14 (Practical) Tips for Effective Calisthenics Workout
Getting the most out of your training session every time is more important. A hyper-focused and quality workout session always outweighs many crappy sessions.
Apply these techniques to get a super effective and efficient workout, every single time.
Turn on flight mode
Nothing is more distracting than your phone. Research shows we check our phones 58 times a day. That means we check on our phones every 24 minutes. And that’s just a baseline number to many of us, admit it.
Excessive screen time is going to degrade your session quality massively.
Sure, you need to use the timer app, your favorite fitness apps, or even Spotify for music. Make the content you need to consume offline, and turn on the flight mode.
Cut off the internet meaning no more random social media notification. That would help a ton in focusing on what matters the most, the workout.
Take note of progress
If you don’t document your progress, chances are you are not making great progress.
I can’t stress how important to keep track of your training routine. So you will have a full record of how you perform in the past, which you can use to measure performance and set new goals.
A traditional physical note or digital app (turn off the internet) will serve as a great note.
Note down of your workout content and date, whenever you are working out. Here’s an example:
- 3 x 5 ring pull up, rest 3 min between sets.
- L-sit on parallel bars for 10 sec, total 60 secs.
- 3 x 8 12kg Weighted pushup, rest 2 min between set.
Mind muscle connection
This is the biggest secret on how to maximize your gain, whether it is strength or muscle building.
Before performing a new set：
- Prepare your mind by visualising the movement, focus on the target muscle. Visualize it, feel it.
- Meanwhile, simulate the movement without the weight. E.g. perform the pushup motion while you are standing straight, before the actual push up.
Perform the exercise:
- Think nothing else but focus on your breathing, technique, and form.
- Feel the muscle and joints all the way through the motion. Sometimes you may close your eyes to make the feeling vivid.
A quick 5 minutes dynamic warm-up will do wonders for your actual workout. You get to maximize the output and minimize the chances of injury.
Here is what you can do to get the blood flowing:
- Bodyweight squat for 25 reps
- Plank for 1 minute
- High knee tap for 1 minute
- Wrist and shoulder circles for about 15 seconds each
You can also add in some skills works such as L-sit and (wall) handstand if they are no longer a strength work for you. A few quick push up is generally good for intermediate athletes.
Avoid static stretching, that’s for the post-workout.
Perfect form every rep
Quality over quantity, all the time. This is especially true when you are starting to learn a new move. You want to learn and perfect the technique from day 1.
The fact is if you start will crappy form, you are teaching your body the wrong technique. As time goes by, you can get “better” at the wrong form. It may disturb your skill progression or worse, getting injured.
It doesn’t matter how many reps you can perform with loose form, it is those strict forms that counts.
Say you can perform 3 strict pull up and 10 kipping pull-ups, you want to stick only with the strict pull-up.
Make good use of rest time
Stop wandering around in rest time between sets. There is plenty of stuff that you can do to complement the workout and stay focused.
Train the alternate muscle: In an upper body day, you can use the rest time to do some flexibility work like hamstring stretching. You earn that extra flexibility over time and it is transferable to other skills like handstand pushup.
Take note of your progress: This can be via the digital app or physical note.
Reflect on the past sets: Review your form if you have your last exercise recorded on a phone. Or recall how do you feel in the last set. Any weakness? Did you do the perfect form? Et cetera.
Get a workout buddy
Working out calisthenics alone is totally fine. You don’t really need a “spot buddy” in typical weight lifting to push you through last few reps.
However, if you are able to train with someone else who shares the same passion, it comes with extra benefits:
- Discipline: We are less likely to skip a mutually agreed workout
- Competition: To make the session more fun and interesting.
- Watching-eye effect: We tend to perform better while others are watching.
- Learn from each other: Everybody has their unique strength, we get to exchange skills and grow faster together.
Working in pair/community is going to make your session from good to great.
Take video of every set
That’s right, this is the correct way to utilize your mobile phone (with internet shut off). This is how it works:
- Place your phone at a suitable angle
- Start recording video
- Perform your exercise set
- Review the video in rest time
Why this is a powerful technique? You get to spot weaknesses in your form, you have tons of footage to compare your progress in the future, you don’t have time to fool around during rest time.
This is a virtuous circle to keep you productive and hyper-focused.
Add variation for fun
Doing the same routine over and over again is boring, and we tend to give up boring stuff.
While you should not add too many exercises in a single routine (slow growth). Adding some fun after the main program is very much acceptable.
Let’s say you are working for your first planche, and your main workout consists of pseudo planche push up, push up, and pseudo planche hold. You should complete them according to your routine. Then you may add in pushing based exercises like single arm push up or handstand push up for fun.
You can also throw in a pair of gymnastic rings to spice things up.
This not only makes the whole session more interesting, but you are stressing the body a little more for gain.
Train in optimal time
Some are having high energy in the morning, while some are only able to perform at their best in evening. This is totally personal preferences.
You need to find out what’s your optimal workout time. Working out in the morning for a week and record it down. Note down how you feel after every session. Do the same in evening for another week.
After that, compare the performance stat of both weeks. If you able to output better and feel better in a particular week, you've found your biological optimal time.
Training in your physical optimal time is like playing a game with all the edges you could get. The difference in results can be significant over the long run.
Set small achievable goal
The ability to constantly hitting your goals is the key to keep you in the game.
Imagine you are a total calisthenics beginner and you want to learn muscle up in your first month. The result? You will quit working out before you know it.
A good goal should be specific, realistic and measurable.
- Dedicate one session to know your calisthenics skills level.
- Pick a skill you want to learn.
- Breakdown the prerequisite skills you have to unlock.
Say your ultimate goal is Back Lever, set your small goals with these easier skills:
- German Hang
- Vertical Row
- Straddle Back Lever
Finish with cardio
Finishing the day with a nice cardio session makes perfect sense. After spending the majority of your energy on strength and skill works (calisthenics's main goal).
Running for 3 miles (5km) to at moderate speed is good.
You can also do some HIIT base sprinting to boost growth hormone. Sprint 50 meters, walk back to the initial point, sprint again. Repeat for 5 times.
There are many alternatives such as stairs climbing, jumping squat, burpees, and many. Pick something you like and keep at it.
Over time, with the improved endurance you can do more reps at your strength work, which translate to bigger gains.
Pre-workout snack early
The perfect body condition for a workout is the balance between over-bloated and too hungry.
Calisthenics works involve all kinds of movement. Skills like handstands even put you in an upside down position for extended periods. You don't want to do that with a full stomach.
On the other hand, if you are famished that's a sign of lack of energy. You might not perform at your best capacity.
The best timing for a workout is the moment you can feel the slight hunger.
Again, everyone is different on this. Observe how your body functions the best and stick to it for the sessions to come.
Do hardest exercise first
The order of the exercises matters a lot.
You want to spend your freshest and most energetic time in the hardest workout. Move to the easier variant in later sets.
This way, the skills you want to learn the most get the best resources (your mental and physical power) to train. You will excel faster.
For example, you want to improve your pull-up number. Do weighted pull-up with weighted vest in the first few sets, followed by normal pull-up, and end with Australian pull-up.
Doing the easier workout first will exhaust your energy and leave you half a tank to perform the harder variant. This is counterproductive and you don’t want that.