Use This Beginner’s Callisthenics Workout To Build All-Over Muscle

Man performs the L-sit hold using kettlebells
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Callisthenics is the practice – or, more appropriately, the art – of bodyweight exercise. Known as kilos sthenos (beautiful strength) by the Spartans of ancient Greece, it has been practised for more than two and a half millennia and enjoyed a surge in popularity with gyms shut and exercise kit at a premium when the COVID pandemic struck in early 2020.

The chances are you’ve already mastered a few of the basics. Some of the best bodyweight exercises, like press-ups, dips, pull-ups and plank variations, are examples of beginner-friendly callisthenics moves. Muscle-ups, front levers and gravity-defying human flags – which require phenomenal core strength – are among the more eye-catching elements of this discipline. 

It’s not all for show – it can provide a long list of real-world benefits, too. “Callisthenics is low-impact, it helps improve balance, co-ordination and proprioception [your sense of where your body parts are positioned], and although it can look daunting, it’s accessible to everyone,” says Luke Bradshaw, head trainer of callisthenics and mobility at the fitness studio BLOK

Bradshaw believes the practice of callisthenics can provide tangible returns for your mental health. “It’s the other side of the coin to yoga – the disciplines complement each other,” he says. “In their own ways they can be moving meditations, enabling you to tap into your mental ‘flow state’.” 

To help you get started, Bradshaw has provided a callisthenics workout that’s ideal for beginners. All you need is a pull-up bar, your bodyweight and gravity. 

Beginner’s Callisthenics Workout

This beginner’s callisthenics workout comprises three tri-sets that will target your full body. Like supersets, these tri-sets require you to complete all three moves back to back before resting. “Shortening the rest periods between exercises in this way will increase the intensity of the session, forcing you to get stronger while providing an element of cardiovascular fitness and keeping you mentally stimulated,” says Bradshaw.

Before you get started, Bradshaw suggests thoroughly priming your joints and muscles with this five-minute callisthenics warm-up drill.

Woman performs a deep lunge with rotation

Deep lunge with rotation (Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

5 x shoulder circles forwards, then backwards.

5 x arm circles forwards, then backwards.

5 x bodyweight squat, slow and controlled.

5 x walkouts to plank, where you hinge at the hips to touch the floor, then walk your hands forwards to the top of a high plank and return.

30 seconds x downward dog, alternating pressing heels towards the floor.

10 x shrugs in downward dog position, pressing your shoulders to earlobes.

10 x scapular press-ups, creating space around shoulders at top of press-up.

10 x deep lunge with rotation, stepping one foot outside of hands in a press-up and rotating torso to the same side.

30 seconds x wrist circles, interlocking fingers.

Once complete, move on to the first tri-set. 

Tri-set 1

Do four rounds of the following. Perform all three moves back to back then rest for 30 seconds to one minute between rounds.

1A Press-up

Woman performs a press up

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Reps 12

Targets Chest and triceps

Position your hands shoulder-width apart, supporting your weight on your toes with legs together and core engaged. Keep your elbows narrow as you lower your chest just off the floor, then push away from the ground until your arms are fully extended. At the top position, pull your shoulder blades apart to ensure maximum protraction. Aim to complete all reps with a slow and controlled tempo, dropping to your knees if necessary. 

1B Hollow hold

Man performs a hollow hold

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Time 20-30sec

Targets Core

Start sitting on the floor with legs and back straight. Take a deep breath in to brace your core, then slowly lower until just your mid and lower back is pressed into the floor, keeping your arms straight. At the same time, raise your feet just off the ground and bring your hands overhead so your body resembles a shallow dish shape. Hold this position as long as you can, while breathing normally. Reset when you need to until you hit your target number of seconds. 

1C Wall sit

Man performs the wall sit exercise

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Time 45-60sec

Targets Legs 

Lean your back against a wall with feet just wider than hip-width apart. Lower into a squat with your thighs parallel to the ground. Holding this position, slowly alternate raising your heels to target your calf muscles. 

Tri-set 2

Do four rounds of the following. Perform all three moves back to back then rest for 30 seconds to one minute between rounds.

2A Band-assisted pull-up

Woman performs a pull-up using assistance from a resistance band

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Reps 6-10 

Targets Back and biceps 

Loop a long resistance band over a pull-up bar, then pull one end through the loop to secure it in place. Place one foot on the band and jump up to the bar with hands just wider than shoulder-width apart. Place your other foot on the band and use its resistance to help as you pull your chest towards the bar. Lower under control until your arms are straight and repeat. 

Keep your feet together and slightly in front of the bar throughout. This will keep your core engaged, helping you generate the power to get your chin over the bar.

2B L-sit hold

Man performs the L-sit hold using kettlebells

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Time 10-20sec

Targets Core 

Sit on the floor with legs straight and feet flexed. Press your hands on the floor either side of your mid-thigh. The goal is to lift your legs and backside off the floor, using your core strength to hold this position. You can begin by lifting just your bottom off the floor, allowing your weight to be supported in your heels, then building up until you can lift your feet, too. You can also use blocks under your hands to make it easier. 

2C Triceps dip

Man performs a triceps dip

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Reps 12 

Targets Triceps 

Sit on the edge of a bench or chair, with palms either side of your body. Support the rest of your weight with your heels on the floor and your legs straight. Lift your body off the seat and lower until your elbows are at right angles, then drive up to full extension. Perform these slowly and under control, pausing for two or three seconds at the bottom if you need to make these more challenging.

Tri-set 3

Do four rounds of the following. Perform all three moves back to back then rest for 30 seconds to one minute between rounds.

3A Archer press-up

Man performs an archer press-up

(Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Reps 6 each side

Targets Chest and triceps 

Start in the top position of a press-up but with your hands double shoulder-width apart and fingers pointing out. Keep your hands in line with your chest, rather than shoulders. Now slowly lower your body to one side, until the other arm is almost straight, then drive back to the start. Continue into a rep on the other side and repeat for six reps each side. 

3B Natural leg extension 

Woman performs a natural leg extension or reverse Nordic curl

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Reps 10 

Targets Quads 

Also known as a reverse Nordic curl, this targets the large quadriceps muscles on the front of your thighs. Start kneeling with hips extended and the tops of your feet pressed on the floor. Hold your arms in front to provide balance, then slowly lower your back towards your heels, keeping your knees, hips and shoulders in line. Lower as far as you can under control, then squeeze your quads hard to return to the start position. 

3C Pike compression

Reps 10

Targets Core 

Sit on the floor with legs straight and toes pointed. Press your hands on the floor on either side of your thighs and lift your legs together off the floor. Raise your legs slowly and lower slowly, keeping tension in your core muscles throughout. To help, start with a short breath in to expand your core, breathe out as you lift your legs, then in as you lower. If two legs together is too tough, raise one leg at a time instead. 

Sam Rider

Sam Rider is an experienced freelance journalist, specialising in health, fitness and wellness. For over a decade he's reported on Olympic Games, CrossFit Games and World Cups, and quizzed luminaries of elite sport, nutrition and strength and conditioning. Sam is also a REPS level 3 qualified personal trainer, online coach and founder of Your Daily Fix. Sam is also Coach’s designated reviewer of massage guns and fitness mirrors.