I was very excited to get an advance copy of this book because I have been looking for a book such as this to recommend to my clients and to use when teaching classes on beginning calisthenics. I’ve also been familiar with the author’s work for some time now and have always been very impressed with it. Matt Schifferle is the founder of the Red Delta Project and author of many intelligent and sensible books and videos on exercise, fitness and nutrition. I have also read and loved his book Grind Style Calisthenics and have benefited greatly from his Youtube videos and podcasts. Matt is also a Progressive Calisthenics Team Leader for Dragon Door.
Calisthenics for Beginners is Matt’s best work yet, and that is saying a lot. One of the many reasons is that the book is appropriate for the absolute beginner, the intermediate level practitioner, and even the advanced athlete. This book could accompany you through your entire calisthenics journey.
Calisthenics for Beginners includes a very sensible preparatory section called “Getting Started”, which defines calisthenics and justifies its use, describes the relevant muscle groups to be developed, and advises the reader on how to prepare for the programs to follow. I especially liked the material on safety and preparation, gear and equipment (which is delightfully minimal for the calisthenics athlete), and how to monitor your progress. But best of all in this section is Matt’s treatment of diet and nutrition. I usually have to brace myself when this topic comes up no matter the context. It’s such a loaded, political and frustrating mix of opinion, dogma, bias and religion. How many times have you encountered extreme dietary advice such as “you must go vegan” or “you must go keto” from people whom you respect in the fitness space? Not so here. Matt gives no specific rules on what you must and must not eat, nor how often and how much. Rather, he gives you a brief but comprehensive set of guidelines on eating right and general nutrition, such as preparing your own food, watching liquid calories, embracing plants and protein, and controlling your “red light foods” (that are unhealthy and difficult to avoid.)
What follows the introduction are step-by-step, progressive exercise programs that employ all of the basic movement patterns that Matt describes: core, hip-driven, knee-driven, push/pull and heart-rate boosting. Level I is “Start Strong”, Level II is “Go Deeper”, and Level III is “Power Up”. And each of these three sections is color-coded on the edge of the page so you can easily turn to them. A very nice touch indeed. Matt then includes a section on flexibility and restoration, followed by exercise programming advice, helpful information about understanding progress and mindset, and sample workout logs. I’m telling you, this book really is all you need.
At the outset of the book, Matt rightly advises that you read the whole thing from start to finish before you begin to follow the program or judge your own abilities or the effectiveness of the exercises. I followed this advice and it was the right way to go. I got a feel for Matt’s unique approach and quickly could see that this was not just another book on beginning calisthenics with the same old exercises and programs that I see over and over these days. The ideas are fresh, the writing is clever and straightforward and utterly lacking in B.S. and the programming is unique and thorough without being intimidating.
One thing that pleasantly surprised me about Calisthenics for Beginners was the choice of exercises. Most beginning calisthenics stick with some sort of basic exercise set such as planks, push ups, pull ups and squats. These are essential but you are missing quite a bit if you stick with just them and their variants. Instead, Matt cleverly includes things like bridging, wall hand stands, and towel hangs for grip strength. Even better, the program includes cross-punching, marching in place, and the almighty squat thrust! These are exercises that my grandfather (if he were still with us) would know and greatly approve of. I love it!
In reading this excellent book I realized a few important things: there are definite gaps in my own programming that I need to fill, I’m really closer to the beginning of my own calisthenics journey than the end, and I have a new go-to resource for my students, clients and myself. Calisthenics for Beginners is a must-read.