Calisthenics Workout Design

305pelusa

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Hello everybody,
There seemed to be some interest in Calisthenics routine construction, so I wanted to make a small thread as to how to go about making your own routine. The great thing about making your own routine is that you can really tailor it to your own goals. Also, I want to mention that I’m no coach. This is simply the process that I keep seeing most calisthenics coaches follow in their routine design, and it seems to work well. I have read a rather absurd amount of info (just about any main calisthenics authority on the web really). I’m merely summarizing it in an easy-to-follow way, as most of this info is spread out on the web. As an example, I will write out how I created my own routine.

Finally, a plug for calisthenics. The advantage of Bodyweight training is that it demands high levels of mobility and joint/tendon integrity. Many people see this as a bad thing, thinking the risk/reward of movements like the Planche and Handstand are not worth it. However, bodyweight trainees see this as a good thing. It means our training heavily relies on lots of mobility and foundational exercises, which makes progress longer. But when we do reach those higher skills, we have achieved unusually strong tendon and mobility in parallel. I believe this explains why gymnasts can so easily dabble into other strength sports (Xfit, O-lift, etc) and excel since the beginning.

Anyways, that’s the appeal for me. Regardless of your goals, routine construction follows the basic stages of Goals -> Schedule -> Programming -> Exercise Selection.

Goals
Pick around 1-2 goals for upper body push and pull, legs, mobility, skill and prehab. Generally, the less goals, the better.
Most people will have no problem finding upper body and leg goals. However, I recommend you take the time to find some mobility goals (splits, pancake, better shoulder flexion, etc) that align with your strength goals. Skill goals might refer to locomotion/crawls, but Handstands are what most people go with.

Ex: My upper body push/pull goals are the Straddle Planche, full Front Lever, multiple OACU and HSPU reps. I don't have any leg goals. My skill goal is a better Handstand. My mobility goals are obtaining the full pike and the shoulder extension mobility for the V-sit. My prehab goal is to keep my right elbow happy.

Schedule
Take a look at your lifestyle habits/recovery ability, as well as training history. Most beginners will be good starting with 3 full body sessions a week. As you get stronger, you can add a fourth. If you have many Leg goals, you can do an upper/lower split. You can typically perform 2-3 pairs of strength exercises per session.

The mobility work is done as frequently as you can (3-7 times a week). Note that mobility work here is training where you're actively looking to increase your ROM. It can be rather painful. Think Bridges, Splits, Pancakes, etc.
The prehab is done as much as needed. Hopefully you have some idea as to how frequently you need this, if at all.

Ex: All of my strength goals are upper body, so I choose four upper body days, in which I’ll perform two pairs of strength exercises on each. The first pair will be Front Lever and Planche static work. The second pair will be OACU and HSPU work (twice a week… it’s a secondary goal), and more Planche and Front Lever work (but easier variation… think of it as auxiliary work) on the other two days. For pike/hip flexion, I’ll follow the Zack Finer “Hack your Hamstring” guide 5 times a week (Google as needed). For shoulder extension, a complex of Reverse Planks and Shoulder extensions with a stick 4 times a week. Prehab is done daily at the moment.

Programming
Most beginners don’t need to dwell much in the programming. It’s sufficient to do 3-5 sets of 3-8 reps per exercise, with a focus on increasing reps/difficulty of exercise on a consistent basis. A deload every 8th week seems to work well.

The more intermediate level practitioner might program his training with a Light/Heavy approach where every other session is done with an easier exercise, for higher reps (3 x 8-10 reps), and the other sessions done with a harder exercises for lower reps (4-5 x 4-6 reps). I have used this and have found encouraging results.

Ex: I have gotten to the point where the beginner approach of linear progression does not work as well. Hence, I opt for the Light/Heavy approach.

Exercise Selection
Finally, select exercises to train the goals you’ve chosen, that are of the appropriate level of difficult and can be done with correct form. This part requires some research. Look online at various guides or calisthenics books, not necessarily to follow them, but to obtain worthwhile progressive exercises you can add to your routine.

Ex: The Adv. Tuck Planche and One-leg Tuck Front Lever is about right for my Heavy day, while the Tuck Planche and Adv. Tuck Front Lever are better for my Light day. I will simply do HSPUs and OACU for singles on their respective days (and up the sets to make up for it). My Planche and Front Lever auxiliary work will simply be Planche Leans and Tuck Front Lever Pulls with a focus on perfect form and higher reps/longer holds.


