Best Calisthenics Books For Real Bodyweight Athletes

If you are looking for the best calisthenics books, you are in the right place.

In this guide, we will present you 3 books to read and follow to become an elite level athlete.

The best part? We skipped the books which don’t offer more value than a Google search would (which are a lot!)

Overview: Best Calisthenics Books

The unknown benefit of reading a calisthenics book

Picture showing a brain inside a flexed arm, showing how reading a calisthenics book can increase performance

So you may think to yourself…

“Ok, but why read a book about calisthenics, when I can just find everything on Google?”

Which is true. You will find all this information online.

There is a phrase that goes something like "you don’t know what you don’t know."

Having access to the internet and unlimited helpful resources is useless if you are not aware of the things you should know.

And here is where a book comes in handy.

In the calisthenics books we reviewed below, you will find information on:

  • The fundamental principles of training
  • How muscle building works
  • How to program your workout to optimize either strength, muscle mass, or endurance
  • When to rest and how to do it
  • Avoiding injury or what to do if you are already injured
  • How to get started
  • How to progress
  • And much, much more...

Therefore, yes, you have access to all this information on the internet. For free.

However, you will be missing the structure, and you will encounter plateau after plateau before you even realize there may be a weak link you are not aware of.

So with that out of the way, let’s look at the difference between old and new school calisthenics…

And our top 3 picks for the best calisthenics books.

Differences: old school vs new school calisthenics

If you are reading this, chances are you already know what calisthenics stands for.

In short, it’s bodyweight training.

However, there is quite a big gap between the old school and new school calisthenics.

The foundation stayed the same but the end-goal changed quite a lot.

To find the best calisthenics books for your particular situation, you need to know what school of calisthenics you’d be interested in.

Old school calisthenics

The end goal of this school of calisthenics is to build a nice looking physique.

You can achieve that by doing lots of repetitions of the basic exercises:

  • Pull-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Dips
  • Inverted rows

It is not uncommon for old-school calisthenics athletes to be able to do muscle-ups, front & back lever, one arm pull-up, and the human flag.

However, their proficiency with strength elements pretty much stops there.

This school is represented by figures such as Bar Brothers, Barstarzz, and the Kavadlo brothers.

Pros

  • Build a nice physique
  • No complicated programming
  • Quick workouts

Due to the high-repetition nature of this style, you will build muscle mass, endurance, and get lean all at the same time.

The programming is straight-forward...

You only need to focus on doing the basic exercises, and doing lots of it.

Furthermore, the workouts are pretty quick, usually taking up to an hour, but the frequency is higher (meaning you will work out more often - up to 6 times a week).

Cons

  • Can't maximize strength or muscle building
  • Cookie-cutter training

Unfortunately, if you are looking to maximize strength or muscle mass building, this may not be the optimal style of training for you.

Since you will be doing lots of repetitions, you are moving towards endurance and away from strength.

Another thing we don’t like is the cookie-cutter approach to training.

Just start pumping pull-ups and push-ups and you’ll get there.

In the long run it can lead to sub-optimal results in different areas - such as your posture.

One of the best calisthenics books for this category is Convict Conditioning, which we have reviewed below.

New school calisthenics

The end goal of this style is achieving difficult strength elements, mainly borrowed from gymnastics, or doing basic exercises weighted.

With the new era of calisthenics you get exercises like:

  • Planche
  • Front & Back lever
  • 90-Degree push-ups
  • Iron cross
  • etc.

This school is represented by lots of athletes, like Daniel Vadnal, Micha Schulz, and Osvaldo Lugones.

Pros

  • Maximize strength and muscle building
  • More efficient programming
  • Less boring

Thanks to the high-demand exercises, this style of training will allow you to get stronger and build muscle mass faster than the old school style.

You have the option to do better programming, focusing on your weak links more.

Lastly, since this style offers more ways to skin a cat, you can change your exercises to avoid boredom, while keeping on track to achieve your goals.

Cons

  • Programming is more difficult
  • Workout can be longer

Even though programming is more efficient with the new school calisthenics, it is more difficult.

There are more areas to work on, more weak links, and more exercises to choose from.

Unfortunately, if you want to become proficient with this style of training, you will have to spend more time training.

Workouts can take an hour and a half to two hours.

One of the best calisthenics books for this category is Complete Calisthenics, reviewed below.

The 3 best calisthenics books

In this section we will present the 3 books we feel are the most useful.

The first one is the best overall (and without a doubt the most useful), and the other two are alternatives focused on old school and new school calisthenics respectively.

Picture of Overcoming Gravity 2 the best calisthenics book

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

With Overcoming Gravity you get a fish, and learn to fish.

Namely, you will be given several workout routines for beginners, intermediates, and advanced.

However, the whole purpose of this 598-page book is the opposite of giving you a cookie cutter approach.

Steven Low, the author, focuses on teaching the readers how to correctly choose their goals, then construct their own workout routines to achieve them.

