Photograph by  Mark Whitfiel    d

Photograph by Mark Whitfield

So what is calisthenics?

This is a question that people often ask me.

The word calisthenics is derived from the ancient Greek language of the Olympiads, a renaissance where philosophy, life and the human body were revered and studied in great detail.

Calisthenics, or Kallos-sthenos, literally means beautiful strength.

Calisthenics is a form of strength and power training utilising only compound bodyweight exercises. Working individual muscles using isolation exercises doesn’t teach the body how to co-ordinate its strength and balance through the core. As we already know, all movements begin with the core for stabilisation of the body before the limbs or other extremities can do their work.

You would not be alone for thinking that calisthenics was a new form of training, however, you would be wrong! It's probably the oldest form of training in the world, it's just that people aren't aware of it's name. The Spartans used calisthenics as part of their training regime, and it's been used for centuries by many of the World's top military forces and is still used today.

Examples of calisthenic exercises

I like to split calisthenic exercises into two broad categories: fundamentals and advanced.


These exercises form the base or foundation of your calisthenics strength training and are essential to mastering the ability of controlling the body through different planes of motion.They include:

  • Push ups
  • Pull ups
  • Dips
  • Squats (and single leg squats)
  • Lunges
  • Hollow body planks and holds
  • Hanging knee raises


Once a solid foundation has been established, exercises can be incorporated to start progressing towards some of the advanced calisthenics exercises and holds. This is not an definitive list, but here are some examples of advanced calisthenics exercises:

  • Muscle up
  • Front and back lever
  • Planche
  • L Sit
  • Handstands and handstand push ups
  • Human flags