Calisthenics exercises sound like something your great-grandpa would do. However, it pops up in your mind once you hear how people use little to no equipment or how U.S. Navy Seals use calisthenics on bases (19). What if I told you calisthenics exercises are entirely doable at home? It’s the one workout to use anywhere, without equipment, and can even take to the streets, if you enjoy parkour. But first, let’s discover the facts.
What Are Calisthenics Exercises?
Calisthenics exercises use body weight resistance, rhythmic movements, and varying intensities, according to WebMD (9). Let’s see what exercises are available.
What Are The Main Workouts For Calisthenics?
Calisthenics includes some specific exercises or variations of simpler workouts:
- Burpees (28)
- Crunches (10)
- Dips (6)
- Glute bridges (27)
- Human flags (1)
- Jumps (13)
- Levers (15)
- Lunges (9)
- Mountain climbers (33)
- Planches (18)
- Planks (9)
- Pull-ups (31)
- Push-ups (9)
- Sit-ups (9)
- Squats (22)
- Step-ups (26)
The list includes 70 workouts when you include every variation.
What Calisthenics Workouts Do for You
The street-style workout may make you look like a gladiator. National Geographic says calisthenics originates from the Ancient Spartans (8). Just think of it, an exercise arising from gladiators may give you that warrior body.
Calisthenics May Improve Endurance And Strength
WebMD says you may increase muscle endurance and strength with swift movements as your fitness improves (9). A minimum of 10-12 reps per set per exercise is necessary. Its’ variations and increasing intensity may give calisthenics endless potential.
Calisthenics May Burn Fat And Reduce BMI
Italian scientists examined how calisthenics affects body composition (18). Calisthenics workouts may reduce your body mass index without the need for equipment.
Calisthenics May Be A Complete Workout
Albuquerque scientists compared calisthenics to HIIT (24). Vigorous calisthenics exercises have the same effects on overall fitness and cardiometabolic changes as HIIT workouts. Vigorous calisthenics offers cardio, strength, and resistance training.
Can You Really Build Muscle With Calisthenics?
Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine researchers examined extensive evidence and effects of daily bodyweight training (21). A secondary outcome was an increase in muscle thickness around the thighs.
North Dakota researchers compared calisthenics training to bench presses to determine which improved muscle thickness more (11). Progressive calisthenics push-ups showed the same results as bench presses.
Polish scientists shared the most exciting find (23). Hypertrophy is the ultimate cause of muscle mass, and you can’t achieve it unless you keep exhausting the muscles. You must progressively increase intensity, duration, and variables to maintain hypertrophy.
Is Calisthenics Better Than Weights?
The North Dakota research showed no significant differences between bench presses and progressive calisthenics push-ups (11). The two exercises are equal in building muscle strength and thickness. The only main difference is that one uses body weight, while the other uses equipment.
Also, British and US researchers found that calisthenics poses less risk for lower back pain than traditional weight training (4). That means that calisthenics is better for you if you practice proper form and smooth movements or don’t want to use equipment or resistance machines.
On the contrary, weights offer higher intensities and may help you progressively increase calisthenic workouts in advanced stages. Beginners should always speak to a physician first.
Is 20 Minutes Of Calisthenics Enough?
Medicine Net says 20 minutes of calisthenics is enough initially because it includes forms of cardio (16). If you add a minute, you meet the recommended 21 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily. High-intensity exercises with cardio only require 15 minutes daily.
Calisthenics Exercises At Home For Beginners
Calisthenics moves require speed, rhythm, and form. Start with simpler calisthenics exercises at home to master the rhythm before targeting more specific muscle groups. The following section is for fit trainers.
10 Calisthenic Exercises Beginners Must Try For Full-Body Workouts!
Calisthenics exercises at home target multiple muscle groups for greater fitness. Use 10-12 reps minimum per set initially (9). Slowly increase your set numbers as you improve endurance and fitness.
Australian researchers found that bar dips work the extension, abduction, rotator, flexion, and anterior muscles in the upper body (6). It’s a good start!
- Use two equal-height supports to raise yourself while keeping your feet crossed,
- Bend your elbows backward, and lift yourself with your arms and shoulders.
Livestrong recommends donkey kicks to strengthen the core and target those glutes (14).
- Get on all fours with your knees below your hips and hands below your shoulders,
- Keep your hips square and your knees bent to 90° as you lift the left foot to the sky,
- Keep your core and glutes tight and your back straight,
- Inhale when you bring the leg back down,
- Complete the reps on one side before changing the legs.
Glute bridges are a variation of hip thrusts that work your glutes, hamstrings, hips, core, and back muscles (27).
