Calisthenics exercises are great for many reasons. First of all, they can be done anywhere as you don't need a gym, meaning you can skip all the hassle with commuting, packing your bag and in general spending hours preparing. They can be done exactly when you feel like working out and when you have the time for it.
What might be the difficult part is which exercises to do and how to do them - well the lucky thing is that I'm about to give you a complete callisthenics exercises list with detailed guides on how to do them and which muscles they are focusing on.
Before we start there are two important areas that I would like to cover and they are, "Relevant callisthenics exercises", "Reps and repetitions" and finally "Progression" - let's start with the first one.
Relevant callisthenics exercises
I guess you have heard the saying that, "sometimes less is more"?
If I wanted I could have made a list of plus hundred exercises but the idea with this callisthenics exercise list is not to list as many exercises as possible but simply list the best and most relevant. Your progression is not dependent on how many different callisthenics exercises you do but how good they are, how well you do them and how frequently you do them. That's it - so please avoid the "Shiny object syndrome" where you continue to chase new and shiny things - consistency is what will give you results just like with anything else in life.
Reps and rounds
Depending on your goal you have to consider the number of repetitions and rounds, meaning when you do your workout how many repetitions should you do and for how many rounds.
Generally speaking, we say that lower repetitions and rounds will give you strength and more repetitions and rounds will give you stamina. But here is how I like to think about it.
If you are focusing on specific muscles like biceps or triceps it's better to stay in the lower number range like 5-10 reps for 3-5 rounds with 2 minutes of pause between rounds.
For the callisthenics exercises that focus on more muscles or even the complete body like burpees, it's better to do them in time intervals like 1 minute on and 30 seconds off.
If you look at some of my other articles you will find many different workouts where I have already set the repetitions and rounds for you. Here is one calisthenics workout list.
Progression is probably one of the most important parts of any successful workout plan and it's also where most people fail.
Building the body of your dream is nothing that is done in one or for that sake three months - we are talking minimum 6 months, 1 year or even 5 years so without the right progression you will fail.
So what important then?
Start at the right level for you! Do not overdo it. When selecting an exercise from the list it's important that it's one that you as a minimum can for 5 repetitions with good form.
I have listed the exercises with the easiest first and then moving down to the most difficult ones. With that you can build a calisthenics exercises list for beginners, intermediate and advanced just make sure to pick the ones that fit you.
Ok, now it's time to look at this super long callisthenics exercise list - here we go.
Shoulders and triceps.
The shoulder muscles are mostly activated by a horizontal upward press but also a bit in a vertical press like push-ups.
The triceps is also activated in a horizontal press but the most bang for the buck we get with dips.
Stiff legged bear walks
This is where you want to start if you haven't trained before.
The exercise is excellent. It will work other muscles as well but by doing them stiff legged and keeping the head as much as possible in between the arms, we will keep most of the focus on the shoulders.
If you can do other exercises this is still a good option for warm-up prior a shoulder workout.
Start with the feet on the ground and when you become stronger you can elevate them by placing them on a box or a bench.
In the top position where arms are fully extended, we want to keep the head inside our arms as this will keep our shoulders in a good position and really focusing on the muscles in the shoulders.
In the bottom position, you have two choices. Either letting the head going in front of your arms which will then give more focus on the triceps or let the head travel in between the hand which will give more focus on the shoulders.
An important thing to remember is that when we press up we really want to get a horizontal press and we want elbows to stay close to our body so the shoulders don't travel forward, which is a bad position.
Dips can be hard for many people but the great thing is that we can scale them so anybody can do them.
Find a version that you can as a minimum do 5 repetitions.
What is important when you want to focus on triceps and shoulders is that the body stays upright. If you lean your body forward the focus will be more on the chest.
Are fantastic - however, they will work many different muscles like the chest and core as well but they are still a great way to get shoulder strength.
Simply keep the body as straight as possible and with small steps walk as high as possible up the wall.
Here we almost focus 100% on the triceps
Normally a push-up gives most focus on the chest however when we place the hands closely on the ground, there will be quite a lot of activity in the triceps.
It's perfectly ok to start with knees on the ground if the standard version is too challenging.
This is an extremely difficult exercise and it can even be done in much harder ways than the traditional.
Traditional - Kick up to handstand facing away from the wall - now lower yourself and press yourself up again. Doing it only negatively can be an option if you can do them correctly.
Facing the wall - Same as above but here we face the wall. This will give more focus on the triceps.
Freestanding - You kick up in a freestanding handstand and do the handstand pushup without any support.
Handstand walk is also a good way to strengthen your shoulders.
Biceps & Forearm
In bodyweight training, the forearms are most trained gripping or hanging - meaning when we do pull ups and chin ups we also train the forearm.
The famous bicep curls from traditional weight training can easily be transformed into bodyweight training.
Horizontal chin ups
With feet on the ground take a supinated grip (palms facing you) on a bar/rings in an appropriate hight. Now with a straight body pull your chest towards the bar and slowly back.
The more horizontal your body is at the end position the harder the exercise.
Same as horizontal chin ups but now hanging from the bar and no support with feet.
