Calisthenics is a style of training that is becoming increasingly popular, thanks largely to its inclusive nature and ability to be performed even by those without access to traditional gym equipment or facilities.
It is also often considered one of the safest and most beneficial types of workout as well.
Yet, while many people understand the basics of calisthenics, in that it revolves around bodyweight exercises, most are unaware of the range of options they have beyond that. For example, being able to train anywhere is a nice perk, but a gym can be incredibly beneficial for a calisthenics routine.
With that in mind, I want to show you how to build the ultimate calisthenics workout.
I will show you everything from the equipment you can use to the sort of exercises you should be doing, to help you build a calisthenics gym workout that will take your training and results to the next level.
Can You Use Gym Gear For Calisthenics?
While calisthenics is a style of training known for letting you perform exercises anywhere and with very little equipment, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any gym gear that you can use to enhance your results.
If you know exactly what you are doing, you absolutely can use gym gear for calisthenics.
From pieces of apparatus designed specifically for calisthenic exercises to traditional gym equipment you can repurpose, there is plenty of options available.
If you truly want to develop the best possible physique you can by using calisthenics you should ensure you use everything that is at your disposal.
No Gear Calisthenics Exercises
No gear calisthenics exercises are the first thing that people usually think of when they talk about bodyweight training.
They require no equipment at all and rely solely on using gravity and the weight of your own body to produce a resistance for you to work against.
They can be used to develop muscles throughout the body, are considered some of the safest known exercises, and can be completed almost anywhere and at any time.
All of these exercises can also be made more challenging by holding a weight or resting it on you, to add additional resistance.
Push Ups And Push Up Variations
To perform a regular push up, position yourself on the floor, facing downwards.
Support yourself on the tips of your toes and your hands, with your arms fully extended.
Your hands should be shoulder width apart and you must make sure you fully extend your body.
Bending only at the elbows, lower yourself until your chest is a few inches from the ground.
Your elbows should come out no more than 45 degrees from your body. Contract the triceps and squeeze the chest muscles as hard as you can, then use them to drive you back up towards the starting position.
Keeping your body straight the entire time, keep going until just before your arms would fully straighten again, as this will allow you to maintain tension on the chest throughout the movement. Pause for a second at both the top and bottom of the movement.
Push ups can then be varied in a number of ways. Due to the nature of the exercise, most push up varieties are also best completed to failure.
You can place either your feet or hands on an elevated surface, angling your body to shift the tension onto either the upper or lower section of your pectorals. You can also move you hands in or out. A wider position will involve the chest more, while a closer stance will hit the triceps harder.
You can also perform a side to side motion, which will work many of the stabiliser muscles in the shoulder girdle, or try to push yourself high enough into the air that you can add a clap between reps, to improve your explosive power.
You can even do more than one variety in a single set if you want.
To perform a handstand, bend forward and place both of your hands flat on the ground, roughly shoulder width apart. Lean as much of your weight as you can onto your hands, to ensure you have a solid base.
You then begin to tilt your body forward, raising your feet off of the floor and transferring all of your weight onto your hands. You need to go slowly enough that you are in complete control, but fast enough that you don’t lose all momentum.
Your goal is to reach a position where your entire body is perfectly straight and completely vertical, and your arms are fully extended.
Contract your shoulders and triceps to support your weight for as long as you can or for a predetermined length of time.
When you are ready, slowly lower your feet back to the ground using the same method you used to begin the movement.
If necessary, you can perform a handstand up against a wall, to help you balance, but it is a good idea to eliminate the need for this as quickly as you can.
For those seeking a real challenge, you can bend at the elbows to lower your head towards the ground, then extend them again to push you back upwards.
This is known as a handstand push up and is an incredibly effective workout for the shoulders and triceps.
Squats And Squat Variations
Squats are known as the king of leg exercises and are one of the best exercises you can perform overall.
To begin, stand with your feet shoulder width apart, keeping your heels flat on the floor and back straight.
Bend at the knees and lower your buttocks towards the ground, until your thighs are just slightly lower than parallel with the floor.
