5 Moves for the Ultimate Calisthenics Workout, According to a Personal Trainer

Brunette young woman doing a squat outside in front of an orange wall
Brunette young woman doing a squat outside in front of an orange wall

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Medically Reviewed By:
Mark Arredondo, M.D.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re probably already familiar with calisthenics.

Put simply, calisthenics is just bodyweight exercises. Calisthenics exercises are great for beginners because they can help build strength throughout the entire body, and you don’t need to learn how to use any equipment. They can also be easily modified for different levels of difficulty.

Read on for more on what calisthenics is, plus a 5-move beginner calisthenics workout you can do anywhere.

What is calisthenics?

Calisthenics is a type of exercise that uses your own bodyweight as resistance to build strength and flexibility. As a certified personal trainer, I love calisthenics workouts because they can be modified and maximized for all levels of fitness to meet you right where you are in your fitness journey.

Calisthenics is also a convenient and accessible form of exercise because it doesn’t require any special equipment or gym membership. This makes it easy to practice calisthenics anywhere, whether you’re at home, on vacation or traveling for work.

Overall, calisthenics is a versatile form of exercise that, according to the Journal of Isokinetics and Exercise Science, is an “effective training solution to improve posture, strength and body composition without the use of any major training equipment.”

If you want to try calisthenics, here are my top 5 favorite calisthenics exercises. Even with no equipment, you’ll still get a great workout session with these moves.

Beginner calisthenics workout plan

1. Squat

Stephanie Mellinger

I love this move because it trains a movement pattern we use daily: sitting and standing. It works your core and most of your lower body muscles.

How to do a squat:

  1. Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-distance apart.

  2. Lower your hips as if you’re about to sit in a chair. Go as low as you can, or until your thighs are parallel with the ground.

  3. Push your feet down, and squeeze your glutes and abs as you stand back up.

  4. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

2. Incline push-up

Stephanie Mellinger

Push-ups are great because they combine the benefits of planks while also improving upper body strength. Adding an incline to a traditional push-up can help take some of the pressure off of your upper body so that you can build up strength to do a push-up with your hands on the ground. You’ll feel this move mainly in your chest, arms and abs.

How to do an incline push-up:

  1. Place your hands a little wider than your shoulders on an elevated surface, such as a bench.

  2. Pull your belly button toward your spine to engage your core — don’t let your lower back arch.

  3. Bend your arms and lower your chest toward the bench as low as you can. Your body should look like an arrow, with your elbows about 45 degrees away from your sides.

  4. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

3. Glute bridge

Stephanie Mellinger

The glutes are our biggest muscle group. Keeping them strong can also help stabilize our hips and pelvis and potentially reduce or prevent lower back pain. This move also works on strengthening your core.

How to do a glute bridge:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your arms should be straight down your sides, and your heels should almost touch your fingertips.

  2. Pull your belly button toward your spine to help align your pelvis and activate your core muscles.

  3. Push your heels into the floor as you slowly lift your hips off the ground.

  4. Hold for one second, and then slowly lower until your back is back on the ground.

  5. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

4. Superman

Stephanie Mellinger

Most of us live life in a forward-rounded posture: hunched over our computers and rounded over our phones. The superman exercise works the upper back, shoulders, glutes and abs to help improve posture and potentially reduce or prevent neck and lower back pain.

How to do a superman:

  1. Lie on your stomach with your arms over your head forming a “Y” shape with your upper body (for an easier modification, create a “W” shape with your upper body instead by bending your elbows in a bit).

  2. Lift your arms and thighs off the ground and hover them a few inches above the ground. This doesn’t have to be a huge movement, so don’t worry if you can’t lift them very high.

  3. Hold for 3 seconds.

  4. Slowly lower back to the ground and repeat.

  5. Do 3 sets of 10.

5. Lateral lunge

Stephanie Mellinger

I love exercises that move us laterally (to the side) because most of us live life in a forward plane of motion, such as walking. This calisthenics exercise strengthens muscles we may not normally use. You’ll feel this move in your glutes, quads and inner thighs.

How to do a lateral lunge:

  1. Take a large step toward your right and bend only your right knee as you lower yourself toward the ground. Your left leg should remain straight.

  2. Similar to the squat, lower your hips as if you’re about to sit in a chair. Go as low as you can, or until your right thigh is parallel with the ground.

  3. Push off of your entire right foot (not just the ball of your foot), and bring your feet back together.

  4. Do 10 on your right side, and then repeat on your left side.

  5. Do 3 sets of 10 reps on each side.

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