What is Calisthenics

What is Calisthenics?

What is Calisthenics? Do you value being fit and strong? Prefer training outdoors instead of the gym? Calisthenics is likely the sport for you. The global community of calisthenics practitioners is rapidly expanding. But what exactly is Calisthenics? Dive into this blog post to uncover all the details!


What is Calisthenics?​

In Calisthenics, the primary goal is to achieve comprehensive physical fitness through bodyweight exercises that engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. This dynamic form of training not only targets muscle growth but also places a strong emphasis on developing overall strength and endurance. By leveraging the resistance provided by one’s own body weight, individuals engage in a wide range of exercises, such as pull-ups, push-ups, and squats, fostering a holistic approach to physical development. The beauty of Calisthenics lies in its simplicity and versatility, offering a pathway to not just muscular prowess but also improved flexibility, balance, and functional fitness.

Calisthenics = Kalos Sthenos

What is Calisthenics?
The name itself might not immediately suggest a sport, given that the term “calisthenics” is a combination of two Greek words: Kalos and Sthenos. Roughly translated, these words together mean “beautiful strength,” alluding to both physical and mental prowess. The essence of Calisthenics extends beyond the physical, emphasizing the beauty found in the harmonious blend of strength and grace, encompassing not just the body’s capabilities but also the resilience of the mind.

Calisthenics has been practiced since the time of ancient Greece, with Spartans incorporating ‘Kalos Sthenos’ as early as 500 BC. In this regimen, young Spartan men underwent preparation for the military, where calisthenics exercises like pull-ups, squats, dips, and sit-ups formed a fundamental part of their training. The roots of Calisthenics in ancient Spartan military training highlight its enduring history as a method for cultivating strength, agility, and endurance.


Discplines within Calisthenics

Within the practice of calisthenics, there are various disciplines you can focus on. To provide you with a better understanding of Calisthenics, I’ve described four disciplines below.

Reps & Sets

In the realm of Reps&Sets within calisthenics, the spotlight shines on endurance—a facet that distinguishes itself from the typical cardio pursuits like running or cycling. Here, the challenge lies in pushing the boundaries of your body’s capacity by elevating the counts of pull-ups, dips, muscle-ups, and push-ups. The objective is not just to build strength but to enhance and push the limits of muscle endurance.

Unlike routines focused on increasing the maximum weight lifted, Reps&Sets emphasizes the ability to sustain effort over an extended period. The art lies in mastering the delicate balance between intensity and consistency. Practitioners aim to maximize the number of repetitions within a single set, pushing their bodies to endure and perform at peak levels.

Participating in competitions, an annual occurrence both globally and in the Netherlands, adds a competitive edge to the discipline. These events offer a platform for individuals to gauge their progress and showcase their endurance prowess within their specific weight class. It’s not just about physical strength; it’s a test of perseverance, mental resilience, and the ability to maintain optimal performance throughout the challenge. Reps&Sets in calisthenics, therefore, becomes a journey of continuous improvement, where practitioners strive to surpass their own limits and compete against like-minded individuals in the pursuit of elevated muscle condition.


Contrary to Reps&Sets, street lifting centers around acquiring raw strength, akin to the principles of powerlifting with weighted calisthenics. The essence of street lifting lies in maximizing your 1RM (1 rep max) for various bodyweight exercises. The key exercises in street lifting include:

To introduce additional resistance during training, tools like a dipping belt or a weighted vest come into play.

In street lifting, the primary objective is to achieve the highest possible single repetition with added weight for these fundamental exercises. This discipline aligns itself with the traditional strength sports, emphasizing the capacity to lift heavy loads efficiently.

Street lifting not only demands physical prowess but also strategic planning in weight progression. The incorporation of tools like dipping belts and weighted vests allows practitioners to incrementally challenge their strength thresholds. It’s a journey that involves meticulous attention to form, gradual progression, and the pursuit of achieving personal bests in terms of raw strength.

