Calisthenics sound like something you might come across in a documentary about exercise in the 1960s. Don’t let the old-school nature of the word fool you. Calisthenics — that is, workouts that rely on only your own body weight — are very much alive and well. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons lists calisthenics as an at-home fitness option.

In fact, calisthenics can help out-of-shape people get stronger. Calisthenics can also help athletes improve performance. Experts at UPMC Sports Medicine use calisthenics on a daily basis to help people prevent and recover from injuries.

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Which Exercises Are Examples of Calisthenics?

You can do calisthenics as easily in a shady spot in the grass as you can on a mat in the gym. It’s just you and the shapes you make with your body to challenge it, with or without a prop.

Activities that we can consider calisthenics include:

  • Yoga.
  • Pilates.
  • Many cross-training exercises.
  • Barre classes.
  • Exercises you may do in physical therapy.
  • Mat-based strength and conditioning classes you might take via your favorite exercise app.
  • Parkour (an activity where people use their environment in an acrobatic way, often jumping from point to point).

There are also athletes who practice urban calisthenics. Like parkour, these athletes use their environment. You’ll find them doing handstands and holding extreme strength poses.

What Can Calisthenics Do for Your Body?

A 2020 study out of Japan found that regular calisthenics can help people preserve skeletal muscle mass. The study looked at people with type 2 diabetes. People with diabetes are at a higher risk of losing skeletal muscle mass, which can cause mobility issues later.

The Japanese study had the participants do radio calisthenics (which are popular in Japan). These are simple exercises that people can perform regardless of age. These exercises encouraged people to move their muscles and joints, following the rhythm of the radio. The group that did calisthenics lost almost 50% less skeletal muscle mass as the group that didn’t.

Anything you can do on solid ground, you can do in the pool. A 2020 study found that aquatic calisthenics can help improve fitness and reduce body fat. Calisthenics can challenge your strength and focus. They can also mimic moves that you do in everyday life and will need to be able to do over your lifespan. For example, squats are a form of calisthenics. This exercise also helps you maintain your ability to squat down safely in a chair and stand up again.

How to Start Calisthenics

A 2021 McMaster University study put together an 11-minute calisthenics program full of basic exercises most people can do. Watch the lead author and kinesiology professor explain the study and show examples of the types of calisthenics:

  • Burpees
  • High knees
  • Squat jumps
  • Split squat jumps

Starting calisthenics can be as simple as devising a short routine of these basic bodyweight exercises. Add in pushups, some yoga moves, or any movement that uses your body weight and presents a challenge.

If you’re looking to up your calisthenics game to reduce the risk of injury or improve sports performance, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. Our athletic trainers, physical therapists from UPMC Rehabilitation Institute, and sports performance experts work with athletes and exercisers of all abilities.

To learn more or schedule an appointment, call 1-855-937-7678 or visit our website.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.