How to Start Calisthenics with Lucy Lismore


An Introduction to Calisthenics w. Lucy Lismore

Hey guys, how ya going?

Welcome back to another video. 

So, in today’s video I’m going to be breaking calisthenics down into five principle exercises that will be worthwhile for you to learn if you’re looking to get into calisthenics. 

So when you think of calisthenics, usually people think of pretty cool things like pistol squats, handstands, planches, back leavers, and bar skills, that sort of thing, but a lot of those moves are actually built upon five principle exercises, and that is what we’re going to look at today. 

So, we’re going to take you through pull ups, push ups, dips, squats, and also a hip/hinge/leg raise movement. And I’m going to break them all down. So I’ll give you the regressions and progressions for those exercises so that you can start at any level and work your way up. 

I just want to make a quick note before we start that just because these exercises are foundation, or the principle exercises, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to be easy. 

In fact, for a beginner, they can actually be very, very challenging. So even if you find the first progression difficult, just stick with it and stay consistent. Try to learn the correct form and just train as much as you can to master those skills and it will go a long way to helping you in the future when you want to advance your skills in calisthenics. 

But I am not averse to people just trying out calisthenics. If you want to learn how to handstand and you want to learn how to pistol squat or do something on the parallel bars or hanging off a bar then just do that because it’s all about play and enjoying the process as well and not just trying to work on progressions and being really rigid with your training. 

So that’s how I learnt. I just hung off bars, tried to chuck myself up into a handstand, I didn’t really bother about progressions or regressions at all, I just sort of experimented with it all and eventually it started to stick in my brain. Then I could start to increase the skill level and also add in more progressions and that sort of thing. 

As much as you need to learn the foundations of calisthenics and learn the principle moves and master them, it’s also going to be really beneficial to just get out there and be exploring and trying. 

Anyway, I’m not going to talk anymore. I’m going to get onto the video, and I’ll see you at the end. 

Pull Ups

All right. The first exercise we’re going to look at is pull ups. As you can see, in this example here, I am actually still trying to get back the strength for my pull ups. 

Resistance Band Pull Ups

For the first regressions we’re going to use a resistance band, or you could use a towel if you have one as well. You’re going to hold it about shoulder width apart above your head and you’re going to pull down towards your chest while thinking about pulling your elbows in towards your back pockets if you had jeans on, for example, or just down to your back, really squeezing the shoulder blades at the bottom of that movement. 

Passive Hang Pull Ups

If that feels ok then we are going to progress onto the next one which is the passive hang. You’re going to find yourself a bar and all you’re going to do is hang on. You’re going to hang on for as long as possible, really working on increasing your grip strength. 

If that is too tricky, you can always raise one foot up to take a little bit of your body weight off. 

Scapular Shrug Pull Ups

Alright, moving on, making it a little bit harder now: we’re going to go into scapular shrugs. So, still hanging on a bar, what you’re going to do is move between a passive and active hang by engaging your scapular, or shoulder blade. What you want to think about here is pulling your ears away from your shoulders and really squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of that movement in a nice controlled manner. 

Negative Pull Ups

If that is feeling good then we’re going to move into negatives, which is a fantastic way of training pretty much any exercise. You’re really going to focus on the eccentric phase of the exercise 

So for pull ups that means you’re going to find yourself a step or a box. You’re going to jump up so that your chest comes up to the bar. Hold your self there, and then lower yourself down as slowly and as controlled as possible through the whole movement. 

Resistance Band Assisted Pull Ups

The next progression, which I’m not a huge fan of but can be very useful, is using a resistance band. If you find a resistance band and loop it around the bar, then you can either put one foot or both feet into it, and then you can pull yourself through the full range of motion of the pull up exercise. 

Now, you’re still going to be working in a rep range that is going to be challenging. Let’s say you are trying to do eight reps, if you’re getting to the eighth rep and finding it quite difficult then you know the band you’re using is the right band for you. 

