Calisthenics for Weight Loss: Is it Effective?

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 6, 2022

Calisthenics and weight loss often go hand in hand, either due to the exerciser’s lack of confidence with being at a gym or because of the inherently high caloric expenditure of calisthenic workouts.

As such, it is no surprise that quite a few individuals seeking weight loss will turn to the body weight exercises of calisthenics to further reach their goals.

Calisthenics is a perfectly suitable training discipline for aiding in your weight loss journey - so long as it is combined with other methods of weight loss, you can be assured that the pounds will shed off in no time at all.

What is Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is a modality of resistance training wherein the exerciser will leverage their own body weight in order to achieve muscular hypertrophy and expend calories. 

calisthenics example trunk twists
Trunk Twists

A hallmark of calisthenics training is in the fact that it requires little to no exercise equipment, and is generally accessible to anyone, anywhere. This makes calisthenics arguably the most convenient form of resistance training available, and the cheapest one as well.

A lesser known fact, however, is that calisthenics is also an excellent method of losing weight, as its ordinary workout will consist of longer times under tension and more volume per exercise than most other kinds of resistance training methods.

How is Weight Loss Achieved?

The term weight loss will usually refer to the metabolism of adipose tissue energy storage, or what is otherwise known as “burning fat”. 

This is achieved through proper diet and exercise, with the former being via caloric deficits and the latter being through caloric expenditure.

While being in a caloric deficit through dieting is far easier and safer, it is still possible to push your weight loss a little further through the use of certain types of exercise that are known for burning a lot of calories in a short time.

While this is mostly aerobic exercises, calisthenics is one among these high calorie expenditure types of exercises available.

How Many Calories Does Calisthenics Burn?

The amount of calories burned by a calisthenics workout will depend on the intensity of the workout, what sort of exercises are performed and the bodyweight of the exerciser themselves.

calisthenics shoulder push ups
Shoulder Push Ups

However, a good average to go off of is somewhere between 250-400 calories per hour of calisthenics, including rest periods between sets.

In truth, it is quite difficult to estimate exactly how many calories an individual will burn in any given calisthenics workout - making tracking your calories and inducing a caloric deficit all the more important.

How to Structure a Calisthenics Workout for Weight Loss

The majority of calisthenics workouts are structured for the purposes of inducing muscular hypertrophy, and (while possible as a secondary objective) are not as effective as calisthenics workouts structured specifically for caloric expenditure.

calisthenics decline push ups
Decline push ups

To form a calisthenics workout for weight loss, the exerciser simply needs to focus on performing lower intensity exercises at a larger volume of repetitions per set. This will ensure that the heart rate of the exerciser is raised throughout each set, and that a higher number of calories are being expended.

An often overlooked but nonetheless important factor to all this, is that of tempo; if seeking out greater fat burning potential from resistance exercise, it is best to choose specific exercises that allow for a rapid tempo to be used without injury.

These can be kipping pull-ups, clap push-ups or jumping jacks, for example - all of which allow for far more rapid movements to be performed than other exercises.

Best Calisthenics Exercises for Weight Loss

Some calisthenics exercises involve more movement and caloric expenditure than others, with the hallmark of an excellent weight loss calisthenic exercise being one of a compound and explosive nature, preferably with a high tempo.

Ideally, if all these conditions are met, it is quite possible for an exerciser to induce significant caloric expenditure in a short amount of time simply by including such exercises into their calisthenics workout routine.

Burpees

Burpees are among the most effective calisthenics exercises for weight loss, working the shoulders, core, legs and pectorals in an intense and simultaneous fashion.

burpee movement

This large scale compound muscular activation, combined with the high tempo and intensity of burpees, results in a truly excellent movement for inducing weight loss - so much so, infact, that burpees are regularly included in many other weight loss workouts that do not normally include calisthenics exercises.

Bodyweight Squats

A staple of calisthenics training programs, bodyweight squats are also quite effective at burning calories due to the number of muscle groups recruited throughout its movement. 

bodyweight squat

This leads to a greater level of stress being placed on the cardiovascular system, as well as more energy being spent moving the entirety of the lower body - eventually ending in a fat burning effect.

Bodyweight squats are best used as a weight loss exercise when performed at high volumes of repetitions per set, requiring that the exerciser have at least an intermediate level of lower body strength and endurance in order to complete such sets.

Inverted Rows

A back-focused compound bodyweight exercise more frequently seen in bodybuilding routines, the inverted row is also a suitable movement for calisthenics-based weight loss workouts, especially when paired with lower body calisthenic exercises like the squat or jumping jacks.

inverted row

Inverted rows allow for a high tempo and volume to be achieved with each set, due to the rather short range of motion involved alongside the relatively low level of resistance presented by the exerciser’s bodyweight.

Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers are arguably one of the best exercises for inducing weight loss - not only among calisthenic exercises, but among all exercises in general. 

mountain climbers

The high tempo, wide range of muscular recruitment and aerobic component of the mountain climber exercise can lead to significant caloric expenditure within just a few minutes of performing such an exercise.

Mountain climbers (much like burpees) are also frequently incorporated into many weight loss workouts, a standing testimony to their effectiveness at burning fat while simultaneously training the core muscles.

Bicycle Crunches

Essentially a less intense version of mountain climbers, bicycle crunches train both the core musculature of the exerciser, as well as their cardiovascular system due to the high tempo and intensity of the movement. 

Unlike other exercises on this list however, bicycle crunches are almost entirely an isolation exercise, meaning that they are best left at the end of a fat-burning calisthenics workout so as to squeeze out a further amount of caloric expenditure, while also training their abs on top of such benefits.

Due to the isolated nature of bicycle crunches’ muscular recruitment, total volume per set may be somewhat limited as the muscles of the core fatigue quite quickly. 

This is an additional reason as to why bicycle crunches are best left at the end of a weight loss workout session, as prematurely fatigued core muscles can lead to injury in the wrong circumstances.

How to Maximize Weight Loss from Calisthenics

In order to ensure that your efforts are creating the greatest fat burning effect possible, there are several other factors of your training that must be brought into line. These are mostly common knowledge, but are otherwise worth reiterating due to their importance.

Diet

Perhaps even more important than the weight loss workouts themselves, creating a state of caloric deficit through caloric restriction dieting is the only surefire way of achieving proper weight loss. 

Barring several rare health conditions, restricting your caloric intake through various dietary methods will both regulate the rate at which you lose weight as well as ensure that body fat is actually being lost.

Depending on your training age, relative health, macronutrient split and a number of other factors, the method and intensity of your diet can directly affect how fast you lose body fat over time, and the sort of side effects that may come with this loss of adipose tissue.

Cardio

Though calisthenics is arguably one of the most effective kinds of resistance exercise for proper weight loss, the further addition of aerobic exercise or cardiovascular system stimulating exercise will only reinforce this effectiveness.

The raised heart rate, rapid tempo and high intensity of most cardio exercises can easily burn hundreds of calories in only a fraction of the time that other types of exercise can reach, making it a truly useful tool for maximizing fat burn.

Injury Avoidance

Though not directly related to weight loss, taking days of rest between workouts and ensuring proper form is followed can make or break your weight loss journey. 

Nagging injuries that interrupt the flow of your training or otherwise require you to return to a caloric surplus in order to heal can effectively erase any progress you have made.

As such, when performing calisthenics for the purposes of weight loss, ensure that you are following a warm-up and mobility routine, adhering to correct form cues and otherwise allowing your musculature to rest between workout sessions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Calisthenics Burn the Most Fat?

As was covered earlier in this article, the sort of calisthenics exercises that burn the most fat share several characteristics; a compound muscular recruitment pattern, high intensity, a high rate of tempo, and the capacity to be performed at high volumes of repetitions.

This narrows down the number of calisthenics exercises that are effective at inducing caloric expenditure, with movements like burpees, mountain climbers and jump squats all fitting such a profile perfectly.

How Long Does it Take to Lose Weight with Calisthenics?

The length of time it will take to reach your weight loss goal with calisthenics will depend on a multitude of factors.

The effectiveness of your diet, what sort of calisthenic exercises you are performing and even certain demographic factors like age and gender will all alter the rate at which you lose weight significantly.

However, a good rule of thumb is that approximately 3,500 calories lost is equivalent to 1 pound of body fat, with some small variations between individuals.

Can I Lose Belly Fat with Calisthenics?

Yes - in fact, calisthenics will burn fat throughout the entire body, not only in the belly.

Fat loss is non-specific and non-targeting, meaning that it does not reduce in a specific area, regardless of what sort of exercise is being performed.

Instead, the areas in which you will lose fat the most are up to your genetics and hormones, with high-estrogen individuals storing more fat in areas other than their belly, while high-testosterone individuals will store more around their waist.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, a basic overview of how to lose weight with the help of calisthenics exercises. 

So long as you follow correct form, training programming and are in a diet-based caloric deficit, there is no doubt that you will reach your weight loss goals in short order.

If unsure of how to go about creating a weight loss diet, how to perform certain calisthenics exercises or practically any other facet of fitness - seek out the advice of an exercise professional, who will absolutely aid you in reaching your goals.

References

1. Willis LH, Slentz CA, Bateman LA, Shields AT, Piner LW, Bales CW, Houmard JA, Kraus WE. Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Dec 15;113(12):1831-7. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01370.2011. Epub 2012 Sep 27. PMID: 23019316; PMCID: PMC3544497.

2. Barrow, D.R., Abbate, L.M., Paquette, M.R. et al. Exercise prescription for weight management in obese adults at risk for osteoarthritis: synthesis from a systematic review. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 20, 610 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12891-019-3004-3

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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