When looking to improve your athleticism, body composition, and overall fitness level, calisthenics can give you the tools needed for the body you want to create. Unfortunately, the calisthenics movement has been promoted as mostly flashy trick moves that requires low body weight and years of skill mastery. Luckily, getting the benefits of calisthenics does not require that level of practice and skill requirement. In this article I will be explaining the Do's and Dont's of getting into calisthenics.
Don't #1 Don't Switch Everything
A huge mistake many people make is replacing all of their exercises with weights with calisthenic movements. This is great in theory, but when you realize the skill needed to master movements, going from a 225 pounds with pressing movements to doing push up variations with a bodyweight of 150 pounds is not a great progression. You may be able to do more repetitions, but say good-bye to the muscle mass and strength you gained from your weight training until you progress to weighted push ups and dips.
Do This Instead - Slowly Transition
Instead of jumping right into all calisthenics, slowly adjust your program into a calisthenics based one. Take a training cycle (8-12 weeks) or even multiple training cycles to slowly change exercises in order to keep progressing (but also changing the movements). According to the research, performing push ups with the same intensity level as bench pressing provides a similar hypertrophy and strength response. By progressing one movement at a time (while transitioning), you can bring each movement up to the same intensity as your previous weight training movements, leading to more progress in your endeavors. You will get better results improving your push-ups (as an accessory movement) until you can perform weighted push-ups before setting aside the bench pressing (versus substituting heavy bench pressing for body weight push-ups).
Don't #2 Don't Just Add Reps
One popular method of progressing as you get into calisthenics is just merely adding repetitions. Unfortunately, this gets you only so far. The more repetitions you perform, the harder it is to progressively overload (learn more about progressive overload here). Even though strength training and "bodybuilding rep ranges" provide similar results when volume (work load) is equated, it all comes down to where you will progress next. It is much easier to add 10 pounds to the weight you use for your set of 5 repetitions than it is to even add 5 pounds to your set of 20+ repetitions.
Do This Instead - Add Resistance
Instead of relying on just repetitions for a form of progression, look to better alternatives when repetitions exceed desired repetition range or start to provide diminishing return. Instead of just adding repetitions, start focusing on adding more resistance to your exercises. This could come in the form of a dip-weight belt, resistance band, or just a plain backpack where you can place items inside. This is not to say adding repetitions are not beneficial, but rather stating after a certain extent just adding more repetitions will only get you so far.
Don't #3 Don't Neglect Lower Body
By far the biggest concern I have for many calisthenics routines are the ratio of lower body to upper body work. It is true, there are more "entertaining" and difficult exercises for upper body when it comes to calisthenics, but there is no reason to do one lower body day a week and hit 3-4 upper body work outs in order to hit every push-ups and pull-up variation. Calisthenics is more than those flashy exercises you see on the popular motivational YouTube videos.
Do This Instead - Focus On Proportion
In order to balance your physique, even take your body's performance to its next level, improving your lower body training could be exactly what you need. Between doing explosive movements such as sprint and jumps, leg training can become intense and give you a better physique as a whole (think fat loss, abdominal development, and whole package aesthetics).
When getting into calisthenics, there could be a few mistakes made costing you precious time you could be progressing. Luckily, I made these mistake so you don't have to. When you first switch from weight training (or any other resistance training) to calisthenics, realize that you must transition slowly in order to maximize the amount of progress you make while transitioning to a new exercise style. As you progress, keep in mind that just adding more repetitions is not always the answer. Instead, focus on adding resistance to your exercises through adding either weights or resistance bands (even switching to harder exercises such as performing dips instead of push-ups). You may build a decent physique, but nothing is ever a full package if you skip out on half of your body. Keep your lower body up to par by performing intense lower body work outs with dynamic work like sprints and jumps. Getting into calisthenics may seem like an easy switch, but in order to make a smooth transition and make optimal progress, sometimes easy and optimal are not the same.