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Table of contents
1. Realistic assessment of your starting point
2. Measurements, body photos, calories tracking app and sheet / notebook
3. Set your body and training goals
4. Determining the caloric demand and the basic principles of nutrition.
5. Workout program
- Quantity of workouts
- Movement proportions
- Number of series, repetitions, and rest time
- Selection of exercises
- Calisthenics exercises
a) Chest
b) Back training
c) Shoulder training
d) Core training
e) Leg training
- Progressive workout overload
- How long you should perform the given program
6. Observation and Changes
Realistic assessment of your starting point
At the very beginning of our journey, the most important thing is
to define our starting point. In the context of the body
transformation, it simply means where we are now. This is crucial
because it determines our next steps. Regardless of the
appearance of the physique, each person has a different level of
It can be really difficult for beginners to actually assess their
strength level and physique. Therefore, let's try to look at
ourselves as objectively as possible - is it really as bad as it
seems to me? Do 10 repetitions of pull-ups are technically
correct or will I only perform 5 in the full range of motion? At
this point, it is very important to be honest with yourself. Very
often as a trainer, I meet with a situation where people who
already had some experience with strength workouts
overestimate their current physical form. They compensate the
strength regression with cheated repetitions without the correct
technique. It usually ends up with injuries or lack of progress in
the short term. Let's not be afraid to take a few steps back. This
will allow us to build a solid strength base and enjoy constant
strength progress. A realistic assessment of your starting point in
terms of your body fat levels will also give you a clear idea of
​how to adjust your nutrition. People who start severely obese
should set goals completely different than those who struggle
with being underweight all their lives. It seems obvious at first
glance, but you can often find cases where men, in particular,
want to increase muscle mass by eating too many calories. In the
context of building the muscles themselves, this method will
work, but it can lead to recomposition at the same time, i.e.
burning fat and building muscle mass at the same time.
Measurements, body photos, calories tracking app and sheet / notebook
After the initial critical assessment of our figure, strength level
and definition of training goals, we should move on to the next
stage. The second step will be to write down our body
measurements on paper. We are talking about weight and
circumference of individual parts of the body. I would suggest
the circumference of the arm, leg, waist and shoulder. It may
seem like an unnecessary action, but take my word for it that it
will significantly affect your motivation in the following weeks,
months or years of working on your figure. A very good option is
also to take pictures of our figure in a neutral light. After a few
months, we will see how much has realistically changed.
Taking notes of your results will not only allow us to realistically
follow our progress and draw conclusions, but also build a habit
of consistency. I decided to make your task easier and I prepared
sheets for you, which I use when working with my online
students. Link: http://bit.ly/354VDvM
Another very useful tool in the context of maintaining a set diet
is the use of applications such as Myfitnesspal or Fitatu. They are
free, so I highly encourage you to use them.
We measure the circumference of the figure not more frequently
than after 4 weeks. This will give us a real perspective on the
changes that don't happen overnight. In the context of the
weight measurements themselves, here I would recommend
daily fasting measurements. From this let's take the average
weights for the week. I immediately want to point out here, that
some people make drastic decisions after two days of their
weight being lower or higher. The human body is a very complex
machine that doesn't work in a binary fashion. For this reason,
weight variation may, and in fact usually are, caused by changes
in water balance, and not by differences in the level of body fat.
Set your body and training goals
After realistic assessment of your physique, you should be able
to answer the basic question - what would I like to achieve?
While most of the cases are quite obvious - lean people usually
want to build muscle mass, and overweight people want to lose
weight. However, we must take into account that there is also a
group of people who have a problem with setting their goals.
People with a skinny-fat build, i.e. with low levels of muscle mass
and moderate levels of body fat, should start with a low caloric
deficit or maintain caloric zero. Too low deficit may slow down
strength progress. At this point, I would also like to refer you to
an e-book devoted to nutrition, where I describe some
mechanisms in more detailed way and what we should suggest
when choosing calories and macronutrient distribution in the
diet. Another goal to determine is workout fit. Maybe you
belong to a group of people who would like to improve their
figure, but also care about learning calisthenic elements. If you
dream about learning statics and dynamics, and you are just
starting your adventure, you should first of all prepare your body
for more advanced elements. You do this by building a solid
workout base and then gradually implementing regression
exercises to the elements.
