Calisthenics For Women: How To Get Toned & Lose Cellulite

Is there a difference between calisthenics for women and for men?

As a calisthenics athlete and coach for the past six years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with countless women trying to lose fat and look better.

Calisthenics can help women tone their muscles, lose fat, and get rid of cellulite. Most women steer away from calisthenics because they are afraid it will get them too muscular but that is simply not the case.

Keep reading for a more in-depth look at the following:

  • Will calisthenics make women bulky?
  • Should women do calisthenics?
  • How should a woman’s calisthenics workout differ from a man’s?
  • Calisthenics workouts for women

Will calisthenics make women bulky?

I have already answered this question above, but let’s get a bit more in-depth.

Calisthenics or any form of resistance training will not make women look bulky, muscular, or masculine. The reason for this is that women start naturally smaller. They have genetically less muscle mass and more body fat than men.

And the difference is quite big.

Women have an impressive potential to build muscle.

However, given the differences in total muscle mass between men and women, taking advantage of this potential will result in the toned look most women are aiming for.

The monstrous physique women fear is only attainable two ways:

  • Through the use of performance enhancement drugs (steroids)
  • Through a strict training regimen, with a very strict diet, having the sole purpose of maximizing muscle gain

So no woman will get there by simply doing calisthenics.

Furthermore, a big part of the caloric intake of a man will go towards muscle tissue, whereas a big part of a woman’s caloric intake will go towards fat tissue (this is not similar to getting fat!)

As a woman, getting bulky has to be done intentionally, otherwise it’s not going to happen.

Should women do calisthenics?

Picture of a woman pushing a box during her calisthenics for women workout

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Yes, why not?

There are multiple benefits of calisthenics for women. Training with your own body weight burns more calories than weightlifting, training is more fun, and you can train anywhere to tone your muscles.

In a previous post about calisthenics vs. weights we had a look over the difference in calories burned between the two forms of training.

And here it is:

Activity

125lbs person

155lbs person

185lbs person

Calisthenics - moderate

125 kcal

162 kcal

189 kcal

Weights - moderate

90 kcal

108 kcal

126 kcal

Calisthenics - vigorous

240 kcal

306 kcal

330 kcal

Weights - vigorous

180 kcal

216 kcal

252 kcal

So if gaining weight in terms of muscle mass is the concern, then for women calisthenics is an even better choice than lifting weights.

However, the entry level is a bit more difficult.

If you are using weights to train, all you have to do is choose the heaviest weight you can lift for 8-15 repetitions and you are good to go.

With calisthenics you are limited by your own body weight.

If you do not have the strength or muscle mass to do a pull-up for instance, you will have to rely on bands or easier progressions of the exercise.

If you are looking for a calisthenics workout, check the end of the article.

What is the difference between calisthenics for women and men?

Woman on the bottom position of a push-up on her yoga mat during a calisthenics workout for women

There are three factors I always keep in mind when creating a calisthenics workout for a woman.

  • Total muscle mass
  • Hormones

These factors amount to minor tweaks in the workout, applied to a fundamental training philosophy rooted in basic human physiology.

How does total muscle mass influence a woman’s workout compared to that of a man?

We have already discussed how women have less muscle mass than men to begin with.

As far as weight training is concerned, this difference would have men and women of the same relative levels of strength use different weights.

A study from 1993 found that women are 52% as strong as men in the upper portion of the body, and 66% in the lower portion.

In the context of weightlifting, this would not be an issue.

All you have to do is manipulate the weight while keeping the exercises the same.

Unfortunately, with calisthenics it is different.

Most women can’t do pull-ups, push-ups, dips, and other fundamental calisthenics exercises. Therefore, the workout has to be manipulated in such a way that they will still be able to perform the exercises.

This can be done easily done by:

  • Using resistance bands for assistance
  • Training with an easier progression of the exercise
  • Focusing on strengthening the weak links

We have done that for you in the calisthenics workouts for woment below.

How do hormones give an advantage to women?

You can read it almost everywhere: women can’t optimally build muscle because they don’t have the same levels of testosterone as men.

And while it is true that women don’t have the same levels, the rest is inaccurate.

  • In this study it was found that estrogen prevents muscle breakdown and helps to build muscle
  • While in this different study it was found that progesterone triggers muscle protein synthesis just as much as testosterone does

But women have even more advantages.