- Lie flat with your feet flat against the floor,
- Place pressure on your heels while raising your hips into a bridge position,
- Squeeze your glutes as you reach the top before descending back down.
WebMD says jumping jacks are excellent for the core, quads, hamstrings, shoulders, hips, abs, and glutes (13).
- Stand upright with your feet together and arms by your sides,
- Rapidly bend your knees, and jump your feet sideways and outwards,
- Swing your arms over your head and outward at the same time as the jump,
- Reverse the pattern when you land on your feet.
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Jump Rope Hops (3 Minutes)
- Stand upright with a jump rope in both hands and the rope behind your heels,
- Swing the rope in front of you while jumping with both feet.
Multiple variations, including goblet and jump squats, target the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves (22).
- Stand upright with your feet slightly apart and toes pointing outward,
- Enter a deep but comfortable squat before exploding into a jump.
The Insider suggests mountain climbers work the triceps, deltoids, abs, obliques, core, triceps, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and hips (33).
- Get into a plank position with a soft bend in your elbows,
- Spread your feet hip-width while keeping your body dead straight,
- Pull one knee toward your chest until it reaches a 90° angle,
- Tap your toes to the ground before returning the leg to a plank position,
- Do the reps on both legs.
The Mayo Clinic recommends step-ups to work those glutes, hamstrings, and quads (26).
- Stand upright in front of steps with your hands on your hips,
- Step one foot up before following with the other foot,
- Return your feet one by one to the floor to complete a rep,
- Do the step-ups as fast as possible.
Unstable Planks (2 Minutes)
Physio-Pedia says planks work the obliques, core, triceps, abs, pecs, quads, hips, and glutes (20).
- Increase the difficulty slightly by getting onto all fours on an unstable surface,
- Get into a traditional plank position while holding your body dead straight.
Medical News Today recommends various push-ups to work the pecs, deltoids, biceps, triceps, back, core, abs, glutes, hamstrings, and quads (32).
- Stand facing a wall at an arm’s length away,
- Spread your feet shoulder-width,
- Push your hands against the wall at shoulder height and width,
- Lean inward as you bend the elbows and touch the wall with your nose,
- Push yourself away with some force and speed before repeating the reps.
Best Calisthenic Exercises For Advanced Trainers
Calisthenics exercises for advanced trainers requires progressive variations of traditional workouts. Focus on specific areas. You’ll find more variations of the exercises where relevant. They may or may not target the same regions.
Calisthenics Ab Exercises
The Cleveland Clinic says ab muscles include transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and internal/external obliques (2). Do at least 10-12 reps and two sets of each.
WebMD recommends sit-ups as one of the top calisthenics targeting ab muscles (9).
- Lie flat with your fingers touching each other pyramid-style,
- Bend your knees to 90° angles before entering a full sit-up,
- Your legs will move outward, allowing your abs to sit directly over your pelvis,
- Your toes still touch before reversing the movement.
- Full sit-ups
- Traditional sit-ups
Medical News Today recommends crunches as calisthenics that may target the abs (10).
- Lie on the floor with 90° angle knees,
- Cross your palms over your chest,
- Engage your middle while bending toward your knees.
- Bicycle crunches
- Double crunches
- Hollow body crunches
- Oblique crunches
- Reverse crunches
- Vertical leg crunches
Calisthenics Leg Exercises
The Cleveland Clinic suggests targeting quads, glutes, adductors, biceps, and hamstrings in the lower body (17). Do 15-20 reps and one set to start each workout.
Livestrong says archer or single-leg squats work the hamstrings, quads, glutes, hips, and calves (29).
- Support your left foot on the ground before raising the right leg off the floor,
- Hover it in front of you while keeping it dead straight,
- Squat down on the left leg while pushing your hips back,
- Rise back before returning to the starting position,
- Complete your reps on one side before changing sides.
- Box jumps
- Close stance squats
- Half squats
- Pistol squats
- Prisoner squats
WebMD suggests using 10-12 vigorous lunges as a calisthenics lower-body workout (9).
- Stand upright with your hands on your hips,
- Push weight onto your left heel as you step forward,
- Bend the left knee into a parallel position with the floor,
- Repeat the same with your right leg without moving the left.
- 5 o’clock lunges
- Curtsy lunges
- Explosive sprinter’s lunges
- Lateral lunges
- Lunge jumps
- Reverse lunges
- Traditional lunges
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Back Exercises In Calisthenics
British researchers found strict pull-ups activated more upper back muscles than kipping and butterfly pull-ups (3).
- Grip a bar with palms facing forward,
- Pull your body up while maintaining a plank position,
- Stop and repeat once your chin rises over the bar.
