TO HAPPEN. EVER. You want to stay committed to your goal and you want to be consistent.

Another reason why you should set or follow a defined workout plan is this: A training plan is made to be challenging. It should be done in a way that you can complete the specific workout, but it should challenge you to the point that you want to give up. And let’s say you don’t have it written down. You just said to yourself that you will do 5 pull-ups, 15 push-ups, 8 dips and 20 sit-ups for 3 rounds/sets. When you’ll reach the last set, your muscles may feel super tired and you will want to give up at the 7th push-up. You will say to yourself “Come on, you’ve done enough already” – IT WILL HAPPEN. And you don’t want to! Our mind is programmed to trick us and to give up before the body. So if you have the workout structured and written down you will concentrate on that and you will be much more ambitious to finish it, because otherwise you will feel that you lost.

#4 Do not Overthink About The “Perfect Workout Plan”

When I started working out I wondered as well “how to start Calisthenics” a lot of times and I sincerely didn’t find a post or a video that could help me with my question. I was overthinking everyday that what I do may not be good enough, including my workout plan. Well, I want to tell you that THERE ISN’T ANY PERFECT WORKOUT PLAN. Why? Here’s why:

As I said before, everybody has different goals. Mine is to gain mass and to get shredded. Yours may be to lose weight or to become stronger. A workout plan should be based on your specific goal. For example, I can’t follow the same training programme as the guy who’s trying to lose weight because we have different goals.

Another reason why you should not worry about your workout plan is that everyone has a different level. You can not follow an advanced training if you have just started Calisthenics. There are a lot of blog posts and videos entitled “The Perfect Abs Workout” or “The Perfect Full-body Workout”. That’s not true. Those are only EXAMPLES of workout routines that some people RECOMMEND. They’re not perfect.

#5 Get to Know Your Level

It is super important that you know your level in order to be able to understand how to start Calisthenics. It is a very simple process that, again, is not perfect, but which I find it very efficient to see where you are right now. In order to set up a workout plan you need to know your body and your strength first. I strongly recommend you to try the following questionnaire-workout on the first day of your training:

  1. Push-ups – MAX 1 min
  2. Pull-ups – MAX 30 sec
  3. Squats – MAX 1 min
  4. Sit-ups – MAX 1 min
  5. Dips – MAX 30 sec

X 3 SETS

NOTES:

  • MAX 1 min/30 sec – It means you are going to do as many reps as you can in 1 minute/30 seconds. If you can not hold the bar anymore while doing pull-ups, get down for a few seconds, and then get back up.
  • X 3 SETS – It means that you will repeat these 5 exercises 3 times. After you will finish the dips for the first time, you will get back to the push-ups for the second set.
  • You will have 1 minute break between all the exercises. So you do the push-ups, then you take a break of 1 minute, then you do the pull-ups and so on…
  • DO NOT CHEAT! And by this I mean that you will need to perform every repetition as correct as you can. If you don’t know how to do a pull-up, push-up, squat, sit-up or dip, you can easily find tutorials on YouTube that are going to help you.
  • Respect the 1-MINUTE REST TIME!
  • NOTE YOUR RESULTS DOWN for every single exercise and set. That’s how you will know your level. Keep the paper or the document that you’ve written the results on and get back at it in 6 months to track your progress.

#6 Create The Right Mindset

“When you are looking in the mirror, you may see your best friend and your worst enemy at the same time”- Think and Grow rich, Napoleon Hill. Wise words written by a wise man. As I said before, YOU ARE YOUR ONLY COMPETITION. And I am not talking only about Calisthenics. I am talking about life here, in general.

If you are healthy, there is literally no excuse for you in achieving absolutely anything you want in this world. Realize that excuses are not real. Excuses are created and developed by our mind with the purpose of not feeling bad about ourselves when we are not willing to do something that we would want to. They don’t exist in reality. “I didn’t go to gym today because it was raining and I don’t have a car.” or “I am going to eat this pizza even though I want to lose weight because everybody in this room is eating it.” I don’t want to hear sh*t like this.