Full Pull Up

Finally we’re going to look at doing a full pull up. Like I said, I am still working on getting my pull ups back. I was injured last year, so it’s definitely a work in progress for more. So I use all of these progressions and regressions myself to try and get my reps back up there. 

Leg Raises

Ok, so we’re moving onto the next exercise here, which is going to be leg raises. This is a hip hinge movement, so it really uses your hip flexors at the front to lift your legs up towards your abdomen. 

Lying Leg Raises

The first progression we’re going to look at is going to start out lying on the floor. We’re going to do lying leg raises. 

If you need a little bit of help you can always sit on your hands, and to start with we are only going to bring our knees in towards our chest, extending our legs outwards and not letting them touch the floor in between. 

You want to think about keeping your core nice and strong here and really pushing your lower back into the ground as much as possible. 

So, advancing this slightly, you can still sit on your hands if you need to, instead of bending your knees you’re going to raise your entire legs straight up towards the ceiling, and then lower them down in a nice controlled manner. Again, try not to touch the floor between each repetition. 

Again, don’t forget to keep pushing your lower back into the ground as much as possible, and keep that core nice and strong like you were knitting your rips together.  

And here I’m just showing you what it’s like to take your hands out to the side, which makes the exercise slightly harder. 

Hanging Knee Raises

Ok, let’s up the difficulty a little bit. This time you’re going to be doing hanging knee raises. 

Find yourself a bar and take a wide overhand grip. 

I want you to think about drawing your knees in towards your chest. 

Try to control the movement and avoid any rocking forward and back. Avoid using momentum. 

To increase the difficulty you can bring your knees up to your chest and then extend your legs out whilst lowering down nice and slowly. Again, using your core and not momentum. 

Full Leg Raises

And finally the full move. Raising your legs up to hip height. Think about engaging your core muscles before you do the movement and keep your back nice and flat. 

Push Ups

OK, moving on to push ups now, which is a key exercise for so many people to master. I have actually made a separate video on this, so I’ll link it in the box in the corner. 

Right now we’re going to go through some progressions. 

A fantastic way to start learning how to do push ups is to work on an incline surface. I want you to try and do them on your toes and not on your knees if possible. This means you are still getting the full movement, but by doing it on a raised surface you are taking away some of the effort that is required. 

Whether you are on a step or on the floor, your hands are going to be slightly wider than your shoulders, and you’re going to aim to take your elbows out at about a 45 degree angle from your body. 

Keep your butt, your quads, your core nice and strong. The aim is to keep your body in one long line and to bring your chest down to the surface you’re pushing on, not your head, so you want to have your gaze slightly out in front of you. Keeping that core strong as always.

Your body comes down in one big movement.

Negative Push Ups

What you can do is to continually lower the surface that you are pushing from until you get to a point where you can actually negatives on the floor. 

Here we are doing that eccentric phase again.

You’ll be starting in a high plank position, and in a nice, slow and controlled movement you are going to lower yourself down to the floor. When you get there you can place your knees on the floor and push yourself back up again. 

Full Push Up

Following these progressions you should eventually get to the point where you can do a full push up. I know it may seem like you’ll never get there, because I was that person, I remember shouting in my living room that I wasn’t going to be able to do a push up, and it took me a long time, but with a bit of consistency and practising the right progressions, you do get there. 

Push Up Hand Positions 

I want to quickly note the hand positions for doing different push ups. 

This is the one we’re doing at the moment: your hands are slightly wider than your shoulders, elbows come out at 45 degrees. This is quite a tricep (the muscle on the back of your upper arm) dominant position and can be quite tricky to master. 

Here I’m taking my arms out wide. You’ll often find that this feels a lot easier. You should be able to master these push ups quicker. That’s because you are using your chest, which is a much bigger muscles. You can always start with these push ups. There is no right or wrong. 

Tricep Dips

Moving on to triceps dips. This is what a full body tricep dip looks like. Again, it takes some time to work your way up to doing a full body tricep dip, so let’s look at some of the progressions. 

