When trying to build a strong and lean physique, most people believe you need weights to achieve this. Most people underestimate the power of using only calisthenic or bodyweight exercises.

In this article, I'm showing you how you can get both strong and shredded with a full-body calisthenics workout program for those who want to see amazing results using only body-weight exercises.[1]

Calisthenics training has a long and interesting history. The word derives from ancient Greece. It is a combination of two Greek words - "kallos," meaning beauty, and "sthenos," meaning strength.

This creates the image of aesthetics and strength, two highly sought-after pursuits in the gym!

The first mention of calisthenics was recorded by a Greek historian who noted that the Spartan armies would do a type of ‘dance’ when preparing for battle.

These warriors were preparing their bodies to fight.

A calisthenics workout involves only your body weight as the load; there are no barbells, kettlebells or dumbbells involved.

Instead, it is about mastering the control of your body weight.

Calisthenics also requires a high degree of flexibility, and if you train in calisthenics, you're going to help increase the range of motion through your joints which will keep you supple.

The use of gym equipment is hugely popular these days, but a small sub-group of people have focused on calisthenic exercises, particularly doing these workouts outside.

Therefore the training can be known as a 'street workout.' Calisthenics is a form of resistance training as you use your body as the weight.

man doing L-sit pull-ups

Calisthenics Workout For Beginners

If you’re just starting in the world of calisthenics and you need some guidance, I have put together the best calisthenics workout plan for beginners to progress strength in key bodyweight exercises.

Beginning with a program like this will allow you to work up to more demanding movements such as pull-ups, muscle ups, handstands, single arm pull-ups, and planche.

There are even more benefits of being able to do some pretty impressive skills. Calisthenics promotes flexibility and being able to move through full range of motion. Flexibility is an important part of health and fitness. If you are flexible then you are more likely to reduce the risk of injuries and increases your range of motion for better performance.

Muscle stiffness can be restricting and if you are not stretching muscles they can shorten and become tight, leading to further issues and increased risk of injury.  

There are seven key movement patterns form the foundations of the best calisthenics training programs:

  • Horizontal & vertical pushing: Works the chest, shoulders, and triceps
  • Horizontal pulling & vertical pulling: Works the back and biceps
  • Squats & lunges: Works the entire lower body
  • Hinge: Works the leg muscles and entire posterior chain

Measuring intensity

You can always ensure you are progressing in bodyweight exercises by measuring intensity, using the rate of perceived exertion (RPE). RPE is a measurement of how strenuous an exercise should be.

The scale is 1-10, with 1 being minimal effort and 10 meaning you could complete one rep but absolutely nothing more.

For example, if you can complete a maximum of 10 push-ups, then working at an RPE of 8 on push-ups means you should complete 8 push-ups (80% of your max reps).

By using RPE you're able to slowly build up as you get stronger. Using this method is effective for ensuring you're progressing but minimising the temptation to do too much to soon, and risking injury. 

Man and Woman Doing Calisthenics Warm Ups Outside

Calisthenics Warm Up

Warming up is important for any exercise routine. Doing a good warming up ensures your body is primed for what you're about to do, gets your joints are moving well and increases body temperature.

Doing all of this will prime you for a better workout and will help reduce the chance of injuries. 

So you don't go wrong, I have provided an effective warm up you can do before starting your program:

2-3 rounds

  • Scapula Push-ups 12 reps
  • Cat Cow 12 reps
  • Standing Incline Y Raise 12 reps
  •  Table Top 12 reps 
  • Duck Walks 12 reps
  • Passive Hang 30 seconds

6 week Calisthenics Workout Plan for beginners

A calisthenic program designed for beginners should include all seven key movement patterns to build full body strength and develop full range in all areas.

Exercises for this beginner program should be done in succession, with minimal rest and then a bigger rest between rounds.

Week 1 - 2 rounds, 2-3 times per week

  • Incline Push-ups 8 to 12 reps
  • Active Hang 8 to 12 reps
  • Bodyweight Squat 8 to 12 reps
  • Reverse Lunge  8 to 12 reps on each leg
  • Bench Dips 8 to 12 reps
  • Hanging Leg Raises 8 to 12 reps

Week 2 - 2-3 Rounds, 3-4 times per week

Adding in negative chin-ups and ring rows. 