When we are talking about THE RIGHT MINDSET, we are talking about commitment, ambition, dedication, consistency. There is no room for procrastination, fake excuses or laziness. Take a moment and ask yourself how bad do you want it? How much would you love to get there? If you want it so, so bad, I promise you that whatever your goal is, YOU WILL GET THERE! You can not miss.

There are going to be a lot of failures, it’s not gonna be perfect. But if you are going to let failures put you down, you are weak. And you lost. You should see the word “failure” as a little success. Because when you fail, you’re one failure closer to your goal and you learned something new. You have more experience and you’re going to have the knowledge now to NOT fail again in the same way. You will fail a lot of times. BUT THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS! You need to fail one thousand times to get to success, remember that. There is no easy way. There is a long, hard road you need to take. But I promise you that it’s worth it.

#7 Always Go Slow

When you start something new, it’s normal to be very excited about it. You are trying to get out of your comfort zone and you feel proud of yourself. The problem is that 99% of the people give up. They give up on their first obstacle they meet in their way. It’s very sad, but it’s true. 99% of the people are this weak. They are never going to live their dream life. I want you to be part of the 1%.

I want you to go slow. What I want to mean by that? I don’t want you to rush the progress. I don’t want you to skip steps. If you are wondering how to start Calisthenics (that’s why you’re here I guess), then you have to remember that slow progress is better than no progress. Take it easy at first, you don’t want to get injured and get discouraged by that.

WORK ON BASICS THE FIRST TWO MONTHS AT LEAST (if you are a beginner). Don’t jump into complicated and advanced exercises, you will risk injuries and you will be disappointed because you can not do some of those exercises, which is completely normal and you have to know that. You have to work on the basics. You want to build a solid foundation first.

#8 Start Eating Healthy And Sleeping Like a Baby

You have to know that nutrition is a key element in the sports world. If you are going to eat sh*t, you are training for nothing. You have to stay committed to this as well. Your diet needs to be a quality one, you should always eat healthy. No more fast-food, no more shitty food.

The “muscle creation process” is NOT happening during training. It’s happening when you’re eating protein and while you’re sleeping. When you’re training, you’re ‘breaking’ some muscle’s tissues. In order for that muscle to grow, you need to rest and to eat protein so it can remake those tissues stronger (it’s a more complicated process and I’m not going to get into details here).

Try to create a “sleep schedule”. Try to go to bed at the same hour every night and get up at the same hour every morning. This sleep cycle is going to make you feel a lot better and you will have a lot more energy. Always try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night so you can have enough energy for the entire day and you give your muscle enough time to recover.

My Advice For You – Get Things Done

You can not be great at the beginning, you can not be like those guys that you see in the videos on YouTube. Those guys have been committed and have worked their ass off for a long period of time. They started from the bottom as well.

My advice for you is to get things done. What I want to mean by this is that you don’t want to skip workouts or to find ANY excuse that can slow your progress down. Once you get to know your level, you set up a workout routine or you decided to follow one well-structured training plan, YOU MAKE SURE YOU GO FOR IT. Day by day. That’s how you get the things done. You build a wall brick by brick.

Don’t worry about the process not being perfect. You will learn more things on your way up, that’s how you grow. Always try to get as much information as you can, but at the same time be careful about the myths. There are a lot of websites that are presenting information that is not true. You have to make the difference between a fact and something that might be true.

I hope you understood how to get starting with Calisthenics and what are the principles that you need to apply when practicing this sport. A new journey is waiting for you and you should be very excited! Great things ahead! Be proud of yourself for making this decision of getting out of your comfort zone. I really am proud of you, believe me!

If you have any questions related to my post or you want to ask me anything about Calisthenics, please don’t hesitate and leave a comment below, I will be more than happy to help you out!

Alex Rubio

24 Comments

  • Danijel

    Hello Alex, I must say that this article is very helpful and informative. I also heard about Calisthenics 3 weeks ago and it was so attractive to me. I already exercise regularly and I am pretty interested in this type of exercise. I think that strong will and motivation are crucial to become successful. You point out some very useful tips which I will follow.