Determining the caloric demand and the basic principles of nutrition.
The topic of nutrition is very extensive, despite the fact that I like
to talk about it, I would not want to overwhelm you with an
excess of unnecessary knowledge. If you are interested - in the
description you will find a link to my nutrition guide. However,
let's focus on the basics, which in 90% of cases will be enough to
achieve the goal. Every person who plans his diet should start
with estimating his caloric zero, i.e. the amount of caloric supply
when no change in body weight will occur. We should focus on
the basic calories estimation for maintaining our body weight in
the situation when there is lack of exercise (BMR). To do this, use
the following formula:
9.99 x W + 6,25 x H - 4,92 x A + 5 = BMR Mark is 21 years old, weighs 75 kg and is 180 cm tall.
9.99 x 75 + 6,25 x 180 + 4,92 x 21 + 5 = 1775 kcal
Having this value, you need to answer the question of how active
of a person you are during the day. It is about peri-training
activity, not strictly related to calisthenic / strength training. The
table below differentiates between three types of lifestyle:
1,2 - 1,5
Moderately active
1,5 - 2,0
Very active
2,0 - 2,3
After choosing the lifestyle that fits describes you, you select the
multiplier and perform the calculation. For example, we will once
again use Mark, who spends most of his time at the university.
Assuming that in addition to basic activities, the only physical
multiplier of 1.5. Let's do the calculations below:
1775 x 1,5 = 2663 kcal
We can round the following number to 2650 kcal, because at the
moment it is only an estimation. It corresponds to the calorific
value needed to maintain body weight at the same level, taking
into account physical activity.
If your goal is to gain weight, you should add 100-300 calories to
your result for a slight caloric surplus. Similarly, for the reduction,
we subtract the same amount from the base - caloric zero. Try to
discard unhealthy, highly processed, and low-value meals. Purely
health aspects, such as the richness of food in micronutrients
necessary for the proper functioning of the body, are obvious.
There are also features of meals as for example satiety. What
products we use to create our meals will determine how full we
significantly affect the feeling of fullness and will significantly
different so far - in this case, it is worth gradually reducing the
overnight usually gives the opposite effects. The distribution of
macronutrients depends on your individual dietary preferences.
Try to ensure a protein supply of about 2g per kilogram of body
weight, at least 1g of fat per kg of body weight, and devote the
rest of the calories to carbohydrates. The general outline might
look like this: 50% carbohydrate, 20% protein, 30% fat. Each 1
gram of protein and carbohydrates has 4 kcal, while fat has 9
kcal. If you do not know which products are rich in particular
application, and then check the composition.
Workout program
Workout programming is a very extensive knowledge about
which you can write tons and tons of articles and papers. Let's
focus however, as in the case of nutrition, on the most important
basics. I will try to point out the crucial elements for beginners,
programming that I use for more advanced trainees.
Quantity of workouts
The first point to be discussed will be the workout frequency, i.e.
how often should we really train during the week to get effects.
The number of workouts per week may depend on several
factors, including the workout system you decide on, your time
availability or simply the ability to carry out a given number of
workouts in the long term. If I were to recommend one universal
and proven system, I would recommend that you choose a
whole-body workout every other day. This will give us a proper
regeneration due to the 48-hour break between each workout
unit, faster technique learning through the repetition of a given
movement several times a week, as well as slightly better results
in the context of building muscle mass. I can also point out that
the best plan is the one that we are able to stick to for a long
time. If we set a very high training frequency, and in practice in
the second week you will be forced to skip training, the whole
plan is disturbed. Assuming that we train every other day, almost
everyone will be able to cope with it.
Movement proportions
A very common mistake among beginners is poorly selected
training volume for pushing and pull movements. This is an
important aspect of the workout program, because it determines
the proportional development of the body in every range.
Disturbances in the structural balance, i.e. the distribution of
forces between muscle groups, can negatively affect progress.
