AskDefine | Define calisthenics

Dictionary Definition

calisthenics n : light exercise designed to promote general fitness [syn: callisthenics, calisthenic exercise, callisthenic exercise]

User Contributed Dictionary



From κάλλος + σθένος.


  1. gymnastic exercises to develop the grace and strength of the body
  2. a system of such exercises


Extensive Definition

Calisthenics form a category of physical exercises closely related to, but not a part of, gymnastics. The name of the discipline is Greek in origin, a combination of the words kalos, 'beautiful' and sthénos, 'strength'.

In the United States

In the United States, calisthenics is a type of exercise consisting of a variety of simple movements, usually performed without weights or other equipment, that are intended to increase body strength and flexibility using the weight of one's own body for resistance. Repeated motions of calisthenics done over an extended period of time builds muscle endurance. The history of calisthenics is linked to gymnastics. Disciples of Friedrich Ludwig Jahn brought their version of gymnastics to the United States, while Catherine Beecher and Dio Lewis set up physical education programs for women in the 19th Century. Organized systems of calisthenics in America took a back seat to competitive sports after the Battle of the Systems, when the states mandated physical education systems.
The primary calisthenic exercises are:
  • Sit-ups/crunches: Start with your back on the floor, knees bent, bottoms of feet against the floor. Lift shoulders off the floor by tightening abdominal muscles bringing your chest closer to your knees. Lower back to the floor with a smooth movement. This trains your abdominal muscles.
  • Push-ups: Start face down on floor, palms against floor under shoulders, toes curled up against floor. Push up with arms keeping a straight line from head through toes. Lower to within a few inches off floor (or have a partner put their closed fist on the floor under your chest and lower your chest to their fist each time) and repeat. Do not rest on the floor or your partners fist when you descend. You should keep your head tilted upward, your back straight. Do not rest on your shoulder blades, even when you feel fatigue. This trains your chest, shoulder, and tricep muscles.
  • Pull-ups: Start by grabbing an overhead bar using a shoulder-width overhand (palms facing forward) grip. Keep your back straight throughout. Using your lat muscles, pull yourself up to chin level (always with the bar in front of your head) then slowly return to starting position in a slow controlled manner. Avoid using the arms to pull yourself up and do not make jerky movements to gain leverage. This primarily trains your lats or upper back muscles, as well as the forearms. An underhand grip variation or chin-up trains both the back and biceps.
  • Squats: Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Squat as far as possible bringing your arms forward parallel to the floor. Return to standing position. Repeat. If you feel like this is not a challenge, there are other forms of squats. One method is lifting one leg off the floor in front of you, putting both arms in front of you for balance, and squatting. This is a one-legged squat or pistol. Squats train the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and gluteals.
  • Calf-raises: Stand on a platform with an edge where you can let the heels hang (e.g. a curb). Use your heels to lift your body on the balls of your feet, then slowly return to starting position. This trains your upper calf muscles on your lower legs. A seated calf-raise trains the lower calf muscles.
  • Dips: Jump up into position in between parallel bars or facing either direction of trapezoid bars found in some gyms. Cross your feet with either foot in front and lower yourself on the bars until your elbows are in line with your shoulders. Push yourself up until you are fully extended, but you do not have to lock your elbows. Press yourself up and down for repetitions and you are doing dips. Dips focus primarily on the chest, triceps, and deltoids.
  • Arm Circles

In Australia

In Australia, calisthenics is a competitive performing sport for mostly women (males can participate also, up to the age of 12 but exceptions occur), with girls from as young as three participating. Calisthenics is composed of freearm (similar to rhythmic gymnastics, without apparatus), aesthetics (a graceful form of dance), rhythmic (similar to ballet), folk dance, song and dance, figure marching, club-swinging, metal rod exercises and calisthenics revue (the most common 5 used are nicknamed Freearm, Aesthetics, Clubs, Rods, and March). At the most elite level, calisthenics requires competitors to have high levels of flexibility, strength, balance and control. Precision, standard technique, good deportment and a high level of choreography are also required. Girls wear beautiful costumes often designed and sewn especially for the year's competition items. The make-up is over-the-top, to emphasise expressions on stage. Team competition is the main form of competition, however a solo competitions called "Graceful Girl" and/or "Solo and duo" is regarded as the ultimate ambition for calisthenic girls. Calisthenics were first pioneered as a sport in the 1890s. In 1903, the Royal South Street Society introduced calisthenics as a section in its famous eisteddfod in Ballarat. Calisthenics is now a competitive sport in all Australian states except Tasmania.
Girls are grouped into 6 sections based on their age as at 31 December in the year that the competition is held - Tinies (7 and under), Sub-juniors (9 and under), Juniors (12 and under), Intermediates (16 and under), Seniors (16 years and over) and Masters (mature aged members).



Calisthenics originated in ancient Greece. It is mentioned as a Persian scouts' report on Spartan warriors before the Battle of Thermopylae, who misinterprets calisthenics as a sign of weakness.


Calisthenics came to prominence in Australia during the Victorian Gold Rush. It provided exercises to help city dwellers keep fit. These exercises were often combined with apparatus to keep their wrists, elbows and shoulders supple. Clubs and rods are currently being used for this. Musical accompaniment gradually enhanced performances and it slowly became an integral part of the sport.
Public classes began in the 1880's. By 1903 the Royal South Street Society introduced calisthenics to its famous Eisteddfod in Ballarat. The competition in Ballarat is still the focus for many clubs in Australia. Calisthenics was introduced into Victorian State Schools in the 1930s.
The sport became so popular that calisthenics clubs spread rapidly, mostly in Victoria and South Australia. It achieved national attraction when Victorian and South Australian coaches began moving throughout Australia.

General uses

  • As warm-up before various sports
  • As part of a work-out to burn food energy without gym equipment
calisthenics in Spanish: Calistenia
calisthenics in Russian: Зарядка
calisthenics in Sanskrit: सौबल
calisthenics in Simple English: Calisthenics

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

athletics, breather, constitutional, daily dozen, drill, eurythmics, exercise, exercising, gymnastic exercises, gymnastics, isometrics, physical culture, physical education, physical jerks, practice, setting-up exercises, stretch, workout, yoga
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