Top 10 Calisthenics Exercises That Can Help Build and Tone Your Body

Calisthenics exercises are very effective in toning and strengthening your muscles. You don’t need any expensive or bulky gym equipment for most of the exercises. Your goal to build a healthy body cannot be that expensive with calisthenics exercises.

squat jump leg extension alternative

Calisthenics exercises are a form of resistance training that has become quite popular since the COVID-19 pandemic. This is mainly because it doesn’t require any expensive or bulky gym equipment.

The calisthenics equipment that some exercises do require doesn’t take up so much space and are very cost-effective.

Calisthenics exercises can replace weight training if you do not have access to a gym. (1) Not only that, but calisthenics bodyweight training has quite a few benefits of its own. Such benefits include the following:

  • It saves a lot of space and time
  • It increases endurance and strength evenly
  • It can improve mobility and flexibility
  • It can help you burn a significant amount of calories
  • It has many variations

What calisthenics lack in customization (that is present when working with weights and home gym equipment, it makes up for in variations. There are many variations for almost every single bodyweight exercise you can think of.

In this article, I will be sharing with you the best calisthenics exercises that you can do to help you transform your body, I will also highlight some of the variations to those exercises.

Best calisthenics exercises that can help transform your body

Crunches/Sit-Ups

woman doing crunches calisthenics exercises

Crunches are one of the top calisthenics exercises known for targeting the core and abs muscles. Its most popular variation is the sit-ups exercise.

During sit-ups, you must lift your upper body and sit all the way up before coming back down. But with crunches, you need not lift your abdomen all the way up, but only around half of the range of motion.

Which one is better is up to personal preference. My suggestion is to do both crunches and sit-ups calisthenics exercises alternatively. You can start with whichever you find easy and convenient if you are a beginner. You can then extend the training to include the other when you feel confident enough

Steps to Follow

  • To perform either variation, you must lay on your back, on the ground or on a relatively thin mat or rug.
  • Slide your feet closer to your bottom, bending your knees, forcing them to go up. Make sure that your feet are flat on the ground.
  • Put your hands behind or near your head, and lift to your preferred range of motion.
  • Slowly come back down, and repeat this exercise for reps.

A trick that I like to use to help me increase the intensity of sit-ups or crunches is to hold some sort of weight like dumbbells in my hands or wear a weighted vest. These are calisthenics equipment that I would recommend you should aim at purchasing if you don’t already have some.

Lunges

jump lunge

Lunges are another popular calisthenics exercises worth doing every now and then.

Lunges are quite effective leg exercises that can target your hamstrings, quads, and glutes. They can help you improve and practice your balance, flexibility, and mobility. They are some of the best calisthenics exercises that can help you build the muscles in your lower body

Steps to Follow

  • To perform this exercise, you must stand up completely straight.
  • Essentially, you are going to want to take a huge step forward with one foot, and bend both of your knees so that they both create 90° angles.
  • Your bottom/back knee should be very close to the ground at the peak of your range of motion.
  • Then, slowly come back to the starting position, and perform the same exercise with your other leg going forward.
  • Repeat this for reps to build strength, endurance, and size in your legs.

Tip: You can hold some equally heavy objects like dumbbells in your hands. These should remain at your side during the movement. Using dumbbells can help increase the intensity and difficulty of the exercise. It is a great way to achieve your goals quickly.

Bench (Tricep) Dips

woman doing dips exercise

This exercise is good at targeting your triceps. But it can also help you increase strength in your shoulders and chest.

Bench dips are nearly as effective as diamond push-ups in terms of training your triceps. (2)

Steps to Follow

  • To perform this move, find a sturdy bench or low platform.
  • Sit on the platform with your legs straight out on the ground.
  • Keep your hands at the edge of the bench, gripping the platform with your fingers.
  • Move your bottom forward and let most of your body hang. The only support should be your hands and outstretched feet pointing up.
  • Slowly let your elbows bend backward letting your bottom dip.
  • Once your elbows are creating a 90° angle, carefully raise yourself back up, and repeat this for repetitions.

Tip: You should feel your triceps being activated and targeted. I find it very important to stretch out my arms before performing this exercise to avoid injury and increase endurance.

A more difficult variation of the dips calisthenics exercises involves using some home gym equipment, like a dips station or set of dip bars. These are other popular and reliable calisthenics equipment that you may need for your home gym.

The dips exercises are quite effective when trying to grow your chest, deltoids, and all 3 tricep heads.

Wall Sit

wall sit calisthenics exercises

The wall sit is an extraordinarily effective isometric exercise. Many people deem it to be effective at increasing the strength, endurance, and mass of your thighs and butts.

Wall sit can be very exhausting. But, don’t feel discouraged if you can’t hold the position for too long. Try and increase your hold time gradually as you gain more confidence.

Steps to Follow

  • Find a wall, and press your back into it.
  • Lean back against the wall with your torso, with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart.
  • Then slide down the wall until your thighs are parallel with the ground, making it look like you are sitting down without a chair.
  • Your knees should be almost directly above your ankles and bent at a right angle.
  • Keep your head, shoulders, and entire back against the wall and hold this position for a custom amount of time.

Plank

woman doing forearm plank calisthenics exercises

The plank exercise is also an isometric hold.

The plank targets your core. This includes your abs, your transverse abdominis (your inner core), and some parts of your obliques.