Elevated Dips

To start with find yourself an elevated surface. This could be a chair or a step on your staircase, and you’re going to have your hands just slightly wider than your shoulders. Your legs are going to be nice and close to your body. Bend your elbows, pushing them back towards the back of the room. Then come up and squeeze the tricep, which is the back of your arm. 

If you want to make this a little bit harder you can extend your legs straight out in front of you, and then do exactly the same thing, keeping your back nice and close to that chair or step, and pushing up, squeezing that tricep at the top of the move. 

Negative Parellel Bar Dips

If that feels good, find yourself some parallel bars or a dip station if you have them at your gym and we’re going to do some negatives. Good old negatives, we’re back to that again. 

Working on the eccentric phase of the movement. You’re going to jump up and push your self the last little bit using momentum, and then slowly lower yourself back down to the ground in a controlled manner. Again, maybe looking at eight seconds on the down phase. Think about pushing your elbows back and your chest moving forward. 

When I’ve had clients trying this for the first time on bars, I usually get the same feedback from them: that they can feel it a lot on their chest, and that it hurts their hands, the palms of their hands, where they are pushing on that bar. This is all quite normal. As you do this more often you will get stronger and you won’t feel it as much. 

Resistance Band Assisted Tricep Dips

This can be a bit of an awkward one to set up but it can be pretty useful, so grab yourself a resistance band and hook it on either side of the dip bars. Place your hands on top of the resistance band to support it. 

Then jump up. Get your knees into the resistance band and then complete a full dip. It’s going to give you a little bit of assistance, especially during that upward pushing phase. 

Full Tricep Dip

Eventually you will be able to get rid of the band and you’ll be able to perform a full dip. 

Everything is exactly the same here. Think about pushing those elbows backwards, coming up and squeezing that tricep muscle, and keeping that core nice and strong. 


All right, we’re on to the final exercise: a squat. Nice and easy right. 

Now, something that people mostly struggle with when they are just starting out with a squat is mobility and form. It’s nothing to do with strength or the ability to do the exercise. 

We’re going to have a look at the correct form. To start with we are going to be using a chair. 

Chair Squats

Sit back. The weight in your heels. You want to keep your chest up nice and high, looking forward. Make sure you are coming down in a controlled manner. Push up through your heels. 

Full Squat

Now take the chair away and squat down to just below 90 degrees. There is a lot of debate about how low you should go into a squat, but for the sake of this video we’re going to go to 90 degrees. 

Squat Feet Position

I probably should have filmed a clip facing forwards, as I want to talk about my foot position. 

My feet are about hip distance apart and my toes and knees are pointing ever so slightly outwards. You want to maintain this position throughout the squat. 

When you sit back you are going to keep those knees facing outwards, keep that core engaged, keep that chest up, and everything stays nice and strong.  

I didn’t film any of these, but there are ways to make this harder. Once you feel comfortable with the normal squat, you can add a squat jump, you can add weights to the equation, goblet squats are a fantastic exercise if you’re just starting out, so you can always grab a weight and holding it at your chest while performing this exercise just to build up a bit more strength. 

Conclusion: A Final Word FromLucy Lismore

Ok guys, I hope that video has helped you understand the process in building up to those principle exercises and how they could potentially benefit you in the future. 

In terms of the training, how often you should train, how many sets or repetitions you can do, listen to your body and be intuitive. There is no right or wrong answer.

With these fundamental exercises you can incorporate them into a training routine or you can just try them. I’m, again I’ve mentioned this quite a lot of times, but I’m a fan of doing it whenever and wherever you feel like it. If I’m waiting for my dinner to cook, I will be down on the floor doing push ups, or handstands, or whatever it might be. There is really not a time and place, obviously be safe, listen to your body. If you’re tired or you have injuries or anything like that, take that into consideration. But ultimately you’re going to get as much out of your training as you put into it. Try to look at it as a lifestyle or an enjoyment thing, rather than a solid training regime. Unless you’ve got a very, very specific goal, it’s probably not really necessary. So have fun, enjoy calisthenics, and just explore it. 


Personal Trainer, Calisthenics Practitioner, & Owner of

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