However, the key issue is the health consequences. Starting from
frequent injuries or overstrain, to posture defects. We should
always follow the ideal division of the series into squeezing
(PUSH) and attracting movements (PULL). Of course, you have to
distinguish the division into PUSH movements on the individual
parts of the body, something else is push-ups and handstand
push-ups. For the sake of less complication and complexity, the
idea is to compare PUSH to PULL movements that take place in
the same plane. It is for this reason that you should avoid the
pull-ups themselves, and develop the latissimus and trapezius
muscles of the back using Australian pull-ups, where the body is
in a plane parallel to the ground.
Number of series, repetitions, and rest time
The most common question from beginners starting their
training adventure concerns the number of series, repetitions
and rest time between sets. Due to the fact that in calisthenics
we rarely isolate specific muscle groups and work with multi-joint
exercises, it is easier to count the push / pull / legs and core
series for the sake of simplicity. I would suggest starting from 15
sets of pushing, pulling and legs movements on a weekly scale,
and a bit less on our core due to the fact that it already works in
most of the basic exercises. Of course, this is just a starting point
from which we will be changing the amounts as the weeks go by
and we learn about our body. Each person is completely
different and our bodies react differently. Certainly, the first
week of exercise will end with huge muscle soreness, so there is
no point in doing too much, because it simply won’t result in
greater progress. It should also be noted here that these
numbers refer to series that will really be demanding for us.
Many people approach workouts in such a way that, having 12
pull-ups with rubber band, they do not try to match the band or
add one or two more repetitions to actually force the body to
extreme work, but want to perform the set with as little effort as
possible. Not the way to go! Another important aspect is to vary
the number of repetitions in the training plan, so you will not
only rely on the 8-12 pattern. As beginners, we should focus
primarily on building strength and moving to slightly more
advanced exercises, so sometimes a better solution is to perform
literally 3 repetitions of pull-ups, which will be very demanding
for us than 12 pull-ups with rubber band support. Building
strength and muscle mass will be possible both in the low range
of repetitions and in the high range, provided that
high-threshold motor units are involved. As a beginner,
you shouldn't consider this too much. Be guided only by the
fact that the workout is demanding for you and if you are able to
progress from training to training, it will definitely bring you
results. The break time between sets depends on the intensity of
the exercise. Usually, it will be a minimum of 90 seconds to
about 3 minutes, and in extreme cases 5 minutes. Always pay
attention to how you feel before the next set. Once your heart
rate has calmed down, you can breathe freely, it is a sign that
you are ready for the next set. If, despite these tips, you still do
not know if this your breaks are matched to the physical effort,
start your training with 3-minute breaks and observe how your
body behaves.
Selection of exercises
As I have mentioned many times, each person has a completely
different level of strength and proportions of strength in given
movements. For this reason, it is impossible to define one
correct set of exercises in advance. Some of you will be able to
perform a few classic push-ups correctly, while others will not.
This makes a huge difference when it comes to matching specific
exercises to a given person. When starting your adventure with
calisthenics training, our goal should be to achieve the strength
to perform technically correctly each basic exercise such as
push-ups, dips, pull-ups. If you are starting from a level where
these movements are not achievable, we must use regressive
exercises instead. They will allow us to build strength, which over
time will lead us to the desired full versions of exercises. I will
use the example of getting to the push-up to better illustrate the
methodology of the process. If we are unable to perform
push-ups, our plan should include exercises such as push-ups on
the knees, push-ups on an elevated position (hands higher than
the feet) and negative repetitions of classic push-ups. The
training program should always be adapted to your strength
capabilities. Therefore, the selection of exercises will be strictly
related to your strength level. There is no point in spending time
tormenting ordinary push-ups that do not come out and we have
to curve our spine unnaturally to get up. Always approach this
training calmly, a solid base will pay off in the future with the lack
of injuries and mastering the correct technique. The selection of
calisthenics exercises is very large - therefore each of you will be
able to choose regressive and progressive exercises. Below I will
attach some very good regression and progressive exercises for
calisthenics along with a brief overview of the basics of the
technique. I would like you to remember that your goal should
be to consciously pursue exercises that are difficult for you. If
you are unable to perform one pull-up, do the strengthening
exercises. If you are able to pull up at least once - include it in
your training. Your goal is to systematically increase the
advancement of the workout- that is, the so-called progressive
overload and that is what we will focus on now.