Table of contents

The book is broken down into 5 parts.

Each part is further broken down into chapters and subchapters.

  • part one
  • part two
  • part three
  • part four
  • part five

Fundamental knowledge base

Chapter 1: Principles of bodyweight training

Chapter 2: Physiology of strength and hypertrophy

Chapter 3: Progression charts and goal setting

Chapter 4: Structural balance considerations

Chapter 5: Intro to programming, attributes, and the hierarchy of a routine

Chapter 6: Population considerations

The good

The first thing we liked about this book was its goal of teaching you how to construct your own routine.

People usually don’t know how much work goes into structuring a good routine that:

  • Supports your goals and helps you achieve them
  • Doesn’t lead to muscle imbalances or injuries

We find it very beneficial to have the ability of setting goals and assessing weaknesses, then creating a routine around fixing them and achieving said goals.

And Overcoming Gravity 2 helps you develop that ability.

Secondly, we liked the example routines.

Having a foundation on which to build your own routines is certainly helpful, and the examples in the book are a great starting point.

Thirdly, we liked the awareness it brings to overtraining and injury management.

People in the calisthenics world are not aware of injuries, or simply don’t care. The idea is that you should always go “beast mode brah!”

Steven Low teaches you how recovery boosts performance, and what proper recovery really is.

Fourthly, we liked how the author pointed out the differences in populations:

  • Sedentary & Active
  • Young & Old
  • Sport-specific & Recreational athletes
  • Uninjured & Injured

As well as the differences between proficiency levels:

  • Untrained beginner
  • Trained beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced

For each and every category he pointed out how you should approach training, the struggles you may face, recommended exercises, as well as example workout routines for each.

Lastly, the book ends with a huge list of bodyweight exercises from beginner all the way to elite.

In there you will find variations of the exercises, from the easiest to the most difficult, with instructions on form and biomechanics.

The bad

In our opinion, the number one issue with Overcoming Gravity 2 is that it’s not completely beginner friendly.

The book is fairly technical and can be a difficult read sometimes.

If you don’t have a bit of skin in the game, it may cause a bit of confusion, leading you to obsess over not-so-important things.

Another drawback is the size of the book. Imagine 600 sheets of A4 paper stacked on top of each other.

Lastly, the book could have been just a bit better organized.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Teaches you how to create your own routine
  • In-depth information about all areas of calisthenics
  • Gives workout routines examples
  • Teaches you how to avoid or address injuries
  • Can be used as the one and only resource

Cons

  • Not entirely beginner friendly
  • Pretty big and heavy
  • Could be better organized

Personal experience

There was a time when we were not making any progress with calisthenics.

After reading and applying the information found in Overcoming Gravity 2 we were able to achieve all of our goals (at that time) within a year.

This is by no means magic.

We had just learned some principles that influenced my training for the better:

  • How to properly train for strength and muscle mass
  • Importance and maintenance of shoulder health
  • Setting realistic goals
  • What to do when we hit a plateau
  • The meaning of, when, and how to plan a deload week
  • How to properly use eccentrics, isometrics, and concentrics

These lessons have been invaluable for us and our progress.

This is why we stand by this book.

Moreover, Steven Low, is a former gymnast and coach.

He holds a Doctorate of Physical Therapy, Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry, and is a senior trainer for Dragon Door’s Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC).

The guy knows his stuff.

For these reasons, we believe that Overcoming Gravity 2 is the best calisthenics book out there.

Another picture of Overcoming Gravity 2nd edition

Overcoming Gravity 2nd Edition


This book offers all the necessary information for starting and thriving in calisthenics, including routines and workout plans.

Picture of the best old school calisthenics book Convict Conditioning

This book is one of the classics of bodyweight fitness.

Through Convict Conditioning, the author’s, Paul Wade, purpose was to offer people a way to increase their fitness without the use of fancy equipment.

Through the use of “The big six power moves” and his methodology…

He managed to bring an old step in a new direction; namely, he brought old school calisthenics back in the spotlights.

Table of contents

Convict Conditioning is 304 pages long.

The book is broken down into 3 parts which are further broken down into chapters.

  • part I
  • part II
  • part III

Preliminaries

1. Introduction: A journey of strength

2. Old school calisthenics: The lost art of power

3. The convict manifesto: Bodyweight training vs. modern methods

4. Convict conditioning: About this book

The good

Firstly, we really liked the way Paul Wade simplifies fitness and the idea of getting fit.

His methodology is based around six exercises (and their progressions!) and objective goals you should achieve to master them.

  • Push-ups
  • Squats
  • Pull-ups
  • Leg raises
  • The bridge
  • Handstand push-ups

Since this book was intended to help people get fit, this approach is very beneficial because it is straight-forward, timeless, and easy to follow.

Secondly, we liked the number of progressions he decided to include.

All progressions start with exercises so easy that literally anyone can do. Afterwards, the author slowly builds up on them to reach more difficult exercises.

