If calisthenics is your exercise of choice, then you’ve probably heard of freestyle calisthenics (also known as a street workout or freestyle).
Freestyle calisthenics allows you to take your calisthenics workout to the next level by incorporating gymnastic style, fluid movements that flow from one move to another.
But it’s not for everyone and the moves take some getting used to because they can be pretty daunting at first, especially if you’re new to calisthenics.
This article will take you through everything you need to know about freestyle calisthenics, including how to get started, the equipment you’ll need, and the kind of moves that are performed in a routine.
We’ll also help you decide whether it’s the right kind of workout for you and how you can transition from regular calisthenics to freestyle.
What is Freestyle Calisthenics?
Freestyle calisthenics is similar to gymnastics and is used to take regular calisthenics to the next level by focusing on acrobatic and artistic movements.
This style of calisthenics has a street origin and is often performed in outdoor or urban gyms using pull-up bars of varying heights. It often has a social side, where like-minded freestylers train together and support each other with new moves and ideas.
Exercises and moves are performed fluidly so that each movement flows into the next without the stopping and starting that you can get in a regular calisthenics routine.
Freestyle calisthenics emphasizes creativity, expression, and style. There are no set rules or routines to follow; instead, freestyle calisthenics is all about creating improvised and ever-changing drills based on calisthenic principles.
This makes freestyle an excellent activity for those who enjoy being creative and want to make their regular calisthenics routine a little more exciting.
What’s the Difference Between Regular Calisthenics and Freestyle?
Regular calisthenics and freestyle moves both use body weight as a form of resistance, and when performed regularly, they can produce some fantastic results, including:
- Greater mobility
- Improved posture
- Greater flexibility
- Weight loss
- Improved muscle tone
- Stronger muscles
- Stronger and healthier joints
- A lower risk of injury
- Improved well-being
The aim of calisthenics is to use a series of static and dynamic movements to increase strength in all major muscle groups rather than just focusing on one specific area.
The main difference between freestyle and regular calisthenics is the fluidity and complexity of the moves. If done correctly, freestyle calisthenics moves should lead into the next in a fluid motion.
Freestyle movements tend to rely more on equipment than regular calisthenics, and much of the work is often performed on high or ‘pull-up’ bars.
Regular calisthenics is more suitable for beginners, whereas freestyle should only be tackled by those who are already used to some of the more complex calisthenics moves.
Although freestyle is not just for professionals, it’s often performed at a professional level, and there’s even a world cup for freestyle calisthenics wherein athletes can compete.
Freestyle Calisthenics Moves
The variety of moves performed in a freestyle calisthenics routine are optional, hence the term freestyle, but some exercises work better than others and some work well together.
With practice, you can choose a mix of moves that work for you and naturally work together. The point of freestyle is to experiment and not plan too much; so try what comes naturally and feels most comfortable.
The list below shows just some of the most common freestyle calisthenics moves that can be performed on various types of bars:
- Pull-ups is one of the most common calisthenics moves which work the arms and shoulders using bodyweight. The move is made by hanging from a pull-up bar by the hands (palms facing away) and simply lifting the body upwards.
- Chin-ups are similar to the pull-up, except the palms face towards you to work slightly different muscles, especially the biceps.
- Dips are often performed on parallel bars, and works the arms (especially the triceps) and shoulders. Dips are done by holding the bars with straight arms and bent legs and then slowly bending the arms to dip.
- Muscle ups can be a difficult move to master and are done by holding the bar with the arms straight above the bar (hips in line with the bar) rather than below as they would be in a pull-up position.
- L-sit works many muscle groups, including those found in the core, arms, legs, and shoulders. Although the L-sit is traditionally done on the ground, in freestyle, it’s often performed on a pull-up bar by holding the legs out straight while being suspended by the arms.
- Leg raises/knee raises is similar to the L-sit and can also be performed with bent knees. Raises of various types are often incorporated into freestyle workouts.
These moves are good for transitioning from calisthenics to freestyling if you can already perform them on the bar.
More complex freestyle calisthenics moves that can be incorporated into the bar work include:
- Pull-Over is a complex move where the arms are suspended from a bar, and the whole body is pulled up and over the bar in a fluid motion.
- Calisthenics swings (180º & 360º) can be incorporated into a freestyle routine, which involves letting go of the bar to perform a half or complete turn before grabbing hold of it again.
- Jumping onto the bar is a tricky and risky move where the freestyler jumps up and stands on top of the bar for a brief moment before moving into the following action.
- Handstands are a popular move in freestyle that can be performed on the bars with practice.
- Human Flag is a famous TikTok move where the body is suspended horizontally while holding on to a vertical bar by the hands.
These moves will require strength building and practice before they can be attempted. Whether you should try exercises like this really depends on your goals and how far you want to take your freestyle abilities.
