Using Calisthenics to Build a Greek God Physique


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After dabbling in the gym for a while and packing on some long-sought-after noob gains, you picked up on somewhat of a trend: heavy barbells + high intensity = sheer mass.

In fact, us lumping the terms “calisthenics” and “Greek God physique” together in the same title probably triggered some skepticism.

There’s no way in hell you can look like a Greek God with little more than your body weight, right?

We hate to break it to you, but you’d be both incorrect and naive.

Now, let’s talk about the link between calisthenics and the Greek God physique & how the Ancient Grecian warriors used bodyweight exercises to reach peak athleticism.

What is a Greek God Physique?

If you’re a fan of ancient lore and mythology, you’re likely a pseudo-expert in Ancient Greece.

Either way, here’s a crash course:

Greek mythology features 12 “Olympian” Gods that controlled the planet from the towering Mount Olympus, each one representing an essential area of life (ex: beauty, wisdom, pleasure).

Among the Gods include Zeus, Apollo, and Dionysus, who all shared one thing in common: intimidating, well-sculpted, and athletic physiques.

The concept of the “Greek God physique” took on a brand new meaning in the 1800s, when Prussian bodybuilder Eugen Sandow (the “Father” of bodybuilding) entered the scene.

With a measuring tape in tow, he visited local art museums to measure the physical proportions of classic Greek sculptures representing the Gods. The perfect Greek God physique will feature:

  • Flexed arms = Wrist circumference x 2.5
  • Flexed calves = Flexed arms
  • Shoulder circumference = Waist circumference x 1.618
  • Chest circumference = Wrist circumference x 6.5
  • Upper leg circumference = Knee circumference x 1.75

Now, it’s hard to eyeball or imagine exact measurements and how you compare. If you’re having trouble, Google Frank Zane, Steve Reeves, or Serge Nubret.

Did the Greeks Do Calisthenics?

Not only did the Ancient Greeks do calisthenics, but they also invented it as early as 480 BC. For the history buffs out there (heh), bodyweight exercises date back to the close of the Bronze Age.

The Ancient Greek Spartans dubbed these bodyweight exercises “kilos sthenos,” which loosely translates to English as “beautiful strength.”

But while the name implies a drive to build aesthetic mass that captured gawking eyes and envy, Greek gladiators relied on calisthenics to prepare for battle.

How the Greeks Trained for War

The first legitimate barbell traces back to 1860s Europe. And, the first-ever dumbbell originated in Ancient Greece some 2000 years ago, a heavy stone with a handle lodged into its side.

But to sculpt the physiques gracing the silver screen in epic movies like 300, ancient gladiators used what they had available to them: their own body’s resistance — or calisthenics.

What then-historian Herodotus believed was a bizarre tribal dance of a weak army was actually the Spartans training without their typical daggers and shields.

Though, these odd movements while preparing for the Battle of Thermopylae looked even sillier to the nosy Herodotus because the soldiers were completely nude.

At the time, training centered around wrestling, boxing, javelin throws, and discus.

Which Calisthenic Exercises Did the Greeks Do?

While it’s impossible to know how the Ancient Greeks trained with calisthenics, we have a pretty good idea of which exercises played a role.

  • Pull-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Press-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Jumping
  • Long jumps
  • Gymnastics
  • Handstands
  • Discus throws
  • Javelin tosses
  • Planks
  • Wrestling
  • Boxing

The Greeks also infused old-school weightlifting (really old-school), incorporating logs, animals, rocks, and other people to add artificial resistance.

When the Ancient Greeks Started Training

When you picture a modern-day military, you likely envision young, already-in-shape men aspiring toward peak physical fitness amidst a three-month boot camp.

But in Ancient Greece, preparing for battle began during elementary school.

The Greeks were quite fond of physical fitness and aesthetic builds, and so much so that they infused intense “gumnastike” — physical education — in the curriculum.

Young boys underwent half a decade of training, beginning as early as six or seven, building their expertise in everything from boxing and gymnastics to calisthenics and other sports.

By the time they reached adulthood, young Greek men had 10+ years of training under their belts. Now, is it all that surprising that gladiators from Sparta and Athens were what we call “ripped?”