Participating in street lifting is not just about the external display of strength; it’s a demonstration of the body’s inherent ability to handle substantial loads and the commitment to continual improvement in lifting capabilities. As practitioners work towards maximizing their 1RM, they navigate a path of incremental challenges and triumphs, sculpting a physique that embodies the epitome of raw, unbridled strength.


Static exercises, also known as isometric positions, involve holding the body in a fixed position. Many of these exercises draw inspiration from gymnastics. Here are a few examples of statics:

In static training, the emphasis shifts from dynamic movements to maintaining precise, challenging poses that demand significant strength and stability. Each static exercise targets specific muscle groups, contributing to overall muscular development and body control.

Take the handstand, for instance—a foundational static hold. Mastering the handstand requires not only upper body strength but also a keen sense of balance. The Front Lever and Back Lever challenge the core and upper body, requiring a seamless fusion of strength and control.

The Planche demands extraordinary upper body strength and shoulder stability, as the body hovers parallel to the ground. Achieving a Human Flag, where the body is held horizontally on a vertical pole, is a testament to core strength and full-body coordination.

Incorporating static exercises into a calisthenics routine adds a dimension of isometric strength, enhancing overall physical prowess. The journey to mastering statics involves progressive training, gradually increasing the duration and difficulty of holds. As practitioners refine their form and endurance in these challenging positions, they cultivate not only muscular strength but also a heightened awareness of body alignment and control. Statics in calisthenics offer a unique avenue for individuals to showcase strength in stillness, pushing the boundaries of what the human body can achieve through precision and perseverance.


Freestyle calisthenics, also known as barflow, represents the showmanship aspect of calisthenics. In a flow, multiple dynamic and static exercises are seamlessly executed one after another, typically on the high bar or parallel bars. The essence of freestyle calisthenics lies in the combination of explosiveness, strength, and momentum.

In the realm of freestyle calisthenics, practitioners transform their routines into captivating performances, choreographing a sequence of movements that showcase not only physical prowess but also a creative flair. The high bar and parallel bars become stages for expression, where the fluidity of transitions and the artistry of movement take center stage.

The dynamism of freestyle calisthenics demands a unique set of skills. Explosiveness is required for powerful movements, while strength plays a crucial role in executing challenging holds and maneuvers. Momentum becomes a key element, linking one skill seamlessly to the next, creating a visually stunning and cohesive performance.

Freestyle calisthenics fosters a sense of individuality and creativity within the practice. Practitioners not only strive for technical precision but also seek to bring a personal touch to their routines, making each performance a reflection of their style and personality.

This discipline transcends the traditional boundaries of structured exercises, inviting practitioners to explore the boundaries of what is possible and infuse their routines with a sense of artistry. Freestyle calisthenics, or barflow, thus becomes a celebration of movement, where athleticism converges with creativity to create a visual spectacle that captivates both the practitioner and the audience.

Rise of Calisthenics

Social media has made a significant contribution to the rise in popularity of calisthenics. The sport is perfectly suited for creating impressive videos, and when you’ve worked hard to master a skill, you naturally want to share it with the world.

In addition to individual athletes sharing cool skills and tips & tricks, you see communities emerging worldwide. Calisthenics crews are being formed, and the focus is shifting from individual training in the gym to group workouts in the park.

In the Netherlands, over 200 calisthenics parks have already been established, and this number continues to grow each year. To further promote the growth of Calisthenics in the Netherlands, the Dutch Calisthenics Federation (NLCB) has been established. It focuses on the development of the sport in the country.

L-sit chin up Calisthenics - Heavyweightcali

What are the benefits of Calisthenics?

#1: Raw Power

By training with your own body weight, you build functional strength that directly translates into movements in daily life. Consistently challenging yourself with incremental increases in intensity allows your muscles, joints, and nervous system to adapt. Soon, you’ll notice that everyday movements become easier. In fact, you become not only physically stronger but also more energetic, precisely because you are getting fitter.

In addition, Calisthenics is a holistic way of training, where you make extensive use of compound exercises. This means that during the execution of the exercises, multiple muscle groups are engaged simultaneously. This approach goes beyond specifically targeting muscle growth; it focuses on enhancing, strengthening, or speeding up specific movements.

