7 Best Calisthenic Exercises to Gain Strength and Muscle

Calisthenic exercises are productive full-body workouts. (Photo by RODNAE Productions via pexels)
Calisthenic exercises are productive full-body workouts. (Photo by RODNAE Productions via pexels)

Calisthenic exercises are a great way to enhance coordination, increase lower-body muscle flexibility, and improve upper-body endurance and strength. The good news is that you require minimal equipment to do calisthenic exercises as they are mostly performed using your own body as resistance.

These bodyweight moves help to activate large muscle groups and offer the benefits of bodybuilding that go far beyond targeting individual muscles. They provide a holistic workout for every part of your body.

Calisthenic exercises are suitable for all fitness levels and provide muscle strengthening, endurance and flexibility when incorporated into a training program.

#1 Burpees

Burpees are a killer fat-burning calisthenic exercise that is a combination of cardio and strength training. They are also known as squat jump thrusts.

Muscles worked: glutes, core, hamstrings, shoulders, quads, chest


How to do burpees?

  • Stand upright with your core engaged and shoulders back.
  • Lower your body into a squat position and keep your hands on the ground just in front of your feet.
  • Balance your weight on your hands, and explosively jump to draw your body back in a plank position.
  • Jump back again to the previous position and stand up straight.
  • Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.

#2 Push-ups

Push-ups are one of the best calisthenic exercises to build shoulder, core and chest strength.

Muscles worked: deltoids, core, triceps, biceps and pectorals.


How to do push-ups?

  • Take a high plank position with your elbows below your shoulders. Keep your core tight and gaze at the mat below. Make sure you don’t tuck your neck in.
  • Keeping your spine, head and leg straight, slowly bend your elbows and lower your chest to the ground.
  • Stop when your chest reaches the floor.
  • Now push your body back to the plank position and perform another rep.
  • Complete 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps.

#3 Prisoner squat jumps

Prisoner squat jumps are a variation of the basic squat jumps. It is one of those calisthenic exercises in which different arm positions make the move all the more beneficial for your entire lower body and core.

Muscles worked: quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings, lower abs, mid abs and quads


How to do prisoner squat jumps?

  • Stand upright and keep your feet at a shoulder–width distance with your toes pointing outside.
  • Place your hands behind your head and keep your elbows high pointing out towards the opposite.
  • Squat and keep your torso forward, your knees above your heels and your spine straight.
  • Now jump as high as possible and make sure to keep your hands behind your head.
  • Land on the floor and take the squat position.
  • Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.

#4 Bicycle crunches

Bicycle crunches are one of the most effective calisthenic exercises that help burn abdominal fat, develop strong core muscles, and improve overall coordination.

Muscles worked: lower, upper and mid abs, obliques, glutes, hamstrings, shoulders and lats.


How to do bicycle crunches?

  • Lie down straight on a flat surface or a mat.
  • Keep your feet flat and bend your knees. Push your lower back on the mat.
  • Keep your hand behind your head and keep your elbows pointing out. Lift your head slightly and try to look at your knees.
  • Lift your legs off the mat, extend your left leg and crunch up. Touch your left elbow with your right knee.
  • Bring your left leg to the starting pose, and then extend your right leg, crunch up and touch your right elbow to your left knee.
  • Continue the exercise and increase your speed gradually.
  • Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.

#5 Donkey kicks

Donkey kicks are an effective exercise to shape your glutes and tone your lower body. This exercise also helps develop core strength and muscle endurance.

Muscles worked: quads, core, hamstrings, shoulders and glutes.


How to do donkey kicks?

  • Get down on all fours. Keep your elbow directly below your shoulders and engage your core muscles.
  • Lift your left leg off the floor and push your left foot upwards but without extending your entire leg.
  • Bring your leg back to the initial position and push it up again.
  • Perform 10 kicks with your left leg and then switch legs.
  • Complete at least 3 sets of 15 reps.

#6 Box jumps

Box jumps help improve coordination and balance, burn calories and are a very productive lower-body exercise.

Muscles worked: hamstrings, lower abs, quads and glutes.


How to do box jumps?

  • Put a sturdy box at least 2 steps away from you.
  • Stand upright with your feet at shoulder distance.
  • Slightly bend down and push your body up into a jump.
  • Once you jump, land softly and in a controlled manner on the top of the box.
  • Make sure to keep your body bent forward to prevent falling.
  • Squat down, get up and jump on the ground.
  • Do 10 reps.

#7 Chin-ups

Chin-ups are one of the most effective calisthenic exercises to build upper body endurance and strength. To do this exercise, you need a bar secured at an appropriate height.

Muscles worked: deltoids, triceps, lats, biceps and pectorals.


How to do chin-ups?

  • Start by standing upright below the bar.
  • Jump and hold the bar tightly with both hands. Make sure your hands are at your shoulder distance.
  • Cross both your legs and bend your knees.
  • Now engage your biceps and pull your body until your chin is above the bar.
  • Extend your hands and then again go back down to the initial position.
  • Breathe easily throughout the exercise.
  • Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.

Bottom line

Now that you know some of the best calisthenic exercises, try to incorporate them into your fitness routine and see how rapidly you’ll gain strength and muscle. Since these exercises are all about bodyweight movements, there is little risk of injuy. But still, before starting with these exercises, consult your physical therapist if you have any ongoing health concerns.

Also, make sure you eat right and get adequate rest to see optimal results of the above calisthenic exercises.

Edited by Prem Deshpande
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