How to Get a Greek God Physique

Building a Greek God physique is still possible in the modern era, opening the door to a muscular, ripped physique to those without gym memberships.

Yet, it’s not as simple as cranking out 50 push-ups a day.

To get a this physique with calisthenics, the #1 thing you need is discipline. Here’s what it takes to build a body like Zeus or Poseidon without a barbell or pulley machine using a specific Greek God workout:

Start Every Workout With a Warm-Up

Warm-ups aren’t some modern twist on old-school training regimens. In fact, the Ancient Greeks were so knowledgeable about anatomy and physiology that they understood warm-up benefits!

Even in 480 BC.

The traditional Greek warm-up began with light exercise to boost some much-needed blood flow to the muscles. Popular warm-up exercises included:

  1. Marching
  2. Sprints
  3. Hops & jumps
  4. Butt kicks
  5. Air kicks
  6. Arm circles
  7. Wrist circles

Now, if you were a child of the 90s or 00s, you likely remember returning to school one year in September to a sudden PE class change.

Instead of toe touches and butterflies, the class began with jogging, push-ups, and arm circles.

These are what’s known as dynamic (movement-related) exercises, proven by research to boost ROM (12.7%) and enhance lower-body power (3.3%), improving athletic performance.

The greater your power, the more you can push your body to its limits, almost ensuring gains.

Evidently, the Ancient Greeks were well ahead of their time, beginning workouts with dynamic warm-ups rather than the now-outdated static stretching.

Sample Dynamic Warm-Up

The Greeks were also quite fond of massages to lead-off workouts.

Now, the Spartans likely didn’t use foam rollers to loosen up the muscles before push-ups and sprints. But, you know what they say: improvise, adapt, overcome.

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Research suggests that foam rolling before exercise can stretch your muscles, boost sprint performance (0.7%), and enhance intra-workout strength (1.8%).

Before you hop into our Greek God calisthenics workout, start with this dynamic warm-up:

  1. Upper & lower-body foam rolling (5 minutes)
  2. Jogging in place (3 minutes)
  3. Jumping jacks (30 seconds)
  4. Leg swings (15 seconds on each side)
  5. Butt kicks (50 yards x 2)
  6. High knees (50 yards x 2)
  7. Side shuffles (50 yards for each side)
  8. Hurdles (10 on each side)
  9. Arm circles (30 seconds)
  10. Arm swings (30 seconds)

Boom, we’re ready to exercise.

(The Greeks also lathered themselves up in oil before workouts to give themselves an advantage while wrestling … you can skip this step for obvious reasons.)

Look Past the Classic Definition of “Calisthenics”

If you furrowed your eyebrows after reading this article’s title, you likely have a good idea of what calisthenics means. Your mind likely immediately darted to push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups.

But if that’s all it took, we’d all have been ripped in elementary school while training for the now-done-away-with and mildly torturous Presidential Fitness Challenge.

Let’s bust through the misconceptions.

The concept of calisthenics revolves around mostly equipment-free exercises that rely on little more than your own body weight and gravity.

Types of Greek Workouts

The Greeks typically followed three workout styles, all infusing calisthenics: competitive sport, zone workouts, and total-body workouts.

These now-ancient training sessions focused on:

  • Resistance
  • Everyday objects (ropes, rings, bars, stones)
  • Jumping
  • Running and aerobic exercises
  • Martial arts and wrestling

Combined, these exercises could help shed body fat, boost muscle strength, rid the body of toxins, and improve athletic stamina.

In other words, don’t feel like you have to do squats, planks, push-ups, repeat!

Sample Calisthenics Workout

Ancient trainers encouraged athletes to exercise until they felt fatigued and literally couldn’t go on any longer. Here’s a sample Greek God calisthenics workout four days a week:

Day 1: Circuit Training (30 seconds each exercise)

  • Air Squats
  • Pull-Ups
  • Leg Raises
  • Push-Ups
  • Lunges
  • Sit-Ups
  • Bench Dips
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Rest 60 seconds; repeat

If you want to increase the intensity even more, a multi-grip pull-up bar and dip station can also help.