- Butterfly pull-ups
- Kipping pull-ups
- Get on all fours, and place your hands close together underneath your chest,
- Brace your core muscles as you lower down as far as possible,
- Push yourself back up with some force and speed before completing your reps.
- Clap push-ups
- Decline push-ups
- Decline narrow-grip push-ups
- Dynamic push-ups
- Elevated push-ups
- Kneeling push-ups
- Parallette push-ups
- Pike push-ups
- Single-handed push-ups
- Uneven push-ups
- Wide-grip push-ups
Calisthenic Exercises For Biceps
Physio-Pedia explains that the biceps are the larger muscles in the upper arms (7). Exercises targeting the upper arms and shoulders work well. Do 10-12 reps and two sets.
Side Plank Abductions
Physio-Pedia says side planks are progressive variations that target the biceps, triceps, shoulders, chest, and abs (20).
- Enter a side plank while supporting your body weight on the lower forearm,
- Keep your body as straight as possible while raising the top leg upward,
- Return the leg and do your reps before repeating the reps on the other side.
- 3 limb planks
- 2 limb planks
- Decline planks
- Front plank hip extensions
- Side planks
Live Science says pull-ups work the biceps, triceps, pecs, deltoids, trapezius, and obliques (31).
- Place your hands palm-forward on a bar or pull-up structure,
- Keep them further apart than usual before doing pull-ups.
- Chest-to-bar pull-ups
- Close-grip pull-ups
- L pull-ups
- Resistance band pull-ups
- Single-handed pull-ups
- Typewriter pull-ups
- Weighted pull-ups
What Are 5 Calisthenic Exercises Reserved For Advanced Trainers?
Some calisthenics is best suited to advanced trainers because they challenge gravity or require perfect progression.
The Calisthenics Nerd, an expert in advanced calisthenics, suggests back-lever progressions as an advanced workout (12). Hold each advance for 30 seconds.
- Start with the inverted hang,
- Progress to skin the cat,
- Progress to a tuck-back lever,
- Progress to a single-leg back lever,
- Progress to a straddle back lever,
- Finally, progress into a full back lever.
Livestrong confirms that burpees work the quads, hamstrings, biceps, triceps, and shoulders (28). It isn’t progressive but is an intense full-body workout.
- Stand upright and roll your shoulders back,
- Enter a squat position, and put your hands between your feet on the floor,
- Jump while thrusting your body backward into a plank position,
- Balance your weight on your hands while doing the thrust,
- Jump back into the frog position and stand up before repeating.
- Enter the inverted row position,
- Progress into an inverted hang,
- Progress into a tuck lever negative, hold, raise, and pull up,
- Progress to skin the cat,
- Change to a single-leg front lever,
- Enter the straddle front lever,
- Progress to the full front lever.
Italian researchers found that planches require and continue to build advanced body strength (18). Hold each position for 30 seconds.
- Enter a frog stand,
- Progress to tuck swings,
- Enter the tuck planche,
- Progress to an advanced tuck planche,
- Change to a single-leg planche,
- Enter the straddle planche,
- Progress to a full planche.
The Human Flag Progression
Guinness World Records says the longest human flag is only 1 minute and 5.71 seconds (1). Hold each progression for 30 seconds.
- Enter the support press,
- Progress into a chamber hold,
- Move into the vertical flag,
- Enter a bent-knee flag,
- Progress into a full human flag.
What Is The Difference Between Calisthenics And Weight Exercises?
Calisthenics uses no equipment and is easy to do at home as a bodyweight exercise (9). You follow fast, rhythmic, progressive movements using your body to cause resistance. Weight exercises require equipment and possibly a gym visit.
How Many Calisthenics Exercises Are There?
This list has 70 calisthenics exercises to target every part of your body, whether you’re a beginner or an advanced trainer.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Calisthenics Exercises?
Calisthenics workouts require progressive intensities, durations, and variations to build muscle mass (23). However, calisthenics is resistance, strength, and aerobic exercises that may burn fat, improve endurance, and strengthen muscles (24, 18, 9).
How Many Exercises Per Workout (Calisthenics)?
Medical News Today suggests 6 calisthenics exercises with 3-4 sets and 5-10 reps per workout twice weekly for beginners (25). Advanced trainers must use at least 5 progressive workouts with 3-4 sets and 10-15 reps per workout 2-3 times weekly.
Fortunately, you don’t need parkour classes. Instead, choose the calisthenics exercises that suit your fitness, endurance, and speed. Then, progressively increase your intensities, reps, and variables to keep gaining muscle and master the art of calisthenics.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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