12 Calisthenics Exercises You Need to Know

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the amount of calisthenics exercise options? Not sure where to start? Honestly, I feel that way too. When that happens, resort back to these 12 calisthenics skills and exercises. They will keep your training focused, fun and challenging for years. *Bookmark this page for easy reference.*

I’m Summerfunfitness. I am a self-taught calisthenics athlete, meaning I started teaching myself calisthenics without any gymnastics experience (or a teacher). Now, I’m focused on helping others learn how to master their own body weight through calisthenics training.

Teaching My Friend Calisthenics

My friend Ryan asked me how to get started in calisthenics, so I took this as the perfect opportunity to teach him and you some beginner options of advanced skills. 

Ryan was a skateboarder, is extremely active, is of a healthy weight, and is quite flexible, so although he hadn’t done many of these calisthenics exercises before, he may learn them faster than you because of his history, and that’s okay! I can confidently say that Ryan learned many of these skills faster than I did.

pistol squat progressions

What if the Beginner Calisthenics Exercises Are Too Hard?

✨Please note that you have to work towards becoming a calisthenics beginner

If someone asked me to play a beginner song on a piano, to ollie (a beginner skateboarding trick), or to solve a beginner coding problem, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Why? Because I have yet to practice or develop the skills needed to call myself a beginner.

If you can’t do the first progression, set it as your long-term goal and work towards it. Setting a calisthenics beginner exercise as your goal is far more attainable then only focusing on the advanced progressions.

Calisthenics Exercises, Part 1

1. Skin the Cat

Mobility, Calisthenics Pulling Exericse

If you’ve done some of my workouts, you’ll know that I am a HUGE fan of skin that cats as they improve your shoulder mobility, tendon and joint strength, coordination,  grip strength and more.

As a beginner, work on active hangs first. Once you feel confident in your grip strength, start incorporating hanging knee raises. When you’re ready to try the full thing, make sure you can easily jump down from the bar and have a spotter to support you. Cross at the ankles and bend your arms slightly to pull through. From there, only lower as far down as you can pull back up.

Treat Skin the Cats as an exercise until they become easy; when that happens, move them to the warm-up portion of your workout.

As you progress, extend into a “German Hang,” which is the position shown below.

Advanced vs Beginner Skin the Cat  Video >

skin the cat progression<br />

2. High Pull-Ups

Beginner Bar Muscle Up Progression

If muscle-ups are your long-term goal, the most beneficial exercise you can do is high pull-ups. But of course, you first need to be able to do at least 8 regular pull-ups. If you’re at less than 2 pull-ups, follow my guide on how to do pull-ups. 

Perform a few reps without the band each session. Once you get tired, use the band to complete your reps. 

Working on explosive power takes some time, the band helps me to pull faster – but only if I also pair it with bodyweight high pulls as well.

How to Muscle-Up >

hollow body progression

3. Tucked Planche

Beginner Tucked Planche Progressions

I am only just starting my planche journey (many years into training). It’s true that to be a beginner at planche, you already have to be incredibly strong. I’m currently at the beginner variation of a full planche, which is the tucked planche (pictured below).

If planche is your long term goal, and you’re new to calisthenics, start with learning a crow pose on p-bars(discount summerfitness10), then move to a crane pose (similar to a crow pose but with straight arms).

The difficulty level between a crow and a crane pose is quite significant so just know that it will take some time – as with most straight-arm calisthenics exercises.

tucked planche crow pose

4. Hollow Body Holds

Fundamental Calisthenics Exercise

The hollow body or “dish” position is CRUCIAL to getting good at calisthenics as it is used in many skills such as front levers, planches, handstands and more. When in doubt, work on your hollow body.

Perform hollow body holds at the start of a workout to reinforce the body shape (often called a position drill), then at the end of the workout to improve core strength.

Start with your arms and legs slightly extended, then bring them in as you get tired. I often start fully extended, then end how Ryan demoed in the image below. 

It’s important to pair hollow body holds with arch body holds for full core control. If you’re learning how to handstand and you find that your handstand looks more like a banana, practicing these drills will help you pull your arched handstand into a hollow body handstand (ideal shape).

hollow body progression

5. Handstand

Calisthenics Skill Training

Handstands are a gratifying (and frustrating, not going to lie) skill to learn. Training handstand has kept my training fun, challenging and purposeful. Every time I learn a new handstand trick, another unveils itself (one-arm handstands, here I come!) Here is a little handstand routine I took Ryan through just for this video:

wall support handstand variations

Calisthenics Exercises, Part 2

Working on your support holds will help to improve your L-sit/V-sit.

calisthenics girl shows how to do a straight bar support hold

6. Australian Rows 

Fundamental Calisthenics Pulling Exercise 

Rows are a fundamental calisthenics exercises that should be incorporated frequently to create strength and structural balance.

To increase the difficulty, elevate your feet. To decrease the difficulty, elevate your upper body. These can be performed on a TRX, rings, dip bars, or in a squat rack where you can adjust the height of the bar.