Muscle up in calisthenics park elderveld Arnhem

#2: Balanced Physique

Losing weight or gaining muscle is a common reason for many people to start exercising. Everyone wants to feel comfortable in their own skin and confidently stroll along the beach during the summer.

Engaging in calisthenics helps you cultivate a beautifully balanced physique. Think of the body of a gymnast: well-developed back muscles, a sculpted abdomen, and broad arms. All of this is achievable by training solely with your body weight.

However, it’s crucial to have clear goals in mind. If your sole objective is to build the largest muscles possible, then calisthenics might not be the most efficient way to achieve this goal. In that case, opting for weight training in the gym would be a more effective choice.

Of course, it’s also possible to combine calisthenics with gym workouts. This is called hybrid training. In this approach, you use calisthenics exercises as the foundation of your workout and supplement them with barbell exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press, and shoulder press.

#3: Amazing Skills

If you’ve been training for a while, effortlessly knocking out a number of push-ups and pull-ups, and are in search of a new challenge, you can venture into skill training.

Exercises that seemed impossible before gradually become achievable goals with small steps. Balancing on your hands might seem daunting, but by training with your own body weight, your body adapts over time. This progression allows you to work towards impressive exercises.

It does require perseverance, of course. However, as you start to see the initial results, it becomes a true addiction. You’re not just enhancing your physical abilities; you’re building confidence in your body, and it becomes a tremendous boost to your enjoyment of training.

Attaining ultimate control over your body translates into fantastic movements. Examples of skills you can train towards with calisthenics include:

calisthenics statics

#4: Freedom to Exercise Anytime, Anywhere

One of the significant advantages of calisthenics is that you’re never dependent on a gym to be able to train. This not only saves you money, as it eliminates the need for an expensive gym subscription, but it also offers flexibility when you’re on vacation or living in multiple locations.

Little to no equipment is required for calisthenics, as the primary resistance comes from your own body weight. Playgrounds are ubiquitous and serve as perfect locations for a workout. Additionally, as mentioned earlier, there is a growing number of dedicated calisthenics parks.

Furthermore, exercising outdoors brings a multitude of additional benefits. It enhances your resistance by providing increased exposure to vitamin D. The fresh air you breathe while training outdoors also contributes positively to your well-being.

#5: Accessible for All Levels

Has it been a while since you’ve engaged in physical activity, and are you worried about starting with the basics of calisthenics, perhaps due to weight gain?

No need to worry! It’s possible for individuals at any fitness level to begin with calisthenics. The diversity of bodyweight exercises allows virtually anyone to start.

Take, for instance, the pull-up. If you can’t perform a pull-up with your own body weight yet, no problem! There are numerous ways to make this exercise more manageable. You can use resistance bands to assist you in the upward movement or begin with an easier variation like the Australian pull-up, where you keep both feet on the ground.

Another excellent example is the push-up. If you find regular push-ups challenging, you can start with knee push-ups. If that’s still difficult, you can elevate the incline by placing your hands on a chair or step. This way, you gradually build strong muscles without overburdening them.

Are you an advanced athlete? Well, for the same exercises, there are countless more challenging variations. From a pull-up, you can progress to weighted pull-ups, L-sit pull-ups, or even muscle-ups. In summary, whether you’re just starting or already an advanced athlete, calisthenics is accessible and challenging for everyone.

In summary

Here, once again, all the benefits of calisthenics summarized:

  • Pure strength
  • Fantastic physique
  • learning the coolest skills
  • Good for both your physical and mental health
  • It costs nothing!
  • Exercise anywhere, anytime
  • Accessible for every level and still challenging

Start today with calisthenics

What are you waiting for? If you were looking for a sign to transform your life and become the fittest version of yourself, this is it! Click here for a calisthenics workout plan for beginners, so you can kickstart your calisthenics journey.

Read more
Start now with calisthenics!
Heavyweight calisthenics beginner guide

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