How to Freestyle Calisthenics Moves
So you’ve got an idea of the kind of moves you can use for freestyle, but how do you bring them together to create a fluid routine?
The answer is: it’s up to you how you want to freestyle. Start with simple moves that naturally work together, and use your creativity to make them flow. There’s no right or wrong; only through experimentation can you find a way of moving that you enjoy.
There are, however, some key points to bear in mind, and below are some top tips that can help you bring the moves together to get the best from your freestyle moves:
- If you’re new to freestyle calisthenics, break each move down, and don’t try to get used to everything at once.
- Think about hand positioning, so you can cleanly move from one action to another, ensuring your hands are in the correct position. Freestylers use hand swaps and turns to ensure their hands are where they need to be.
- Maintain form and the correct stance for each move throughout the routine. Holding a correct posture helps to get the most out of each exercise and can reduce the risk of injury.
- Do more than one rep for each move to work the muscles in the area you’re focusing on in that particular exercise and increase the time that you’re on the bar.
- Stay on the bar as long as possible. This can be increased in time as you get stronger and adapt to the fluidity of the workout.
- Don’t overthink the routine. The whole point of freestyling is to do what comes naturally.
- Watch and learn from other freestylers. This is the best way to learn; whether in the gym or online tutorials, this will give you the inspiration you need for your own freestyle moves.
Equipment You Need for Freestyle Calisthenics
The main equipment that is required for freestyle calisthenics is a pull-up bar (or high bar).
Pull-up bars can be set to varying heights, but the one used most in freestyle is the high bar. Some freestylers also like to use parallel bars, monkey bars (horizontal and vertical), and vertical bars for those who can master the human flag.
Another piece of equipment that can be used for freestyle are gymnastic rings; these require quite a bit of practice to master, but add more variety to a freestyle routine.
Gyms geared up for freestyle calisthenics generally have a mix of bars at varying heights so that you can perform a wide range of moves.
As well as the equipment, you might also need to think about protecting your hands. Freestylers often use chalk or liquid chalk on their hands during workouts, or they wear workout grips for better movement and hand protection.
Where Can You Do Freestyle Calisthenics?
Freestyle calisthenics requires equipment and quite a bit of space, so it’s not something that can usually be done in the home unless you have room for the setup and are committed long-term.
Some freestylers often set up outdoor gyms in their backyards so they can have the space they need to train without going to the gym.
Most standard gyms have pull-up bars, but they might not have the proper setup and space for freestyle calisthenics. The best option is an outdoor gym with all the necessary equipment or a designated calisthenics gym typically found in cities with more demand for the sport.
Who Can Do Freestyle Calisthenics?
Freestyle calisthenics is an advanced form of exercise that requires strength and agility.
To perform advanced freestyle calisthenics moves, it makes sense to be proficient in calisthenics to begin with. You will also need the strength to lift your own body weight so you can perform bar work.
Completing a wide range of calisthenics moves over time will help you get strong enough to start freestyling between various exercises.
If you’ve not done calisthenics before, but you’ve done bar work and have the muscle strength required, then you might find it easier to transition into freestyle than a beginner would.
Can a Beginner Do Freestyle Calisthenics?
If you’re entirely new to exercise, freestyle calisthenics is probably not the best place to start.
It takes time to build strength and the knowledge of various calisthenics moves before you can advance into freestyle.
If you want to get into freestyle but are new to exercise, the best place to start as a beginner is with regular calisthenics, which is an excellent form of exercise for building the strength you need to move into freestyle once you’re ready.
The best way to work on a future transition from regular calisthenics to freestyle is by building all-over body strength using a range of calisthenics moves. It’s also a good idea to work in mobility moves which can help increase your range of movement, flexibility, and posture.
Because freestyle calisthenics involves a lot of bar work, it makes sense to get used to using the high bar so that you can comfortably support your own body weight through your hands and arms. As well as being able to support your own weight, you’ll also need to be able to perform basic moves that you can later incorporate into a freestyle routine.
Risk of Injury
There is a higher risk of injury with freestyle calisthenics than there is with regular calisthenics because of the freestyle element and the fact the moves are more complex and risky because they’re often performed at height.
If you watch videos of professional freestyle athletes, you might notice that they’re wearing muscle straps or tape, so definitely, injuries can happen, whatever level you’re at.
If you’re a freestyle beginner and you’re working at height, a crash mat or foam pit is a must because falls are inevitable as you do hand swaps and try out new moves.
It can be tempting to dive into moves you might not be ready for, but taking things slowly and steadily will help to prevent injuries and strains. Many movements can be learned in stages and brought together when you’re ready.
You also need to ensure that moves are performed correctly and that you maintain form and posture throughout the exercise.
Working on muscle strength not only builds muscle but also strengthens joints and improves stability; in time, this can help reduce the risk of certain kinds of injury and joint problems associated with exercise.
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