Build Incredible Strength And Mobility Through Yoga And Calisthenics
We are going talk about how to combine yoga and calisthenics.
In fact, there are two approaches we will discuss.
The first approach is separating the practices. Focusing your time on each individually. Meaning, you train calisthenics and yoga at different times.
The second approach is combining both into a yoga/calisthenics hybrid workout. Taking principles of both yoga and calisthenics into one combined routine.
Your could even combine both approaches into a full periodized training strategy! (more on that later)
There are pros and cons to both. We’ll discuss those below.
But first, don’t forget that yoga and calisthenics are two separate things…
Before we dive in and discuss how to combine yoga and calisthenics, I want you to remember something.:
Yoga and calisthenics are NOT the same.
We need to remember that yoga and calisthenics are two entirely different practices. With their own methods and principles.
This is why we will discuss them separately, and then tie them together in a nice little bow at the end. Not just sandwich some exercises into a yoga sequence and send you on your way. In fact, I’d be doing you a disservice. Instead I am going to steer you in the right direction for both practices. And how to include them based on your lifestyle and goals.
Yoga and calisthenics complement each other so well. But I caution you on confusing them as one…
What is calisthenics?
Calisthenics is bodyweight only fitness training.
Similar to weightlifting, calisthenics uses resistance training with the goal of improving strength, hypertrophy (fancy term for muscle growth), and/or endurance. The difference is in the variables required to do this (which we will discuss in a moment).
With weightlifting, you can increase resistance by simply adding weight. Calisthenics is a little more tricky…
With calisthenics, you increase resistance by decreasing mechanical advantage (ie. pushups progressing to one-arm pushups). It requires a different path of progression. Altering the biomechanics of the movements vs adding weight to a barbell.
BTW – this is a reason calisthenics is so great. Progressing skills and getting stronger this way is funner.
When it comes to building strength, hypertrophy, and/or endurance, there is a lot of exercise physiology involved. In this article, we’ll go over the main points that you need to know. If you want to learn more about training with bodyweight only strength, I highly recommend Overcoming Gravity by Steven Low.
What is yoga?
Yoga is an ancient (over 5,000 years old!) lifestyle practice. In fact, it was never intended as an exercise system. Rather, yoga seeks to find internal enlightenment through external practices in meditation, discipline, and morals.
For the purpose of this article, we will focus on two components. Asana (the physical poses) and Pranayama (focused breathing).
And if we look at it from a physical perspective… not only are the asanas great for improving your flexibility. But the movement sequences are awesome for increasing neuromuscular coordination and functional stability. This is why yoga pairs beautifully with calisthenics. AND there will be carryover between both practices. Calisthenics providing your body with strength. Yoga providing more flexibility and stability.
Sounds awesome, right?
But how do you get started?
Calisthenics and The ‘SAID’ Principle: What Do You Want to Get Better At?
How do you combine yoga and calisthenics for epic results?
First, you need to know what your goals are. And not only that, but you need to be aware of the principles that will guide you there.
Specifically, the SAID Principle. This tells us that the body will Adapt Specifically to Imposed Demands. For example, you wouldn’t train the same as an endurance runner, if you were a powerlifter (and vice-versa).
With calisthenics, the imposed demands are exercises. Structured in a way to improve strength, hypertrophy, and/or endurance.
We can see with the SAID Principle the weaknesses from ONLY practicing yoga. And how more yogis would benefit from including strength training like calisthenics.
Yoga does offer plenty of isometric strengthening and concentric PUSHING movements.
The result? Yogis are usually pretty damn toned. Especially in the shoulders, chest, core, arms, and legs.
HOWEVER, they often the have flat bums and weak back muscles. Yoga doesn’t offer any PULLING exercises.
In fact, I am always suggesting to my yogi friends to at least include training pull-ups and ideally some variation of deadlifts.
Remember the SAID Principle. With it in mind, your body is going to adapt by 1) getting stronger through calisthenics and 2) becoming more supple through yoga.
It’s a good mix.
With Calisthenics, we need to consider the SAID principle with respect to progression of specific exercises. You won’t get better at doing pull-ups, for example, by practicing yoga.
You get better at doing pull-ups by doing pull-ups.
Now before we talk about calisthenics exercises you should use and create a training plan, we need to consider another important principle that is going to determine your results (or lack thereof)…
Progressive Overload: Build Lean Muscle & Strength!
As we train with Calisthenics, the most important principle we need to be aware of is Progressive Overload.
Progressive Overload is the gradual increase in stress placed upon the body to adapt. In conjunction with the SAID principle, we use Progressive Overload to strategically increase resistance on the body.