We see this as a great benefit for beginners, overweight, or older people who get into fitness.

Lastly, we liked its timelessness.

You could be training in the manner laid out in this book for years and still gain strength.

The bad

Firstly, we totally disliked the dogmatic approach towards bodyweight fitness.

Namely, the author kept on making points on how free weights training is obsolete, how it leads to injuries, and how it places the body in hazardous positions.

Example:

He was trying to prove how a barbell press puts your rotator cuff in a bad position, while doing the press behind the neck instead of in front.

Any behind the neck exercise is bad for your shoulders if you don't have enough mobility.

Even pull-ups.

Onward.

Another thing we didn’t like was the disregard for hip-hinge exercises, dips, and inverted rows.

We feel like this is a disadvantage because ignoring the aforementioned exercises/areas can lead to muscular imbalances and, perhaps, injury.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Results-oriented and simple methodology
  • Timeless advice
  • Very accessible for beginners and advanced alike
  • Can be used for years of progress on end

Cons

  • Dogmatic approach, suggesting bodyweight fitness is a one-size-fits-all solution
  • Disregard of certain exercises that would maintain structural balance

Personal experience:

We had a few take-aways from this book, especially some progressions.

For instance, we took away the progressions where Paul used basketballs to make the exercises more difficult.

Another take-away was the importance we should start giving to back bridges.

Actually the importance we should start giving to our spine's health and stability.

Unfortunately, with calisthenics you don’t get to work the lower back too much. Therefore, seeing this exercise in the “The big six power moves” was an eye opener for us.

Convict Conditioning book cover

Convict Conditioning


A book meant for those starting at any level, who want to look good and be healthy, without overcomplicating things.

Ashley Kalym's book Complete Calisthenics

If you have decided that you want to give new school calisthenics a try, then this book may be a good choice for you.

Complete Calisthenics is more beginner friendly than Overcoming Gravity 2.

Ashley Kalym, the author, used a no-bs, simplistic approach to bodyweight fitness in his book.

Table of contents

Complete Calisthenics is 356 pages long.

It is broken down into 5 sections, each one further broken down into chapters and subchapters.

  • part I
  • part II
  • part III
  • Part IV
  • Part V

The levers

12. The planche

13. The front lever

14. The back lever

15. Half lever

16. Human flag

17. Floor core exercises

18. Leg raise exercises

19. Lower body exercises

20. Conditioning exercises

21. Training programs

22. Frequently asked questions

The good

The first thing that caught our attention with Complete Calisthenics is the simplistic approach to training.

This is a benefit for beginners, who only care about getting started in the most efficient way.

Secondly, we liked the pictures of Ashley doing the exercises.

Overcoming Gravity has computer generated images which are high quality, but sometimes they fail to present the correct form of an exercise.

However, in Ashley Kalym’s case, the pictures are spot on when it comes to form.

This is a benefit because you will be able to get a better idea of how the exercise should look.

Lastly, the structure of the book is really good.

It sets up the groundwork, then takes you to the exercises and their variations in order, then to the workout programs.

The bad

The very first thing we didn’t like was the workout program.

Unfortunately, it is redundant at best in our opinion.

Example:

Monday, on a “lever training day” the workout program goes as follows:

Planche work: Start right at the beginning and only move on when you are ready. Strive to achieve perfect form at each stage.

Pull-up variations: Strive to perform the hardest variation that you can.

Handstands: 5 to 10 minutes practice

That’s it.

No reps. No sets. No hold time.

No information other than “do that, that, and that exercise.”

Another thing we don’t like is that the book is advertised as an ultimate guide.

Unfortunately, it is a beginner to intermediate’s guide and nothing more.

Lastly, the author is teaching only the banana handstand. However, there is no regard for lower back health in doing so.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Simplistic approach to training
  • Quality pictures presenting the correct form of exercises
  • Good structure

Cons

  • Very bad workout program
  • Far from being an ultimate guide
  • No regard for straight line handstand

Personal experience

We have read this book and didn’t really gain any significant knowledge

This is, in part, due to the fact that we already have some skin in the game (to say the least).

There are some facts we didn’t know and were able to gain from, so it is worth a quick read. However, if you are a beginner you will find good, helpful information.

Picture of the cover of Complete Calisthenics one of the best beginer calisthenics books

Complete Calisthenics


A beginner friendly book that paves the way towards high level calisthenics skills and exercises.

Conclusion

This is our list for the best calisthenics books.

Thanks to the abundance of information, methodology, examples, and its end goal of teaching others how to construct their own routine, we believe that Overcoming Gravity 2 is the best calisthenics book out there.

It offers way more information and take-aways than the other two books reviewed.

Moreover, whether you choose the old or new school calisthenics, Overcoming Gravity 2 will clearly fulfill your needs in terms of routines and programming, as well as setting and achieving goals.

Over to you.