The word calisthenics comes from the Greek words kallos (beauty) and sthenos (strength).
In simple terms, calisthenics is just exercises using your own bodyweight, but that certainly doesn’t mean the exercises have to be boring!
That’s why with this list you’ll get to find out much more exciting bodyweight exercises than your basic push-ups and squats, as we provide a complete list of calisthenics exercises.
To provide the most value with this list, all exercises are sectioned by muscle group, and where appropriate skill type. Each exercise is then listed from easiest to hardest within each section.
Give yourself a challenge by seeing how many of the exercises you can do. Most of the exercises can be completed using nothing more than your bodyweight, though many exercises on the list will require a suitable pull up bar. Can you do each exercise in any given section??
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Hero image credit: School of Calisthenics
Table of Contents
Calisthenics exercises by muscle groups
Muscle group(s) – Chest & Triceps
The push up is THE fundamental calisthenics exercise and there are literally 100’s of variations of a simple push up (with some in this post!).
Push-ups are probably the most common exercise which is done with poor form though; keep your feet together, body straight, and make sure your chest gets close to the floor. No cheating now!
Confident in your push-up abilities? Try the Bring Sally Up challenge with push-ups!
Dips are the best bodyweight exercise for building tricep and chest strength and should be included regularly in your workout routine.
If you’re unable to complete a clean dip yet, then consider using some resistance bands to aid your bodyweight. On the other hand, if you’re finding them a little too easy then try wearing a weighted vest to make them more challenging.
Spiderman push-ups both look great and are fantastic for hitting many different muscles.
Set yourself a distance (such as 10m), and perform Spiderman push-ups in a crawling manner until you cross the difference.
You can also mix things up performing them whilst moving backwards.
If there’s one thing that you can be certain of, it’s that any exercise variation which has the word ‘Russian’ in it is going to be hard.
The one-handed push-up is a true test of strength.
Although there are harder push-up variations, the one-handed push-up has the best “wow factor”.
Remember that this exercise is all about focusing on the strength, not the balance, so place your feet wider than usual to help keep your balance.
Image credit: www.regularityfitness.com
Muscle group – Shoulders
“Skin the cats” are brilliant as a warm-up exercise to loosen your shoulders, and improve their range of flexibility.
Using a pull-up bar, start from a hanging position and rotate yourself backwards, bringing your feet through your hands, until you have rotated one full rotation (or as far as you can go!).
Another exercise which is great for a warm-up, but will require a partner to help out.
Simply get your workout partner to hold you by the legs in a ‘wheelbarrow’ type position, and walk with your hands across the floor.
Pelican push-ups require a great deal of shoulder strength and flexibility.
Essentially they’re a push-up using gymnastic rings, whereby the range of motion goes lower than a standard push-up and brings your arms back in a ‘pelican’ type position.
Inverted shoulder press (pike push-ups)
The inverted shoulder press is halfway between a handstand press and a push-up and is a challenging exercise for those with great shoulder strength.
Using an object that is of similar height to your torso, rest your legs at a 90-degree position so that your upper body is in the handstand position and your legs are resting flat on the object.
Perform a shoulder press from here, whilst keeping a 90-degree position.
The Korean dip puts a lot of stress on the shoulders as they are stretched to a maximum and withstand a great deal of stress, however as a dip they are still a great exercise to also train your triceps.
The Korean dip requires you to perform a dip on a straight bar whilst holding the bars behind you. This is best practised on a lower bar where you can get into a seated position on the bar to begin. Use an underhand grip to put a greater focus on your shoulders and an overhand grip to shift the focus to your triceps.
Due to how you need to stabilise yourself throughout the exercise, you may also feel your hamstrings, glutes and lower back are being worked too!
Image credit: Vahva Fitness
The front lever is one of the most sought-after calisthenics exercises and can be seen on many skilled calisthenics bar routine videos.
Being able to hold your body at a perfectly still horizontal angle isn’t easy. This one will take a lot of training!
Image credit: Thenx
The iron cross is one of the hardest calisthenics exercises and is usually achieved by professional gymnasts.
The iron cross is a static hold which involves holding your body in a perfect cross position using gymnastic rings.
Anyone who has watched the film Old School will remember the scene where Vince Vaughn holds it whilst smoking a cigarette!
