Calisthenics has become as popular as weight training in recent years, with flashy fitness channels providing awesome footage of athletes training out in parks, spinning and flipping off the bars, and performing superhuman feats of strength.
For those used to a more traditional workout or training method, it can come across as unattainable for us mere mortals. But fear not! Calisthenics training has been around for a long time and is accessible to everyone.
Benefits of Calisthenics Training
Calisthenics has been shown to improve strength, flexibility, and endurance. Other benefits of this training include decreased body fat, increased respiratory muscle function, and improved coordination.
So if your workout doesn’t include at least some of these valuable exercises, you may be missing out on the many benefits they can provide! Take a look at this list of 50 calisthenics exercises for total body training.
All of the calisthenics exercises in this article are grouped by body part, and each section is listed from beginner exercises through to advanced moves. Pick a few moves from each section to create your own calisthenics workout plan.
Calisthenics Exercises for Chest and Triceps
1. Knee Push Ups
Push ups are one of the most popular bodyweight exercises and with good reason. However, they can be tough to perform with good technique for a beginner. A classic modification for this exercise is the knee push up, taking some of the load off the upper body and making it easier to stay strong through the torso.
2. Bench Dips
A beginner-friendly version of the classic triceps exercise, bench dips can be done almost anywhere. A great bodyweight exercise for the triceps, it can be easily modified by adjusting the feet position, from close with knees bent 90 degrees, to the straight leg version for a greater challenge.
3. Incline Push Ups
Another variation on the push up that will build strength while training you to maintain a strong core from the feet to the head, incline push ups reduce the load of gravity placed on the muscles, letting you improve your technique before moving on to full push ups.
4. Chest Dips
Stepping up from the bench dip we have the chest dip. In calisthenics, this exercise is performed on the parallel bars, with a slight lean forward to emphasize the chest muscles. If you have access to different widths of bars, a wider grip will also emphasize the chest more.
5. Standard Push Ups
Once you’ve mastered the beginner exercises, you should be ready for the full standard push up off the feet. A fundamental calisthenics exercise, take the time to practice your form, and don’t waste energy on half reps with bad technique! Mastering this exercise will build a strong pushing foundation for some of the more advanced exercises to come.
6. Triceps Dips
This is the classic dip exercise as opposed to the chest variation. It will be more challenging, as your arms will receive less help from the chest in this more upright position. The cornerstone of many calisthenics exercises, dips will strengthen your triceps like nothing else. Focus on a full range of motion and full lockout at the top of the movement.
7. TRX Flys
Many outdoor calisthenics training parks are now including TRX-like chains with handles. These are still calisthenics exercises, as your body weight is still providing the resistance here. A great option to isolate the chest, anterior shoulders, and supporting scapular protraction muscles, the difficulty of this exercise can be easily modified by moving the foot position forward or backward.
8. Diamond Push Ups
With the combination of push ups and dips under your belt, you’ll be ready to advance to some more challenging push up variations. This diamond variant requires you to have your hands together, with the fingers in the shape of a diamond (hence the name). This version greatly increases the lever arm at the elbow, providing more of a challenge for the arms.
9. Plyometric Push Ups
It’s time to get explosive! After you build muscle in your chest and triceps with the exercises above, let’s convert that strength into real athletic power with plyo push ups. Performed from a standard push up position, simply explode from the bottom of the press so you can lift your hands off the ground before catching yourself and lowering into the next rep. If you’re feeling confident, go for the clap! Just be careful or you’ll eat the dirt.
Calisthenics Exercises for Back and Biceps
1. TRX Row
Starting again with the suspension handles, this easily adjustable exercise is a great beginner exercise for the back muscles. As you get used to performing this move with a focus on retracting the shoulder blades hard as you initiate the movement, you can increase the difficulty by walking the feet further forward, bringing gravity more into play as resistance.
