Calisthenics Exercises List
Before I started working out, I looked through several calisthenics exercises lists to put together my own muscle building program.
And boy did that end up being a disaster!
Every list I went through gave me the “coolest” or the “hardest” calisthenics exercises to perform.
Being naïve, I thought choosing the most complicated exercises was the most optimal way to build muscle with calisthenics.
We’ll, guess what? I was wrong!
I wasted my time trying to achieve skills and exercises that had absolutely no impact on my physique! In fact, I’m here to tell you that these advanced exercises are not the most optimal to building muscle.
It can be hard to believe, but the boring basics are what helped build my calisthenics physique!
So, in order to save you time, heartbreak (and joint pain) from trying to build your body with otherworldly calisthenics skills, I present to you my personal list of calisthenics exercises that helped me build my current physique.
But first, let me show you how to build your very own calisthenics exercises list!
How To Build Your Own Calisthenics Exercises List
Exercise selection is crucial to building the most optimal program for your needs. And when it comes to calisthenics, it can get a little more complicated than regular weight lifting.
There are so many exercises to choose from!
So before you go and add all the exercises from the list below to your exercise program, I want you to think about the following:
1. Which calisthenics exercises utilize the most muscle mass?
Utilizing the maximum amount of muscle mass accomplishes 2 things. The most obvious being, that the more muscle you involve in a movement, the more you will grow.
This doesn’t need any more explanation other than the fact than a simple caveat. The exercises you choose that involve the most muscle mass must not, in any way reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.
For example, the muscle up will be seen as an effective mass builder on several calisthenics exercises lists.
The muscle up involves the use of both the pull up and the dip, thus utilizing muscle mass of both exercises combined into one. But, you will never be able to load the muscle up as much as you can load the dip, and you will never be able to load the muscle up as much as you load the humble pull up.
So while this exercise looks cool on the outset, it is simply an inferior version of the two best upper body calisthenics exercises out there.
The second benefit of using the most amount of muscle mass in an exercise is that you will be able to move more mass.
Moving more weight will always make you stronger. You are stronger on one leg than you are on two!
This principle is applied differently to bodyweight calisthenics. In order to add more weight or load to the movement, you have to remove one limb from the exercise.
It really is the same principle applied differently (I told you bodyweight calisthenics is unnecessarily complicated).
2. Are you going to build muscle with bodyweight calisthenics or weighted calisthenics?
If you are going to use bodyweight calisthenics only, then you’re in for a rude awakening.
Bodyweight calisthenics is great for those on a tight budget and can only afford a set or gymnastics rings. But, you will not reach your peak physical potential in terms of size and strength!
Bodyweight calisthenics takes a lot of time and dedication, for sub optimal results! In fact, bodyweight calisthenics is sub-par. It won’t build you the kind of real world strength that weighted calisthenics can build you in half the amount of time.
In my opinion, bodyweight calisthenics is nothing but a novelty. Weighted calisthenics is simply the best way to go! Regardless, I have added both calisthenics and weighted calisthenics exercises in my list mentioned below.
Now for the best part, my personal calisthenics exercises list!
My Personal Calisthenics Exercise List
To build a physique that performs as well as it looks, you will need to work your entire body. Although, there are certain muscle groups that will make your calisthenics physique look better, they are:
The Arms – For the arms, it is important to choose exercises that emphasize triceps growth over the biceps, although huge biceps are also important and a product of proper exercise selection.
The triceps make up a bigger chunk of the arms than the biceps do, and they are a much more “functional” muscle group than the biceps.
For arm growth, these are the best calisthenics exercises known to man:
- The Underhand Grip/Supinated Grip Pull Up aka the Chin Up
Chin ups are an old school calisthenics staple! They’re an amazing biceps builder and in my opinion, the best biceps builder when it comes to calisthenics.
There will never be a time when the humble chin up is not the main part of my bicep building routine. Now, while there are other bicep building calisthenics exercises, but the chin up will provide most bang for your buck.
But, a lot of you won’t be able to perform the chin up. In that case the supine grip Australian pull up aka supine grip inverted row is an excellent bicep builder as well.
Of course, the chin up does also build several other muscle groups, which is what makes it the king of upper body pulling exercises. The benefit of using chin ups in your calisthenics routine is the killing of 2 birds with one stone.
The main two muscles being hit by chin ups are the biceps and lats. But, the chin up also works several other muscles of the back along with the rear delts and the upper chest and abs.
Of course these muscles don’t get direct stimulation from chinning, but we do try and hit them directly with other movements which bring up a cumulative effect. The chin up adheres to all of our criteria for proper exercise selection.
