Calisthenics. An Introduction.

Tiger Athletic is led by a primary mission to teach and develop physical literacy. Calisthenics, is a smart, scientific approach to weight loss, strength gain and living a more active, fulfilling life. Through this series of resources, you can get in touch with your unique physique in the privacy of your home or when travelling you can exercise in the privacy of your accommodation without the aid of equipment, a trainer or expensive supplements and begin to understand that you too can get healthy using just your body, the physical environment and a little imagination.

The word calisthenics comes from the ancient Greek words kálos (κάλλος), which means “beauty”, and sthénos (σθένος), meaning “strength”. It is the art of using one’s body weight and qualities of inertia to develop one’s physique. A longstanding urban legend has claimed that the exercise was named after one of its earliest promotors, the Greek historian Callisthenes.

Calisthenics are exercises consisting of a variety of gross motor movements; often rhythmical and generally without equipment or apparatus (body-weight training), intended to increase physical strength, physical fitness, and flexibility, through movements such as pulling or pushing oneself up, bending, jumping, or swinging, using only one’s body weight for resistance; usually conducted in concert with stretches. When performed dynamically and with variation, calisthenics provide muscular and aerobic conditioning, in addition to improving psychomotor skills such as balance, agility and coordination.

Sports teams and military units often perform leader-directed group calisthenics as a form of synchronized physical training (often including a customized “call and response” routine) to increase group cohesion and discipline. Calisthenics are also popular as a component of physical education in junior and senior schools the world over.

Body weight exercises are strength training exercises that do not require any apparatus; the individual’s own weight provides the resistance for the movement. Movements such as the push-up, the pull-up, and the sit-up are some of the most common body weight exercises.


Body weight exercises are the ideal for individuals interested in fitness but do not have access to or interest in using equipment. While some exercises may require some type of equipment, most of body weight exercises require none. For those exercises that do require equipment, common items found in the household are usually sufficient (such as a bath towel for towel curls), or substitutes can usually be improvised (for example, using a horizontal tree branch to perform pull ups). Body weight exercises benefit all age groups.

Most body weight exercises can be progressed or regressed, this progression/regression strategy allows people of all levels of fitness to participate. Some basic methods to increase or decrease the difficulty of a body weight exercise, without adding extra weight, are: changing the amount of leverage in an exercise (such as elevating the feet for a standard push-up, or performing the push-up with knees on the ground), performing the exercise on an unstable platform (such as performing push-ups on a basketball), modifying the range of motion in an exercise (such as squatting to a 45 degree angle rather than a 90 degree angle), incorporating unilateral movements as opposed to bilateral movements (such as performing a one-armed push-up), and adding isometric pauses during the exercise (such as holding for a few seconds at the bottom of a push-up). Gymnasts make extensive use of isometrics by doing much of their training with straight arms (such as iron crosses, levers, and planches). When compared to weight lifting, body weight exercises often require much more flexibility and balance.

Body weight exercises have a far lower risk of injury compared to using free weights and machines due to the absence of an external load that places strain on the muscles and joints. The lower risk of injury is only provided that the athlete/trainee is progressing through the correct progressions and not immediately skipping to strenuous movements that can place undue and possibly harmful stress on ligaments, tendons, and other tissues. Although falling on the head, chest, buttocks, and falling backwards can occur, these are far less harmful injuries than dropping a weight on a body part or having a joint extended beyond its natural range of motion due to a weight being used incorrectly.

Body weight exercises also give the advantage of having minimal bulking and cutting requirements that are normally utilised in free weight and machines training. This is due to bulking bringing extra fat that decreases the performance of body weight exercises, thus body weight exercises not only remove the need for a bulking or cutting phase, but it can help a person retain a low body fat percentage all year round.

Body weight exercises also work several muscle groups at once, due to the lack of isolation and the need of a large majority of muscles to perform a movement properly. For example, in a push up, the body must form a rigid straight line, and the elbow joint must move from a straight angle to the smallest angle possible, and thus the core muscles, chest muscles, triceps, and legs are all involved in ensuring proper, strict form.


Body weight exercises use the individual’s own weight to provide the resistance for the movement, hence the weight being lifted is never greater than the weight of one’s own body. This can make it difficult to achieve a level of intensity that is near the individual’s one rep maximum, which is desirable for strength training.

Body weight exercises can be increased in intensity by including additional weights (such as wearing a weighted vest or holding a barbell, Kettle Bell, sand bell or plate during a sit up), but this deviates from the general premise that body weight exercises rely solely on the weight of the individual to provide resistance. However, difficulty can be added by changing the leverage, which places more emphasis on specific limbs and muscles, e.g. a one-legged squat works a leg far stronger than a two-legged squat, which not only requires strength but progressing to a one-legged squat builds strength along the way. The same can be seen with one arm pushups, pull ups, and many other exercises. Difficulty can also be added by increasing volume, adding explosiveness to the movements, or slowing down the movement to increase time under tension.

Classes of Exercises

Body weight exercises are generally grouped into four rough classes:

  • Push, which requires the individual to use pushing movements to direct the body against gravity;
  • Pull, which requires the practitioner to use pulling to direct the body;
  • Core, which involves contracting movements of the abdominal and back muscles; and
  • Legs/Glutes, which involve movements of the legs and glutes to direct the individual’s body against gravity.

Tiger Athletic personal trainers are health and fitness professionals who use an individualised approach to assess, motivate, educate and train you. Our rigorous pre-participation health appraisal screening process ensures that we design and deliver comprehensive exercise programs that safely and effectively meet your goals.

Start your own Tiger Athletic fitness program by booking your initial interview. This is a scheduled appointment intended as a mutual sharing of information with the expected outcomes of assessing client – trainer compatability, discussing goals and developing a a client – trainer agreement.

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