If too hard then start with only negative movements.
Archer Chin Ups
By only using one arm the exercises will, of course, become harder.
When focusing on the upper back it's all about pulling or rowing.
Generally speaking, a vertical pull will focus on the lower part parts meaning latissimus dorsi and a vertical pull/row will focus on the muscles above and between the shoulder blades meaning trapezius.
The exercises are almost the same as when we looked at the biceps, however now we have to make sure to hold the bar or rings in a pronated grip.
These ones also go under the name, horizontal pull-ups or Australian pull-ups but it's the same exercise.
With the feet on the ground or on an elevated object, you grip a bar or a pair of gymnastic rings in a pronated hold and then pull your chest towards the object you are grasping on to.
It's important to really feel that you squeeze your shoulder blades together when doing the exercise.
Start with a variation where you can focus on good form and then progress by making the body more and more horizontal.
Standard Pull Ups
Again you hang from the bar with a pronated grip but this time you want to do a horizontal pull which brings your chin above the bar or even the chest to the bar.
The grip should be shoulder width and your body should either be in a hollow hold or arched with the legs bend. Arching the body is an easier option than the hollow hold.
From the hanging position, you start by pulling the shoulder blades down and then focusing on muscle activity in the latissimus dorsi.
If you do not master pull-ups then rows are a good place to start but also supported or negative pull-ups can help you towards your goal.
If you don't have a pull up bar or a pair of rings you can still train the upper back.
Assisted Victorians is an isometric exercise which means we do not shorten nor lengthening the muscles but simply engage them heavily and then hold them there.
In the back exercise, you lay on the floor and lift your upper body by pushing your elbows into the ground and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Then you hold for as long as possible.
For this exercise, you need a pair of gymnastic rings.
After gripping the rings you lean back until your arms are fully extended. Make sure that the body is straight by keeping the core engaged. Again you squeeze your shoulder blades together without bending your arms. This will make your body travell to an upright position.
Most guys know that in order to get big chest muscles you have to do bench presses, which is the truth. However, push-ups can do the same as it's the same movement. What we simply are looking for is some sort of horizontal push.
You can start with these on knees or even against the wall - as you become stronger you can then elevate your legs in order to make them harder.
What is important is that we get the full range of motion, meaning chest should touch the ground and then arms should be fully extended before lowering chest to the ground.
Also, make sure that that the body keeps a straight line from heels to head - this you do by engaging your core muscles.
Finally keep your elbows as close to the body as possible. When elbows start to travel away from the body the shoulder ends up in a bad position.
This exercise should not be confused with the also popular dive bombers.
Here we will work the chest from different angles and by doing them slowly they will become very demanding.
By placing your hands wider than shoulders we will target the chest more than in standard push-ups.
The key points from standard push-ups apply the wide push up as well.
Placing the most weight on one arm will make the exercise more challenging. Affected muscles are the same as with the standard push-up but it will be more demanding.
The plyometric push up is a standard push-up where we just do the movement explosively.
What we achieve with this type of movement is that we enable a different type of muscle fibres.
Generally, you should try to apply plyometric movements in all exercises you do as well the isometric that we talked about in assisted Victorians.
We covered the dips when we talked triceps exercises however if we lean our chest forward and thereby get a more horizontal push than a vertical push the focus will move towards the chest.
The progression template is the same as with standard dips, meaning starting on a box/bench with feet on the ground and then move up to a ring dip.
When we start to focus on the lower back we are moving into the core area and it's therefore difficult to find exercises that only focus on the lower back without engaging the other core muscles.
This exercise will focus on erector spinae meaning lower back but the glutes will also have to work a lot.
We do this a static hold which gives good meaning when it comes to core exercises. Reason for that is that the core muscles are meant to stabilize our body by being constantly engaged.
Therefore we should train them the same way meaning in an isometric way.
For the Superman Hold, you simply lay on your stomach and then arch up while you point your fingers and toes.
When you are strong enough you can turn the Superman Hold into Superman Rock.
The principle is the same but by rocking forth and back meanwhile holding the position the exercise becomes harder.
Abs are probably one of the most popular muscle groups for both men and women to focus on but also one of the most misunderstood. This goes both for how to train them and for how to make them visible.
As they are a big part of the core we should train them like they are used meaning always engaged.
The way to do that is to make a big part of the abs workouts isometric where we contract the muscles without changing the length. Of course, we should also do some concentric and eccentric contraction where we shorten and lengthen the muscle but there should be a good balance between the two types of exercises.
Knee to elbows
This exercise can be done by most people and will give a good workout to your Abs as well as your Obliques which are the muscles on the side.
Make sure to have a good range of motion meaning the knee goes all the way to your elbow and back to fully extended.
The plank is much more than an Abs exercise, actually, it covers most muscles of the core, however, it is very efficient for the Abs as well. Another great thing with the plank is that it's easy to scale to fit your current level.
No matter which level of the plank you are doing it's important to do the exercise correctly. The way to get the right form is to do a posterior pelvic tilt in order to engage the abs and not just hang on the back muscles, this is where most people fail with the plank.