Hold this position for a second then contract all of the muscles in your upper legs and stand up in one flowing motion, never bending forward at the waist.
Immediately repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions or until failure. You can also vary the squat and its effects by changing your foot position.
A wider stance, also known as a sumo squat, will hit the inner leg harder, and a narrow foot position will move some of the tension to the outer leg. Raising your heels off the floor will put the strain on the quads, especially the section by the knee, while leaning back on a wall will work the hamstrings.
Static exercises can cover both specific exercises, as well as variations of regular exercises performed using a static contraction.
A static contraction is anything where you perform an exercise that causes the muscles to contract, without any movement.
Static contractions still work the muscles but develop a slightly different type of strength. The most common static contraction is the plank.
To perform a plank, get down on the ground with your body at full extension and support yourself on your toes and forearms.
Ensure your entire body is straight and parallel with the floor.
Focus on keeping your abs tense throughout and hold the position for either the stated time or until you can’t hold it anymore.
Other common static calisthenic exercises include wall sits, where you lean against a wall in a position close to the halfway point of a squat, or a push up hold, where you hold a push up at the halfway position.
Gym Pull Up Bar Calisthenics Exercises
Gym pull up bar exercises are some of the most challenging exercises you will perform in the gym.
With your entire weight hanging against gravity, it is a test of pure strength to complete the movements.
That also makes them some of the most effective exercises you can perform, bodyweight or otherwise.
They can be used to train a number of muscles but primarily help develop the back, biceps, and abs.
Hold the bar with an overhand grip as close to the ends as possible, making sure you are outside of shoulder width at the very minimum.
Take your feet off of the ground and raise them towards your buttocks by bending your knees, allowing your arms to reach full extension.
Keeping your back straight, contract your lats and biceps and raise yourself upwards in a slow and controlled manner, bending only at the elbows.
Keep going until your chin passes the bar and, if your strength and range of motion allows, try to touch your chest to the bar.
Make sure to hold the position and really squeeze the lats for a second, before slowly lowering yourself back down, stopping a few inches short of the starting position to keep the tension.
Repeat the process as many times as you need or until failure.
Take the bar with an underhand grip, with your hands roughly shoulder width apart or narrower.
Raise your feet off the floor and bring them to your glutes by bending your knees, then lower yourself until your arms reach full extension.
With your back straight, squeeze your shoulder blades together and contract your biceps to raise your body upwards in a slow, controlled fashion, bending solely at the elbows.
Continue until your chin passes the bar and your hands and the bar are almost touching your chest.
Squeeze your biceps and back for a second or two before gradually lowering yourself back down to the starting position, before repeating the process until you reach failure or the desired number of reps.
Hanging Reverse Crunches
Stand facing out from the pull up bar and take it with and overhand grip, with your hands just slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
Raise your feet off of the ground and allow your legs to hang straight down beneath you, while maintaining a tension in the back and arms, as well as a small bend in the elbows.
This bend will help you to avoid swinging during the movement, which is extremely important.
Squeeze your abs as hard as you can and use them to perform a reverse crunch, bending at the knees and across the midsection, to bring your knees into your torso.
While you want to keep your upper body as upright as possible, you will likely lean backwards a small amount.
Hold the contraction at the top for a second or two before slowly lowering your legs back down again, until just before you feel the tension in your abs start to release.
Immediately repeat the movement and continue until you hit failure or your target number of reps.
Hanging Oblique Crunches
Hanging oblique crunches begin with virtually the same setup as a hanging reverse crunch.
It is much easier to accidentally start swinging while performing this movement though, so be sure to pay close attention to your form throughout the exercise.
Hold the bar with an overhand grip, hands around shoulder width apart, take your feet off the floor and let your legs hang straight beneath you, while maintaining a small bend in your elbows and tension in your back and biceps.
Again, contract your abs and use them to raise your legs towards your torso, bending at the knees.
However, this time, you want to twist at the hips as you do so. When you reach the top of the rep, the sides of your legs should be parallel with the floor and ceiling.