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Day 2: High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)*

  • 15 seconds fast
  • 45 seconds slow
  • Repeat for 10-15 cycles

* HIIT doesn’t always have to be a sprint/jog cycle. Any high-intensity exercise will do, whether that’s battle ropes, squat jumps, rowing, burpees, or whatever floats your boat.

It can also help shred 28.5% more fat mass than standard cardio, according to 2019 research.

Day 3: Circuit Training (15 reps per exercise)

  • Push-Ups
  • Plank (15 seconds)
  • Chin-Ups
  • Burpees
  • Jumping Lunges
  • Crunches
  • Inverted Rows
  • Pike Push-Ups
  • Rest 60 seconds; repeat

Day 4: Functional Training

Day four is where we ease into the functional training aspect of calisthenics. On this day, you’re free to do:

  • Shadowboxing
  • Punching bag
  • MMA
  • BJJ
  • Wrestling
  • Ironman
  • CrossFit

On your days off from training, give your muscles and joints some time to recover.

Knowing When to Turn It Up a Notch

It might sway outside of the classic Greek training guidelines, but adding resistance to your calisthenic exercises can further improve strength gains and mass.

Otherwise, you’re outright ignoring the principle of progressive overload.

When you’re hitting your 15-rep goal or cranking out 30 squats in a minute, you have two options to either add mass or boost your stamina: add weight or add reps.

We’re focusing on an aesthetic Greek God physique here, so your options would likely be:

  • Wrapping a chain on your shoulders for dips
  • Positioning a weight plate on your back during push-ups
  • Holding dumbbells in either hand while performing lunges
  • Widening your grip on the pull-up

Think … how can you add more resistance without adding in modern-era lifting practices?

You can also turn it down a notch if you’re still building foundational strength. For example, if you can’t do a regular pull-up just yet, using a resistance band can naturally reduce the resistance.

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End Each Workout With a Cool-Down Stretch

After a gentle warm-up and a sweat-inducing, muscle-shaking workout, the Greeks were also fans of post-workout cool-down sessions. Let’s be honest: you probably skip these on your way out.

In Ancient Greece, the cool-down took on three steps:

  1. Cool-down breathing to catch your breath and level out your heart rate
  2. Wipe the oil and sweat from your body (again, the oil will make you an unintended viral TikTok star by the end of the week)
  3. Massage

The cool-down doesn’t have to be some huge production either. Just build in an extra 5–10 minutes after your workout to return to baseline.

Sample Cool-Down

At rest, your breathing rate should hover around 15 breaths per minute, about ⅓ of what it might climb to during a tough calisthenics workout.

Along with ramping up the air traveling in and out of your lungs, cardio and strength training will pump your heart rate to 170 and above.

Take a few minutes to sit and practice deep breathing — in for three counts, out for three counts.

Then, either hop in the shower or massage your muscles with the foam roller again.

Cool-down stretches like the following can also help:

  • Hamstring stretches
  • Heel presses
  • Side reaches
  • Lunges
  • Cobras
  • Arm-across-the-chest
  • Downward-facing dog
  • Child’s pose

Again, don’t hold these stretches for two seconds before tapping out. Make sure you really feel the stretch (without hitting a point of pain) and hold stretches for 15-30 seconds.

Post-exercise stretching can help enhance flexibility (ROM) and fast-track post-workout recovery.

Don’t Forget About a Healthy Diet & Nutrition

Building a Greek God physique will also require some effort in the kitchen.

Both vegetarian and meat-eating diets were popular around the fifth century BC, though for some reason, it was frowned upon to eat fish for a while.

Load up on nutritious, calorie-dense foods, like:

  • Meats (beef, pork, fish)
  • Vegetables
  • Eggs, milk, cheeses (low fat, preferably)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruits
  • Healthy grains

An aesthetic physique means thick and dense muscle, meaning about 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight per day is ideal.

If your appetite isn’t the strongest, whey protein powder can help.

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Your body also craves extra calories while pursuing muscle mass. Calculate your TDEE and add about 300–500 extra calories to help you pack on some pure lean mass in the next few months.



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