2. Underhand Inverted Row
Once you’ve worked your way down to near horizontal in the TRX row, you can move on to the inverted row. Also known as the Australian pull up, this back exercise also recruits the biceps when the underhand grip is employed. It also works the rest of the posterior chain, with the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings working to elevate the body against gravity.
3. Wide Grip Inverted Row
Next, we advance this calisthenics movement to the wide overhand grip version. Moving the focus from the biceps to the posterior deltoids and scapular retractors such as the middle trapezius and rhomboids, you’ll notice a significant step up with this version of the move.
A simple calisthenics exercise on paper, the superman can be very challenging if performed correctly. Using the entire set of posterior chain muscles to lift against gravity, this move is a key accessory exercise in any calisthenics workout. Supermans can be performed as an isometric hold, for example for 30 seconds, or for reps as a test of endurance.
5. Back Extensions
A step up from the superman requiring a larger range of trunk extension against gravity, back extensions can be performed by anchoring your feet as you hang the upper body over an edge. A key lower back strengthening exercise, back extensions strengthen the erector spinae muscle group, supporting the trunk in tougher exercises and protecting against low back injuries.
6. Underhand Chin Ups
Moving up to the intermediate exercises with chin ups, this calisthenics staple will test just how far your back strength has come. This is a slightly easier variation as the biceps can aid the pull, but anyone who remembers the first date with the pull up bar can tell you that ‘easy’ might be a poor choice of words. This is also the time to practice the technique, first with some 30 second dead hangs to improve grip strength, followed by some scapular retractions to provide the base of your pulling movement.
7. Standard Pull Ups
While chin ups are a great starting point, the standard overhand pull up is the gateway to the wide range of calisthenics acrobatics on the pull up bar. The hardest step is getting your first pull up, after that, it’s all about consistency in practicing only high-quality repetitions. If you reach a sticking point, use jumping pull ups with a 30-second hold at the top, followed by descending as slowly as possible to build up your eccentric strength. Pull ups are difficult but are a necessary lynchpin in calisthenics workouts.
8. Wide Grip Pull Ups
Next, we take it out wide, just in case your back wasn’t getting enough. The benefits of a wide grip pull up include greater activation of the lats, creating that wide V shape look from the shoulders down the waist. A strong wide grip is also needed for many of the flashier calisthenics exercises performed on the pull up bar. Make sure to still achieve full range of motion, from dead hang to upper chest touching the bar.
9. Advanced Pull Ups Variations
There are too many awesome pull ups variations to name them all here, but just know there are many possibilities once you have achieved a good base. A few popular variants include clapping pull ups, 360 pull ups, back pull ups, and more. This may take years of calisthenics training, but stay consistent over time and who knows what types of pull ups you’ll be able to accomplish! Check out this video for some of the most popular pull ups exercises out there.
10. Muscle Ups
Finally, we can tie together all the calisthenics strength training exercises from the previous two sections together for the king of all bar exercises, muscle ups. Muscle ups are a combination of an explosive pull up, bringing the chest all the way up onto the top of the bar, followed by pushing the arms straight until you are suspended above the bar with your hands in front of your hips. Needless to say, this is a very advanced exercise, but many people have achieved it, and there’s no reason you can’t be the next!
Calisthenics Exercises for Shoulders
1. Pike Push Ups
The final major upper limb muscle group we need to hit is the shoulders. A good place to start here is pike push ups. This move trains a more vertical press and focuses on the middle deltoids, upper trapezius, chest, and triceps. This move can also be performed with the hands-on an elevated step or bench, to begin with.
2. Decline Push Ups
Next, we elevate the feet. This will increase not only upper body strength but also engage the core and lats more than when the feet are on the ground. We are slowly working our way from horizontal toward an inverted position for some tougher exercises. As you improve, work your hands closer together to more closely mimic the positioning of the intermediate exercises to come.
Before transitioning into a full handstand, we need to strengthen and stabilize the core shoulder muscles, the rotator cuff. It takes a lot of effort for the shoulders to support the full body weight. This isometric exercise uses the head as the third base of support and can be done with bent hips and knees as you gain the strength necessary to extend your body straight.
