Calisthenics for Women Part 1



How to build upper body pulling strength.
FYI - it's not much different for the guys as it is for the girls
  • Mainstream media sometimes seem to put women's strength training in box that does not represent enough progressive overload to help females get strong
  • Women should seek out more progressive sources of information and training advice
  • Four exercises to improve pulling strength: Active Hang, Band Assisted Pull Ups, Eccentric Pull Ups and Horizontal Rows.


Over recent years the information provided by popular health and fitness magazines has improved a lot.

However, having browsed a few of the online offerings to the female population, I’m starting to have a rethink especially in relation to calisthenics for women.

What bothers me is how women’s health and fitness magazines, websites and publications are doing their target audience a huge disservice by drastically underestimating them!


These publications have carved out a space and a voice that means they have the opportunity to inspire, motivate and inform. But when the feature on bodyweight training comes around, women are being restricted to burpees, star jumps, adapted push ups and bodyweight squats. Why aren’t girls being taught about pull ups, pistol squats, dips, levers and muscle ups? With so much coverage being given to calisthenics in men’s media the knowledge is widely available, but why not to women?

I’ve worked as a strength and conditioning coach for over 8 years now and trained a lot of female athletes. Believe me, girls are not weak. I’m not even talking about those at the elite end of sport. Given the right progressions and structured training, these more exciting and beneficial exercises are well within any female’s capability. It’s no different to the boys’, everyone has to earn the right to progress. The starting points may be different but when someone commits to the journey, who knows what ‘impossible’ things might be achieved. There’s undoubtedly an appetite from the female population to get involved in calisthenics and one of the most exciting things we have seen in our highly popular beginner’s workshops is the number of women who’ve attended.

My aim for this blog series is to give the girls out there some more advanced information about getting started, or furthering their calisthenics training. It’s actually no different to that which I would give to boys, but the girls need access to better information because otherwise they’ll never get to explore the enjoyment of calisthenics – who would if the most exciting thing on their bodyweight training programme is star jumps!


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I’m not going to go into the detail of why pull ups might come easier to men than women, partly because it’s irrelevant as anyone can train for them, and also because I know a lot of guys that can’t do them at all. What’s important is that levers, human flags and muscle ups all start with developing the foundations. For example, to do a back lever you first need to be able to skin the cat. Before you can do that you need a solid active hang and the ability to pull out of the bottom position of a pull up, so let’s start there.


All calisthenics movements that involve hanging from the bar are going to require an active hang. It’s how we go from hanging loose on slack muscle and connective tissue to creating the tension required to move into a different position. Practice by performing repetitions going from dead hang to active hang. When you have that nailed for 10 reps and 3 sets try holding yourself in the active hang position for some time. The longer the better but start with aiming for 30 seconds.

What we’re training here are the shoulder stabilisers incorporated with activation of the back and shoulder musculature, with the also added bonus of some grip strength.
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We designed our unique framework so that anyone could start or train calisthenics. To make that possible we created ‘The Locker’ which is where we keep all the tools needed to make exercises easier or harder. For pull ups, we’re going to use the ‘Assistance’ tool, in the form of a large resistance band.

Simply tie the band on the bar and then hook your foot into it. The thicker the band the more assistance it provides, so pick one which enables you to do 6 – 8 reps. The great thing about this tool is that you’re not only training for strength development, but also the similarity to an unassisted pull-up means the body gets exposed to the movement pattern at an intensity level where it can be successful.
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Eccentric pull ups focus on the lowering phase of the movement. It’s pretty simple. Put a box or bench underneath the pull up bar, stand on it and then jump up to the top of the pull up position and try to lower yourself down as slowly as possible. Aim for 4 seconds from top to bottom. If it’s too difficult, incorporate the ‘Assistance’ tool again by using a band as in the assisted pull ups. Just pick a slightly thinner one so you have less resistance. There’s some exercise science involved here, but the short version is that by training the lowering phase you can build strength that will help in the pulling movement down the line. Aim for 5 – 8 reps and 3 sets.
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Whilst exercises 1 – 3 are quite specific to the pull up, this one looks a bit different but is just as useful in developing the pulling strength required. Just make sure the intensity is hard enough so that if you’re aiming for 10 reps, you can only do 10. If you can make 12 it’s too easy so move those feet further forwards. Rep ranges of 8 – 10 and 3 – 4 sets will do the job.
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Be consistent with your training. Pull ups are not an easy exercise and it may take some time, so commit to including these exercises on a weekly basis. You should also make sure you’re warmed up appropriately and include some shoulder mobility and activation work which you can find in our FREE Beginner’s Calisthenics Programme via our Virtual Classroom.

If you have any questions then get in touch on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and we’ll give you some pointers. Pictures of you training are also welcome and it might also go some way to notifying the fitness media that it’s not just boys that can get strong.


Next up in this series of calisthenics for women, we’ll be breaking down how to develop strength in pushing movements which forms the basis of all hand balancing exercises and progressions.

Enjoy the journey

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