Squeeze your oblique muscles as hard as you can at the top of the movement, then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position before completing the same movement again, only with your knees going to the opposite side.
Repeat until you hit failure or reached the desired number of reps, making sure to perform the same number on both sides.
It is also a good idea to start with your weaker side, as this will allow you to match it with the stronger side and help you to eliminate any imbalances.
Begin by taking the pull up bar with an overhand grip, with your hands just slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
Take your feet off of the ground and lower yourself until your arms are at full extension, with your legs hanging straight down beneath you.
Unlike the other exercises we have looked at, the muscle up is an explosive movement, so you can expect a certain amount of swinging or movement throughout the exercise. That said, you should still try to keep it to a minimum.
Use your back and biceps to pull yourself up to the bar as quickly as possible, in a movement similar to a reverse grip chin up.
As you approach the top, use your momentum to keep going and start to rotate your forearms forwards, pushing down on the bar and driving you upwards.
Keep going until you are over the bar, with it roughly at waist height and your arms fully extended.
Hold it here for a second before returning to the starting position as safely as possible then, without stopping, go straight into the next rep, completing as many as you can without pause.
Dip Station Calisthenics Exercises
Dip station calisthenics exercises are very similar to pull up bar calisthenic exercises, in that they involve you using gravity and your bodyweight to perform challenging exercises while supporting yourself using a piece of apparatus.
The main difference is that dip station callisthenic exercises primarily work your chest and triceps, although, much like a pull up bar, they can be used to work your abs as well.
Wide Grip Dips
To perform a wide grip dip, hold the dip bars at the widest possible point and raise yourself into the air, then bend your knees and tuck your feet into your buttocks.
Bending only at the elbows, slowly lower yourself down as far as you can, feeling a deep stretch around your lower pectorals.
Your elbows will flare out anywhere from 45 degrees to 90 degrees from your body.
After pausing for a split second, squeeze the pecs as hard as you can and use them and your triceps to drive you upwards, straightening your elbows, and continuing until just before your arms are fully extended.
Hold this position for a second, then lower yourself back down and repeat until you hit failure or reach your target number of reps.
Narrow Grip Dips
Narrow grip dips are almost identical to wide grip dips in every area, except for the position of your hands and elbows.
You again want to hold the dip bars with an overhand grip, but, this time, hold them at the narrowest possible point. This switches a lot of the work from the chest to the triceps.
Support your weight on your hands, tuck your heels into your buttocks, and slowly begin to lower yourself towards the ground.
As you do, focus on squeezing your elbows together, trying to keep them tucked in by the sides of your body.
When you reach the bottom, you will again feel a stretch in your chest, but should also feel a much stronger stretch in your triceps as well.
Tense your triceps as hard as you can and use them to drive yourself upwards, continuing until your arms are almost completely straight.
Hold the position for a second before repeating for the desired number of reps or until failure.
Scapular dips are a simple yet uncommon exercise that works your entire shoulder girdle.
Begin as if you were going to do a wide grip dip, taking the dip bars at their widest point with an overhand grip and raising your body to support all of your weight with your hands.
Keeping your arms straight, lower yourself towards the ground by shrugging your shoulders up towards your ears, bringing them as high as they can go, then push yourself back up again by driving them as low as they can go.
Pause for a second at both the top and bottom of the movement.
Repeat as many times as you can or until you hit the desired number of reps.
Whether you keep your legs straight or tucked is down to personal preference and how it affects your balance.
Dip Bar Leg Raises
Stand between the dip bars facing out and hold them at the narrowest possible point with an overhand grip.
Raise yourself up until your weight is completely supported on your hands, with your arms fully extended and your entire body completely straight.
Keeping your arms and upper body straight and stationary, bend at the waist to raise your legs out in front of you.
Keep going until your legs are parallel with the ground, then hold the position for a second and really squeeze your abs.
Lower them back to the starting point in a slow and controlled motion, eliminating any momentum and repeat for the desired number of reps or until failure.
This is a great exercise for both the lower abs and hip flexors, while also providing a static workout for the triceps and shoulders as well.
