Introduction to Calisthenics – Training Plans

Now we’ve detailed all the exercises, let’s put them together into a training plan.

Both plans are quite short and can be completed in less than half an hour. That’s not a massive commitment to become stronger, healthier, and in my experience, happier.

Strength vs Muscle Mass

When it comes to strength training, there are two primary influences behind how strong you are, these are your nervous system and the size of your muscles.

If you have a strong nervous system for a particular movement then your brain can recruit more muscle cells to perform the said movement.

This is why you can often see rather lean athletes perform quite strong feats of strength.

To train this way, you should keep your number of repetitions (reps) low, and your number of sets (that is the number of times you perform the reps) high, this keeps your muscles relatively fresh and enables you to perform harder exercises, which require more strength.

For more detailed information on this, then check out my article on how to build strength.

Dave Mace demonstrating a one arm handstand
Training low reps allows you to perform impressive
feats of strength without putting on huge amounts of muscle mass

If you have bigger muscles, then you have more muscle mass to move yourself through the movement.

To train for muscle mass you should perform high reps (but not too high), with a low number of sets, this will fatigue your muscles and tell your body that it needs to grow bigger in order to perform this again. This is commonly referred to as hypertrophy.

You’ll also have to eat enough calories to build the extra muscle and have a decent level of testosterone, but that’s a post for another day.

This post will provide two separate plans for working to both of these goals, which one you use is up to you. Having said that I advise that strength should come first and as these are beginner exercises, they are designed to build a solid foundation.

You can then either maintain this to remain healthy and help prevent injury problems, or use it to push onto more advanced exercises.

5 x 5 Strength Training Plan

In this plan you’re going keep the reps low with higher sets; the goal is to be able to perform the same progression through all 5 sets, but if you’re feeling fatigued then feel free to drop down to an easier exercise.

You should work through all five exercises in turn before moving onto the second set, this way your muscles will remain a little fresher as you work different muscle groups in each exercise.

Any exercises that are uni-lateral such as one leg short bridges, should be performed 5 times on each side. Train your weaker side first and don’t go beyond this with your stronger side.

5 Sets of
5 x Incline Push-ups
5 x Inverted Rows
5 x Bodyweight Squats
5 x Lying Leg Raises
5 x Short Bridges

Once you can perform 5 sets of 5 reps for a given exercise, then next time make it more difficult, check out the progression / regression section under each guide on how to do this.

2 x 12 Muscle Mass Training Plan

With this plan you will be training higher reps to fatigue your muscles; we only need to perform two sets, any more than this will require more recovery time but will not necessarily provide bigger muscle gains.

Unlike the strength training plan, you should pick a level of progression and stick to it for both sets.

You will also perform both sets of the same exercise one after another, with a one to two minute rest in-between but no longer. Train to failure with the second set or until 20, whichever comes first.

Any exercises that are uni-lateral such as one leg short bridges, should be performed 12 times on each side, train your weaker side first and don’t go beyond this with your stronger side.

Once you can perform 12 reps in both sets then it’s time to make the exercise more difficult.

12 x Incline Push-ups
one minute rest
As many Incline Push-ups as you can manage (20 max)

12 x Inverted Rows
one minute rest
As many Inverted Rows as you can manage (20 max)

12 x Bodyweight Squats
one minute rest
As many Bodyweight Squats as you can manage (20 max)

12 x Lying Leg Raises
one minute rest
As many Lying Leg Raises as you can manage (20 max)

12 x Short Bridges
one minute rest
As many Short Bridges as you can manage (20 max)

Next Steps

Once you can complete all the exercises at their hardest progression then you’ll be ready to try some more advanced calisthenics exercises. Check out the tutorials section to see some ideas on this.

I’ll be continually adding more tutorials, so keep your eye out for them. Alternatively, with a decent base level of strength under your belt, you may want to move onto weight training, I respect that but can’t offer any advice on this as it’s not my area of expertise.

As always if you have any questions or comments then leave them in the section below or send me a message through the contact page.

  1. Prelude – My “Gym”
  2. What is Calisthenics?
  3. Incline Push-ups
  4. Inverted Rows
  5. Bodyweight Squats
  6. Lying Leg Raises
  7. Short Bridges
  8. Training Plans
  • John Brown


    first thanks for the great Training Plan and the beneficial advice on your Website.

    I now started as a absolute Beginner with the 5 x 5 Strength Training. It is difficult but I am able to do all 5 sets with the given exercises. Should I continue to progress with the exercises to make it more difficult? When do I have to go on with the Muscle Mass Training?

    • Thanks John, glad you’re finding it beneficial. I would get 5×5 nailed down of the hardest progressions in this plan. Once you can do that, then give the muscle mass plan a go. This way you’ll have a good base strength before really hitting the muscles. Any more questions, give me a shout.

  • Dave Bockett-Pugh

    Hi Dave,

    I’m about to give this a go – I’m a fairly fit guy already, how often should I train? I can probably do this at least once per day but should I fit in more regular rest days?

    Cheers in advance

    • Hi mate, the strength session should be pushing you hard and ideally require 48-72h recovery. The hypertrophy session generally requires 24-48 hours rest. You may need to up the intensity of some of these exercises though by moving to harder variations. Cheers

  • Jos Philipsen

    Hello, I got a question. when do you reach a maximum of reps you should do. for example if you do a workout you could do 50 or 100 reps of each exersice, but what is the point when it has no use to do extra reps? Thank;)

    • So once you’ve reached the number of reps for your training goal (5 or 12), then you need to make the exercise harder. As you say there is little point in doing those kind of numbers, other than building endurance

  • DonkeySlayer

    can i do this as a 13 year old i cant even do a single pushup

    • Yes calisthenics is perfect for training as a teenager, will you give you increased strength and muscle mass without the risks associated with weight-lifting. You should also see quick improvement due to your age 🙂

      • DonkeySlayer

        will this also help me burn fat

        • It’ll help you build muscle, which will reduce your fat a little. However if you’re serious about reducing your fat, then you need to look at your diet. Eat less calories than you burn, eat plenty of veggies and protein and cut down on sugar.

          • DonkeySlayer

            if i weigh 58kg and im 167cm in height should i lose fat or just continue the 5×5 training

          • If you’re only that weight, I wouldn’t worry about losing fat, just concentrate on getting stronger. Just make sure you eat enough protein and loads of veggies and you can’t go wrong.

          • DonkeySlayer

            will i lose the fat that i have after building muscle i have a mini beer belly

          • If you eat the same amount of calories, bigger muscles will require more calories to maintain and will therefore lose a small amount of fat.

  • ahmed

    I’m kinda confused so is it like a cycle or what ?! for both strength and muscle mass

    • So the strength one is a circuit, this is only to ensure you get enough rest by the time you return to the first exercise. If you have the time then you can do them back to back, but must rest for at least 3 minutes between sets. The muscle-mass one you should do all sets back to back with a minutes rest.

  • Luiz Bruder

    Hello, great post! I’m already drawing benefits from the plans and from the general tips.

    I have a question regarding rest times of the strenght plan. Should I rest between individual exercises or only between sets? If so, for how long? Thank you very much and keep it up with the nice website!

    Best regards!
    Luiz (from Brazil)

    • Great question mate. So for strength training you should take as much rest as you need. The more rest you take, the better your form will be in the next set, the better your form, the more strength you’ll get from it.

      As a general idea, you need at least 3 minutes from when you do the start of the one set, until the start of the next set if that makes sense?

      • Luiz Bruder

        Thank you, Dave, I’ll be putting it into practice tomorrow!

        Have a great day,