Fitness

Try this awesome calisthenics workout for beginners

© Casual Films / Red Bull Content Pool
Written by Tim Stevenson
Want to break into the gravity-defying world of calisthenics? This workout is your first port of call...
Ever fancied being able to do a headstand, handstand or even a human flag? Or monkeying around at your local park, throwing out some impressive shapes on the equipment? Or perhaps you're just tired of your weekly gym workout and want to try something new?
Look no further than the beginners calisthenics workout below, put together by School of Calisthenics co-founder Tim Stevenson.
Calisthenics is a form of bodyweight training, designed to help people move better and get stronger in a more dynamic style of workout. Its origins trace back to ancient Greece where it was used by warriors to train for war. You find out more about the history, culture and benefits of calisthenics here.
The below beginners’ calisthenics workout has been designed for anyone who wants to move better, get superhuman strong and have more fun through bodyweight training. It will build the foundations for some of the more well-known poses associated with calisthenics, including headstands, handstands and human flags.
"The exercises are all achievable and instructions on how to scale them for your ability are included in the description," says Stevenson. "Try them and have fun with the movements. Just progress steadily and as you feel confident. The workout can be performed as a circuit or by doing all the sets of each exercise one at a time."

Exercise 1: Overhead Bar Mobilisation

Reps & Sets: 5-8 reps; 2 sets with 30secs rest in between each set.
Benefits: It’s important to prepare your body for a training session and this is especially important for the shoulders in calisthenics. This exercise will help to improve the range of motion in your upper body which is important for movements like the handstand, muscle up and back lever progressions.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a light bar, such as a wooden dowel (or use a resistance band), and adopt a wide grip with both hands. The further apart you place your hands the easier this exercise is.
- Raise your hands up overhead and then all the way over so your hands are now behind your back. Go slowly and with control.
- Don’t force this movement or position, and, if it feels difficult, try moving your hands wider apart. If should be a smooth and graceful motion.

Exercise 2: Archer Ring Rows

Reps & Sets: 8-12 reps at a challenging body angle; 3 sets with 60secs rest in between each set.
Benefits: The gymnastics rings might be the best piece of training equipment available and this exercise is a great way to use them to build foundation pulling strength for your back, as well as shoulder stability.
- Set the rings (or a suspension trainer) on a bar. Walk your feet backwards and then allow yourself to hang so your body is at 45 degrees. Keep your arms straight.
- Start by imagining you are squeezing a coin between your shoulder blades. With your left arm, pull the ring while keeping your elbow bent and close to your body, and keep your right arm straight while bringing it out to the side. At the top position you will have one arm bent and one arm straight, just like an archer. Hold this position for two seconds.
- Take three seconds to lower back down again until both arms are parallel and straight out in front of you. Repeat, alternating arms on each rep. The further back you walk your feet, the easier it will be.
- To make it harder, move your feet forwards underneath the rings so your body is closer to horizontal. These get hard fast so you don’t need to go too far.

Exercise 3: Frogstand

Reps & sets: 5 attempts, trying to hold for as long as you can up to 10 seconds; 3 sets with 60secs rest in between each set.
Benefits: The first step in learning a handstand is the Frogstand. It’s a great progression to build strength in the upper body, while learning how to balance without your feet on the floor. It’s also a lot of fun and pretty addictive!
- Start in a squat position and place your hands, facing forwards, on the floor in front of you. Think about gripping the floor with your finger tips. When you do this your hands shouldn’t be completely flat on the ground.
- Bend your elbows and imagine you are trying to point them behind you – this helps to create stability in the shoulders.
- Lift your knees up, rising onto your tip toes, and rest them on the back of your elbows.
- Next start to lean forwards, and try lifting one foot slowly off the floor. As you build confidence you will be able to rock forwards, take both feet off the ground and balance on your hands.
- Keep pushing hard into the floor all the time to create a stable foundation. Play with the movement and experiment to find the balance position.

Exercise 4: Skin the Cat

Reps & sets: 1 rep at a time and go as far round as you feel confident. Stay in control and rest as required. If you’re feeling confident try doing multiple reps without putting your feet on the floor. Try 3 sets of however many reps you can manage, with 60 seconds rest in between each set.
Benefits: This exercise is great for developing strength and stability through full range of motion at the shoulder. It’s also great to help you build confidence being upside down and learn where your body is in space, forming the foundations for the gravity-defying back lever. You can use a bar or a set of gymnastics rings to learn your first skin the cat, just set them about shoulder height.
- Hang below the rings, making a ball shape with your body, and pull yourself up slightly.
- Next, start to initiate a backwards roll by pulling your feet up between the rings and looking behind you towards the floor underneath you.
- Remember to stay in a small ball as you rotate round, and, if you find it hard to get moving, use your feet to give yourself a little kick off the floor.
- Keep pulling on the rings and allow your hips to move between the rings. If you want to bail out at any time just rotate and put your feet on the floor behind you, or come back down the way you came.
- Take your time and build the range of movement progressively. Your shoulders have a movement range of 360 degrees so let’s have some fun with it.

Exercise 5: Wall Walks

Reps & sets: Walk up as far as you feel confident and then walk back down. Play with the height and see how far you can go. If you want to push yourself do 3-5 reps without putting your feet on the floor. Do 3 sets of however many you can manage, with good rest time in between each set.
Benefits: The wall walk will help you build the strength and confidence you need when you learn how to do a handstand. It’s a great skill exercise, works your core stability and develops a load of strength in the upper body.
- Start with your feet next to a solid wall in a push-up position.
- With your arms straight, lift your feet up and place them on the wall. Push with your hands and start walking your feet up the wall, crawling backwards towards the wall with your hands as you go, so you move upwards towards a handstand position.
- Go as far as you feel confident. It’s important to keep your mid-section tight, so, at all times, think about pulling your rib cage down on top of your hips like you’re ready to take a punch, and try to crack a walnut between your butt cheeks.
- If your back ends up in a banana shape, take a rest and then try again, but don’t go as far up the wall.
- To finish, walk your hands forwards again while walking your feet down the wall so you end back in the push-up position. You don’t need to go all the way to a handstand while you’re learning so build up gradually until you feel confident and stronger.

Exercise 6: Archer Push Up

Reps & Sets: 8-12 at a challenging body angle; 3 sets with 60secs rest in between each set.
Benefits: This is a great push-up variation that can be done on the rings or the floor. It challenges stability and strength through the core and upper body due to the change in the lever length of one arm during the push-up. If you do it on the rings you get a lot of additional stability and control for your chest and shoulders.
- Set the rings at a height which means you can comfortably do 10 normal push-ups.
- Starting in a push-up position, lower down slowly, keeping one elbow close to the body and the other one straight and moving out to the side of your body.
- In the bottom position you will have one arm close to your body, like in a normal push-up, and one out to the side like in a fly position. This is where the ‘Archer’ name comes from. Hold this position for two seconds.
- Push back up to the start position, keeping one arm straight and the other moving as in a standard push-up. Both arms should now be straight and parallel.
- Repeat, making sure to swap arms on each rep. Using the rings makes this movement really accessible, as you can make it really easy by moving your feet forwards so your body is closer to being upright.
- To do this exercise on the floor, start in a push-up with your hands outside, shoulder-width apart, so your arms form a v-shape. Lower down on to one side keeping the opposite arm straight. Push hard and return to the middle starting position, and repeat on the other side.