Now we put it all together:

M/Th (Light day) (roughly 90 minutes total)
1) WU (wrists, shoulder circles) (~5 min)
2) Handstand work (10 min of total work) (~10 min)
3) Tuck Planche paired with Adv. Tuck Front Lever (3 sets of 16-20 sec holds) (~15 min)
4) Planche Lean paired with Tuck Front Lever Pulls (3-5 sets of 15-20 secs/5-8 reps) (~15 min)
5) Shoulder extension mobility complex (~10 min)
6) Hip flexion mobility complex (~20 min)
7) Elbow prehab (~5 min)

T/F (Heavy day) (roughly 90 minutes total)
1) WU (wrists, shoulder circles) (~5 min)
2) Handstand work (10 min of total work) (~10)
3) Adv. Tuck Planche paired with One-leg Tuck Front Lever (3 sets of 16-20 sec holds) (~15 min)
4) OACU paired with HSPU (4-6 x 1-2 reps) (~15 min)
5) Shoulder extension mobility complex (~10 min)
6) Hip flexion mobility complex (~20 min)
7) Elbow prehab (~5 min)

Sa (roughly 30 minutes total)
1) Hip flexion mobility complex (~20 min)
2) Elbow Prehab (~5 min)

W/Su
1) Elbow Prehab (~5 min)

If there’s something I’d like you to take away is the considerable time devoted to mobility work (about 2 hours a week). I’m not talking about feel-good, easy stuff (arm bars, downwards dogs, yoga, etc). This should be serious, hardcore mobility work (think PNF stretching/loaded stretching) where we obtain an increase in ROM almost from session to session.

What about Core work?
Most calisthenics skills already train the abdominals and spinal erectors to a great degree. However, beginners are recommended to solidify their hollow/arch hold, as well as their Planck and Reverse Plank position. One can do a circuit of these 4 movements for 3-5 rounds and minimal rest, holding each position at about 50% of max hold time. This circuit is very effective, and can be performed as many times a week as you’d like. At the end of each workout is a good start.

Conclusion
Goals -> Schedule -> Programming -> Exercise Selection. And an emphasis on true mobility training through loaded stretching or more serious PNF work to constantly improve your ROM. That’s the main idea. If you keep these concepts in mind, and consult some online or printed sources for progressive exercises and useful stretches, you will have little trouble constructing your own routine.
 

MarkA

Still New to StrongFirst Forum
Echoing what was said above, thanks for putting this together, big help
 

305pelusa

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Thank you guys. Took a bit of time to put that together but I think it generally represents the thought process of calisthenics design.
 

Chris80

First Timer
Can you advise on my training program? I'm 185cm, 91kg, 39 years old with bodybuilding background so I consider myself intermediate trainee. I've been training calisthenics for 4 months now and skills are what I really want to achieve but I also want to train all the muscles with bodyweight programs. Here is what I came up with, is it too much?
Monday
FL workout
L sit workout
Pull ups 5 sets x max
Chin ups 5 sets x max
Biceps ring curl plus flies 3 sets x max

Tuesday
Planche progression
Any tuck planche 3 sets
Planche with feet on floor 3 sets
Planche push ups 3 sets
Hollow hold with straight arm flys 3 sets
Plank hold 2min

Weighted push ups 5 sets 6-8
Handstand push ups on bars progression 5 sets 6-8
Wide push ups on rings 3 sets 8-12
Weighted straight bar dips 3 sets 8-12
Triceps extension on rings 3 sets 8-12

Wednesday
FL progression
L sit progression

Pistol squats 5 sets x max

Thursday
Planche progression
Any tuck planche 3 sets
Planche with feet on floor 3 sets
Planche push ups 3 sets
Hollow hold with straight arm flys 3 sets
Plank hold 2min

Friday
FL progression
L sit progression

Weighted pull ups 5 sets x 4-6
Weighted chin ups 5 sets x 4-6
Ring biceps curl plus ring flyes 3 sets x max

Saturday
Planche progression
Any tuck planche 3 sets
Planche with feet on floor 3 sets
Planche push ups 3 sets
Hollow hold with straight arm flys 3 sets
Plank hold 2min

Handstand push ups on bars progression 5 sets 6-8
1 arm push ups 5 sets x max
Elbow dips

Pistol squats 5 sets x max
 

WeightedPullups

Double-Digit Post Count
Wow that is a lot of info. Me I like cut and dry. So if someone were to ask me to do a program for them I would say pick two goals (for example weighted pull-ups and dips) I would say choose exercises for each entry in this template.

PULL
PUSH
CORE
PULL
PUSH
LEGS

Alternate days cardio.

Make the chosen exercises extra challenging so that 3x3 and/or 3x5 will be what you can do. Past 5 you are getting into Hypertrophy as a focus and then that I would recommend go heavy on weights. Past 12 reps you are going to stamina which brings you to Crossfit world which I despise.
 
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