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
Best overall: Overcoming Gravity 2nd Edition, by Steven Low
Best old-school: Convict Conditioning, by Paul Wade
Best new-school: Complete Calisthenics, by Ashley Kalym
The unknown benefit of reading a calisthenics book
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:
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:
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.
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).
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.
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:
This school is represented by lots of athletes, like Daniel Vadnal, Micha Schulz, and Osvaldo Lugones.
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.
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.
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
Constructing your routine
Chapter 7: Constructing your workout routine
Chapter 8: Warm-up and skill work
Chapter 9: Strength work
Chapter 10: Methods of progression
Chapter 11: Prehabilitation, isolation, flexibility, and cool down
Chapter 12: Mesocycle planning
Factors that influence training
Chapter 13: Endurance, cardio, cross training, hybrid templates, and routines
Chapter 14: Overreaching and overtraining
Chapter 15: Health and injury management
Chapter 16: Lifestyle factors
Chapter 17: Untrained beginner: routine construction and progression
Chapter 18: Trained beginner: routine construction and progression
Chapter 19: Intermediate: routine construction and progression
Chapter 20: Advanced: routine construction and progression
Injury/prehabilitation resources and bodyweight exercises
Chapter 21: Common bodyweight training injuries
Chapter 22: Prehabilitation, mobility, and flexibility resources
Chapter 23: Exercise technique, descriptions, and tips
Chapter 24: Handstand variations
Chapter 25: Pulling exercises
Chapter 26: Pushing variations
Chapter 27: Multi-plane exercises, core, and legs
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:
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:
As well as the differences between proficiency levels:
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.
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
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:
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.
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
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 big six power moves
5. The push-up: Armor-plated pecs and steel triceps
6. The squat: Elevator cable thighs
7. The pull-up: Barn door back and major guns
8. The leg raise: A six-pack from hell
9. The bridge: Combat ready your spine
10. The handstand push-up: Healthy, powerful shoulders
11. Body wisdom: Cast iron principles
12. Routines: Workout programs
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Nutrition, rest, and recovery
4. Rest and recovery
5. Warming up and mobility
9. Dip exercises
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 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 very first thing we didn’t like was the workout program.
Unfortunately, it is redundant at best in our opinion.
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
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
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.
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.