The Two Best Calisthenics Books That Will Change The Way You Train

Table of Contents

When first starting out calisthenics and even for those who have already achieved a certain level, the amount of information regarding bodyweight training can be overwhelming.

Which exercises should I do to develop this ?

How many sets and repetitions ?

How do I improve a certain skill ?

How can I do more pull ups or push ups ?

How should I program my training ?

What’s the most efficient way of becoming stronger ?

How can I put on more muscle ?

How can I lose weight ?

The truth is that, even if you have been training for a decade, there is still so much to learn, and so many potential questions that you may have in mind. We are always looking for the most efficient way of doing something, how to improve on our current capabilities; it’s in our very nature to research and take in information.

If you have currently hit a plateau, your training has been hindered because you don’t know how to progress past a certain level, or you are feeling demotivated because you are not seeing any results anymore.

Online forums and social media can be a valuable source of information from which most people will usually turn to due to their accessibility, but even then; the information is scattered all over the wide canvas of the internet, sort of like the pieces of a puzzle.

This is why I have in this article, brought together what are in my opinion the two BEST calisthenics books you can invest in.

These juggernaut like books are phenomenal sources of information, the bible of bodyweight training.

If you are looking to learn more about the methodology and systematic approaches you can apply to your strength training, the books list realistic progression techniques, exercises, and periodization methods for beginner to advanced athletes. While it’s focused towards bodyweight athletes, I would recommend these books to anyone.

Arguably the most comprehensive training guide out there, this book will leave you astonished with the amount of quality content that it holds, and how it will impact you training for the rest of your life.

Steven Low, the author of Overcoming Gravity, is a former high level gymnast who holds a bachelor of science in Biochemistry, and a doctorate of physical therapy.

He has applied his physiological knowledge and foundations to the book in the clearest way possible for the reader to understand the hows and whys of strength and bodyweight training.

From the start to the finish, Overcoming gravity is a knowledge goldmine

You will know exactly how to move from one progression to it’s next, how to make any bodyweight exercises increasingly harder until you obtain elite levels of strength and are able to complete impressive skills such as the Iron cross, the full planche, or the one arm pull up.

You will learn how to construct your own routine as the author goes into detail about programming, and constructing a clear plan to reach your goals.

He complements the book with his expertise in physiotherapy by laying down the common injuries, how to construct a routine around injuries, how many sets and repetitions to perform to best heal, and how you can condition your joint to avoid them altogether.

A library’s worth of exercises illustrate which movements you can do to obtain strength, build muscle, and sometimes even in a matter of months, build up strength for very difficult skills.

Even for someone how is very serious about bodyweight training, the gymnastics fundamentals that apply to it, and how to optimize his own training , recovery and avoid injury, gathering the kind of information that is in this book would take him more than a decade.

Yet, here it is, all laid out for you and ready to be utilized to skyrocket your training and take you to the next level.

Apply the information contained in this exercise bible to your own training, and you will be surprised to see how all the goals which you thought were so far out of your reach, now become a reality as you gradually become stronger, and stronger.

Here is a review left by a reader/user of overcoming gravity, on Amazon:

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This book has been nothing short of life-changing for me. After a few months of diligent practice, I am stronger, leaner, and more flexible than I have ever been in my entire life. I have dropped over 25 lbs and have put on a considerable amount of muscle. For the first time in my life I have a six pack, which I did not have even doing a P90X/Insanity hybrid, but that's not the best part. The strength gains that I have made are nothing short of phenomenal. I have increased my big 3 lifts by over 50 lbs, without even working on them! I am able to do single leg squats, handstands, L-sit ring muscle-ups, single-arm push-ups, straddle back lever, tuck planche, and even the elbow lever, as pictured on the cover. I could not do anything close to this before I bought this book. However, the progressions outlined in the book for these exercises are by far the hardest thing that I have ever done physically. It does not compare to any off-the-shelf program in terms of shear difficulty, so be prepared to fail, alot. The author does, however, teach you the necessary concepts of how to tailor your program specifically for your goals and abilities, which will enable you to progress, without injury, much faster and achieve far greater results than anything you can buy from an infomercial. Although, it does require a bit more work on the user's end in terms of programming and assessment. Short of finding an actual coach, this book delivers in way that I hitherto simply would not have believed possible. PS: I would recommend buying an ab wheel, rings, parallettes, pull-up bar, dip bar, and a 20 ft rope. These are the tools I am using in my progressions, in addition to barbells for certain exercises, i.e. push press to develop strength for the handstand. I wouldn't say that all this equipment is absolutely necessary, but it is a tremendous asset. If you're on a budget, I'd say just buy, or make, some rings. Rings are mandatory IMO. UPDATE: After 9 months of gymnastics training, I have lost about 60 lbs total, going from 237 lbs down to 177 lbs, and going from 24% body fat down to 11%. I am currently working on the inverted muscle up aka "elevator" as well as the iron cross, and I am very close to achieving both. Aside from hurting my leg due to falling off my p-bars, I have not sustained any injuries and all of the programming and progression advice in the book has paid off tremendously. Of course I have been training between 1-5 hours per day, 6-7 days per week, and using a very strict diet/sleep schedule, so my results may not be typical for most. My life has been completely changed and I can only imagine what another 9 months of training will bring.

As well as providing valuable information through his book, the author is also very present on online forums like Reddit, where he will answer any questions you may have about bodyweight training, and even review your own training routine.

You can also find more information through blog posts and articles on his website.


Content – 95%

Clarity of Information – 90%

Highly recommended – 100%

Key takeaway

If you are interested in having a comprehensive guide to bodyweight training, knowing what exercise does what, and why, and knowing about the technical details of bodyweight and gymnastic exercises from an untrained athlete to expert level, this book is for you.

Although it may be slightly overwhelming when you are an absolute untrained beginner, you will quickly pick up the knowledge required to understand everything and construct your own workout routines for the most efficient path to mass and strength gains.

When first coming across this book, I was intrigued by the boldness of it’s title, and what it could possible represent in terms of content to uncover the “lost secrets of supreme survival strength”.

Upon first reading, the author cites how the fitness world today has corrupted what is really essential in training, and that so many people air about in a gym, pumping their arms artificially, always aiming to move push more weight, leaving aside other important things such as joint health, being able to move comfortably in your body, and exercising for long term longevity instead of short term gains.

The book is the result of acquired knowledge through training both himself and other detainees, over the author’s 23 year time behind bars.

He claims that to survive in such a harsh and unforgiving environment where people are constantly praying on the weak, your only option is to become stronger, and bodyweight training was always the main option as weights often weren’t accessible and one can build an insanely strong and powerful physique in his cell with limited material.

Within this book, you will find a short background on the author and an introduction to bodyweight fitness and impressive feats of strength that can be developed through this training method, the SIX big power moves that he used throughout his time in the penitentiary, and how to organize your workout routine.

The six big power moves featured are as follows:

  1. The push up
  2. The squat
  3. The pull up
  4. The leg raise
  5. The bridge
  6. The handstand push up

Each of the six principle power moves contain illustrated steps as to how one can go from the most basic form of an exercise to something as hard a one arm push up.

Everything is demonstrated step by step, with cues on form and how many reps and sets you should be doing to get to the next progression of an exercise.