- Close grip weighted ring push ups
Close grip ring push ups are an excellent triceps builder.
Taking a closer grip during your ring push ups eliminates some of the work done by the chest, thus emphasizing growth in the triceps. This exercise works the lateral head of the triceps the most.
Why perform close grip push ups on rings? Well, the rings provide superior range of motion and thus provide greater stimulus for triceps growth.
Bodyweight only enthusiasts can also transition to the feet elevated close grip ring push up. This variation of the movement will provide greater triceps stimulation!
But the most optimum way to progressively overload this exercise is to strap some weight on a dipping belt and go to town. Your triceps growth will simply explode!
- Bodyweight or Weighted Bodyweight Skull Crushers
Calisthenics movements don’t often target the long head of the triceps very well, the bodyweight skull crusher does just that.
The long head of the triceps is great for making the arms look big from the sides and from the front double bicep position.
Apart from just building the triceps, bodyweight skull crushers also hit the abs, along with the lats and chest to some degree.
The bodyweight/weighted bodyweight skull crusher is by far the most underutilized calisthenics arm exercise period.
First and foremost, even when used in any calisthenics routine, the movement is not executed correctly.
If you are going to be performing this exercise, you must do them on rings! The rings allow you to change elevation and also provide greater range of motion, resulting in more muscle growth.
In order to progressively overload this exercise, simply add weight via a dipping belt, but varying the angle while using your bodyweight also does the trick.
An excellent feature about this exercise is that forces the triceps and shoulders to move the body through space, thus making it a multi joint movement.
The Delts – The delts aka the shoulders are an important muscle group to emphasize for that broad look.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many calisthenics exercises that are capable of building big round delts.
Effective shoulder focused exercises are unlocked at the advanced level and mostly build only the anterior delt. That is why you will see a lot of pure bodyweight calisthenics athletes with uncapped narrow shoulders.
The “capped” look comes from training the lateral head of the deltoid, something no calisthenics movement can do effectively and rightly so. This is because the lateral head of the deltoid was never meant to move the body through space.
So what are the top calisthenics exercises for capped delts?
- Handstand Push Ups
Well, the handstand push up is an option. But can you do them yet?
Most of you reading this blog right now can’t.
You’re probably thinking that you can progress to the handstand push up via the pike push up. But trust me when I say this, it’s not the most effective way of building the shoulders.
Here’s where I tend to receive a lot of flak, but my philosophy has always revolved around what works best.
I personally us the barbell overhead press.
And yes, it is not a calisthenics movement. But it is by far the best shoulder building exercise known to man.
This exercise will serve you’ll well. Use it to its full advantage; it is an excellent size and strength builder that has been time tested.
But if you still insist on using the handstand push up or the pike push up, consider buying yourself a set of paralletes.
One of my main critiques of the pike and the handstand push up is that they are partial range of motion movements. To unlock their maximum potential, you must use parallettes.
The Back – The back is a large collection of musculature that can make or break a physique.
The lats are what lend the coveted “V-taper” to your body and the traps make you look big and strong from the front.
And guess what, we’ve already covered the best lat building exercise in the “arms” section of this calisthenics exercise selection list. That’s the brilliance about proper exercise selection you don’t need to do a hundred different exercises to grow!
- The Pull Up
The pull up is the best lat building exercise out there period. It is also one of the most fundamental functional movements in existence.
The pull up is done with the palms facing away from the body, thus emphasizing the lats more. At least this is the general consensus.
But the chin up allows for more range of motion and can also be loaded to a heavier extend, thus allowing for greater stimulus during the movement.
If you want a wider back (who doesn’t?) then pull ups or chin ups are the exercises for you. It’s really as simple as that!
- The Bodyweight Row aka The Inverted Row
The inverted row is an excellent upper back builder, especially the feet elevated version of this exercise.
Building the upper back is crucial to making you look big from the front and the back, and this exercise does just that.
Progressions for those who want to perform the bodyweight only versions of this exercise are ample.
And obviously, this is another exercise that can greatly benefit from the use of rings. Rings allow you to vary the angle of inclination of the exercise, thus making it easier or harder.
The other thing about using rings is that it allows for greater range of motion as well as peak contraction at the top of the movement!
- The Hyperextension
This exercise is capable of moving heavy loads through space while working the lower back.
Calisthenics exercises don’t typically work the lower back to a great extent. This exercise does just that, and if you’re feeling a bit more sensible, you’d probably just replace it with a heavy barbell deadlift.