Training for Progressive Overload is a must. In fact, those who hit plateaus and/or don’t get any results to begin with? It’s because they are not training for progressive overload…
The Repetition Continuum for Strength, Hypertrophy, and Endurance
With weightlifting, you can simply increase the weight. With calisthenics this is more difficult to do as it requires you to decrease the mechanical advantage.
IF you want to get results, your training needs to follow Progressive Overload. Ultimately, your training should involve concentric exercises used in repetition to failure.
We can look at this as a repetition continuum based upon the outcomes we seek (RM = Repetition Max):
- Strength: 1-5 RM
- Strength / Hypertrophy: 6-8 RM
- Hypertrophy: 8-12 RM
- Endurance: 13+ RM
Those are the repetition ranges we need to work at based on our goals.
On that note, a BIG mistake I see is those with bodyweight strength goals pumping out hundreds of pushups. I mean, it’s cool and all if you can pump out 100 pushups in one set. BUT that’s endurance… IF you want to get stronger AND build muscle, a better approach would be to progress to one-arm pushups, for example.
Exercise Selection for Your Calisthenics Training Routine
For most people, goals with weightlifting OR calisthenics are to get stronger and improve lean muscle mass.
Remember, with weightlifting this can be achieved by simply adding weight to a barbell.
With calisthenics, things get a little trickier. That’s because you can’t increase the weight. You instead have to decrease the mechanical advantage instead.
Adding weight to the bench press over time is progression. With calisthenics, increasing reps and decreasing mechanical advantage over time is progression.
For example, pushups > archer pushups > one arm pushups on your knees > one arm pushups
But wait! What about if you are training for something static, like the planche?
For this, we need to consider isometric strength training.
With skills like the planche, you would have to work on progressive exercises based on TIME. For example, you could practice tuck planche. Aiming to hold it for as long as you can each set. Once you’re holding it beyond 30-seconds, you could advance.
Resistance bands can be helpful for progressive training with calisthenics, as well. For example, they can help with skills like the planche. Simply loop it to your pull-up bar and place it around your waste. Then practice your tuck planche and/or extending the legs for full planche. Reduce the size of the band as you progress. Until you don’t need bands at all. I like using them for practicing one-arm chin-ups, too.
Ultimately, with calisthenics the exercises you choose should follow a path of progression.
Best way to get started for beginners? Keep it simple.
Calisthenics Workout for Beginners
So you know you need to progress with bodyweight exercises.
Firstly, I think learning how to handstand is a must for calisthenics athletes AND yogis alike.
Before your workout, it’s a good idea to warm-up. You can also practice skills like handstands before your workout. Here’s how that might look…
Step 1) warm up with something like skipping, jogging, rowing, biking, etc. Just getting the blood flowing.
Step 2) warm up the wrists – simply come down onto your hands and knees. Pressing into the ground, rock back and forth over your wrists. You can also circle over the wrists clockwise and counterclockwise. Maybe even flip the palms over and place the backs of your hands into the ground for a more intense stretch into the extensors.
Step 3) practice shoulder dislocates. Grab a stick, skipping rope, resistance band, or something you can grab in both of your hands out in front of you. Lift it upwards in front of you, moving it over and all the way behind you. Hands wider is easier. Hands closer is harder.
Step 4) fire up the core. Practicing hollow body holds / hollow body rocks are a good choice.
Step 5) practice handstands against a wall. Ideally, with your chest facing towards it. Walk your feet up, PRESS into the ground (elevating the shoulders), and see if you can slowly remove one or both feet from the wall.
Don’t burnout your shoulders practicing handstands, mind you. You can always put more time into practicing them later!
At this point, your body should be pretty warm. And all of that can take you less than 10-minutes.
Practicing the handstand is optional, but again I recommend it. Especially if you would like to someday be able to do more advanced exercises like Handstand Pushups.
For this calisthenics workout, I am going to provide you with a simple structure to get you started.
Instructions: complete the workout 3-days per week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for example). We will include a push exercise, pull exercise, legs exercises, and core. You can work on the exercises in a range of 8-12 repetitions for the first 3-4 weeks. Then, you may want to increase the resistance to a point you are hitting failure within 6-8 reps (intermediate). Rest for 2-3 minutes between sets.
Calisthenics Workout Structure Beginner:
- Push Exercise: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
- Quad-legs Exercise: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
- Pull Exercise: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
- Hip-Legs Exercise: 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
- Core exercise: 3-4 sets of 8-12
Calisthenics Workout Structure Intermediate:
- Push Exercise: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Quad-legs Exercise: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Pull Exercise: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Hip-Legs Exercise: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
- Core exercise: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
On exercise selection, it is up to you to determine what you want to focus on. As well as determining where you are at in your progress.