Dips are one of the most recognizable calisthenics exercise. They
involve the chest, shoulders and triceps. Beginners are often
unable to complete a single correct repetition. If so, I
recommend doing push-ups or push-ups on knees to strengthen
the above-mentioned muscle groups. We can also introduce
series with only negative repetitions into our training or making
dips with rubber bands.
When making dips, remember to keep the arms close and
parallel along the axis of the body. A very common mistake is
the outwards "running" elbows, which leads to internal rotation
in the shoulder joint. This has a negative influence on our body
and may lead to an injury in the future. Another important
aspect is the range of motion. We should try to do dips with at
least 90o bend in the elbow joint.
There are many types of push-ups, from classic, wide, diamond
push-ups to push-ups at different angles. Each variation has its
own use, which I would like to briefly discuss in this chapter.
Classic pumps
Everyone knows them very well, they develop -like almost all
PUSH exercises - the chest, shoulders and triceps. Their main
advantage is that we can perform them anywhere without the
use of any equipment. If we have a problem with performing
them, let's move on to easier variation, such as push-ups on
knees or elevated push-ups, where the legs are lower than the
arms. Doing negative repetitions after the main series is also a
good alternative.
Push-ups on elevation
We can perform this type of push-up as simplification of the
classic ones, where our arms are higher than the legs. The
situation is the opposite when we use the variant with raised
legs. Then, this exercise becomes much more difficult than
classic push-ups. It should also be noted here that the
involvement of specific parts of the chest is changing. And so,
when our body is directly facing the ground, more work will be
done by the "top" of the chest compared to the classic variety.
Push-ups on knees
It is a great alternative for people who have problems with
performing a classic push-up. You can also use this variant as a
supplement if you are already able to perform several repetitions
of the classic push-up in a series. The only thing you need to pay
attention to is keeping your hip straight during the entire
Here the case is similar to the Dips. The most common mistake is
internal rotation in the shoulder when "going up". To prevent
this from happening, you should be careful not to change the
position of your elbows throughout the movement. Another
important aspect is also the position of our spine. The back
should keep the natural curvature of the spine. To do this, keep
your abdomen tense throughout the movement.
Back training
These are classic pull-ups, where our hands are in the over-grip
position. They develop the latissimus muscles, round muscles as
well as the biceps. Beginners often find it difficult to perform
even one repetition. If so, the best solution is to perform
repetitions with the help of a: rubber band, an accompanying
person or making negatives. Remember to switch between
different techniques of pull-ups.
First of all, we should avoid the incomplete range of motion.
Correct repetition is where we start the movement with fully
straightened arms at the elbows and end when our chin is over
the bar. We should also remember about the correct positioning
of the shoulder blades. I refer you to my video where I discuss
this issue in detail. In a general simplification, the shoulders
blades should be in retraction and depression before starting the
upward movement.
In contrast to the PULL UPS, our hands are in the under-grip
groups, however, here you can notice greater work of the lats
and biceps muscles compared to the previously discussed classic
variety. For most beginners CHIN UPS, tend to be much easier
than PULL UPS.
When it comes to the correct range of motion, it is the same as
with PULL UPS. The correct positioning of the shoulder blades is
sometimes more problematic than in the classic variety due to
the position of our hands. I recommend for beginners to focus
on the upper phase of the movement of the shoulder blades so
that they are not in the elevation. It is very easy to notice
because our neck kind of hides under our shoulders.
It is a variety of pull-ups, which can be easily compared to a very
popular exercise in the gym, which is barbell row. The same
method of progression in this exercise is to manipulate the tilt
angle of our body. The more vertical we are, the easier the
movement is.
When we achieve greater strength in pulling up, we can move to
more difficult varieties, which are undoubtedly the ARCHERY
PULL UPS. The best recommendation for making quick progress
in this exercise is simply to do it. If we perform PULL UPS
correctly, around 8-10 repetitions, we can start doing this
exercise. If it turns out to be too difficult, then we can only make
the transitions from one hand to the other in the "up" position.
Shoulder training
An exercise that plays a very important role in calisthenics in
developing the shoulders. We can change the difficulty level by
changing the angle of the body to the ground. Our goal is the
most vertical position. In this case, the mobility of our body may
be a big limitation, then I recommend placing your legs on a
platform. It is very important to keep the hands close to the
body to avoid internal rotation in the shoulder joint.
