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If you like me are trying to transition from weight training to calisthenics you will quickly understand that the rules are very similar. Its all about the progressive load and how you use it.
Though how we apply progressive load is very different in bodyweight. You can read more about principles of progressions right here: Principles of Progressive Calisthenics.
Replace weight training with Calisthenics – It’s EASY
But I want to show you how you can easily REPLACE your weight exercises with calisthenics without breaking your brain thinking which exercises you should use and how.
I get it to an extent. It is a lot easier to walk into a commercial gym and hop on a machine that requires little or no instruction on how to use. Or even just walk in and copy what weighted exercises you see the average gym goer doing.
But it can be understandably tough to try and perform your whole workout (if you’re a newbie) in a park where no one else is training. I think sometimes we all forget what it felt like when we first started training, how really unsure of ourselves we were.
That’s why in this article I have broken down ALL of the most popular weighted training exercises and included the calisthenic equivalent that can be done in place of the weighted version.
The key, and main idea of bodyweight training is how much EASIER it should be, not harder – minimalist requirements, right? Hopefully by the end of this article you will see that there ARE substitutions for every body part that can be done by pretty much anyone!
WEIGHTED EXERCISE: DUMBELL OR BARBELL CURLS
CALLISTHENIC EXERCISE: CHIN-UPS
Obviously curls are one of the most popular exercises there is, especially for guys. Guys want big arms.
The bodyweight equivalent for training your biceps (mimicking curls) is chin-ups. All you need for a chin-up is some kind of a bar at your fitness park, or even a sturdy tree limb (safety first!).
It’s important to note that chin-ups can be altered in many ways to account for various skill levels. They can be made easier by adding assistance (using bands – video below), or by simply having a partner hold your legs and assist you.
They can also be made more challenging by adding isometric holds at the top (chinned-up) position, or by using gymnastics rings (more degree of freedom = more use of stabilizing muscles) instead of a bar.
WEIGHTED EXERCISE: CABLE PUSHDOWNS
CALLISTHENIC EXERCISE: DIPS
There are various weighted exercises for training the triceps, but the most common movement is typically a rope pushdown using a cable pulley system – a quite expensive piece of equipment.
Fortunately for bodyweight enthusiasts or newbies, you can save a whole lot of money, and still get an excellent pump in your triceps by doing simple dips.
And just like chin-ups, dips can be modified to fit the varied assortment of skill levels of bodyweight trainers.
You can make them easier by either using bands (like chin-ups), having a partner hold your legs for assist (again like chin-ups), or by simply resting your legs out in front of you on something like a bench (taking away the load of your legs).
They can also be made harder as well by adding isometric holds in the bottom position, or by performing them on gymnastics rings much like chin-ups.
BACK MUSCLES (i.e. LATS)
WEIGHTED EXERCISE: CABLE PULLDOWNS
CALLISTHENIC EXERCISE: PULL-UPS
The most common way to train your lats in a public gym would be to hit the cable station and do some pull-downs.
However, you can train them much more sufficiently by simply performing pull-ups (wrists facing away from you rather than toward you like in chin-ups).
To really make sure you are training your back while doing a pull-up, you will want to make sure that you are keeping your body tight and still (i.e. not throwing your way up over the bar to complete crappy reps).
Again, pull-ups can always be varied to fit the skill level of the bodyweight enthusiast performing them.
Pull-ups can be made harder by varying the width of your grip (wider = harder – 24 inches apart is probably about the widest you would ever want to go), adding isometric holds, or again by using gymnastics rings.
As I’m sure you can probably already guess, they can be made easier to by using bands or a partner to assist you in the “up” motion.
CHEST MUSCLES (PECTORALS)
WEIGHTED EXERCISE: BENCH PRESS
CALLISTHENIC EXERCISE: PUSH-UPS/RING FLYS
Bench press is BY FAR, the most popular exercise amongst all males. The problem is, I’ve probably only seen it done correctly in a gym a handful of times.
Standard bench-pressing can cause long term injuries in the shoulders and elbows, mostly because it is focused on too much and over trained leading to general overuse type injuries.
The bodyweight substitutes (push-ups and ring-flys) are not only much safer, but also much easier to perfect.
Regular push-ups would represent the easier version of how to train your chest using calisthenics. But even push-ups can be modified to become easier, but simply placing your knees (as opposed to your feet) on the ground for support.
Ring-flys would be on the more advanced spectrum and require a little more skill. See the video below for proper technique.
WEIGHTED EXERCISE: BARBELL SQUAT
CALLISTHENIC EXERCISE: BODYWEIGHT SQUAT/LUNGE
Bodyweight squats or lunges can literally be done anywhere as they require absolutely no equipment. Just your body!
And I know that doing bodyweight squats might sound like a breeze compared to the weighted version, but by adding more reps (= more challenging) to the table, I assure you they are anything but.
You can easily pack in a sufficient leg training session by creating a circuit made up of the two.
For example you could alternate between lunges and squats (in 1A, 1B format), doing 10 sets of 10-15 repetitions for each movement. Your legs will unquestionably feel that, and you won’t have to worry about possibly hurting your back with the loaded weight.
WEIGHTED EXERCISE: LEG CURL
CALISTHENIC EXERCISE: BODYWEIGHT SINGLE LEG ROMANIAN DEADLIFT
The form for perfecting 1-Leg RDLs can be a little tricky, so I will leave it to the video below for you to get the full picture.
But they are a vast improvement over basic machine leg curls because not only are you strengthening your hamstrings, but you are also improving your balance and flexibility.
Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself losing your balance often early. Over time you will improve your body’s balance, and possibly even be able to make the movement more challenging by adding holds or pauses throughout the depth of the movement.
WEIGHTED EXERCISE: BARBELL HIP THRUSTS
CALLISTEHNIC EXERCISE: ONE-LEG HIP THRUSTS W/HOLD
I used to do a lot of barbell hip thrusts with great amounts of weight.
Sure, they fired up my glutes, but they also hurt my back, a lot. I found that once I switched exclusively to bodyweight training, and trying different versions of un-weighted hip thrusts, the pain magically went away.
AND, my hips were much more explosive and powerful.
I believe that the underlying issue is that most people acknowledge and respect bodyweight training for our upper bodies, but they fail to see how calisthenics can be used to strengthen the legs.
The myth is that you can’t make the exercises difficult enough to sufficiently train the leg muscles.
But just look at hip-thrusts – you can always add long pauses to the movement to make the exercise as hard (or easy) as you need.
WEIGHTED EXERCISE: BARBELL CALF RAISES
CALLISTHENIC EXERCISE: JUMP-ROPE, SPORTS, ETC.
I have to be honest, I can’t help but laugh every time I see someone doing calf raises in a gym setting.
“What a waste of time” I always think.
If you want strong stronger calves – JUMP!
Nothing can match jump-roping, or playing basketball for improving the strength in your calves. And last time I checked, playing a sport was a lot more fun than doing basic calf raises with a barbell, but maybe that’s just me.
No matter what anyone tries to say, there is ALWAYS a suitable bodyweight replacement to ANY weighted exercise. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with weighted training – it can be fun and challenging as well.
BUT, there is always a substitute bodyweight movement that can be used if you’re energetic about calisthenic training.
I hope that this article has proven that so. But there are certainly many, many more substitutions that can be made.
If you would like to hear about more, hit us up in the comments for other movements you would like to see substitutions for. Or just let us know what some of your favorite moments are to train your body with your own body weight.