  • Negative Chin-Ups 4 to 6 reps, 3 to 5 second lower
  • Ring Rows 8 to 12 reps
  • Incline Push-ups 8 to 12 reps
  • Active Hang 8 to 12 reps
  • Bodyweight Squat 8 to 12 reps
  • Reverse Lunges 8 to 12 reps each side
  • Bench Dips 8 to 12 reps
  • Hanging Leg Raises 8 to 12 reps

Week 3 - 2-4 Rounds, 3-4 times per week

Changing body weight squats to skater squats and lunges to bulgarian split squats.

  • Negative Chin-Ups 5 to 7 reps, 3 to 5 second lower
  • Ring Rows 8 to 12 reps
  • Incline Push-ups 8 to 12 reps
  • Active Hang 8 to 12 reps
  • Skater Squats 8 to 12 reps
  • Bulgarian Split Squat  8 to 12 reps on each leg
  • Bench Dips 8 to 12 reps
  • Hanging Leg Raises 8 to 12 reps

week 4 - 2-4 rounds, 3-5 times per week

Changing from incline push ups to negative push ups, ring dips with feet on the floor (minimal bodyweight placed into the feet) and knees to elbows.  The active hang has been replaced with a straight arm pull-up. 

  • Negative Chin-Ups 5 to 8 reps, 3 to 5 second lower
  • Ring Rows 8 to 12 reps
  • Negative Push-ups 5 to 8 reps, 3 to 5 second lower
  • Straight Arm Pull-Up 8 to 12 reps
  • Skater Squats 8 to 12 reps
  • Bulgarian Split Squat  8 to 12 reps on each leg
  • Ring Dips (feet on floor) 8 to 12 reps
  • Knees to Elbows 8 to 12 reps

Week 5 - 2-5 rounds, 3-5 times per week

Dragon squats replace skater squats and jump squats have been added.

  • Negative Chin-Ups 6 to 8 reps, 3 to 5 second lower
  • Ring Rows 8 to 12 reps
  • Negative Push-ups 6 to 8 reps, 3 to 5 second lower
  • Straight Arm Pull-Up 8 to 12 reps
  • Dragon Squats 8 to 12 reps
  • Jump Squats 8 to 12 reps
  • Bulgarian Split Squat  8 to 12 reps on each leg
  • Ring Dips (feet on floor) 8 to 12 reps
  • Knees to Elbows 8 to 12 reps

Week 6 - 3-5 rounds, 3-5 times per week

Standard push-ups replace negative push-ups, pistol squats have replaced bulgarian split squats and straddle compression lifts have been added.

  • Negative Chin-Ups 7 to 9 reps, 3 to 5 second lower
  • Ring Rows 8 to 12 reps
  • Standard Push-ups 5 to 10 reps
  • Straight Arm Pull-Up 8 to 12 reps
  • Dragon Squats 8 to 12 reps
  • Jump Squats 8 to 12 reps
  • Pistol Squat  8 to 12 reps on each leg
  • Straddle Compression Lifts 8 to 12 reps 
  • Ring Dips (feet on floor) 8 to 12 reps
  • Knees to Elbows 8 to 12 reps
man doing an inverted plank on a pull up bar

How To Progress Over 1-3 Months

Now you have a beginner calisthenics workout plan; you need to understand how you're going to progress to allow you to get better at the movement, gain more strength and advance to more challenging exercises.

A weekly workout plan is great, but if you're not planning how to progress, you will stagnate quickly.

Because you can’t increase the difficulty by adding weight, you must increase the amount of volume you are doing week by week, as highlighted in the above program.

Once you have mastered movements in the beginner program at a specific volume, you can progress to intermediate exercises that will continue to challenge you using the same overload method.

Following a calisthenics program that is goal oriented and challenging will keep you motivated and build a strong, well-rounded, lean body.

Benefits Of Calisthenics Workouts

The best aspect of bodyweight training is how accessible it is to everyone. Even those who are untrained can start with these workouts.

Exercises can easily progress as you gain more strength or regress if they are too difficult.

You do not need a gym and equipment to exercise and build strength. People became clued in about bodyweight training advantages during this time.

It’s Cheap

To follow a calisthenics workout plan, you do not need a gym membership or to buy a ton of equipment to kit out a home gym.