This exercise is for more advanced people. Of course, the ability
to stand on hands without any assist is not required, as we can
do this exercise next to a wall. It is important to maintain proper
body alignment, so excessive bending in the lumbar region is
not allowed. People who are more of a beginners after
performing PIKE PUSH UPS can use this exercise in their workout
plan, for example including only negative repetitions.
It is an exercise that requires us to have additional equipment,
such as TRX or rings. However, it affects the condition of our
shoulders very well, because it develops the so-called rotators.
In this exercise we progress as in the AUSTRALIAN PULL UPS, so
by manipulating the angle of the body. Remember that each
repetition should begin with retraction and depression of the
scapula. An important part of the technique is also holding the
wrists stiffly as an extension of the forearm and having a full
range of motion.
Core training
Abdominal muscle training is a very important aspect of
calisthenic workouts. A strong core is the basis for achieving
strength elements such as Back Lever, Front Lever, not to
mention Planche and etc. At this point it is also worth noting
that performing correctly the complex exercises that we have
talked about (push-ups, pull-ups,…) will also develop its strength
as the abdominal muscle should be tense and stabilized during
that motions
It is an exercise that should be mastered at least to the level
where we are able to hold it for 2 minutes. Here, we are of
course talking about the correct form, where there is no
hyperlordosis (excessive bending in the lumbar region). To make
this exercise more difficult, you can place your arms more
forward, where your elbow will be in front of your shoulders.
They can be performed on a dip station or a pull-up bar. We
start our progression with raising our bent legs. Then we can
move on to only one leg bent raises (where the other leg is
straight), and finally both straight legs. As for the range of
motion - the higher the better. Above 90 degrees, the
significantly, and the hip flexors decrease.
One of the most interesting calisthenic exercises for core
development. Progression should begin with repetitions with
both legs bent, then move on to one leg straightened and end
with both leg straightened. It is very important that you keep
your back straight throughout the entire range of motion. If you
lack strength, do the negatives! If you are interested in a more
detailed description, please visit the Caliathletics YouTube
Leg training
Building the legs using only calisthenics is often a very big
problem. At the beginning, we have to ask ourselves what we
really expect from leg training. Do we care about improving
motor coordination, or maybe muscle development? The matter
becomes more complicated when our goal is getting a great
physique as legs are a part of the body that, even for a beginner,
needs external load for a proper development.
In my opinion, squats performed without external load do not do
much. An additional problem is the fact that the vast majority of
people will not be able to do the correct repetition. Each person
should be approached individually. Motion analysis allows you to
choose the best technique that a given person can perform and
which will be the most optimal. We should also select a set of
auxiliary exercises in order to eliminate the weak links. Taking the
above arguments into account, I would recommend performing
squats only under the supervision of someone experienced.
Bulgarian squats
This is a much easier exercise for a beginner to do correctly. We
can also easily progress by adding very minimal extra weight.
Technical aspects that are worth paying attention to are:
preventing the knee from collapsing inwards in the leg that is in
the forward motion and the stabilized position of the body tight abdomen and back.
Pistol Squats
An exercise that requires a lot of coordination, mobility and
stability. Progression should begin with squats on one leg with
the assist of a wall for a better stabilization. If we strengthen our
legs enough to perform this type of squat freely, we can try to
release our arms to learn stability.
Progressive workout overload
Progressive workout overload is the most important factor, which
when correctly performed will allow us to progress, and when
performed wrong will cause stagnation and lack of effects.
Regardless of what your goal is, what training program you
decide to use, your number one task is to achieve progressive
overload. This means that over time we must deliver more and
more hypertrophic stimulation. We can achieve it in many ways,
including changing the pace in a given exercise, moving to a
more advanced progression of a given exercise, increasing the
number of repetitions compared to the previous week, or simply
improving the technique of a given exercise. For the sake of
simplicity, as a beginner, you should try to add the number of
repetitions from training to training while maintaining the same
correct technique. Here, we should be careful as often increasing
the number of repetitions becomes a priority over technique. If
you feel that the technique in a given exercise is not the best - a
much better solution will be to reduce the number of repetitions,
but do the exercise technically correct. If you are not able to add
additional repetitions, a good solution will be to extend the
negative phase of the movement in the last repetitions in the
series, so that finally in a given week you can be sure that you
have managed to progress at least slightly. Another form of
progress, quite obvious, although very neglected, is the constant
increase in difficulty when working out with resistance bands.