Muscle group – Legs
Lunges are a simple exercise which is often used in a warm-up.
They can be done moving forward over a number of meters, or they can be done in a single position, either as a forward lunge or backwards lunge.
The squat is one of the most fundamental bodyweight exercises and has more recently been made famous in the “She squats” gym memes.
In addition to using squats in your warm-up, you can try squats in the “Bring Sally up” challenge for a real burn!
Possibly the most hated bodyweight exercise on the list is the Burpee…. Very appropriate in that case for the link above to be the only one linking to a British Military Fitness video!
Don’t let that put you off though; the more you do them the easier they get!
If you’re looking to make them harder, perform a push up at the bottom of the exercises.
Duck walks are a great warm-up and progression exercise when working on the Pistol Squat.
Simply crouch down to the ground and walk forward whilst keeping your back upright.
Feeling the hamstring burn yet?
The pistol squat is one of the most impressive bodyweight exercises which focuses on the legs.
In simple terms, it is a one-legged squat where the other leg is pointed out straight in front of you.
You may find keeping your balance is harder than the actual squatting movement here, so feel free to hold onto a rope when first practising pistol squats!
Image credit: Al Kavadolo.
Muscle group(s) – Back & Biceps
Nope, not the superman explosive push up, but a much simpler floor exercise.
Simply lay flat on your stomach and bring your hands and feet slightly off the floor.
This one’s good for working on your lower back, and will be useful if you start to train for the planche.
Usually, all the hard variations of an exercise have a country based name; Russian dips, Romanian deadlift, Turkish get-up…. But the Australian pull up breaks the mould and is actually an easier variation for once! Maybe it’s that laid back Ozzy style?
An Australian pull up is best described like a row. With your feet on the ground to support your weight, use a lower hanging bar to pull yourself up in a rowing type motion.
The common pull-up is another foundation calisthenics exercise.
Although the pull up can have many different names, it’s usually down to the grip used. An underhand grip is a chin-up, an overhand grip is a pull-up, and a wider grip is a, err, wide grip pull-up.
Again, if completing a single clean pull up feels like a distant dream, then consider purchasing some resistance bands to assist your body weight.
Archer pull-ups are a calisthenics exercise which looks fantastic with proper form.
Using an overhand grip, pull yourself up and over to one side whilst your other hand straightens out over the bar.
Image credit: Bodybuilding.com
The back lever is another classic calisthenics exercise alongside the front lever.
The back lever exercise is a static hold where you hold your body perfectly horizontal, front side facing the ground.
Due to the specific front arm shoulder strength required for the front lever, many people often find the back lever is quicker to learn.
One arm pull-up
The true definition of strength can be seen with the one arm pull-up.
A dream for many, but an exercise which can certainly be achieved with plenty of training.
It should be noted that the one arm pull-up can be performed using an underhand and overhand grip, however, the underhand grip will be much easier for most people.
Muscle group – Core/Abs
Another calisthenics exercise which can be considered more of a chore or punishment than a desirable exercise; the Plank is one of the fundamental static holds that focuses on your core.
Don’t forget to train side planks too (rolling onto one side and holding each side in turn), as these are a key progression required to learn the human flag!
Ideal times should be holding a standard plank for 1 minute, and then holding a side plank for 45 seconds on each side.
Hanging windshield wipers
Hanging windshield wipers look fancy but surprisingly don’t require much strength or skill, which makes them an easy one to perfect when looking for a skill to show off.
Dragon flags were named after its supposed inventor, Bruce Lee, which means they’ve got to be a calisthenics exercise whilst practising!
Although you can do these anywhere where you can hold onto something behind your head to keep yourself grounded, they are often much easier using a decline bench.
The L sit requires you to keep your core tensed and hold your legs horizontal so your body sits in a perfect ‘L’ position.
The L-sit is best performed on a pair of parallettes, however, you can just as well use a couple of chairs. Heck, if you’re lucky enough to have a long arm span then you can train them on the floor!
You guessed it, the V-sit is a harder version of the L-sit where your legs are held higher to contract your body into a ‘V’ shape.
Finding this one harder than you expected? You’re not alone!
