The 11 Best Calisthenics Exercises for Building Muscle

(Last Updated On: March 18, 2022)

Calisthenics can be a great alternative to weightlifting to help you build strength and get in shape without getting too bulky.

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t build muscle mass through calisthenics though. While calisthenics like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime they can pack on lean and athletic muscle that performs better than bodybuilder muscle that has you looking like a fireplug.

Here are the 11 best calisthenics exercises that build the most muscle and will give you the most bang for your buck using just your own bodyweight.

 

#1 Push-Ups

Tabata training workout

Muscles Worked:

  • Triceps
  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Core

The classic push-up is one of the best upper-body exercises you can do to work your chest, shoulders and triceps. If you can’t do a full push-up yet, start by doing them against a wall or elevated on a bench or step to make them easier. As you get stronger, you can start doing the traditional push-ups or even elevate your feet to make them more difficult.




 

#2 Pull-Ups

calisthenics exercises for muscle building

Muscles Worked:

  • Lats/back
  • Biceps
  • Core

Pull-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises for your back and biceps. Not only do they build muscle mass but they also add width to your back to give it that V-shape.

If you can’t do a pull-up yet, start by doing them with assisted pull-up machine or use bands to help you get more reps. As you get stronger, you can start doing the traditional pull-ups. If you get really good you can even do pull-ups and clap your hands at the top of each rep.

 

Related: 13 Best Foods For Building Muscle

 

#3 Chin-Ups

muscle building calisthenics exercises

Muscles Worked:

  • Lats/back
  • Biceps
  • Core

Chin-ups are a variation of the pull-up that work your back and biceps even more. In fact, chin-ups are one of the best exercises out there for your biceps.

Chin-ups are easier for some people than regular pull-ups but some can also experience pain in the wrists when doing them. Just like with the pull-up, if you can’t do a chin-up yet, start off by doing them with assisted chin-up machine or use bands to help you get more reps. As you get stronger, you can start doing the traditional chin-ups.

 

#4 Handstand Push-Ups

Marc Megna

Muscles Worked:

  • Triceps
  • Shoulders
  • Core

Handstand push-ups are a great way to blast your triceps and shoulders. They are also a great way to improve your balance and coordination.

To do a handstand push-up, start in a handstand position with your hands shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows and lower your body down towards the floor. Push yourself back up to the starting position and repeat. If you can’t do a handstand yet, start by doing them against a wall or elevated on a bench or step to make them easier. As you get stronger, you can start doing the traditional handstand push-ups.

Once you get really strong you can blow people’s minds by doing clapping handstand push-ups.




 

#4 Dips

Girl doing dips

Muscles worked:

  • Chest
  • Triceps
  • Shoulders

Dips are a great exercise to work your chest, triceps and shoulders. They can be done on a dip station at the gym or with two benches or chairs.

To do dips, place your hands on the edge of two benches or chairs with your feet together. Bend your elbows and lower your body down towards the floor. Push yourself back up to the starting position and repeat.

Once you get really good at them you can do them with a weighted vest.

 

Related: Calisthenics Guide to Bodyweight Exercises

 

#5 Air Squats

air squat

Muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

Air squats are a great way to work your quads, hamstrings and glutes. They can be done anywhere with no equipment needed.

To do an air squat, start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and lower your body down towards the floor. Keep your back straight and don’t let your knees go over your toes. Squat down so your thighs are parallel to the floor and then push yourself back up to the starting position.

I prefer to do jumping air squats, they are a bit tougher and build more explosiveness.

This exercise can also be done with a weighted vest when your own body weight gets too easy.

 

#6 Lunges

Lunges

Muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings

Lunges are a great exercise to work your quads, glutes and hamstrings. They can be done just about anywhere and don’t require any equipment.

To do a lunge, start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Step one foot forward and lower your body down towards the floor. Keep your back straight and don’t let your front knee go over your toes. Lunge down so that your front thigh is parallel to the floor and then push yourself back up to the starting position.

I prefer to do jumping lunges, they are a bit tougher and build more explosiveness.

You can use a weighted vest for these as well when you want some added resistance.




 

#7 Inverted/Bodyweight Rows

Muscles Worked:

  • Lats
  • Traps
  • Biceps
  • Shoulders

Inverted rows are a great exercise to build muscle mass in your back, traps, biceps and shoulders. They can be done on a bar or rings with a suspension trainer.

To do an inverted row, start by hanging from a bar or rings with your feet together. Pull yourself up towards the bar/rings so that your chest touches it and then lower yourself back down to the starting position.

You can make these easier by bending your legs and moving your feet closer to your body. You can also elevate your feet and wear a weighted vest to make them more difficult.