Dumbbell Calisthenics Exercises
Dumbbell calisthenics exercises are traditional exercises that can be performed using only your body weight, but which can also be made harder by adding dumbbells in a range of different ways.
Most of the top options will be variations of common exercises or exercises we have already looked at.
Elevated Push Ups
Elevated push ups have the same setup and motion as regular push ups, but you will use a dumbbell or dumbbells to raise different parts of your body.
All options should use a heavy dumbbell, to give maximum stability, and involve placing the dumbbell on one end, with the bar in a vertical position.
By placing your feet on the dumbbell, you replicate an incline press, which moves much of the emphasis to the upper portion of the pectorals.
Meanwhile, placing your hands on two dumbbells is similar to a decline press and enhances the effect on the lower part of the chest.
Putting your hands on the dumbbells also offers extra benefits, such as strengthening the stabiliser muscles around the shoulder as you keep the dumbbells steady, while also allowing for a deeper stretch than regular push ups, helping to develop the muscles through a greater range of motion.
Much like elevated push ups, an elevated plank simply uses a dumbbell to make a regular plank more challenging.
Take a heavy dumbbell and place it on its end, with the bar in a vertical position. You will then perform a plank, with your feet on the top of the dumbbell, instead of the floor.
This will make your body more parallel and help to work your core much harder, particularly in the lower abs and back.
You can also support your upper body on your hands, instead of your forearms, at the halfway point of a push up, which will include your pecs in the exercise as well.
Dips Behind The Back
Place two dumbbells on their ends with the bars in a vertical position a little wider than shoulder width apart and sit on the ground with them just slightly behind you.
Reach back with your arms and place your palms on the tops of the dumbbells, with your fingers pointing forwards.
Raise your buttocks off of the ground, so your weight is supported on your heels and your palms, with your elbows completely bent.
Now, moving only your elbows, squeeze your triceps and drive yourself upwards, extending your arms in the process.
When your arms are just slightly short of fully extended, pause for a second and contract the triceps as hard as possible, before slowly lowering yourself back down as low as you can go. Take another pause and then repeat the movement the desired number of times or until failure.
This is a great workout for both the triceps and the lower portion of the pecs.
To make the pecs work even harder, place a third dumbbell on its end and put your heels on it. This will allow you to achieve an even deeper stretch in the chest.
Weighted Ab Exercises
Weighted ab exercises cover all traditional bodyweight ab exercises, only you perform them while holding a dumbbell to increase the resistance and make them more challenging.
Crunches and decline crunches can be made harder by holding a dumbbell directly over your chest with straight arms, while hanging reverse crunches, hanging reverse oblique crunches, leg raises, leg tucks, and dip bar leg raises can all be made harder by holding a dumbbell between your ankles.
You can even perform different varieties of plank with a dumbbell rested on your back to make those more challenging as well.
The Ultimate Calisthenics Gym Workout
The ultimate calisthenics gym workout will be a routine that uses everything you have at your disposal to train your entire body, using only your own weight as resistance.
This means an ideal calisthenic gym workout will look something like:
- Pull Ups
- Chin Ups
- Wide Grip Dips
- Dips Behind The Back
- Dip Bar Leg Raises
- Hanging Oblique Crunches
These types of exercises work best when you push yourself to your limits, so should all be completed to failure.
You should also aim to perform 4 sets of each exercise in the routine and rest for no more than a minute between sets.
A calisthenics gym workout gives you the ability to train your entire physique using only bodyweight exercises. This not only removes many of the dangers of training with weights, but also improves your mind muscle connection and helps you develop better control of your whole body.
While we have covered some of the best and most popular calisthenic exercises, they are only the tip of the iceberg and there are plenty more for you to explore. It is important to use as many as possible to shake up your workouts and keep the progress coming.There are even calisthenics workout apps to give you even more ideas and motivation to complete incredibly successful workouts. While weights certainly have their advantages, if you use everything at your disposal, you can develop a truly incredible physique solely with a calisthenics gym workout.