The important piece of equipment needed is a pull up bar which can be inexpensive to install at home. This means if you have a train on a budget, then calisthenics training is very appealing.

You Can Do It Almost Anywhere

No equipment is needed to follow a calisthenics routine, although minimal equipment is preferable to follow a full body program.

You can train outside in a park, at a park gym with a pull-up bar, or do at-home calisthenics in your living room.

The appealing aspect of bodyweight training is you do not have to travel far to do your workout, and most exercises require minimal equipment. 

It's Extremely Effective

A calisthenics routine will train muscle groups as effectively as targeted weighted exercises.[3]

Bodyweight movements work the entire body, and rather than focus on training one muscle group at a time, you are training your body as one, which is great for coordination.

Calisthenics exercises also effectively build muscle and burn fat.

This is because you are using your own body as the resistance to build muscle, and the more muscle you have, you will have less body fat. 

woman in red shirt doing calisthenics lunges

Drawbacks Of Calisthenics Workouts

No single training style is perfect, and calisthenics has some drawbacks to consider when deciding if this is something you want to pursue.

Difficult To Make Progress

When training with weights in the gym, you can easily see how you gradually progress due to progressive overload.

As you go through a strength program, you should see additional strength gains by adding more weight as you grow more muscle.

Calisthenics is hard to make progress due to the difficulty of the exercises and the fact that it does require a lot of patience to see progress.

Not Suitable For Those Wanting Huge Mass

There is no denying that while calisthenics will give you great strength gains and a shredded physique, if you want to focus on building muscle mass, then you need a training program that focuses on big compound movements and using machines and free weights to stimulate more muscle fibers.

If bodybuilding is your goal, then a calisthenics-only program isn't going to cut it.

man doing behind the neck archer pull ups

10 Best Calisthenics Exercises To Try


Regular push-ups are one of the best exercises for upper body strength using your body weight. This exercise targets the chest, shoulders, triceps, and back while developing a strong core. 

This exercise can easily be regressed for beginners by doing the push-up on an incline or doing negative reps.

Pike Push-Ups

The pike push-up required a bit more strength than a standard push-up as there is a higher degree of resistance on the upper body.

This type of push-up is a great goal for beginners to work towards.


Straight bar dips will strengthen your shoulders, triceps, and chest.

Dips are a more challenging bodyweight exercise and can be regressed to a bench dip with knees bent to decrease the bodyweight demands of the exercise.

Dips can then be progressed to the parallel bars or (as a very advanced move) gymnastics rings.

With all dips, try to keep your torso straight so as not to overcompensate on one side.

See Related - Best Dip Bar Exercises

Australian Pull-Ups

Australian Pull-ups, also known as an inverted row, are similar to a bent-over row, except they are inverted.

This movement is a fantastic alternative to regular pull ups. It is perfect for building the strength required to do chin-ups or pull-ups if you're not yet able to do them.

A low straight bar is required for this exercise and ideally adjustable height so you can make the exercise harder or easier if required.


Chin-ups are an integral part of calisthenics training, and mastering this opens up many different advanced calisthenics exercises. Chin ups are also a great bodyweight bicep exercise.

Building strength for chin-ups can be done using eccentric and paused reps. Chin-ups are often achieved when done multiple times throughout the week due to the demands of this exercise. 


Traditional bodyweight squats are the best lower body strengthening exercise. Everyone should incorporate squats into training. You can change variation by using tempo, pauses, and 1 ¼ reps.

Split Squats

Unilateral training is incredibly important as it helps build even strength between the two sides of the body.

Building lower body strength is important before progressing to one-leg exercises such as Bulgarian split squats and then performing pistol squats.

Pistol Squat

Pistol Squats are one-legged squats, and it's a highly demanding unilateral leg exercise. It will be tough for beginners to master this one, so I suggest trying some pistol squat alternative exercises first.

Using assistance can help you progress in this exercise, and using eccentric reps can also help build strength.

Pistol squats work on quad and glute strength and hip mobility by extending one leg out in front and going into a squat position on the standing leg.

Nordic Curl

Nordic curls are an advanced calisthenic exercise that builds stronger and more robust hamstrings.

It involved anchoring your ankles using the help of another person or anchoring under wall bars and lengthening out towards to floor using the strength of your hamstrings and core muscles.