The problem with the hyperextension is its setup.
You can get around this by using the reverse hyperextension whose setup is a bit easier. But progression is going to be a problem, unless you start adding weight!
Heavy barbell deadlifts on the other hand are full body exercises that move the entire body through space while moving a heavy load along with it.
I consider them weighted calisthenics movements based on my definition of calisthenics.
The conventional deadlift is an irreplaceable exercise that is unavailable to bodyweight calisthenics practitioners. When in your life have you not lifted something off the floor? Think about it!
The Chest – The chest isn’t an important muscle group for aesthetics, but it can make you look bigger from the side.
A bigger chest is a by-product of pushing movements that allow you to move large amounts of weight. That is why we perform these chest dominant exercises, because they allow us to handle heavy loads.
The brilliance of calisthenics really comes into play here. Because building the chest whilst moving the body and heavy loads through space is only available with calisthenics exercises!
In my opinion, calisthenics has some of the most functional chest building exercises.
Dips are the king of upper body pushing exercises! They move the entire body through space while working the chest, shoulder and triceps simultaneously.
Dips also work a lot of stabilizer muscles and are an excellent movement that carrys over well to overall size and strength.
Weighted dips on the other hand are my personal favorite, you can’t go wrong with this exercise. The stretch reflex in the chest found at the bottom of this movement is unparalleled when compared to any other pushing exercise.
- Ring Push Ups
Ring push-ups are another excellent chest building exercise.
The reason for employing the rings here is not because of the instability rings bring to the movement, but because of the added range of motion at the bottom of the movement. Paused ring push-ups are an excellent chest builder.
My personal favourite way of performing ring push-ups is with weights.
This means that you will have to elevate the rings to an appropriate height, then attach a dipping belt with plates to your waist and start belting out some push-ups.
Ring push-ups can be done extremely heavily and involves the movement of the entire body. This is a heavily underutilized exercise in the calisthenics field.
For those who prefer bodyweight only exercises, a feet elevated ring push up would be the final progression, from which they can advance to more single arm work, like feet elevated ring archer push-ups.
The Legs – When it comes to building size and strength in the legs department, traditional bodyweight calisthenics fails!
This is because our bodyweight is never going to be enough of a load to challenge the legs. If it were, we wouldn’t be able to walk anywhere.
Now I know a lot of calisthenics athletes will have you believe that you can build strong legs with basic bodyweight calisthenics, but that is mostly false. Indeed, you can build some amount of muscle in your legs with bodyweight only works, but it is time consuming and inferior to using weights.
Calisthenics athletes will have you believe that pistol squats are enough to build your legs, but there are several problems with the pistol squat as well. The hamstrings on the other hand can be hammered heavily with certain unique calisthenics movements. These are the calisthenics leg exercises I use to build my legs:
- Barbell back squats
The barbell back squat is known as the king of all exercises for a reason. Done right, the barbell back squat recruits more muscle mass than any other exercise.
It builds overall strength for any athletic endeavor and puts mass on the legs faster than any other exercise. It also builds the muscles of the lower back, the hamstrings as well as several upper body stabilizers, including the abs!
This is one of the hardest exercises to do when performed with heavy weight. Nothing beats the mighty squat when it comes to weighted calisthenics leg exercises!
For pure bodyweight lower body training, any single leg work will do just fine. This includes different one legged variations of the squat, namely the pistol squat, the Bulgarian split squat, step ups etc.
But again, your legs were meant to lift heavy weights, single leg bodyweight squats will not fulfill your true size and strength potential.
The king – the barbell back squat doesn’t just build lower body size and strength, it build total body strength.
All else being equal, do you think a guy who can pistol squat for 100 reps can push a guy who squats 500 lbs off balance? Think about it!
- Nordic Curl
The Nordic curl is an excellent mass builder for those who are into pure bodyweight calisthenics.
This exercise will build the hamstrings to a large extent, even though it does have some downsides in terms of the set-up.
It is an extremely hard movement to perform, but can be trained from scratch (considering you have the right setup with bands etc).
It can also be done weighted and are a lower back builder as well. But if you are practising weighted calisthenics like I am stiff legged deadlifts can be used to substitute this movement.
Most calisthenics exercise lists consist of exercise variations. Exercise variations have their pros and cons. But for the most part, there are certain bread and butter exercises that are guaranteed to build your physique.
I have mentioned them in the list above.
Choosing exercises from the list above will provide a compounding effect to your muscles.
Master these exercises by making them progressively harder to perform and build your dream physique!