How calisthenics became the new ‘it’ workout

Calisthenics has got its cool back. Here’s why social media’s new ‘it’ workout is a top choice for improving strength, flexibility and endurance.

There’s been a lot of hype around calisthenics, with social media feeds flooded with gravity-defying feats performed by superfit influencers.

But this “street workout”, which is captivating audiences with its striking moves and equally impressive results, is not just for fitness athletes and gymnasts.

Here is why experts say calisthenics is a great way for anyone to improve their strength and fitness.

What is calisthenics?

Melbourne Calisthenics founder Alex Jenkins says calisthenics, which traces its roots back to Ancient Greece, is a form of exercise that uses body weight and gravity to build strength, flexibility and endurance.

Alex says he became interested in calisthenics after doing weightlifting for a number of years.

“I saw these heavily muscled guys doing moves I’d never seen before; I wondered how they were doing it and thought it was amazing,” he says.

Online personal trainer Daniele Mendoza took up calisthenics after being inspired by social media.

“Seeing badass women doing cool things on Instagram like air-walking pull-ups and handstands made me want to try it,” Daniele says.

She says social media has played a big role in the growing popularity of calisthenics.

“Social media has shown people what’s possible beyond the traditional forms of exercise we associate with the gym.”

What are the benefits of calisthenics?

No fancy equipment required

Calisthenics offers a refreshing return to basics, requiring minimal equipment.

You can even give it a try at home.

“Once you start seeing things with fresh eyes, you realise everything is a potential piece of gym equipment, from your couch to your stairs,” Alex says.

Physical benefits

Calisthenics brings many physical benefits including improved strength, flexibility and endurance, Daniele says.

“You can’t fake strength, you have to earn it and knowing that I’ve earned my strength has given me a self-confidence that a younger me never had,” Daniele says.

“As you progress through the different calisthenics skills, you also become so much more coordinated and in tune with your physical body.”

An Italian study found calisthenics can improve strength, posture and body composition in eight weeks.

A 2022 study found there are also cardiovascular benefits.

In the study, participants who performed calisthenics at a vigorous pace showed cardiometabolic benefits similar to interval running, sprinting and walking on a treadmill.

Alex says one of the biggest drawcards for him was that calisthenics is functional training.

“I’ve been a heavy weightlifter at 110kg, I’m now around 35kg less but I’m much more functional,” Alex says.

“It (calisthenics) prepares you for anything, from carrying heavy shopping to moving bulky luggage, in a much greater way than lifting weights ever could.”

Social connection

“Calisthenics encourages group training, with people out in parks training together,” Alex says.

“There’s definitely a level of camaraderie.”

Who can do calisthenics?

Daniele says anyone can get involved.

But, she says, it is important to be aware of your strengths and limitations when starting out and to consider getting assessed by a coach or trainer who can set up a suitable program.

Alex, who has trained people from their teens through to their seventies, says it is important to note most of the impressive moves you see on social media are actually very difficult.

“Don’t copy the professionals and don’t start expecting to be at that level,” he cautions.

“You simply start where you are (at) — it’s all about having a go.”

5 simple calisthenics moves suitable for beginners

  • Lunges
  • Planks
  • Pull-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Squats

More ways to build strength and fitness:

Written by Bianca Carmona.