Having up to 9x more estrogen than men, women can reap all its benefits like:

  • Metabolic health
  • Muscle repair
  • Preventing catabolism (loss of muscle mass)

The implication here is that the female body can recover better after a workout, meaning that they can do more work: both in terms of more sets and reps per workout, as well as more training sessions per week.

Calisthenics workouts for women

Now that we know the differences between a calisthenics workout for men and for women, it’s time to have a look at a few calisthenics workouts for women.

Level 1 - Untrained

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Rest (minutes)

Band chin-up

3

5-8

2

Incline push-up

3

5-10

Bodyweight row

3

8-12

2

Band dip

3

5-8

Bodyweight squat

3

12-20

2

Plank

3

20-45s

Each set of two exercises will be done in a superset fashion, as expressed by the common rest break.

So for example you will be doing 1 set of band chin-ups, immediatelly followed by 1 set of incline push-ups, and only after that take a 2-minute rest. Repeat 2 more times, for a total of 3 sets before jumping to the next superset.

This workout is to be done 3x per week, with one rest day between sessions, and two rest days after the third session.

If you are a woman starting calisthenics, this routine should be a good starting point.

The entry level is very low and the exercises are just enough to stimulate a muscle building (read toning) effect in your body.

As a prerequisite, you need resistance bands.

I have talked more in-depth about them in this article about calisthenics equipment.

You will need to use a band that allows you to do the amount of sets for the least amount of reps at a minimum. For example, you need a band that will allow you to do at least 3 sets of 5 reps of pull-ups, and at most 3 sets of 8 reps.

If you can do more than 8 reps in the third set, the band offers too much assistance.

Level 2 - Beginner

Workout

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Rest (minutes)

A

Negative chin-up

3

3 - 6

2

Push-up

3

5-8

1

Bodyweight row

3

8-15

2

Negative dip

3

3-6

Bulgarian split squat

3

8-12 per leg

2

Plank

3

30-60s

Lunge

3

10-15

2

Glute bridge

3

8-12

Workout

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Rest (minutes)

B

Band pull-up

3

5-8

2

Incline push-up

3

8-12

1

Bodyweight row

3

8-15

2

Band dip

3

3-6

Bulgarian split squat

3

8-12 per leg

2

Plank

3

30-60s

Lunge

3

10-15

2

Glute bridge

3

8-12

Again, this workout will be done 3x/week with a rest day in between, with the 3rd session followed by two rest days.

However, you will switch between Workout A, and Workout B.

One week you will be doing Workout A twice, and Workout B once, and the other week you will be doing workout B twice, and workout A once.

Level 3 - Trained beginner

Workout

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Rest (minutes)

A

Chin-up

3-4

5-10

2

Push-up

3

8-12

1

Bodyweight row

4

12-20

1

Dip

3

5-10

Hanging knee raise

3

8-15

1

Plank

3

60s

1

Workout

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Rest (minutes)

B

Negative pull-up

3

3-6

2

Negative pike push-up

3

3-6

1

Bodyweight row

4

12-20

1

Push-up

3

8-12

Hanging knee raise

3

8-15

1

Superman

3

8-15

1

Workout

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Rest (minutes)

Legs

Jumping squat

3-4

6

2

Bulgarian split squat

3

8-12 per leg

1

Glute ham raise

3

8-12

1

Lunge

3

8-12

1

Calf raise

3

8-15

1

As a trained beginner, you will be working out 4x/week, adding an extra day for a calisthenics leg workout.

This can be done as:

  • Monday - Workout A
  • Tuesday - Legs
  • Wednesday - Workout B
  • Thursday - Rest
  • Friday - Workout A
  • Saturday - Rest
  • Sunday - Rest

And the following week you will do Workout B twice, and Workout A once.

From this point onward you can keep progressing by increasing the number of repetitions to be more comfortable with the exercises, and eventually adding weight.

Getting started with calisthenics as a woman is not hard, you just need the right plan.

Conclusion

In this article we debunked the myth that women will get bulky or masculine if they increase their muscle mass. In fact, their end goal of being “toned” is achieved by lifting weights.

We looked at the differences between men and women in terms of workouts, and how calisthenics for women is a bit different than for men.

Lastly, I gave you three workout programs you can use to kickstart your journey.

Now it’s time to do the work.

Over to you.