Image credit: www.tomrydval.cz
The human flag is definitely one of the coolest looking calisthenics exercises and requires both core and shoulder strength to hold.
Using either a pole or horizontal bars, pull yourself up with straight arms until you’re able to hold your whole body out horizontally – you guessed it – like a human flag!
Top tip: Training side planks will really help get your core in shape for this exercise. Get a partner to lean their weight on your hips to create extra resistance, in order to mimic the tough requirements of the human flag.
Calisthenics Exercises To Achieve The Muscle-Up
The muscle-up is the number 1 calisthenics skill that all beginners crave to learn.
It’s commonly seen both in Crossfit and in calisthenics, however, CrossFitters often use a kipping motion to achieve the muscle-up, sacrificing clean form for quick and many reps.
The following calisthenics exercises will help you achieve a correct form muscle-up and even go beyond with some harder variations.
Straight bar dips work on the push part that is needed above the transition. Although they are the last part of the puzzle when doing the full exercise, they are the easiest, so you can simply jump up and onto a bar to practice these.
Explosive pull-ups (pullouts)
Often called pullouts, the aim of this explosive pull up is to practice getting your body up higher above the bar, practising the explosive strength needed for a muscle-up.
With a regular pull-up, the aim is to just get your chin over the bar, whereas with pull-outs you want to be getting high enough so the bar is just below your nipples at the top of the exercise.
Here comes the actual muscle-up itself.
In a standard muscle-up, you will see people grab the bar with an overhand grip, and then use a slight bit of momentum to pull themselves up and over the bar.
It can be tempting to jump to this variation quickly, but if you find yourself using one arm at a time to get over the bar (a struggle up) then perhaps step back a progression!
I recommend using either a free standing pull up bar or a wall mounted pull-up bar when attempting the Muscle-up, as you will need to have enough plenty of clearance space above the bar and enough space around the bar for movement caused by momentum.
Some say the muscle-up on the rings is harder than the bar. This is likely because for many people this is the first time they will have had to learn and use a false grip technique.
The false grip is a way of holding the rings whereby your grip reaches further through and round the rings, therefore the weight of your body is supported closer to the wrists than it is the palms.
….which brings us perfectly on to the final muscle-up variation, which is a clean muscle-up on the bar using the false grip.
By using a false grip, it is possible to perform a slow and super clean version of the muscle-up with no kipping motion or movement of the legs.
Resources elsewhere online (BONUS)
For an added bonus, here’s our favourite Calisthenics exercises resources from the rest of the internet…. Enjoy!
Progressive Calisthenics – This blog has a good variety of different Calisthenics articles, specifically from Al Kavadlo and Danny Kavadlo which I recommend checking out!
Beast Skills – The site has a good variation of handstand techniques which go into a lot of depth.
If you’re looking for something handy to use in the gym or down at the park then there’s a number of apps which can provide you with Calisthenics exercises for easy reference:
MadBarz – Lists exercises and has some great PDF guides for advanced techniques for paid subscribers.
Touchfit – Created by the legendary Georges St-Pierre himself, the app provides over 500 videos to get your teeth stuck into.
Although Calisthenics is bodyweight training, and Gymnastics uses bodyweight, I still think there’s a clear difference in the exercises you will see falling under each category. Saying that, I find Gymnastics exercises and routines are excellent for anybody training Calisthenics, and often find many Calisthenics enthusiasts supplementing their training routine with occasional visits to Gymnastics centres.
Cypress Academy Workout – This 15 minute video shows snippets of all the exercises done by a guy called Geoff Craft within his gymnastics routine. Have a watch and try any exercises out yourself which spark some interest!
4 Simple Gymnastic Drills for Strength and Mobility – A top introduction to strength and mobility and some exercises to try by breakingmuscle.com’s Coach Chris Garay.
Lost Art of Hand Balancing – Everyone knows that hand balancing (or handstands for us simple folk!) and Calisthenics are an excellent match, and learning some of these techniques will work wonders for your overall balance.
AcroLibrary by Ben Lowrey – Bristol based Ben shares a great introduction to handstands, and has a free 20 minute video covering handstand fundamentals.
Founder of calisthenics-101.co.uk. Training calisthenics since 2012.
Currently working on: 30 second one-arm handstand, muscle-up 360, straddle planche.