When it comes to developing an out-of-this-world physique as a woman, it can be quite a challenge.
Do you stick to straight cardio? Will weights make you bulky?
What do you need to work on to develop that aesthetic look while also being powerful?
All of these questions can actually be answered with one word — calisthenics.
Bodyweight movements that you can do on your old schoolyard jungle gym are super effective at building the body of your dreams.
And whether you’re a complete newbie to calisthenics or you can push- and pull-up with all the confidence, these exercises will turn you into an absolute warrior.
In this article, we’ll go over what calisthenics are, why they’re advantageous to include in your workout as a lady, what the best movements are for beginners, and whether or not you need any special equipment.
At the end, we’ll give you an epic full-body calisthenics workout routine you can use to build an amazing physique.
Let’s cut the chit-chat and get rolling!
Read Also: The ultimate guide to shoulder workouts for women
What Are Calisthenics?
Calisthenics are, quite literally, “gymnastic exercises to achieve bodily fitness and grace of movement.” (Trust us, Google it.)
These are the movements that improve your skills and body composition to perform various functions your body was built for.
This includes the most fundamental motions — including pushing, pulling, bending, standing, grasping, running, and more.
Sadly, the 21st century doesn’t involve a lot of natural environments or chances to go out and simply use your body to create an incredibly flexible, strong, impressive physique.
But this isn’t an excuse for you…you’re an athletic woman! With the workout we outline below, you’ll be able to create a body that is in tune with its natural tendencies.
What Are the Benefits of Calisthenics for Women?
Because calisthenic movements are so fundamental, there are tons of advantages to using them in your regular training routine.
Here are the major benefits of training with calisthenics as a woman:
- Minimal equipment: The beauty of calisthenics is in their simplicity. A mere collection of bars should suffice for any and all bodyweight movements. Having one higher up for pulling, another bar closer to the ground for other pulling and pushing, and maybe a vertical one for some advanced movements…that’s it. Oh, and a wall. Boom! Done.
- Anywhere, anytime: Due to the minimal equipment, this means you can work out from anywhere with these bars. You can create your own personal gym in your backyard (additional benefit: working out outside with the sunshine and fresh air), or you can go to the local park with a play structure. This also removes the construct of time, meaning you have little to no excuses to not train on the regular. Accountability at its finest!
- Most natural: As we said before, these movements involve only your bodyweight. In fact, you’re moving your body through planes, not moving another object through space. This basic act of pushing, pulling, squatting, and running your body from one place to another is incredibly natural — it’s what our bodies were born to do. If you decide to use calisthenics as your main training style, you’ll be doing your DNA a kindness. (Plus, they’re all compound exercises, meaning you use numerous muscle groups to perform them…just as your instincts intended.)
- Increased strength/body composition: Yes, you can still gain muscle and lose fat with only calisthenics! Thank goodness. And not only is it strength you’re building, it’s relative strength, meaning you’re getting stronger relative to your body’s weight. This is still resistance training, but the resistance is how much you weigh. So, by using progressive overload and increased tension — which we’ll get into in the workout below — you can build an outstanding body with a few bars and a wall. (And yes, you can progress; the variations are practically endless!)
- You look like a badass: Not only will your body be epic-looking, but you’ll turn heads when you’re doing the calisthenics as well. When you progress to the more advanced movements in the calisthenics lexicon, you’ll be performing crazy things like muscle-ups, explosive pistol squats, planches (or planche push-ups), one-armed pull-ups, handstand push-ups (unassisted), and maybe even human flags. The possibilities are endless, plus they’re super fun! Look, feel, and show off like the athletic warrior that you have the potential to be.
As you can see, calisthenics for women is the clear #1 choice for developing a jaw-dropping physique. With all of these terrific benefits, you’ll notice the difference almost immediately.
What Are the Best Bodyweight Exercises for Beginners?
If you’re just starting out on your calisthenics journey, don’t feel intimidated. Everyone begins at square one.
Lucky for you, square one for calisthenics involves some of the most basic exercises known to humans. (No doubt you’ve already tried your hand at them before.)
These are the best bodyweight exercises to create your first calisthenics training plan:
- Push-ups (or push-up variations)
- Pull-ups (or pull-up variations)
- Bodyweight squats or assisted pistol squats
- Australian rows (suspend your body beneath a horizontal bar, row your body up)
- Pike push-ups
- Glute-hamstring raises
- Walking lunges
- Crunches (or crunch variations)
If you can’t rep push-ups or pull-ups, don’t worry: You can always use assistance whenever necessary, then build up to doing them on your own.
Otherwise, practice proper form and a full range of motion.
Get comfortable with these movements because they’re going to be your bread and butter for when you continue onto harder variations.
Which Calisthenics Are Best for Burning Fat? What About Building Muscle?
There aren’t different exercises that are good for burning fat and not good for building muscle (and vice versa). What you have to alter is the manner in which you perform these exercises.