    • Alex Rubio

      Hi there, Daniel,

      I am glad that you find the article helpful and that you are interested in Calisthenics. Get the right mindset, never give up and you will achieve your goals, no matter how big they are!

  • Douglas

    Well, I have always loved to go to the gym and walk on a treadmill or ride a bike.  I never have really have had a good plan and doing just that gets boring.  I am glad to see a great list of ideas instead of just doing the machines.  Is there a benefit to continuing to use the machines while adding these other workout options?  Or would you recommend like taking one day to use the machines and another to add the workouts?  Also, you had said to eat healthily do you have a recommendation for a great place to find a meal plan or menu?  Thank you for all the great information and I will be starting to use your ideas today.  

    Douglas

    • Alex Rubio

      Hello Douglas,

      to answer your first question I have to ask you what is your real passion. Some people love the gym and some people adore Calisthenics. I wanna break down one myth for you anyway. A lot of people think that with Calisthenics you can not gain muscle or mass which is totally wrong. 

      The truth is exactly the opposite. Calisthenics is going to get you there a bit faster, and the reason is that you are doing the workout with no help from the machines. When you’re using machines in the gym, you’re sometimes using momentum to complete some exercises and your form isn’t always 100% pure.

      When you’re doing Calisthenics, of course you are not going to have a perfect form for all the exercises, but you gain the discipline about it faster, because our body is programmed to adapt to what’s right for it.

      About the nutrition…it is the same as the workouts. First, find out what are the best foods that you can eat (it depends on what it’s your goal) and see which of them you like the most. It’s best to create your meal plan by your own but the #1 rule is to never ever eat unhealthy food. You have to stay committed.

      I hope my answer is going to help you understand completely, if you still have some questions, don’t hesitate to leave another comment. 🙂

  • Dave

    I’ve read your post and it does sound very similar to circuit training to me. Instead of going to a gym, i’ve come up with a bit of a work out plan that I can spend a maximum of half an hour doing every morning which involves 5 sets of 10 reps on left bicep curls, then wright biceps curls using an 8kg kettle bell

    Followed my the same sets and reps for V sits, I thought this would be achievable but already just 1 day in I’m finding it really tough so I wonder if I’ve already set the bar to high, what do you think?

    • Alex Rubio

      Hi Dave,

      You have to know that Calisthenics is only about bodyweight, it doesn’t involve any machines or weights. There is also weighted Calisthenics, which includes all the Calisthenics movements, but with some more weight attached to your body.

      And about your question, I am sorry but I can not understand what you are trying to say. I can only tell you that you have to be able to make the difference between an exercise that challenges you and an exercise that is unachievable at this moment. If you feel your muscles burning, it’s challenging you, which is good. If you feel some pain in your bones, your spine or your joints, then you should train more because you are not strong enough yet to practice that exercise. 

  • Parveen

    Hello Alex, Thank you for writing on How to Start Calisthenics – 8 Basic Principles You Need to Know. I enjoy while reading your basic principles and learn a lot from it. We don’t want to skip workouts or to find ANY excuse that can slow our progress down. We have to setup a perfect work out routine.  We have to go step by step with positive mind set. We build a wall brick by brick. Thank you for your awesome guide.

    Parveen

  • Ashley

    This is such a motivational article! I have been working out more regularly over the last year, but had a lot of health set-backs. I am looking forward to 2020 and getting back on track. This will help me figure out where I am at and put together a gameplan. I do tend to jump into things too quickly and have been lucky enough not to injure myself… This time around I plan on going more slow, like you recommend to build a solid foundation. I totally agree on the impact of diet and sleep on your progress and have been focusing #1 on getting in a nutritious breakfast and making sure I get the protein I need throughout the day. I do feel that I will see more benefit with this and am excited about it!

    • Alex Rubio

      Hello Ashley,

      I am very glad that you liked my article and very proud of you, sincerely! Don’t let anything bring you down. Go on with your workout routine and be patient, results are going to show up. I am excited for you as well and very happy that you have the ambition to get there! 

