Calisthenics is perhaps the oldest known workout method in the world. It is a system that uses body weight for resistance, employing movements like air squats, lunges, box jumps, push ups, pull ups, planks and crunches to fatigue the muscles.
How often you should be training is a common question most athletes and casual gym goers ask themselves. This applies equally to calisthenics as it does any other form of resistance work: placing your body under adequate load to elicit adaptation is what counts, not whether the load comes from weights, cables or, indeed, from your own body.
The answer to the question is more nuanced than a simple yes or no, however, though yes is the simplest response. Yes, it’s OK to do calisthenics every day, in the same way that it’s OK to do any other type of training every day: the key to the answer is in the caveats.
The biggest caveat is that, for adaptation to occur, for your body to remain safe, and for your metabolism and immune functions to work optimally, you need adequate rest time between resistance training sessions.
This could mean that you take part in three intense calisthenics workouts per week, leaving a day or two after each to recover. In this time, you could do absolutely nothing but relax, sleep, and eat protein. This is one ideal for training frequency: you would not be able to maintain this level of training every single day.
However, resting doesn’t have to be the same as being idle. This brings us to the idea of waves in training.
Training in Waves
The types of body weight exercises used in calisthenics are pretty hard for beginners. If you struggle to complete a couple of push ups, lunges, or pull ups, then you will likely want to run through the motions a few times per week as you start out and acclimatise. You may not want to train every day.
If you get a bit past this, then you may want to look at training in waves. You should always have 2-3 days per week of solid, intense fatigue, during which you take your muscles near enough to failure at least once in each workout. You will want to get your heart rate up above 80%, and you will want to feel some form of delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) in the day or two following.
This is your regular training. You don’t have to do more than this.
However, you absolutely can do more, and we will look at the benefits of performing calisthenics every day below. Your rest days will just look a little more active than they used to.
This is the wave.
For our example, let’s schedule 3 full body, hard workouts per week.
In one workout, you’ll be pushing yourself to absolute failure. In the other two, you want to stay slightly shy of this. In terms of RPE, you will be looking at 9-10 for the first, then about 8 for the other two.
The other 4 days will be a lot lighter. Think RPE 5-6.
You can either run through your normal style of workout but with fewer reps/sets involved. Alternatively, you could keep reps and sets the same, but go for easier variations. Swap out pull ups for chin ups or inverted rows. Swap out walking lunges for split squats, or burpees for regular squats. Perform your push ups on your knees or against a wall. Or you could change up the style altogether: yoga and Pilates follow many of the same principles as calisthenics, and the core strength, flexibility and, for yoga, relaxation inherent to them, alongside the easily variable intensity levels of each, make them perfect supplements to a hard body weight routine.
These days are active recovery days. You’re not particularly trying to elicit any kind of adaptation. You just simply want to move your muscles, get your blood flow up, raise your heart rate, warm and loosen joints and tendons, and aid in your recovery from the harder sessions.
But what are the benefits of doing this? Why not simply go for adaptation and ignore your body the rest of the time? Why might more be better with calisthenics?
Benefits of Regular Calisthenics Training
Whether or not you decide to go for daily training, there are some key benefits to be had from training calisthenics regularly that are well worth bearing in mind as we go forwards. These include:
A solid calisthenics workout will challenge your strength, pushing you hard through a series of resistance moves. A solid calisthenics program will pay attention to progressive overload, meaning that you are always pushing yourself harder in one way or another, and thus always getting stronger.
We are not just talking about muscular strength here, however. Resistance training like calisthenics also strengthens your joints and soft tissue and improves bone mineral density.
It is one of the few systems that does so with a relatively low risk of injury and without a great deal of complex, costly and cumbersome equipment.
Most calisthenic exercises require and incorporate a degree of flexibility. Their movements open up joints and stretch muscles, taking every joint through a wide range of motion. In addition, flexibility has a neuromuscular component- the mind-muscle skill required to take and allow a joint through a wide range of motion- that calisthenics works in every session.
Squats are a good example. They require and force you to open up your hips, stretch your glutes, lower back and quads, and give you the confidence to allow your body to sink down into position, under control, whilst simultaneously improving strength and coordination.
Calisthenics training- especially making use of larger circuit or giant set formats- is one of the best ways to improve muscular endurance.
Run through circuits for round after round- honestly, anything between four and forty rounds is feasible- and you will find your heart rate spiking up above 80% and your muscles burning as they strive to cope. This overload into the muscles will develop into improved endurance as they adapt and grow.
So, that’s the basics covered: we can easily see why getting proficient at calisthenics is always a good idea. But what about training every day; what are the benefits of daily sessions?