For push exercises, I recommend push up progressions. Anything related to pushups. Whether you are progressing to handstand pushups (you can use the wall btw), or one-arm pushups. Those are good progression paths.
Quad dominant exercises are things like squats and lunges. You can progress those by making them explosive (jump squats, jump lunges). You can also progress to more advanced exercises like Shrimp Squats and Pistol Squats.
Pull exercises are things like rows and pull-ups. I highly recommend working on pull-up or chin-up progressions.
Can’t do pull-ups? Try eccentric pull-ups (jumping up to the top, and slowly lowering (aim for a count of 5) yourself to the bottom). You can also use pull up assistance bands. Starting with a stronger band and working on decreasing the assistance with smaller ones in later workouts.
Hip dominant exercises are things like glute bridge, deadlifts, etc. If you’re not 100% allergic to weightlifting – I enjoy single-legged deadlifts.
There are MANY exercises you can use. And as you get more advanced, you can change your workout programming. Including more exercises and/or volume. But the above structure will give you a solid foundation and the best approach for you to get started with.
If you want to learn more about exercise selection and designing calisthenic training plans, I highly recommend reading Overcoming Gravity by Steven Low.
Complementing Calisthenics With Yoga
Okay, so you have your calisthenics workout. Remember that earlier I said we would look at them both as separate practices, as well as a hybrid approach by combining them into one workout/practice.
For now, let’s discuss them as separate practices.
What’s left after you have determined your calisthenics training, is adding in yoga. Ideally, after your workouts and/or on rest days.
That’s because you don’t want to lengthen the muscles prior to working out. Not only that, but yoga itself can be a bit of a workout. Especially when you’re working through your edges in more challenging yoga classes.
For this reason, yoga works great after your workouts and/or on rest days as an “active recovery”.
Take a look at yoga studios in your area. Find one that has an introductory offer (most will have something like a 30-day unlimited trial offer). Sign up. And go to as many classes as you can outside of your calisthenics training. Try as many different styles and teachers as possible.
If you can’t access a yoga studio in your area, you can always consider online yoga classes. In January 2022 I put out a 30-day yoga challenge on YouTube that you can use as well.
I prefer more vigorous styles like power vinyasa yoga. Yin is also great if you are to fatigued and need a more restful practice. It’s also great for improving flexibility. Again, practice multiple styles and see what you like best.
Calisthenics and Yoga As A Hybrid Practice
Finally, another approach you may wish to take is practicing yoga and calisthenics as a hybrid practice.
Ultimately, this would be a yoga sequence including poses and focused breathing. HOWEVER, you would add in circuit style training based on calisthenics.
This means that you perform exercises back-to-back. Doing this offers a quicker workout. AND in this case, allows us to combine calisthenics and yoga as a hybrid practice.
How do you do that?
Let’s take a look at building a calisthenics and yoga workout sequence…
With yoga, we have to be aware of the Pranayama and Asana practices.
The addition of calisthenics requires a circuit style training workout.
Here is the best way to go about it:
- Warmup wrists (rocking over wrists)
- Warmup spine (cat-cows)
- Sun Salutations A
- Sun Salutations B
- Calisthenics Circuit Training x3 rounds
- Supine / seated cool down poses (ie. Pigeon pose / split variations / spinal twists, etc)
- Savasana / meditation
It’s actually so good how well the circuit fits!
In Vinyasa yoga, you will usually perform Vinyasa A and/or B as a warmup. Then, you move into a standing series (including warrior poses, crescent lunge, balancing, etc). INSTEAD, we add in a calisthenics circuit training workout.
Even better, you can use transitions through yoga poses as exercises. For example, performing exercises like EPK 2 pushups. Moving you closer to more advanced moves like the full EPK 2 / Flying Split Pose.
You can now take the calisthenics workout structure mentioned above. Select exercises for each (push, quads, pull, hips, core) and do them at this point in the yoga sequence.
So there you have it. When combining yoga and calisthenics, usually the best approach is to separate them and dedicate time to each individually. Doing both will benefit each other, as you start to develop more bodyweight control and mobility that carries over in each.
However, combining both calisthenics and yoga into a hybrid workout is another option. And can save you time while you reap the benefits of both practices simultaneously.
Ultimately, you should be improving with your training. Make sure you are progressing in any approach you seek.
Finally, if you’re into yoga and handstands, you’re probs into handstands. Or at least you should be!
I have a free handstand training series called Handstand 101. You can learn more and sign up for it here.
Thanks again for reading. And good luck in both your calisthenics and yoga journeys!