Calisthenics is an excellent workout for many people, and those who follow a regular routine will likely see improvements in muscle strength, flexibility, posture, and joint health. Still, despite these benefits, it’s not necessarily the right choice for everyone.
Calisthenics requires a lot of hard work and dedication to see results. It’s not a quick fix, and you won’t see results overnight — it takes time, patience, and consistency to achieve the physique you want. It’s also not always suitable for those with certain injuries or mobility issues.
So, to help you decide if calisthenics is something you should pursue or not, we’re going to play devil’s advocate and take you through seven reasons why calisthenics might not be right for you.
What is Calisthenics?
If you don’t know exactly what calisthenics involves, then here’s the information before we get started on why it might not be the best form of exercise for you;
Calisthenics is a type of strength training that mainly relies on body weight as resistance — although physical weights can sometimes be used for certain exercises.
A routine usually consists of various exercises, moves, and stretches that each focus on different muscle groups. Some of the movements used in calisthenics can be difficult to master, such as handstands and complex high-bar exercises, but others are much easier, such as push-ups and lunges.
How easy or challenging you make a workout depends on the individual’s strength and ability.
Because of this, calisthenics is suitable for someone new to exercise or those who are bored with their current routine and want more of a challenge you get from some of the more complex moves and exercises.
1. You’re Looking for a Cardio Workout
Calisthenics is not a cardio workout, it’s a form of strength training that uses various moves, exercises, and stretches that when used together strengthens all major muscle groups.
This means you’re not working your heart and lungs as much as you would if you were doing a traditional cardio workout like running or biking. For some people, this isn’t a big deal.
But for others, it can be a significant drawback. So, if you’re looking for a workout that will get your heart rate up and help you burn calories, calisthenics is probably not the best option.
The lack of cardio is not so much of a problem if you have the time to add in additional cardio work between calisthenics workouts. But if you don’t have much time in the week to designate to exercise and want a mix of strength work and cardio, you might prefer to choose a workout that combines the two.
An excellent example of this is Freeletics, a program similar to calisthenics in that the exercises use body weight as resistance, but with the added benefit of a High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) element, which has an increased amount of cardio benefits.
2. You Want to Exercise with Weights
Calisthenics isn’t a weight training exercise. It’s a form of body weight training that uses body weight as resistance rather than physical weights.
This ethos helps to keep workouts simple and originates from the street or freestyle element of calisthenics, which uses basic, fixed equipment in outdoor gyms such as pull-ups or parallel bars.
The majority of the equipment used in calisthenics helps to improve the range of movements you can do, but in some cases, weights are used to enhance the effects of the exercise. The use of weights in calisthenics is optional, depending on the results you’re looking for.
This means that calisthenics isn’t going to build muscle mass as much as weightlifting or other forms of strength training. Although it’s still excellent for building strength and muscle tone, it really depends on how far you want to go. If you’re looking to bulk up in a big way, calisthenics might not be the right type of exercise for you.
3. Learning Moves Isn’t Your Thing
Although some of the more basic exercises used in calisthenics might seem pretty familiar (such as push-ups, pull-ups, and squats), many variations are used to get more benefit and movement from a particular activity.
Each exercise (no matter how simple) can carry a risk of injury if not done correctly, so it’s essential to learn each move properly before incorporating it into an entire routine.
Learning a move isn’t just about how you do the movement itself—it’s ensuring you’re in the correct position so you don’t twist or turn in a way that could cause injury.
Maintaining the correct stance and posture also helps ensure you get the most out of each exercise by working hard and targeting the right muscle groups for maximum effect.
As you develop strength and mobility, you’ll be able to make some of the more complex moves and exercises performed in calisthenics. This will help increase strength and your range of movement, making working out more interesting and enjoyable.
Many people start calisthenics because they like the idea of getting into freestyle or street calisthenics. This kind of workout involves plenty of learning and understanding to get to a level where you can do a complete freestyle routine that flows from one move to the other.
Complex moves can’t be learned all at once and often have to be broken down into smaller moves so they can be brought together as one once you’re ready.
If you don’t like learning exercises and movements step-by-step, calisthenics might not be the workout for you. To get around this, you might consider adapting your routine to incorporate some of the more basic moves — however, you might not get the best out of the workout.
4. You Have an Existing Injury or Health Condition
If you have an existing injury or health condition, calisthenics might not be suitable for you, or you might need to adapt your routine to exclude certain moves.
You may not be able to perform a calisthenics workout if you have any of the following conditions, or you might need to adjust the kinds of activities that you use in your training:
- Joint problems
- Back pain
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- You’re prone to injury from exercise
- Previous injury from exercise
The beauty of calisthenics is you can pick and choose the exercises and movements you incorporate into your workout. So, where there might be certain moves you can’t do, there will be plenty more that you can do safely.