The exercise is known to help burn lots of calories and build endurance. It can also help you get a more defined set of abs. (3)

Steps to Follow

  • You need to go into a push-up type position. You should be on the ground, with your stomach facing the ground.
  • Lift your body and rest it on your toes and elbows
  • Your toes should hold your lower body up, and your forearms (from your wrists to your elbows) should be on the ground, holding up the rest of your body.
  • Your body should be in a completely straight-line shape. You should feel a tight, burning sensation in your core. This means that the exercise is working.
  • Hold this pose for a certain amount of time.

Leg raises

man doing leg raises calisthenics exercises

This move also targets your core, but it mainly just targets your lower abs.

Steps to Follow

  • To execute this exercise, you must be on the ground with your back to the floor.
  • Your legs should stay as straight and together as possible.
  • Lift them up to the ceiling until your entire upper body is off of the floor.
  • Slowly lower your legs back down until they’re just above the floor.
  • Hold for a moment and raise your legs back up to repeat the movement.

Tips: You can make this exercise harder by putting some sort of weight in between your legs or feet. You could also use strap-on weights on your legs.

Squats

squats bodyweight calisthenics exercises

Squats are another popular exercise that many people can use to grow and strengthen their legs. The exercise can target the gluteus maximus muscle which is the largest and heaviest muscle found in the body. The gluteus maximus muscles are located in the posterior area of the hip joints.

For men, another major benefit of performing these kinds of compound movements is, that it can increase their testosterone levels. (4)

Steps to Follow

  • You can do this exercise from a standing position by keeping your legs slightly further than shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep your back straight throughout the movement (this doesn’t mean it needs to be perpendicular to the ground, but it just shouldn’t curve).
  • Slowly bend your knees and lean your upper body forwards.
  • As you go down, your knees can pass your toes, however, keep them relatively close.
  • Make sure that you’re sticking out your bottom as you lower your upper body.
  • Once you have reached your maximum range of motion, powerfully use your thighs to push back up to the original position.
  • Repeat this exercise for reps.

Tip: You can make this more difficult by either adding some weight or doing something called a pistol squat. This exercise only requires one leg, therefore it is much more challenging.

Chin Up

chin up

The chin-up works your biceps, a small portion of your triceps, and most of your back muscles.

You will need some type of calisthenics equipment like a pull-up bar or power tower for the chin-ups calisthenics exercises.

Steps to Follow

  • Grab the bar with an underhand, supinated grip. Your fingers should be facing towards/behind you.
  • Once you have grabbed onto the bar and are secure, you can slowly bend your elbows, pulling your entire body upwards.
  • Once your chin has surpassed the bar itself, you can slowly lower yourself back down and repeat this exercise for reps.

If it gets to a point where you find the exercise is too easy, we will recommend strapping some type of weight on your body. This will make the exercise more challenging.

Push-up

push ups

The push-ups exercise trains your chest, deltoids, and triceps evenly. They can also help strengthen your back and core if done with proper form.

Steps to Follow

  • You can perform the push-ups by going into a position similar to the plank.
  • Your hands and toes must be the only parts of your body touching the ground. Your body should be forming a straight line.
  • Make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart (for the regular push-up variation).
  • Bend your elbows slowly without letting them flare out to your sides. Keep them close to your obliques.
  • Lower your body as much as possible, then slowly start to bring yourself back up.

You should feel this in your chest, triceps, and shoulders.

There are plenty of variations for the push-up, such as the wide-grip push-up, the diamond push-up, the incline and decline push-ups, and many more. If you find the regular push-up variation to be too easy, then you may want to try some of these variations and work up to a planche push-up.

This is where your feet do not touch the ground at all during the exercise, and your hands must balance you while you use your upper body to raise yourself off of the floor.

Pull-up

pull-ups

This exercise is the ultimate bodyweight ‘pull’ exercise. It can help you target, activate, grow, and strengthen your entire back. This includes your lats, traps, rhomboids, and your core.

Pullups can help strengthen most of the upper body, including the biceps, shoulders, and forearms/hands.

You perform the pull-ups bodyweight calisthenics exercises like the chin-ups, where you pull yourself up with the help of a power tower or a pullup station.

Steps to Follow

  • In this exercise, your grip should be pronated, meaning that your fingers should be facing you.
  • Your arms should also be further apart.
  • Once you are in this position, gripping the pull-up bar, you must pull yourself up to a point where your head is completely over the bar.
  • Once you have achieved this, slowly lower yourself back down and repeat this exercise for repetitions.

We will recommend you use resistance bands, another type of calisthenics equipment for home gym, if you find the pull-ups exercise too difficult or challenging, especially if you are a beginner.

On the other hand. you can use a weighted vest if you need to make this exercise more difficult. You can also try some harder variations of this exercise. These include the muscle-up, the front-lever, and explosive pull-ups.

Final Words from LivelIfe

Calisthenics exercises are very effective in toning and strengthening your muscles. You don’t need any gym equipment for most of the exercises. Where necessary the few calisthenics equipment you need are very budget-friendly to acquire, very easy to store, and quite easy to use. Your goal to build a healthy body cannot be that expensive if you opt to start with calisthenics exercises.

  1. Edward R. Laskowski, M.D. “How to Use Your Body Weight for Strength Training.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 10 Oct. 2020
  2. Boehler, Brittany, and John P. Porcari. “ACE-Sponsored Research Terrific Triceps .” Azureedge, American Council on Exercise.
  3. Staff, Mayo Clinic. “Why Your Core Muscles Matter.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 29 Aug. 2020.
  4. McCall, Pete. “Certified™: June 2021 – How to Use Exercise to Elevate Testosterone Production .” ACE, American Council on Exercise, June 2021.

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