Calisthenics Workouts to Build a Lean, Muscular Physique

Calisthenics Workouts

A calisthenics workout uses your own body weight as resistance to build muscle, improve flexibility, and lose that unwanted fat. It is the primary form of group exercise in the U.S. Military. Likewise, it’s a form of exercise that will increase your strength and flexibility, and its history of effectiveness dates back to the early Greeks.

Calisthenics is widely used for these great reasons:

  • Very effective for increasing strength and flexibility
  • Very simple to perform
  • No equipment or gym is required
  • Calisthenics workouts can be done anywhere and anytime
  • Adds nice variation and spice to your workout regimen

These are great reasons that you can benefit from this workout, and it is a great workout when worked as a circuit training workout.

Table of Contents

Main Takeaways

  • A calisthenics workout can be done without going to the gym, and with minimal or no equipment.

  • Always do a quick warm-up and do some dynamic stretching before doing these exercises to avoid injuries.

  • These exercises work all major muscle groups (back, chest, triceps, biceps, shoulders, legs, abs).

  • Performing calisthenics workouts can help build lean muscle, strength, flexibility, and endurance.

Some calisthenics workouts emphasize many complex movements and angles within each exercise, but keep it simple, and focus on the fundamentals.

Fundamentals will always win the day with a calisthenics workout, and complicated angles are a good way to strain a muscle. Some variations are great, and do allow you to work muscles at different angles (and we do that below), but keep it simple for best (and safest) results.

Calisthenics Exercises

Jumping Jacks

Jumping Jacks for Calisthenics

Start Position: Starting position is standing erect with feet together and arms at your side. Jump in the air while spreading your feet slightly more than shoulder width and clapping your hands over head. Return to starting position. Perform in quick succession. This is generally the warm-up for a good calisthenics workout.

Workout Goal: Warm-up, Cardio

Push-ups

Classic Push-up

Start Position: Starting position is a horizontal position on the ground with palms on the ground, arms extended, body straight, and toes supporting your lower body. Bend arms to lower the body until your chest slightly touches the ground (do not rest on the ground), then push up returning to the start position. Keep the body straight during the movement.

Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – chest, shoulder, triceps

Variation #1: Knee Push-ups – when you start to reach failure you can drop from the toes to your knees as your anchor point, enabling you to do 5 to 10 more push-ups.

Variation #2:  Wide Push-ups – increase the width of your hands in the start position to work the chest muscles at a slightly different angle.

Learn more about all types of push-ups and their benefits here.

Sit-ups

Sit ups

Start Position: Starting position is lying down with your back on the floor, knees bent, and your feet on the floor.  Rotate your upper body away from the floor by contracting your abdominal muscles, and move the upper body to a vertical position.  Recover to the starting position.

Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – abdominals

Variation #1: “Rocky” sit-ups – rotate the torso on your way up touching the right elbow to left knee, and alternate the next rep – left elbow to right knee.

Crunches

Abs for Quick Home Workouts

Similar to the sit-up (above), but the upper is only curled slightly as the abdominals contract, and lower back/torso remains on the floor.  This exercise has a more intense burn on the abdominals then the sit-up.

Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – abdominals

Click for a complete ab workout.

Flutter Kicks (also called Scissor Kicks)

Scissors Ab Workout

Start Position: Starting position is lying on the floor on your back, with your legs extended straight with your feet approximately 6″ off the ground. The legs are then moved slightly up and down in a scissor motion. Flutter kicks can be a real smoker when done with intensity, and they are a dreaded workout in the US Army. (1)

Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – abdominals

Leg Raises

Leg Raises Ab Workout

Start Position: Starting position is lying on the floor on your back, with your legs extended straight with your feet approximately 6″ off the ground. Move the legs up to a near vertical position, and then return to start position.

Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – abdominals

Variation #1: If you are working with a partner, when your legs are raised to a vertical position have your partner gently push down the legs in varying directions, and then you return the legs to the vertical position.

Pull-ups

Pull Ups Home Back Workout

Pull-ups – Starting position is with your body hanging from a pull-up bar with your arms straight, shoulder width, and palms facing forward in front of you.  You then pull your body up until your head rises above the pull-up bar, and then return to the start position.

Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – back (width), biceps

Variation #1: Wide-grip pull-ups – widen your grip on the pull-up bar to slightly wider than shoulder width (approximately 8″ wider on each side).  This wider grip is excellent to develop the outer lat muscles, and creating the “V” appearance on your back.

Chin-ups

Chin Ups

Chin-ups – Starting position is with your body hanging from a pull-up bar with your arms straight, shoulder width, and palms facing toward you.  You then pull your body up until your head rises above the pull-up bar, and then return to the start position.

Workout Goal: Build lean muscle and strength – back, biceps

Chin Ups Exercise

Jogging in Place

Jog in place for a great cardio workout, but to create the intensity it’s more like a “sprint in place.” So the key is high knee kicks and enough intensity to bump up your heat rate.

Calisthenics Workouts

As with any workout routine, always perform proper warm-up and stretching to prepare your muscles for the workout:

Light cardio for a few minutes to warm-up

  • Jumping Jacks
  • Jogging in place

Dynamic stretching for a few minutes

  • Neck rotations
  • Arm rotations
  • Knee raises
  • Shadow Workouts

Calisthenics Workout Routines

  • 40 Jumping Jacks
  • 30 Push-ups (or perform to muscle failure)
  • 30 Crunches (or perform to muscle failure)
  • 20 Flutter Kicks
  • 20 Leg Raises
  • 5 Chin-ups
  • Jog in Place 3 minutes
  • Repeat for 2 more cycles

Why I love Calisthenics

Calisthenics workouts were a huge part of my life in the US Army. The Army is big on physical conditioning as you know, and consistent workouts are required to keep the troops in top shape shape.

However, many times you are in the field training for weeks at a time, so there is not access to a gym. So we often times did calisthenics workouts in the field when we had no access to equipment. This was required to keep the troops in shape, and keep everyone at peak physical level.

And these workouts can achieve a really good fitness level, even when you have no access to a gym or any equipment. You just have to get creative, and creative in the way that you perform them.

And in the Army there is a lot of buddy training, where you have a partner to help you with body resistance training. However, you can also achieve a good work out even when you were doing these exercises alone. Just focus on the fundamentals, and you can still get a great workout.

For example, push-ups are a great workout and work three major muscle groups: chest, shoulders, and triceps. So pretty much your entire upper body.

Another great workout to do is sit-ups. They work your abs and your core, and are also very healthy to maintain lower belt back health. When I injured my lower back a decade ago, the ortho recommended sit-ups to improve my lower back health.

So I have many memories and a lot of experience with his these type of exercises, and I know full well the benefits they can provide.

Benefits of Calisthenics Workouts

Simple CalisthenicsThere are many benefits to a calisthenics workout:

  • Does not require any equipment – body resistance is the key
  • Can be performed in a small area
  • Good for building strength and flexibility
  • Simple to perform and understand
  • Builds a lean, muscular physique
  • Builds endurance

A good calisthenics workout can be done in a short amount of time, and does not require a gym membership. It will increase your cardio health, endurance, and strength. You can also check our calisthenics home workout.

Try a quick routine today and get on the road to better health. And it meets CDC standards for intensity. (2)

Easy and Complete Nutrition with LYFE

And nutrition is obviously a big part of overall fitness and health, and if you’re on the go and don’t have time for complete meals all the time, consider a meal replacement shake. Meal replacement shakes are incredibly healthy today, and the nutritional technology has progressed immensely in recent years.

So you might consider a well-rounded and balanced meal shake if you’re looking for solid nutrition while on the go. LYFE Fuel has become a powerhouse leader in meal shakes. They are not only delicious, but very healthy.

If you are new to working out and don’t know where to start, check out our beginner bodyweight workouts. You can also check out our quick home workouts if you want to squeeze in some exercise during your busy days. Click to see more workouts, and see our full body videos.

David Williams

David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David Williams is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

References

  1. Stew Smith, C. S. C. S. (2022, February 1). Top 10 things to know before bud/S. Military.com. https://www.military.com/military-fitness/navy-special-operations/top-things-to-know-before-buds#:~:text=Flutter%20kicks&text=There%20may%20be%20a%20day,way%2C%20that%20takes%2045%20minutes.
  2. General physical activities defined by level of intensity. (n.d.).
    https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/physical/pdf/PA_Intensity_table_2_1.pdf

Click to see our medical disclosure.