Bodyweight training, also known as calisthenics, is all the rage right now. It’s ideal for muscular endurance, boosts your functional fitness and mobility, and can be done anywhere and anytime. It’s no wonder that a global study by the American College of Sports Medicine named calisthenics as one of the top trends for 2020.
But just because you’re doing bodyweight workouts doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from occasionally supplementing your fitness regimen with some calisthenics equipment.
The following seven must-have workout tools will help you to reap the benefits of your bodyweight training faster than ever by boosting workout intensity and enhancing your strength. Each offers distinct advantages for various muscle groups and different fitness goals (e.g. endurance versus strength). Mix it up, swap it up, and level up.
The Best Calisthenics Equipment on the Market
1. Pullup Bars
There are few exercises as incredibly effective as pull-ups (performed with your palms on the pull-up bar facing away from you) and chin-ups (performed with your palms facing towards you).
In fact, a research study conducted by the American Council on Exercise found that pull-ups and chin-ups were by far the most powerful calisthenic workouts for your latissimus dorsi, activating those muscles exceptionally well.
But it’s not just great for big, strong lats. This bodyweight movement also targets your:
Obliques (specifically your external oblique)
Some of the best pull-up bars are simple devices available from most fitness stores and simply attach to your door frame.
This provides a stable bar surface from which you can safely hang and do a variety of hanging exercises, such as pull-ups, chin-ups, hanging knee raises, windshield wipers, L-sits and so much more. You quite frankly would have a difficult time doing many of these calisthenic exercises without a pull-up bar.
2. Gymnastic Rings
These rings are hardly just for gymnasts, although they’re hard to beat if you want a lean, toned and very strong body like a gymnast.
The benefits of gymnastic-inspired workouts are manifold. Besides simply building muscle size, strength and endurance, bodyweight workouts from the gymnastic world also:
- Build your strength without overloading your body's physiological systems with too much physical pressure and stress
- Maximizing your physical build, and helping to balance your natural strength-to-weight ratios
- Increasing your mind-muscle connection and your coordination
- Enhancing your dynamic flexibility
There are many ground-based, equipment-free gymnastic bodyweight workouts, such as Romanian deadlifts and high plank thoracic spine rotations. But gymnastic rings take it up a notch (pun intended).
Think of gymnastic rings' relation to your calisthenics like dumbbells are to your traditional weight training. They let you hone in and focus on specific areas of muscle control and muscle range of motion, and because each ring rotates independently when suspended in the air, using these rings increase the strength and stability you need.
For the best results, look for gymnastic rings that are made from wood (heavier and have a more natural "feel") or plastic (often cheaper, lighter and slippery). The straps should be long enough for wherever you’ll hang them (for the best results, find a spot in your home or gym where you can suspend your rings at least nine feet high), and the straps should be easily adjustable.
3. Weighted Vests
Bodyweight vests are the perfect add-on to any type of calisthenics. The premise is simple: Strap them on, and you’ll increase your “bodyweight,” thus increasing the intensity of your workout. Imagine if your burpees were 10 pounds heavier, or if your sit-ups benefited from an extra dose of gravity.
Plus, adding a weighted vest changes the stress placed on your various joints and muscles. This adds variety, and variety is the key for improved coordination, stability and strength. Plus, adding variety simply spices things up and can reinvigorate your fitness motivation.
An important tip: Don’t add bodyweight vests until you’re ready. Similar to overloading a bar when you’re lifting weights, packing on extra bodyweight for your calisthenics leaves you more prone to injury if you aren’t prepared.
Whatever the exercise is, you should be able to complete at least three sets of 10-12 reps with good, proper form before adding a bodyweight vest. When you do add the vest, increase your weight by no more than 10% of your current bodyweight to start.
Just like hanging rings, parallettes come from the world of gymnastics. They're ground-based bars that you hold yourself above to do exercises like L-sits or dips.
They're also helpful when you're practicing more advanced bodyweight movements, such as handstand push-ups or planches.
Their primary benefit is for your arms, shoulders and especially your core, because the parallettes let you get deeper into calisthenic exercises that target those muscles primarily.
5. Resistance Bands
Also known as strength bands, resistance bands are rubber or plastic bands that you can attach to different body parts, or to a doorknob or similar stable surface, and add resistance to basic bodyweight exercises.
They provide muscle activation not unlike lifting a weight. For example, you can stand on one end of a resistance band, then pull upward on the band to strengthen your biceps. However, resistance bands are gentler and low-impact, helping to reduce your risks of injury and pain.
Other benefits include:
- Keeping your muscles under tension through all range of movement, thus increasing muscle strength, endurance and performance
- Forcing your body to improve its stabilization and coordination
- Assisting with stretching and mobility (e.g. helping you pull a limb deeper into a stretch than you otherwise could have without a band)
- Very inexpensive and portable (perfect for packing in your suitcase when you travel)
- Adding variety to your workout to keep your motivation high
6. Battle Ropes
This might not be Sparta, but you’ll be raging a war on your muscles with battle ropes. You may find these in a gym, but they’re also easy to buy and use at home attached to a heavy object, or in the park attached to a picnic bench.
Battle ropes have a distinct benefit: They're one of the few types of high-intensity cardio that simultaneously helps you ramp up your metabolism and improve muscle strength. It's no wonder athletes love battle ropes for torching fat, getting lean and packing on muscle.
To maximize your training with battle ropes:
- Use all planes of motion (front, side and back). Don't just swing the ropes up and down. For instance, you could try going side to side (which hits your abdominal muscles and hips) or in circles (which boosts your coordination and core).
- Switch up the resistance. You can buy ropes of varying weight. Or, simply change where you're standing. The closer you get to where the battle ropes are anchored, the more intense the workout. Mix it up for the much-vaunted benefits of muscle confusion.
- Use ropes throughout your calisthenics routine. You can grab them for a quick warmup, use them as part of your actual workout, then hit the ropes again to cool down and flush metabolic waste from your body.
7. Sand Bags
Also known as bulgarian bags, sand bags aren’t just for landscaping purposes, kids’ playgrounds or protecting homes during storms and natural disasters. They’re also the “perfect storm” for your calisthenics.
When you grab a heavy sandbag and perform bodyweight workouts like burpees, dead bugs or farmer’s carry/walk, you’re doing more than just adding a heavy weight (which, on its own, builds strength).
The unique thing about sandbags is they're not steady, solid objects. This dynamic approach creates dynamic resistance. Many athletes report that they can lift only 30% to 50% of the weight they’d otherwise be able to use if they were holding a steady, solid object like a kettlebell.
That dynamic resistance also improves functional fitness, coordination and mobility. The functional fitness part is also key, with these bags improving your approach to other areas of your life (e.g. yard work, housework, carrying a toddler, etc.).
And finally, sand is cheap. Many people find sand bags an efficient and very affordable adjunct to their bodyweight routine.
Which One is Right For You?
Each of these calisthenic workout tools are far from essential. Bodyweight routines on their own can dramatically ramp up your endurance and strength. But if you’re looking at spicing up your calisthenics, these must-have ideas can help you hit your fitness goals faster and experience unique ways to improve your outcomes.