To find the right level and achieve the correct form I highly recommend to read this article.
This exercise will give a lot of focus on the Obliques
They can be quite hard but a way to make them easier is to make the distance between the legs and the floor longer.
As with the Hollow Hold it's important that you keep the lower back flat into the ground.
Crunches and Sit-Ups have gotten a bad reputation but as long as you do them correctly they will be efficient.
An ab-mat can be a good way to make the form better but the most important part is to keep the hip-flexor out of the exercise.
One way to do that is to place the legs in a butterfly position, this will take the hip-flexors out of action.
Sitting Jack Knifes
This exercise reminds of Flutter Kicks but they are a bit harder and will focus a bit more on the higher Abs
Hollow Holds is my favourite exercise for Abs. First of all, it's an isometric exercise and secondly, it covers a big part of the core as well. It's an exercise that everybody should do regularly to maintain a healthy posture.
Just like the Flutter Kicks it's important to keep the lower back flat on the floor. Therefore do not lower your legs more than you can still keep the back flat.
I have a very good step by step guide on how to master the Hollow Hold here.
As with the Superman Holds we can make the exercise more difficult by adding motion to the exercise while holding it. Again please do not try this version before you master the standard version.
Hanging in your arms and raising your knees from ninety degrees to as close as possible to the chest will make you Abs work hard. When the knees travel below ninety degrees the focus will be more on the hip flexors than the Abs so make sure to raise them as high as possible.
This is a natural next step after the Knee Raises.
What happens when we extend the legs is that we simply get help from gravity and raising the legs above ninety degrees becomes much harder.
Hanging Windshield Wipers
In order to focus more on the Obliques, we have to move our legs or knees to the sides instead of in a straight line. The Windshield Wipers is one example but it can also be done by raising the knees to the sides.
This is another great isometric exercise but it hard like crazy. You can start out with both legs bend ore one leg bend and then hold the position.
Is the hardest of all Abs exercises. Again you can start with tucked legs or only one leg fully extended.
The important part for Dragon Flags is that we only rest the upper back on the floor and then lower the legs as slowly as possible.
Glutes, hamstrings & quads
These muscles are some of the biggest muscles in the body and especially the rear muscles are part of the core.
A big issue due to today's modern lifestyle is that we sit too much which results in week glutes, hamstrings and quads. Therefore it's extremely important o focus on these muscles.
Squats are popular and for a good reason. Squats will work both the glutes, hamstrings and quads.
Some people wrongly say that they can be bad for your knees and that you should only go to a position where your upper legs are pararel with the ground - however, this is wrong.
What you should do is to go as deep as possible and make sure that you start the exercise by moving your butt backwards before you bend your legs - same motion and when you sit down on a chair.
Try to keep the feet flat to the ground and make sure to push your knee outwards.
These are explosive and will do the same as normal squats but also add the calve muscles and higher your puls very fast.
Bulgarian split squat
To challenge the legs more simply rest one leg on a bench or chair and then squat down in the same way as a normal squat.
Extending one leg with toes pointing upward and then squatting down on opposite leg will also give some extra challenges.
Hip thrusters will isolate the glutes very well and is therefore also very popular for people who want to work on a tight butt
Simply lay on the floor with bend legs and thrust your hip upward.
One-legged hip thrusters
Same as normal hip thrusters but more challenging.
Simply stepping up upon a box or a high stairstep will also work the glutes, hamstring and quads - but it will also go down in your calf muscles.
These are what we call plyomtétric or explosive. So more or less we will address the same muscles as with step ups but we will focus more on the short muscle fibres.
Lunges are another great way to train your legs
As with Box Jumps, these are explosive and will, therefore, address the short muscle fibres. Also, they will skyrocket your puls in no time.
This is an isometric exercise that will focus a lot on your hamstrings. With your back flat against a wall and legs bend 90 degrees simply keep the position for as long as possible +1 minute is considered really good.
To make it more difficult you can do the exercise on one leg at the time.
Single leg deadlift
A good exercise that will also challenge your balance and work most of the core as well
Free hanging leg pistols
Pistols are the most challenge kind of bodyweight exercise for the legs.
The biggest challenge is not to be able to support your total weight on one leg but to keep the balance and support the twist that happens in the body.
Start with this version where the leg can hang loose and you just get a feeling for the pistol.
Next, you grab on to something while you do the pistol. Try to support yourself as little as possible both on the way down and the way up.
Simply perform the pistol by squatting down and up on one leg with the other leg extended in front of you.
We already covered the exercises for calfs.
Step ups and any type of jumping will train them.
Full body exercises
Some exercises will train most of your body and can efficiently be used to shorten down the workout time when you are in a rush or simply want to keep your workout to a minimum.
Another benefit of these exercises is also that they will bring up your puls very efficient so they are good for cardio as well.
Make sure that your chest goes all the way down to the ground and then finalize with a jump.
Bend legged bear crawl
Excellent to strengthen your body and also very efficient for warm-up
Your arms and shoulders will work a lot but also the core need to fight for keeping the core straight.