Calisthenics for Beginners: A Comprehensive List of the Best Bodyweight Exercises

Calisthenics for Beginners

Today we’re going to give you a comprehensive list of calisthenics exercises. As implied by the title, this guide is aimed towards calisthenics for beginners, but we will also be covering intermediate and advanced calisthenics exercises.

This will allow you continuously progress and will also serve as your go-to guide as you begin to build significant strength and size

If you are looking to get in shape, especially as a beginner, one of the best ways to do so is through calisthenics.

With all of the fad diets that are out there, the exercise machines that are advertised on daytime television and the workout programs endorsed by celebrities from Chuck Norris to Jillian Michaels, calisthenics for beginners is still one of the most effective methods for gaining strength and size, and because it doesn’t require any specialized equipment – or any equipment at all – they are also one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get in shape.

In this article, we’ll go over some of the very best calisthenics for beginners, as well as some intermediate and advanced ones as well.

For a more in-depth look at the intricacies of bodyweight training, strength training, the different types of hypertrophy, and more, check out our ultimate guide to bodyweight training for MMA.

What are Calisthenics?

calisthenics for beginners

You might be wondering just what calisthenics for beginners are. The definition is pretty simple. Calisthenics are a specific kind of exercise where you use only your own bodyweight as resistance.

A great example of a calisthenics exercise is the pushup, where you are using your arm and chest muscles to push your own weight off of the ground. You increase resistance by increasing the amount of pushups that you do.

Calisthenics have been around for thousands of years, and it has been shaped by modern science into something that really can be effective.

You can do calisthenics anywhere, so you don’t even need a gym membership, and you can work out just about every muscle group you have with the right training program and routine.

Hidden Content

The Different Muscle Groups

You will want to use different exercises for each muscle group that you are working on, and you’ll generally want to work on one specific muscle group on a single day.

Sometimes, muscle groups can be combined and worked together, but most of the time, you should work them separately, and give that group time to rest while you work on something else.

The abs are an exception to this. You can work out your abs with other muscle groups and even better, you can do ab workouts every day if you want.  

Let’s look at each of the muscle groups that we’ll be discussing calisthenics exercises for.

Arms: This includes your biceps, triceps and your forearms.

Chest: the main muscle in your chest is your pectorals, commonly called your “pecs.”

Back: Your back muscles include the middle back and lower back.

Shoulders: Your lats, traps and neck muscles are all part of this workout.

Legs: Your glutes, quads and hamstrings are all part of a leg workout, as well as your calf muscles.

Abs: Your abdominals are the muscles of your stomach – the sought-after “six-pack.”

We’ve come across a fantastic article that goes in greater detail about each muscle group by “Muscle for Life.” You can check it out here.

Exercise List #1: Calisthenics for Beginners

In this section, we’re going to cover the best calisthenics for beginners. If you are new to working out, and have never attempted to do any sort of bodyweight exercise routine before now, then you will want to start with these, as they are simple and pose very little risk of injury.

Narrow Pushups (Arms): Narrow pushups are when you put your hands close together and do a pushup.

These can be harder because all of your weight is distributed directly to your arms with your chest doing very little of the work. Some people call these diamond pushups because of the way that your hands form a rough diamond when they are put together.

Diamond pushups are great for your biceps and triceps and do an especially effective job of working your forearms. If you are not used to doing pushups, you may not be able to do very many at first. In fact, some people have trouble doing a single diamond pushup.

But as you build your arm muscles, you will get better. You can begin on your knees if you need to.

Wide Pushups (Chest): Alternatively, when you widen your hands and do a pushup, you are using your chest muscles to push up your weight more than the arm muscles. This can be just as effective as a bench press if you are able to get your form right and make your movement smooth.

Pullups (Back and Shoulders): Pullups are great because they allow you to work the lats and the traps at the same time. The lats are the largest muscle in the back and it gets a great workout this this calisthenics routine.

However, you do want to ensure that you are widening your grip, because if you do narrow grip pullups, you are going to engage some of the arm muscles, and you want to focus as much on working the back and shoulders during this routine as you can.

Here’s a fantastic mechanical breakdown of the pull-up:

Lunges (Legs):

Lunges are all about the legs. They work the hamstrings, quads and the glutes primarily, although the calf muscles do get a little bit of a workout.

You may want to supplement your lunges with something like calf raises, where you raise yourself up onto your tip-toes in order to work your calf muscles properly.

As far as lunges go, they are performed by thrusting one leg forward and then coming down in a smooth motion. 

When it comes to calisthenics for beginners, these are an absolute staple because anyone can do them and you will definitely feel the burn.

lunges and calisthenics for beginners
Best Leg Exercise

Crunches (Abs): You want to avoid sit-ups if you can, because they put a lot of unnecessary strain on your back. You can get nearly the same workout that you get with a sit-up by doing crunches, if you do them properly.