      I wish you a beautiful journey in matter of sport and keep it up! 🙂

  • Pablo

    Excellent article! I say this because the truth is that I really wanted to and I was very hesitant to start this way of exercising.

    My first question was about leg exercises. I wasn’t sure if I would just hang on those irons or there are leg exercises in this discipline.

    I really like calisthenics because I have always seen that it generates bodies as I like it: athletics. I also believe that having the basic principles known it is possible to do this almost anywhere!

    So, is also contemplated exercises for the lower body (legs)?

    I’m going to take a closer look at your articles. Thank you!
    Pablo

    • Alex Rubio

      Hi there, Pablo!

      First, thank you for reading my post.

      Now to answer your question, there are a lot (and by ‘a lot’ I mean A LOT) of leg exercises that can be implemented into a workout routine and trust me, they are insanely hard. Now that you asked me this, soon I will post one legs workout routine so you can have an idea. Please try it and come back with a feedback after! 🙂

  • Nate MC

    Excellent advice! Years and years ago when I started training, I always over-thought my workouts and was almost obsessed with making sure all my workouts were perfect. I shifted my mindset and made a few tweaks and now all my workouts are solid! But this is excellent advice for people who are wanting to do calisthenic training. 

  • Rhain

    It is truly an amazing sight to watch a calisthenics performance. Also, I can relate to the concept of falling in love with an idea and subsequently getting caught up by overthinking was should otherwise be a fun adventure.

    Now, as far as these 8 points are concerned, they are more than enough to help you in your journey to become proficient. It is important to define clearly what you want to achieve, avoid comparing yourself to others, make a structured plan to get there and taking it one step at a time.

    Great post 

  • Nimrodngy

    Hello Alex. Thanks a lot for sharing with us this amazing article and all the explanation given.

    I’m a gym lover for almost 5 years and i want to say that for me a day without sport is a lot day. I heard about Calistehnics but i never found such an informative descriptions about this and i would like to try this kind o training’s. Because I noticed that I am starting to have problems due to the heavy weights, I would like to change the type of my exercises. In the last few years I noticed that i have lost my speed and and flexibility. Another problems is that  my joints are no longer strong because of of the weights and I have very frequent pains. 

    Do you think that if I make this change I have any chance to recover myself? Thanks and keep in touch! 

    • Alex Rubio

      Hi there,

      There are a lot of things and causes that can affect your joints – lifting weights too heavy for your level, not resting enough, doing some exercises wrong, etc.; It is important that you understand and discover which one damaged you. I suggest you consult a specialist about your frequent pains, since it’s no joke with it. After you’re done with the consultation, you will probably need to take a longer rest period (thing that the doctor will say as well, I am sure of that), and after that you can start practicing Calisthenics. 

      And even though you’ve been practicing gym for so long, I would recommend it taking it easy, since Calisthenics is a different sport, it requires a lot of mobility and knowledge about the ‘clean form’ moves. Step by step, you will get to a higher and higher level. However, you will progress faster anyway, since you are stronger than a beginner, no doubt about that. 

      Cheers and if you have any other question, don’t hesitate to ask me.

  • Miki Wong

    Hi Alex, I can’t express how useful it is about this article, not only regarded to calisthenics, but also the life in general. Yes you are right, never ever find excuses on something you really want to do, and you will surely see the results. I know nothing about calisthenics before I read this article, but now I think that this is a good exercise which helps in building body. Wanna learn more about calisthenics from you! Thanks.

  • sabrinamou

    Thank you so much for sharing with us such a beautiful article. I am glad to see your article. Your article is really unique and informative. After reading your article I know how to start Calisthenics with 8 Basic Principles. I appreciate while perusing your essential standards and learn so much from it. We would prefer not to skip exercises or to discover ANY reason that can back our advancement off. We need to arrange an ideal work for everyday practice. Definitely , I will share it article with my Friends. Thanks for sharing your opinion and an awesome guide.

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