Our goal should be to achieve a certain number of repetitions,
for example 10 per set in pull-ups with a given resistance band.
After reaching a given threshold, we should change the band for
a lighter one and again aim for 10 repetitions. If it turns out to
be too difficult, the best option is to take a step back and
choose a band, where we were able to do at least 8 repetitions
and then make the repetitions more difficult by elongating the
pause at the very top and just prolonging the negative phase.
How hard should you train? For beginners, I would recommend
to have 2-3 repetitions in reserve and work on improving the
technique. Once you have mastered the correct technique, try to
slightly increase the degree of difficulty in each set and work at
about 90% of your capabilities, keeping 1-2 repetitions in
reserve. Of course, this is conditioned by many factors, but
remember that the last, usually the hardest repetitions are the
most stimulating - which does not mean that each set should be
performed until your muscles fail.
How long you should perform the given program
When designing a workout program, it is important not to
change your training routine every week. When setting up a
program, we should execute it for about 4 to 6 weeks. After this
period, it is worth including deload, i.e. a week with low training
volume, which we will devote to improving the technique or
even complete rest. Why is it important to follow the same
routine for 4 to 6 weeks? First of all, because we will always have
a reference point and we will be able to easily track our
progressive overload by looking at our results from a week ago.
Another advantage of sticking to a given plan that is worth
emphasizing is the adaptation of the organism. The body has to
get used to the given movement patterns and exercises in order
to develop and progress in them. It is a mistake to repeat the
stereotype that you need to change training stimulation
frequently to progress and build muscle. In strength workout,
the main work is done by the nervous system, which needs time
and repetition of activities to develop in a proper and constant
Observation and Changes
Creating a workout program and determining the caloric content
are the first and most important steps. However, they will not
always guarantee achieving the goal. If, despite following all the
steps I have presented you, you still do not see any changes, it
may mean several things. You could have made a mistake at the
stage of caloric adjustment, choosing too heavy or too little
intensive workout, which in practice made it impossible to
progressively overload. When should you make changes? First of
all, let's not introduce them too quickly - if you start with a lot of
excess body weight, and the weight stays the same for 3 weeks
and you do not see any changes in your figure in the mirror, you
are probably still eating too much or you were inconsistent in
achieving your goals. In this case, you should objectively look at
yourself whether you have implemented everything in one
hundred percent or whether there have been any deviations
from the training program or nutrition. However, when you are
convinced that you have met all the assumptions conscientiously,
you probably should adjust the calories level (lowering) or adjust
the non-training activity (increasing). When your goal is to build
muscle mass, here you should give yourself a little more time.
Some will see the results after a few weeks, while for others it
will be a slightly longer process. If you do not see any effects
after 2 months of consistent implementation of the workout
program and caloric surplus - it's time for a change. You should
probably apply workouts with increased training volume or
simply increase their frequency. These tips will only apply if you
have started your training from a safe level and you have not
tortured your body with too much training from the very
beginning. The issue of constantly increasing the difficulty of
training by increasing the number of repetitions, moving to more
advanced variations of a given exercise are things that I have
emphasized many times here, but as you already know, they are
key to the possibility of continuous progress. At later, more
advanced stage, it is possible to include the additional load in
your training. I will try to describe when and how it is best to do
it in the next guide.
I hope that this form of guide will be helpful for many of you in
achieving your goals. This collection of the most important
information should protect you from making basic mistakes. This
will bring the desired results in the long run. If you need an
individual approach and help with a real assessment of the
physique / strength level and adjustment of the training
program, nutrition with constant supervision, I invite you to 1 on
1 online coaching. By taking cooperation with me, you can count
on full commitment and constant contact via WhatsApp where
you can send me training videos for analysis and improvement of
the technique. If you are interested, please contact me at:
darekcaliathletics@gmail.com. I also invite you to visit my website caliathletics.com where you
will find online workout programs and the highest quality
training equipment.