It’s always best to consult a doctor or medical professional before starting any new fitness regime. So if in doubt or if you have any of the conditions above, check first to ensure calisthenics is suitable for you.
Calisthenics During Pregnancy
If you’re pregnant and looking for an exercise routine that you can complete during each trimester, calisthenics as a whole might not be the best form of exercise for you.
Although some calisthenic moves and stretches are safe during pregnancy (such as squats and kneeling push-ups), most of the more complex movements are unsuitable.
This means you’ll be pretty limited in the exercises you can actually incorporate into a workout, so it’s a good idea to look for an activity that’s specifically designed for pregnancy.
5. You Want a Quick Fix
People start exercise routines with various end goals in mind, which can be anything from losing a bit of weight to getting physically stronger or pumped up.
Calisthenics might not be for you if you’re looking for a quick fix to achieve a specific goal. It’s a great way to get in shape and improve your overall fitness, but it takes time and commitment to see results.
The truth is, there’s no workout out there that’s going to give you a quick fix, and just doing some exercise might not be enough to achieve your goals. You might need to consider your lifestyle as a whole and make other changes, such as what you eat or how much time you put aside for exercising.
Below are some common goals with information on how these can be achieved by doing calisthenics workouts regularly for the long term:
- Weight loss – the amount of weight you can lose doing calisthenics will depend on the intensity of your workout and your diet. Although many people see great results, not everyone will achieve weight loss with a calisthenics workout alone, especially if they don’t put the work in.
- Improved strength – when performed regularly, calisthenics will improve strength over time. The level of strength you can achieve will depend on your goals, but body weight alone as resistance can still help achieve some fantastic results.
- Improved flexibility – a significant benefit of calisthenics is the improvements in flexibility. This isn’t important for everyone, but in calisthenics, being more flexible increases the range of moves and stretches you can perform.
- Stronger joints – increasing muscle strength helps with joint health and, in time, leads to stronger joints that are less prone to injury.
- Improved posture – by increasing strength in muscles throughout the body, you can gradually see posture improvements, which also helps with stability.
6. You Want to Be Able to Make Complex Moves from Day One
You can’t look at a YouTube or TikTok feed without seeing someone doing a human flag or a 360º spin on the high bar, so it’s only natural that some people want to try this themselves.
The truth is that getting to this level in calisthenics takes a lot of time and practice, as well as having the strength and mobility to perform the move in the first place.
Calisthenics is all about building on strength which, in time, enables you to make more complex moves — but as the saying goes, you can’t run before you can walk.
Using the example of moves you perform on the pull-up (or high) bar, such as pull-ups, chin-ups, or pull-overs: if you’ve never done any bar work before or are new to exercise, you might not be able to support your body weight through your arms and hands.
So before you can move on to any kind of bar exercise, you’ll need to build upper body strength in the shoulders and arms to enable you to start hanging from the bar.
In the meantime, there will be plenty of other calisthenics exercises that you can continue to work on as you build up the strength, mobility, and knowledge required to move on to the more complex moves. To get to this point, time and patience are key.
7. Mobility Exercises aren’t for You
If you’re looking to take on some of the more challenging aspects of calisthenics, then a wide range of mobility and flexibility is essential to expand your range of movement.
Improved mobility can be achieved by adding mobility exercises into your weekly routine.
Most mobility moves incorporate various stretches to work all major muscle groups, and it’s not uncommon for yoga moves to be used in calisthenics routines.
Those who perform mobility moves tend to separate them from their usual calisthenics workout, or they do them after a workout as a cool-down routine.
Below are some examples of mobility exercises that can help to improve mobility, flexibility, and posture:
- Shoulder extensions (various kinds)
- Pelvic tilts
- Touching toes (seated or standing)
- Bar hangs (with or without shoulder activation)
- Downward or upward dog
- Cat cow
- Deep squats (with or without reaches)
- Jefferson Curl (with or without weight)
- Pigeon stretch
- Back bridge
If mobility and stretching exercises aren’t for you, you might not be able to reach the full potential of calisthenics if your goal is to perform more complex moves.
If you’re not interested in maximizing mobility, you can still do a calisthenics workout, but your range of movement may not be as good as it would be if you incorporated mobility work.
Some of the statements in this article might sound like we’re trying to put you off calisthenics or that we don’t rate it as a workout — but this isn’t the case.
We believe that calisthenics is an excellent form of exercise for many reasons, but as with any workout, it’s important to know all the possible downsides to decide whether or not it’s a good fit for you, your abilities, and your goals.
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