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The hidden power of progressive calisthenics. Structure.

So you have learned already principles of calisthenics which will set you up for success as well as we looked at ways of progressing in bodyweight strength training.

This particular type of training we are practicing for a reason is called progressive calisthenics. You already know that to get anywhere you need to apply a rule of progressive resistance: constantly add difficulty to your training. Now the power of progressive calisthenics is that it structure this vague notion of progression and gives you a step by step guidance on what to so.

So what is a progression?

Its simple. Its a series of exercises for the same muscle group where each exercise is slightly harder than the previous one. You start with the exercise which is the easiest and slowly build up to the top. In the process, you have to work on an exercise until you find it very easy to do and then move on to the next and the harder one. Then you work on the second exercise to “unlock” the third exercise and so it goes.

So for instance let’s have a look at this full one arm pushup progression.

Depending how fit you are you would start at the particular level, but we encourage everybody to start from scratch unless you have been training for months now.

Inhuman strength? There are steps for that.

And for One Arm Pushup there are 17 of them.

The road to one arm pushup will look like that:

1 Wall pushups
2 Incline Pushups
3 Kneeling Pushups
4 Half Way Pushups
5 Normal Pushups
6 Elbows in pushups
7 Diamond Pushups
8 Wide Grip
9 Decline Pushups
10 Decline diamond pushup
11 Uneven Pushups
12 Wall one arm
13 Incline one arm
14 Straddle One Arm Push-Ups
15 1/2 one arm pushup
16 One arm pushups
17 Decline one arm pushup

Now notice, how with every single step the exercise is getting harder and harder, That’s what you want.
Appropriate number of sets and reps needs to be done before progressing into the next one before progressing to the next level.

17 steps? or More or less?

One important thought about progressions. These steps are the guidance and as calisthenics exercises usually are complex and require a number of things to be in place most probably you will have to troubleshoot them at some point. You might find yourself at the particular step and not being able to do something. It’s ok, and it might mean that you might have to do more work on your core, on your skill, mobility or work on your flexibility. It’s all good. We will help you troubleshoot that.

Putting whole body at work

Now if you would follow this progression you would definitely eventually get at one-arm pull-up. And although practicing for this particular exercise will build your strength, you really want to make sure you are developing who your body: upper body, legs, core etc so as you progress you will get stronger in all those areas.

As calisthenics as its a crossover from gymnastics it adds a few other important elements like training for skill, balance, mobility. Only if you have all those things in place you will be able to move smoothly to more and more difficult exercises.

Fundamental Movements

That is why with calisthenics and bodyweight strength training at the very beginner level we start with a number of fundamental movements. Those differ from school to school. In Paul Wade Convict Conditioning we have THE BIG SIX – exercises which are the base for any other movements. From where I come from which is more a gymnastic approach we differentiate first between pulling and pushing exercises, then add core, legs and skill work elements.

So we will have:

  • Pushing exercises (divided into horizontal and vertical) – which involve pushups, handstands and dips
  • Pulling Exercises (horizontal and vertical) – that include horizontal rows and pullups
  • Legs – squats are the only one for that unfortunately with bodyweight but can be built into being very difficult ones
  • Core – that can include anything from bridges, planks, leg raises

Note that these are the base. When you master those you will be able to move to more advanced ones like typewriter pull up, human flag, iron cross etc etc

I know that most of you are beginners, hence we are discussing that in details.

Getting Started + micro progressions

Depending on where you are you will want to put together a workout which fit your lifestyle, your goals etc (which I discuss extensively in the book), but for now I want you to focus on just getting started.

Here is a table with progressions – which is a work in progress. As I was going through a my own journey I was getting stuff, I was troubleshooting, I was breaking down progressions and looking for missing micro progressions. For now I believe this is the most comprehensive table with progressions you can get out there.

Unlike for example Convict Conditioning (which I would recommend everyone to read) which is having just 10 progressions for each movement we broke t down to many many more steps. Why?

Because in between these 10 steps are many other different steps which if you will not master you will get stuck or platou, because you are missing skill or mobility, or flexibility. Also note that some of these progressions are purely based on CC work like bridges, which I am personally a big fan of.

Putting it all together – WORKOUT TIME!

Depending on where you are you will want to or start at the very beginning or start wherever it’s most suitable for you. You pick exercise from each section and perform the appropriate number of sets reps. When you reach the level you established and you feel like you are at ease with this particular step you can move to the next one. It is that easy.

Assuming you are starting from scratch. Here is your workout:

  1. Quick full body warm up


  1. Wall Push Ups
  2. Incline Pike Push Up


  1. Wall Pull Up
  2. Vertical Pull


Shoulder Stand Squat


  1. Knee Tucks
  2. Short Bridges
  3. Hollow

10 Finish all up with stretches

The number of reps and sets will depend on your goal but for a beginner its usually it is three sets of 8-10 reps.

Ready to go?

Do you already have a routine? How do you train? What did you find the most optimal? Let me know in comments!

calisthenics training program

calisthenics training program


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