Calisthenics Exercises for Strength and Muscle

Build Strength Without Equipment

Focused woman holding plank in exercise class. Hero Images/ GettyImages

Calisthenics is a classic type of physical training. These bodyweight exercises involve little to no equipment and utilize body movement that is more or less grounded in one spot. While some of these exercises have been sidelined by trainers in favor of flashier moves and trendy equipment, calisthenics offers effective, accessible full-body fitness.

Specifically, calisthenics provides muscle strengthening, flexibility, and endurance when used in a regular training program. In fact, if you look closely, many of these traditional "gym class" exercises have been repackaged into modern "bootcamp" training programs. Below are 10 must-have calisthenics exercises to add to your fitness regime.

Burpee

The Burpee, the exercise with the funny name, is challenging when done correctly and with high energy. This can genuinely be called a full-body exercise. Move through the following movement with as much intensity as you can bring while keeping optimal form.

Start standing, squat down, putting hands down on either side of your feet. Then, thrust the legs out to the rear, recover to standing and jump in the air thrusting hands upward. Repeat for your desired timed interval or number of repetitions.

Pushup

We all know the standard pushup, but you can add variety to them by changing the position of the hands, such as shifting them closer to the body, putting them into a triangle under the chest, or alternating lifting each palm up, to make your pushups more difficult. You can also perform them with knees on the ground to make them easier. Whichever style you choose, pushups are a must in any calisthenic workout.

Jumping Jack

Another classic move, the jumping jack gets the heart pumping. Start in standing position. Jump up, thrusting legs out to the sides, and clap your hands above your head with arms extended. Then, when your feet hit the floor, jump back to a standing position with arms down and legs together. Keep repeating this cycle for a set time or number of repetitions.

An old favorite, especially for children getting started with calisthenics, jumping jacks develop rhythm, balance, and cardiovascular fitness.

Squat

You can do many types of free squats without weights. Two-legged, one-legged, half-way, full squat to the floor, arms crossed, arms outstretched, and arms overhead. Other variations include keeping feet together or farther apart in a sumo squat. Try them all because they build lower-body strength and endurance. Be careful you don't overstress the knee joints, though.

Lunge

Now for a relative rest. The lunge is a great workout for the butt and legs without too much high-intensity commitment. Do them forward, rear, side, or at 45 degrees for variety. Walking lunges can provide more cardiovascular heat. You can also try pulsing deep in a lunge between reps for added burn. Lunges can be a great, dynamic way to warm-up as well.

Combo Crunch

One great abdominals exercise is the combo crunch. It combines a standard crunch, also called an ab curl, with legs raised or legs moving in a cycling motion. Focus on using your core muscles to complete the movements to ensure you're working your abs during the crunch. Add in a twisting motion from the tummy as you raise your head and shoulders to tone the external or internal oblique muscles.

Plank

How long can you hold the plank? Suspend your body on slightly bent forearms and toe tips, knees off the ground. Your body should be in a straight line from the back of the head to the ankles. Brace the abdominals and hold tight. If you can get to three minutes you are doing well.

Variations including holding the position on the forearms, alternating between extended arms and forearms, and doing mountain climbers (running the legs) while in a plank. Side plank and reverse plank are two more great options.

Wall Squat Isometric

This is an isometric variation of the standard squat, except you brace yourself against a wall in the squat position with quads roughly parallel to the floor. Hold, hold, hold. Reaching 60 seconds is good, 90 seconds is very good. Aim to do a few sets of wall sits with breaks in between.

Bench Dip

On a secure chair, bench, or platform, face outward with hands on the chair, heels on the ground. Keep hips close to the chair (and near your hands). Dip your hips down from the chair for a set of 12 to 15. Straight legs increase the intensity and bent knees make it easier. Both versions work the triceps.

Star Jump

The star jump is not the same as the jumping jack but it is somewhat similar. The star jump is more dynamic as you thrust arms and legs up and to the side and back together in mid-air in a unified movement. Essentially, you make a star or X shape with your body in the air, starting and ending from a standing position. This is a high-energy exercise.

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