5 Calisthenic Exercises Every Lifter Should Master

Lee Boyce
Written By: Lee Boyce
September 16th, 2016
Updated: June 13th, 2020
35.9K Reads
5 Calisthenic Exercises Every Lifter Should Master
You've excelled at the squat, bench,& deadlift, but can you do the 5 body weight exercises every lifter should master? Read on to find out what they are.

Pardon me for a second while I talk about what no one wants to hear, but everyone should be doing.

Bodyweight training is something most lifters write off as an introductory tool that they’re too advanced for.

The truth is, it’s probably the most important part of your foundation, and the one area intermediate lifters seem to lose proficiency at in the fastest time.

That’s why we’ve found it important enough to post on a strength and bodybuilding website. Don’t worry, we’re not turning you into gymnasts.

But there are still benefits from taking a page out of their book when it comes to developing the necessary core strength, mobility, and bodyweight control necessary for being strong and stable at the basics. 

That’s the point of this, and why these 5 moves should be incorporated in your program.

Exercise 1: Push-Ups

Does it sound surprising that this exercise tops the list? Every person reading this probably thinks that these are too basic of a tool to put into their program. Everyone knows how to do them, but how many actually continue to practice them?  At my gym and the gyms I meet clients at, it’s a rarity to see lifters hit the deck and crack out push-ups, let alone with respectable technique.

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It’s common thinking to believe that once you have a heavy bench press, you’ve “graduated” from dinky push-ups and moved on to bigger and better things. In truth, they’re more important for the health of the shoulder, core, and even chest compared to any horizontal press movement performed on your back.

Related: 75 Bench Press Tips To Improve Your One Rep Max Strength

To do them correctly, make sure the following checklist is on point:

  • The chin stays tucked with a packed neck. Don’t look up.
  • The hips aren’t piked up too high, nor are they sagging in. They shouldn’t touch the floor first. Keep them in line with the rest of the body.
  • The chest should make it to within a couple of inches of the ground. Don’t stop halfway.
  • Squeeze the glutes and keep the abdominals engaged. The push up is just as much a core exercise as it is a chest and triceps exercise.
  • Push all the way through at the top. Allow the shoulder blades to move away from each other as you finish each rep.

Here’s a visual:

Next workout, try finishing it off with just 3 sets of max rep push-ups, using the form described above. Not only will you be humbled by the confines of good form, but you’ll be surprised at just how much goes into a proper rep.

Exercise 2: Pull Ups

A gymnast’s upper arm and back development are often largely thanks to the cumulative volume of time spent doing pull ups or chin ups, both on their own or as part of a bar routine.

It’s one thing to just do them. It’s quite another to realize that in the strength and conditioning world, these are meant to develop your back muscles. That means there’s a way to do them to reap the benefits they provide in this regard.

Many lifters like to keep a straight, hollow body with engaged abs and pull the entire head over the bar when performing pull ups or chin ups. This wouldn’t be a “cheat” method by any means. In fact, it’s probably one of the most honest ways to perform the exercise.

Unfortunately, if your goal in performing them is to target your lats and trigger some solid breakdown for muscle growth and development, it will benefit you to modify your reps. Applying a back arch can encourage the shoulder blades to be pulled together (retracted) with the help of the upper back muscles contracting.

Get stronger at doing them this way by practicing the rep from the top down using eccentrics:

Exercise 3: Anti – Extension Planks

Planks are in everyone’s routine these days, to the point of redundancy. Many trainees pride themselves on being able to hold a 5 minute plank without realizing they’re accomplishing nothing for their “core strength” when doing them.

During straight planks, the body slowly reaches fatigue. Holding an isometric for longer than a few seconds will result in the strength of contraction to gradually diminish and allow for bad form to sneakily creep in by way of a low back overarch and decreased glute activation.

Adding a dynamic component to the plank (like moving extremities) is a great way to shorten your set time and create more purpose. Doing this with one of the abs’ prime roles of anti-extension creates some serious bang for your buck.

If you read my choices for abs article, you’ll know that I hold the ab wheel rollout in extremely high regard as a prime core staple.

The truth is, some lifters may be too weak to perform these effectively and can’t fully take advantage of the anti-extension benefits they provide. Other alternatives would be Swiss ball rollouts, TRX body saws, and RKC planks, which all keep the lifter on the elbows for a safe but effective regression.

Exercise 4: Hanging Leg Raises

The hanging leg raise beats any crunch or sit up due to the fact that the hanging component promotes decompression of the vertebral joints. Also, since the lower body moves towards the upper body, it gives the thoracic spine a chance to remain neutral and avoid going into flexion while still engaging the abs via trunk flexion.

Focusing on a slow eccentric will help you avoid swinging while performing your reps, and remember not to get trunk flexion confused for hip flexion. This is one of the few lifts where trying to KILL your neutral spine is a smart directive.

Let your lower back round, and attempt to make your butt and back face the front on every rep. It’s okay to lean away from the bar with the head and chest as well.

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Exercise 5: Turkish Get Ups

Ok, these may count more as ground work than an actual calisthenics exercise due to their nature and the fact that they typically require weight, but the message is exactly the same. Simply put, Turkish Get ups belong in a program due to the fact that they help train abdominal activation, thoracic, shoulder and hip mobility, and co-ordination.

Related: 8 Week Muscle Building Bodyweight Workout

These double as a top tier conditioning tool since even a couple of reps per arm will leave you sucking wind. Though there are a series of steps to the movement, it’s easy to segment this lift to different areas of focus that may prove to be a weak point in your lift.

View the full video, and then take a look at some segmenting drills for regression:

Enough with the Big Weight

You’ve been stroking your ego for long enough to know that you’re capable of moving heavy things. But if it all reveals that you look like a chump when it comes to your own body weight, you’ve been wasting some time.

Time to restore your athleticism and let the benefits extend to your weight training.

Wade Race
Posted on: Sat, 05/20/2017 - 08:54

Turkish get ups are not calisthenics if you have an external weight. Allow me
1.Pull ups
3. Handstand pushups
4. Back Bridges
5. Single Leg Squats

Train these 5 and you truly will be on your way to be a calisthenics master!
(Turkish get ups? Really? Calisthenics are BODYWEIGHT)

landon meadows
Posted on: Fri, 10/14/2016 - 22:13

I liked all of the videos. it helped me prepaire