Here is a review left by a reader/user of overcoming gravity, on Amazon:

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This book really is incredible and is worlds apart from 99% of the other books that have been written about bodyweight only strength training. The main reason that most books written on bodyweight strength training suck, is because they are nothing more than a collection of bodyweight exercises demonstrated in photographs by the author/s. Nothing more. "This is a pushup..." "This is a chinup....." "This is a squat...: "Here is a handstand pushup, don't try this until you are "advanced"......". etc. It's all very well demonstrating how to do an exercise but HOW do we build up to the more advanced ones? How many times a week should we train? How many reps do we shoot for? How many normal pushups do I need to do before I can start repping out on one arm? None of this stuff is ever addressed. We are just shown dozens of pictures of a guy in a singlet demonstrating strength moves. People like John E Peterson take photos of themselves doing incredible feats of strength like handstand pushups between boxes and then warn us that this exercise is "only for world class advanced athletes". Great, thanks. Now how does that help me in MY training? This is what makes Convict Conditioning so very special. You are shown the ultimate version or "master step" that you are going to work towards but you are taken to this level via very carefully planned steps or "progressions". The earliest steps are so easy that someone that has never trained in their life can do them (eg: wall pushups). The final steps (one armed, feet together pushups, one armed chinups, pistol squats etc) are so advanced that very few people could even complete one repetition. The point is you are clearly shown, STEP, BY STEP, BY STEP, BY STEP how to work up to these incredible feats of strength, regardless of what level of conditioning you are currently at via the 10 progressions. The roadmap is laid bare for you to begin your journey, then it's just up to you to put in the work. This is NOT a get strong and ripped quick scheme. You will not achieve the master steps in a couple of weeks- possibly not for years and in the case of some of the exercises, maybe NEVER. (I'm not sure I could ever build up to full one arm pullups but I am going to give it my best shot!) You will however, get progressively stronger and fitter as you work your way through the steps in pursuit of the ultimate strength moves. A fantastic book and one that I cannot recommend highly enough. This book truly is REVOLUTIONARY which is a word that is thrown around far too often but in this case, is well deserved.

Amazing in it’s simplicity, this book is fun to read, and provides great content. Each exercise begins at level 1, which is a recommended level to use if you have an injury in the specific targeted area.

When I started applying the author’s training advice I was hindered from a few months of excessive weight training by a nasty tennis elbow, which through the right progressions demonstrated in the book improved rapidly, up to the point where I could do the higher level exercises without any pain.

Start at your own level and move slowly though each progression.

Never rush; as the author says, we are now so used to instant gratification and always having everything we want without having to work as much that when something that cannot be fast tracked comes along, something which you have to work hard for, for a long period of time, that we give up always to early.

Aim for long term development, not short term gains.


Content – 80%

Clarity of information – 95%

Highly recommended – 85%

Key takeaway

The methods of training featured in the book will allow you to gain considerable amounts of strength, as well as build some muscle mass. It will help you take your basic exercises and gradually level them up to the point where you will be doing hard skills like the one arm push up or one arm handstand push up.

If you are looking for a simple explanation and progressions to take you from A to B, this book is for you.

If you want to improve upon your physical capacities and promote longevity of your joints and body in general, this book is for you.

If you want to know how to achieve other skills like the handstand, planche front lever or more, this book isn’t for you

If you want to become huge through the workout routines included in this books, you may want to look elsewhere, too.

Best Calisthenics Books - Conclusion

Overall, both books are quite outstanding in terms of what you will learn from them but the one that stands out the most is Overcoming Gravity. The information you will find in this book is unlike anything you will find anywhere, it’s a true gold mine of content.

If you want to become stronger, both books will work. However, Overcoming gravity is superior in terms of the quality and credibility of it’s information. I find that the progressions are more realistic and better suited to optimal and faster strength gains that the “convict” training style you will find in Convict Conditioning.

There is also much more information, and it goes over a much larger database of different exercises and progressions, as well as going into detail in how to create your own routine, as well as preventing injury and rehabilitation. It’s also probably more suited to getting shredded through bodyweight movements that the high rep scheme of Convict conditioning.

All in all, Convict conditioning is fantastic if you want to strengthen your entire body, and provide it with the means of longevity so that you will be doing pull ups way into your 80’s, but not as informational and complete as Overcoming Gravity, which covers similar information, but with much more detail, content, and quality; it’s a true bible of knowledge, a book every Calisthenics practitioner can learn an immense amount from

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