Now we’ve established ourselves in an inverted position, we need to gain the balance and control necessary to support the full body weight with just the upper body muscles and hands. There are several methods to learning the handstand, so find the one that works for you and get practicing.
5. Handstand Push Up
Another calisthenics classic, the handstand pushup is a feat to behold. If you don’t yet possess the balance to perform these, but you feel like your strength levels are sufficient, you can start practicing this exercise with your feet sliding along a wall for support. As your handstand improves, you can transition off the wall for the full version in all it’s glory.
Calisthenics Exercises for Legs
1. Wall Sit
Let’s give those arms a rest for a while and work on the legs! Not skipping leg day is still a thing in the calisthenics world. We’ll start with an isometric hold in the wall sit to build endurance a fatigue resistance in the legs, particularly the quads. Move away from the wall for an extra challenge in a stationary squat. And remember, no hands allowed!
Calisthenics exercises can make it harder to hit some muscle groups. One of the best exercises to make up for the lack of a deadlift in calisthenics is the glute bridge. Performed as a hold or for reps, even working up to a single leg version, don’t skip this leg exercise if you want to fill out the back of your jeans.
Squats are the bread and butter of any leg workout, and calisthenics is no different. What air squats lack in iron they make up for with the range of motion, varied tempos, and just plain repetitions. One of the best lower body exercises and one of your legs can’t do without. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart for the standard version. The advanced calisthenics athletes may be doing pistol squats, but they started somewhere and so will you.
4. Walking Lunges
Once the legs are primed and ready, we move on to our first single-leg exercise, the walking lunge. This type of lunge requires the body to be balanced as you travel forward with each step. Take your time, making sure to position the feet, knees, and hips in the correct alignment, and get those knees as close to the ground as possible.
5. Sumo Squats
Taking the feet wider than shoulder-width apart for this inner leg exercise, turn your toes outward, tracking the knees over the toes. This variation focuses on the adductor muscles the group on the inner thigh that brings your legs back to the midline.
6. Reverse Lunge
For those with knee issues, and for an extra emphasis on the glutes, the reverse lunges reduces the force going through the knee joint and increases the work done by the leg muscles instead. Focus on going deep with these as you don’t have to worry so much about balance.
7. Split Squat
For an even deeper stretch in the legs, as you descend into this one, the split squat elevates your back foot and requires you to perform all reps on one side. Another good strength builder for pistol squats or single leg jump squats.
8. Step Ups
Another of the classic legs exercises, the step up is also a good challenge for your aerobic fitness depending on how fast you perform your reps. It’s also easily adjustable by modifying the height of the step you use. Try to work up to a step that creates a 90-degree angle at the hips and knees. Focus on driving up with power in preparation for one of the cardio exercises, split squat jumps.
9. Side Lunges
One final lower body exercise to round out our calisthenics workout is the side lunge. Working the gluteus medius and other supporting hip abductors and external rotators, this calisthenics move is important for runners, athletes, or anyone wanting to strengthen and stabilize their hips.
Calisthenics Exercises for Abs and Core
The ‘core’ calisthenics abs exercise, everyone is familiar with crunches – although far fewer are aware of how to perform them properly. Start your calisthenics abs exercise routine with crunches as a starting point; building up to sit ups as your workouts progress.
2. Reverse Crunches
For the lower abdominals, we need to build the strength that is required to perform many of the calisthenic exercises which use these muscles to lift the lower limb, such as the L sit or hanging leg raises. This exercise is easy to mess up by simply swinging the lower body; make sure to perform it slowly and with control, focusing on those lower abs.
3. Bird Dogs
One of the accessory exercises that doesn’t get as much love as it should, bird dogs train the mid-body strength needed to balance, coordinate, and protect the trunk from injury against the many forces running through it during a calisthenics workout. From the starting position on all fours, become proficient at this move before attempting the same side version where the arm and leg from one side are lifted simultaneously.