Nordic curls are an advanced movement, so they can be regressed to a Harop Curl, which shortens the movement and uses more hip hinge.

This particular movement focuses on eccentric loading. You can use the floor to push back up to the start position.

woman doing nordic curls on outdoor field

Calisthenics Vs Bodyweight Training: Which Is Better?

Firstly, let's talk about the difference between calisthenics and bodyweight training. They are both very similar.

However, calisthenics training is a specific training protocol where people try to reach difficult bodyweight exercises through a specific routine that will allow them to build strength in certain areas, such as push/pull/handstands.

Advanced trainees in calisthenics work towards bigger movements such as muscle ups, handstand push-ups, the single-arm pull-up, planches, iron crosses, and the human flag.

Bodyweight training incorporates bodyweight exercises into your fitness routine to provide a few variations to your training and to help you master being able to control your own body weight through certain basic movements such as a push-up, pull-up, squats, and planks.

What to Eat While Doing Calisthenics?

You can train as hard as you want, but without a proper diet to support your training, you will not see the results you desire.

Whether it's trying to build size or lose weight, your training is obsolete without a diet to support those goals.

Whether you’re training using a calisthenics workout program or strength training using weights in the gym, your diet should be the same. It should align with what your goals are.

If you’re using calisthenics to get strong but lean at the same time, then you will need to make sure your calorie intake is lower to achieve a more lean physique.

But if you want to build more strength using calisthenics workouts, then it’s essential to fuel your body and eat a bit more to increase muscle.

As with any fitness goals, it is important to have a good variety of protein, fats, and carbs in your diet and to consider essential micronutrients, as well as ensuring you are getting enough vitamins and minerals into your diet.

shirtless man with an orange towel around his neck and a plate of food

Questions Around Full-Body Calisthenics

What happens when you do calisthenics every day?

If you train in calisthenics every day, then you're going to build a very well-rounded and strong body as well as a lean physique and see your calisthenics progress very quickly. You will become more coordinated, have more body awareness and decrease body fat.

Can you build muscle mass with calisthenics?

Yes, you can build muscle mass with calisthenics, but this training style will help you build more lean muscle. To grow muscle, the training must incorporate progressions, so you do not stagnate. This is slightly more difficult to do using calisthenics only, but as long as you continue to be challenged, you will build muscle.

How long does it take to build muscle with calisthenics?

Calisthenic progress can be slow and requires patience to see improvements, especially for exercises with a high demand for strength. With any training program, you will only see results if you are consistent with the program and apply progressive overload. If you follow these training principles and eat to support training, then you should see muscle and strength gains in around 3 months.

Should you do cardio with calisthenics?

If you have certain body composition goals, then it is always a good idea to incorporate cardio to lose weight. Calisthenic exercises will help with weight loss as they build lean muscle, which burns more at rest than fat. If you do wish to do cardio, then you can incorporate this by doing circuit training to increase heart rate and train with minimal rest.

How long should a beginner calisthenics workout be?

For those starting with a calisthenics workout routine, aim for shorter sessions, around 45-60 minutes, that focus on good-quality movement patterns and proper form rather than trying to do too much volume.

What stretching should you do before and after calisthenic workouts?

Before starting your exercise program, it is important to warm up for the particular movements you will be training. For instance, if you're training the lower body, then make sure you thoroughly warm up the hips, glutes, and quads. If doing an upper body focus day, then use exercises that prime the shoulders and back. It is a good idea to use dynamic exercises to warm up. 

Can you get ripped through calisthenics?

Many people try a calisthenics workout plan for weight loss and muscle building. Some of the best physiques use bodyweight exercises; just look at elite gymnasts. As long as you're training hard enough, eating the correct diet, and doing cardiovascular exercises to complement your training, you will burn fat and build lean muscle.


If you want to try a training modality that builds strength, muscle, coordination, and flexibility that provides a huge sense of achievement, then look no further than calisthenics.

This training style will not disappoint as there is always something to progress to, and you'll notice that your physique is leaner and stronger than ever. 


  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/the-advantages-of-body-weight-exercise
  2. https://www.verywellfit.com/dragon-flag-advanced-core-exercise-3120045
  3. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2018/03000/effect_of_progressive_calisthenic_push_up_training.9.aspx
Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website