 

#8 Pistol Squats

pistol squats

 

Muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings

Pistol squats are a great way to work your quads, glutes and hamstrings. You don’t need any equipment to do this exercise but you may want something to hold on to so that you can balance.

To do a pistol squat, start by standing with one foot in front of the other. Bend your front knee and lower your body down towards the floor. Keep your back straight and don’t let your front knee go over your toes. Squat down so that your thigh is parallel to the floor and then push yourself back up to the starting position.

 

#9 Calf Raises




 

Muscles worked:

  • Calves

You don’t want to train your upper legs and glutes and then walk around with some twiggy calves, do you?

Prevent yourself from getting laughed at and mix in some calf raises to give yourself a more well-rounded physique.

Calf raises can be done with or without weight but I prefer to use weight or train 1 leg at a time for added resistance.

To do a calf raise, start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your heel up towards the sky so that you are on your toes and then lower it back down to the starting position. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in so that you move straight upward and downward.

You can also perform these on a step for a greater range of motion.

 

#10 Muscle-Ups

Muscle up guy

Muscles worked:

  • Chest
  • Back
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Core

The muscle-up is an advanced bodyweight exercise that basically works your entire upper body. Most people won’t be able to walk up to a bar and start ripping off muscle-up reps, so you will likely need some time before you get to this move. It can be done on a bar or rings with a suspension trainer.

Start by hanging from a bar or rings with your hands shoulder-width apart to do a muscle-up. Pull yourself up towards the bar/rings so that your chest touches it and then lower yourself back down to the starting position.

If you are an absolute beast, you can wear a weighted vest when performing this move, but most people won’t need to add weight for this one.

 

#11 Close-Grip/Diamond Push-ups

Close grip push ups

Muscles Worked:

  • Triceps
  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Core

This exercise is almost identical to the push-up. The only difference is you put your hands close together to put more of an emphasis on the triceps. As with the regular push-ups, you can against a wall or elevated on a bench or step to make them more manageable. If you are a beast and need them to be more difficult, you can elevate your feet.




 

The Benefits of Calisthenics

When most people think of working out, they think of lifting weights at the gym. However, there are a number of benefits to calisthenics – exercises that use only your own body weight for resistance. Here are some reasons why you should consider adding calisthenics to your workout routine:

Calisthenics are convenient – You can do them anywhere, without any equipment. This makes them a great option when traveling or not having access to a gym.

They improve strength and flexibility – Unlike weightlifting, which can cause muscle imbalances if not done correctly, calisthenics work all of your muscles evenly. They also improve flexibility, which is important for preventing injuries. Bottom line, calisthenics keep you from becoming an immobile fireplug.

They burn calories – Calisthenics are a great way to burn calories and lose weight.

They improve balance and coordination – This is especially beneficial for athletes and people who participate in other physical activities.

They’re fun – Unlike most traditional weightlifting exercises, calisthenics can be enjoyable and challenging at the same time. This can help keep you motivated to stick with your workout routine.

Calisthenics works multiple muscle groups at once – All of the calisthenics exercises out there (except calf raises) are compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once. For example, the pull-up works your back, biceps, shoulder,s and core. This helps keep your workouts efficient and leads to building more muscle masss.

 

 

Calisthenics Workout For Muscle Building

We have given you the best calisthenics exercises for muscle building. Now we are going to hit you up with a calsithenics workout to put those exercises together. In fact, we are going to give a complete week of calisthenics workouts to help you get started on your muscle-building journey using bodyweight training.

 

Monday

  • Push-ups – 3 sets of max reps
  • Close-grip push-ups: 2 sets of max reps
  • Pull-ups – 3 sets of max reps
  • Inverted rows – 3 sets of 8-12

 

Tuesday

  • Jump Squats – 3 sets of 10-25
  • Lunges – 3 sets of 12 reps per leg
  • Calf Raises – 3 sets of max reps

 

Wednesday

  • Off

 

Thursday

  • Dips – 3 sets of max reps
  • Handstand push-ups – 4 sets of max reps
  • Chin-ups 3- 3 sets of max reps
  • Inverted rows – 3 sets of max reps

 

Friday

Tuesday

  • Jump Squats – 3 sets of 10-25
  • Lunges – 3 sets of 12 reps per leg
  • Calf Raises – 3 sets of max reps

 

Saturday

  • Cardio

 

Sunday

  • Off

 




Conclusion

So there you have it – our top picks for the best calisthenics exercises for building muscle. Remember, to see real results, you need to be consistent with your bodyweight training and give your body time to adapt. We hope you enjoy these exercises and that they help you achieve the physique you’ve always wanted. What is your favorite calisthenics exercise?

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