Crunches are done by lying on your back and lifting your shoulders off of the ground, leaving your lower back still flat on the floor. You can add in reverse crunches to work the lower part of your six-pack, raising your legs up and pulling your knees to you, and you can do side to side to work those hard to reach outer abdominals.

Exercise List #2: Intermediate Calisthenics

Next up, we’ll be discussing intermediates on the calisthenics exercise list that you can do if you feel you are past the beginner stages.

These are great for those who are used to working out, and have at least tried calisthenics before. Some of these can lead to injury if done improperly, so you do want to be careful, but in general, they are pretty safe.

Alligator Pushup (Arms): The alligator pushup is done by putting your hands staggered instead of the usual pushup position. This is a standard pushup in all other ways (unlike the previous wide and narrow ones). You’ll put one hand in front of the other one and then do a pushup.

Then move your hands forward so that the other one is now in front. Do another pushup. In this way, you’ll crawl like an alligator doing pushups that are really great for your arms.

Elevated Wide Pushup (Chest): The best way to work out your chest at an intermediate level is to do an elevated pushup. This is where you put your feet up on something, like a chair, and then do the pushup. This adds more weight and makes it more difficult to do.

Brock Drill (Shoulders): In the Brock drill, you need to have a medicine ball or some kind of round object. You will be hopping over the ball from side to side, always keeping one hand on the ball. This is a great workout for your shoulders.

Ring Pull-ups (Back): The first exercise that we’ll discuss is the ring pull-up. You’ll need a set of rings that are suspended from the ceiling and can support your weight.

You simply put your hands in the rings and slowly lower yourself and pull back up. Make sure that you keep your form good or you could hurt your back.

Pistol Squats (Legs): The leg exercise on the intermediate level is the pistol squat. This is like a regular squat (where you lower yourself in a straight line so that your knees are bent) but instead of keeping both of your legs the same, you’ll put one leg straight out and grab your toes with one hand, keeping the other straight hold but holding nothing.

The Plank (Abs): The plank is like a pushup, except instead of using your palms, you are going to be putting your weight on your elbows.

When you keep yourself upright in this position, it puts strain on your abdominal muscles and really does a great job at working them out.

Exercise List #3: Advanced Calisthenics

Finally, we’ll be discussing some of the more advanced calisthenics exercises. These should not be attempted unless your body is fairly healthy and you are used to working out, because they can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing.

Clap Pushup (Arms): The clap pushup is pretty easy to understand, but very difficult to do, and if you aren’t in good shape and can do lots of regular pushups, you should skip it, because it can be dangers. You just do a pushup, bouncing yourself up so that you are in the air for a moment and clap your hands.

Side-to-Side Pushup (Chest): Side to side pushups can do a great chest workout. You do a regular pushup, but instead of keeping yourself straight, focus on lowering yourself to the right first, and then to the left (or vice-versa). As an added benefit, you get to work out your triceps as well.

Plyometric Body Row (Back): In this exercise, you’ll need a bar that is about the height of your hips. You’ll lay on the ground, and grab the bar with both hands.

Keep your feet flat on the floor. Pull your shoulder blades back and keep them together and bridge your hips. Then pull yourself up. You may want to check out some videos of this exercise before you attempt it.

Dips (Shoulders/Triceps): Dips are a great advanced exercise for the triceps and shoulders. You put your arms behind you, one a raised surface of some kind, like a chair.

Then you lower yourself to the ground and raise back up again. You also get a good triceps workout with this, which is good because your arm workouts don’t always do enough.

Shoulder Elevated Glute Bridge (Legs): Lay with your shoulder blades on a bench or solid chair with your heels on the ground and your toes pointed up.

Raise your hips up from their lowered position, using the muscles in your gluts and hamstrings. If you are doing it right, you will be able to tell.  

Dragon Pushups (Abs): Finally, some dragon pushups to work your abs. This is where you do a pushup, except that you move across the ground, walking your hands and legs forward. Whenever you go down, your knees and elbows should be touching on one side – and then the other.

Conclusion:

So there you have it, we have laid out the best calisthenics for beginners, as well as intermediate and advanced athletes.

The reason we love calisthenics for beginners and bodyweight training so much is because it directly transfers to the grueling requirements of martial arts.

You have to be functional, and you have to be able to move in all different kinds of ways and in various planes of motion.

There are a lot of great workouts out there, including some routines that have been designed by some well-known people in the fitness world.

But calisthenics remain popular because all you need is your body and a space to move around, they don’t require any equipment!

All you have to do is be able to know the exercise and what muscle group you’re working working and you are able to make a pretty significant workout regimen that will not only build muscle and strength, but that will also keep you out of the gym and away from spending thousands of dollars on home fitness equipment.

Of course, it all comes down to personal preference. Some people enjoy the feeling of being at the gym, but for others, they’d prefer to work out at home.

Calisthenics are great because you can do either. You can do them at home, or you can take them to the gym and use them. In either case, you’ll be getting a great workout.