4. Russian Twist
Adding some rotation into our workouts, the Russian twist is performed from a seated starting position with the hands outstretched. Lean the upper body back as you reach the hands from side to side. Calisthenics training is all about creating your own resistance, so focus on form and create the tension in your body where you want to feel it.
5. Bicycle Crunches
Tying the upper body, lower body, and rotation together, bicycle crunches are one of the great bodyweight exercises for abs. With the hands behind the head, get ready to feel a full-body burn as your leg raises to meet the elbow on the first rep. Again, the key here is slow, controlled movement, focusing on the tension where it needs to be.
6. Hollow Holds
This core exercise can have a massive impact on many calisthenics exercises, especially chin ups and pull ups. Often people struggle to keep their core tight during pull ups, losing tension, and wasting a lot of energy. Add hollow holds into your workouts and get ready to see improvements in your bodyweight training.
The plank is one of those exercises everyone loves to hate, but no calisthenics workout would be complete without this incredible full-body exercise. This move will affect all other exercises in your strength training. Most of the upper body exercises mentioned above are more often held back by a weak core rather than an inability to build muscle in the arms, chest, or back. So get those elbows shoulder-width apart, straighten the spine, tuck the abs in towards the back, and get planking!
8. Side Plank
Moving that tension to the obliques with the side plank, this exercise also strengthens the arms as they support the body one at a time. Focus on lifting the hips high, crunching the underside as you perform this move as an isometric hold, or for reps.
9. Hanging Leg Raises
Taking the core exercises onto the pull ups bar now to include the arms, this calisthenics classic is more of a full-body move, requiring hip flexor strength as well. This move will improve your pull ups as well. One of the more advanced core exercises, the hanging leg raise can be made easier by bending the knees; it is also the precursor to even more difficult calisthenics exercises like the toes to bar and the hanging windshield wiper.
Calisthenics Exercises for Cardio
1. Quick Feet
Calisthenic exercises are a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, too. Starting with one of the simpler cardio calisthenics exercises, simply find a bit of space and get the feet moving!
2. High Knees
Ramping up the workout a little with high knees, start at a jogging pace before working your way up to full sprint, getting the arms involved. This is a good precursor to getting your fitness up for sprinting and sporting movements.
3. Jumping Jacks
4. Mountain Climbers
One of the best all-around bodyweight exercises for aerobic fitness, mountain climbers has many benefits, including working arms, shoulders, core, and legs. No wonder they get the heart rate up so much!
5. Split Squat Jumps
Now the workout ramps up in intensity. This exercise takes mere seconds before your legs are burning and your heart pumping! Best used in high-intensity interval sessions.
One of the best bodyweight exercises for your heart is sprints! Find a stretch of ground or a hill, and get going! Again, sprint training is best used in an interval fashion in your cardio workout routines.
7. Box Jumps
Box jumps are a great way to train your explosive power by requiring coordination from swinging the arms all the way to driving up through the feet and tucking your hips to land. Make sure you step down to avoid too much impact on your joints. If you’re worried about crashing on the box, try jump squats instead.
Saving the best for last, burpees are on nobody’s list of favorite bodyweight exercises. But there’s a reason people despise them – they work. If you want a bang for your buck move to improve your fitness – this is it.
We hope this article helped give you some ideas to add to your routine!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is calisthenics better than the gym?
Not all workout routines require a gym membership. Calisthenics can achieve most fitness goals in the same way that weight training at the gym can, albeit with a higher level of entry for some people. Coming up with a workout plan that suits you is what’s important.
How do I start with calisthenics?
You can get started with calisthenics in your own living room. You may see some youtube videos and be tempted to try doing a front lever straight away. However, build a workout plan appropriate to your level by choosing a couple of moves from each group in this article, and work your way up from there as your fitness improves.
What are calisthenics exercises?
This method of training simply involves using bodyweight exercises in place of weight training with equipment to workout in a simple and effective way. There is no one right way to improve your fitness, so try it and see if it works for you!