3 Reasons to Perform Calisthenics Every Day
1. There are emotional and mental health benefits to daily exercise
Daily exercise has been shown to bring a great many cognitive, emotional and mental benefits. The discipline involved in setting aside time each day- alongside the personal care aspect of ringfencing even just half an hour to check in with yourself- cannot be underestimated. The endorphin release and the sense of freedom that calisthenic training brings are tremendous, as is the pride at keeping yourself going, day after day.
In addition, if you take your calisthenics practice in public- either at the local park, in a gym class, or in a specialist studio- you will probably be rubbing shoulders with some really decent people. The global calisthenics community is vast and, for the most part, made up of inspiring, insightful people who want nothing more than to see everyone achieve their best- and to help them do so. Being around this kind of community is wonderful- it will represent a great boost to your overall happiness and sense of personal wellbeing.
2. Calisthenics develops transferable skills at any intensity
Running through the motions of each exercise, even when taking them easy, ‘greases the groove’, as those of us in the lifting community like to say. Even when you’re not fatiguing your muscles to bring about hypertrophy or strength gains, you are getting better at the skill of each movement. There is a large amount of neuromuscular control and proprioception involved in the kind of multi-joint moves you will be performing. Each rep, no matter how humble, further enhances these skills.
You also won’t be doing the same movements over and again as the years go by. You will bring your practice up to incorporate harder movements and more complex flows. This takes practice- lots and lots of practice. Why only practice a couple of times per week when you can work on yourself every single day? These higher-level exercises may look unachievable to a beginner (muscle ups, anybody?) but with time and dedication- and a great deal of neuromuscular adaptation- they will soon become your norm. So much so that you can perform them on your ‘off-days’ without breaking a sweat.
3. The active recovery
As mentioned above, active recovery is a core reason to employ a wave method of training. Bring low-key sessions in on your off days to get the blood pumping, to loosen sore joints, stretch tight muscles, and speed up muscular repair. But how does it work and what are the benefits of doing this?
Active recovery brings a great many benefits, including:
- Reducing lactic acid build up in the muscles, which will minimise DOMS
- Alleviating fatigue and improve moods that typically elevate during high intensity exercise before rapidly crashing
- Promoting blood flow to the joints and muscles, counteracting inflammation and bringing much needed oxygen and nutrients to them as they repair
- Giving the heart a dose of steady state cardio, which is vital to cardio health and will aid in improving endurance and training volume capacity
These reasons are all solid- they should hopefully remove any desire to not train every day. Of course, ‘every day’ is a lot. You may in fact train hard 2-3 times per week, take 3 active recovery sessions, then do nothing for a day or two. The same principles will be at work, meaning that your progress, health and mood will all benefit.
There are, however, a few things to bear in mind when scheduling your training. These should inform the balance between hard and easy days, as well as how many of each you want to bring into any given week.
Some of the major variables to account for when writing your program include:
If you don’t plan to be an advanced athlete, but simply want to move a bit, get a bit stronger, and improve your longevity, daily practice may be overkill. Try a 2:2 split between hard and easy sessions, with the other days given over to full rest. On the other hand, if you want to be the best version of yourself you can be, you want to maximise training. Daily training may be for you.
Your training history
What is your experience going into your training? If you’ve been idle for ten years, working a desk job, driving everywhere, with very little exercise, daily training will be rough. In fact, it will be dangerous, as your joints and muscles risk increased risks of injury. Perhaps keep daily training as a goal but give yourself some time to get there. If, however, you work an active job and are used to working out fairly often, or if you are currently doing a few calisthenics workouts per week already, you may take to daily training straight away.
If you’re twenty-one, train every day. Come on, there is no excuse. Your body can handle it (with reference, of course, to the other variables in this list.) If you’re fifty… maybe take it a little slower. Your energy levels and rate of recovery (see below) probably cannot take it and your joints will probably complain a lot. Be more reasonable in your approach.
Rate of recovery
If you try training every day and find yourself becoming exhausted, remove a few sessions. Training is a highly individualistic balancing act. Daily training can be optimal for one person, whilst three sessions per week may be optimal for another.
Things that impact your rate of recovery include:
- Your age
- Your diet (are you eating enough calories, and specifically protein, to cope with training?)
- Your sleep (you need at least seven hours per night to recover)
- Your stress levels
- Your activity levels outside of training
- Your health and any underlying medical conditions
What it’s doing for you
More isn’t always better. In fact, training too much can be counterproductive. If you add in a few extra sessions per week and find yourself getting weaker or less able to cope with training volume, you’re training too much. Dial it back until you find what works for you.
Hopefully, by now, you have some idea of whether or not you want to perform calisthenics every day, why it may or may not be for you, the advantages to doing so and the factors that may make it unprofitable. In theory, it is indeed OK- it’s even advisable- to do calisthenics every day: just pay attention to the details, to yourself, and to your progress, and play around a little bit. You should get an idea of your ideal training frequency with a bit of trial and error.