For burning fat, you want to focus on improving your aerobic performance.
This includes things like metabolic conditioning (see: CrossFit), low-intensity steady state cardio (LISS), and, the crowd favorite, high-intensity interval training (HIIT). With calisthenics, you can do any of these methods for losing body fat, but the best one by far is HIIT.
There are certain exercises that are ideal for doing an HIIT workout.
Basic push-ups, pull-ups, bodyweight squats, dips, Australian rows, and sprints are wonderful because you can swap between them all with relative ease. You can essentially do push-ups for 45 seconds, rest for 15 seconds, then go into a 45-second set of pull-ups.
You’ll want fast sets, short rest periods, and intense reps. It’s also prevalent to circuit these movements, as it will elicit a full-body response and keep body parts from fatiguing prematurely.
Doing all of these in a row, then going for three or four rounds, will have you breathing hard and sweating heavily.
(Note: For true fat loss, your diet needs to be dialed in along with this type of workout. The same goes for building muscle.)
As for gaining muscle mass, you’ll want slower sets, more time under tension, and progressive overload. In this case, the calisthenics workout will look more like a traditional resistance training protocol. Think StrongLifts, reverse pyramid or pyramid, and other methods like isometrics and slow eccentric movements.
Again, most of the calisthenics out there are great for eliciting muscle growth. For a complete muscle building workout — that will also burn body fat, considering additional muscle leads to a higher basal metabolic rate — check out the one we’ve provided below.
Setting Up for Calisthenics: Do You Need Equipment?
As we mentioned in the benefits section, you need minimal equipment for calisthenics. A simple setup of bars and a free wall is pretty much the key.
If you want a freestanding pull-up bar, a wall-mounted pull-up bar, or a Power Tower, check out our articles on all three. (They also tell you how to set them up.)
You can always use your local park or your gym; they should all have pull-up and dip bars. Always practice safe movements and stick within your current ability as an athlete.
You can still injure yourself with only your bodyweight, so know yourself and go forth with the notion that you’re trying to build your body UP, not break it DOWN.
Calisthenics Workout for Women
This is the best calisthenics workout you can do to both build muscle and strip away fat. Plus, this workout isn’t only for women; men can also get a lot out of these exercises and methods.
Here’s the workout:
- Push-ups: 3 sets x 6-10 reps
- Pull-ups: 3 sets x 6-10 reps
- Pike push-ups: 2 sets x 6-10 reps
- Bodyweight squats: 3 sets x 6-10 reps
- Dips: 2 sets x 10-12 reps (slow negatives)
- Australian rows: 2 sets x 10-12 reps (slow negatives)
- Sprints: 3 sets x 40-50 yards
- Hanging knee raises: 2 sets x max reps
This workout seems basic as hell, but hear us out: It’s ALL about the progression of the movements, as well as feeling the tension in the muscle groups.
The first one, progressive overload, is how you get stronger with calisthenics (and with great strength comes great muscle definition).
What you do is you pick a variation of the movement, like a push-up or a decline push-up, and you perform three sets within the rep range.
Once you can do all three sets at 10 reps, you can move up to a more difficult variation of the push-up, like a deeper decline or assisted one-arm push-ups.
You can continue to do this for the push-up, the pull-up, the pike push-up (which turns into a handstand), and the squat.
As for the dips and Australian rows, this is where time under tension comes into play.
For these sets, you don’t progress as fast with the variations (like adding weight or increasing/decreasing the angle of the exercise) but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel super sore after.
Taking the Australian row as an example, you start by hanging below the bar, hands shoulder-width apart and holding the bar. Raise your body — which is straight as an arrow — to the bar, then slowly, slowly lower it back down to the bottom.
This should take at least four seconds. Lastly, before bottoming out (i.e., coming to a complete hang), switch directions and come back up.
This 4-0-1-0 approach (where you spend four seconds in the eccentric, zero at the bottom, one second in the concentric, zero at the top) will dramatically boost the time under tension, meaning your muscles get more bang for each and every rep.
Time under tension tackles another way you can increase muscle (which, one more time, will also burn body fat).
Do this workout as often as possible throughout the week, making it a habit and gradually getting better and progressing at the movements.
In as little as four weeks, you should feel and see changes in your body composition (with a proper nutrition plan, of course).
You are totally equipped for calisthenics, whether you’re male, female, or otherwise. Not only that, calisthenic movements are pivotal to developing a rock-solid, athletic aesthetic.
They can help you build muscle and burn fat (hell, even at the same time!), as well as turn you into a natural, flexible badass.
Be in complete control of your body. All women — and men, for that matter — should respect their bodies for themselves, and calisthenic workouts are an excellent way to manifest that respect.
Take a look at the workout we provided again, find out how to set up your own calisthenics jungle gym, and start playing with the movements.
In no time at all, your body composition will transform…and your thoughts on working out in general might change dramatically as well.
Training will become play; then, you’ll be an unstoppable warrior!