Beginners, bend your knees, use your core, and go slow and controlled. Move to a plank version when bent knees becomes easy.

Calisthenics Dip Bars >
(discount code SUMMER)

Australian row progressions

7. Single Arm Elbow Lever 

Calisthenics Skill Training

Performing elbow levers on flat ground dramatically increases the difficulty, so…beginners, start on higher on bars.  Make sure you look in front of you (if you look down, you’re going to go down). Hold your legs in a tucked position, then a diamond position, then move straddle over time. Legs together is the most challenging position. If this is too unattainable, just work on support holds with your knees tucked as well as work on your crow pose.

elbow lever progressions

8. Push-Ups

Fundamental Calisthenics Pushing Exercise

There are many ways to make a push-up harder, such as reverse grip, weighted, extended rom (range of motion) or clapping.

Beginners perform elevated push-ups until you figure out how to maintain a hollow body position while engaging your chest and triceps. If you can only perform 1-2 reps of an elevated push-up, do them against a wall instead or perform the lowering portion (negatives)

Looking to build muscle with push-ups? Do my follow-along push-up routine, beginners included. 

push up progressions

9. V-Sit Progressions

Calisthenics Pull, Core & Shoulder Depression Exercise

A V-sit is a difficult calisthenics skill, especially when done flat on the ground, but it’s not the hardest progression available. Once you’ve achieved the V-sit, begin to work on your manna (I’m not there yet).

Beginner V-Sit Progressions

Start on dip bars with your legs tucked. Focus on pushing down to create extra space between your ears and shoulders (practice scap shrugs). From there, work on lifting and extending your legs. Knees tucked is easier than straight legs. If you don’t have high enough bars, you can always use a foot support while building your strength and flexibility for the L-sit. Once you’ve gotten the L-sit, begin lifting higher into a V-sit.

Skill Sequence: Knees Tucked Elevated L-Sit > Elevated L-Sit > Floor L-Sit > Elevated V-Sit > Floor V-Sit > Manna.

Calisthenics Push-Up Bars >(discount code Summerfitness10)

Calisthenics Dip Bars > (discount code SUMMER)

vsit lsit progressions

Calisthenics Exercises, Part 3

10. Pistol Squat 

Calisthenics Leg Exercise

I worked towards the pistol squat by doing half reps as Ryan demonstrated, performing holds at the most challenging part, doing negatives (just lowering with control, no pushing back up), and working on mobility and quad strength.

Calisthenics No Equipment Leg Workout >

pistol squat progressions

11. Toes to Bar

Calisthenics Hanging Core Exercise

I prefer to do these slow and controlled to improve my V-sits and handstand presses. If your goal is to work on your dynamic skills for Crossfit, then do them swinging. I mainly focus on keeping my toes in front of my body, maintaining depressed scaps, no swinging, straight arms, with my head between my shoulders (no leaning back). I would lean back for a front lever raise, but that’s not what we’re doing here.

Beginners Toes to Bar Progression

Start with a scap pull (pull your scaps down your back, making space between your ears and shoulders), keep your arms straight, lift only as high as you can control, and keep your toes in front of your body at all times to prevent using momentum. If raising your knees is too difficult, hold a dish shape instead (hollow body, toes in front, active hang).

toes to bar progressions

12. Dips

Fundamental Calisthenics Pushing Exercise

I prefer to do an easier version of a “45-degree forward lean dip,” as I’m not quite at the full progression just yet.

Calisthenics Dip Variations:
1. Tricep Dips/Bench Dips
2. Jumping Dips/Negative Dips (go slow on the way down)
3. Regular Dip
4. Forward Lean Dip – Bonus points if you can stay in a lean at the top
5. Korean Dips
6. Walking Dips
7. Straight Bar Dips (I prefer to do these weighted)
8. Russian Dip

Beginners, keep your shoulders directly over your wrists, lower to 90 degrees, and stay light on your feet. Go sloooooow! Stick with the tricep/bench dip variation until you learn how to engage your triceps and core. From there, move to negative dips. Overtime, your shoulder mobility will increase.

dip progressions

Simplify Your Training with these Calisthenics Exercises

Create a strong, mobile, balanced body that’s capable of incredible feats by working towards these 12 calisthenics exercises/skills 💪

1. Skin the Cats
2. High Pull-Ups
3. Tucked Planche/Crane Pose (for Beginners)
4. Hollow Body/ Arch Body Holds
5. Handstands
6. Australian Rows
7. Single Arm Elbow Lever
8. Push-Ups
9. Manna, V-Sit, L-Sit
10. Pistol Squats
11. Toes to Bar
12. Dips

Overwhelmed with Calisthenics Exercises as a Beginner?

When in doubt, always focus on strengthening the fundamentals. Whether a beginner or advanced athlete, you’ll never outgrow working on the basics; you’ll simply be doing harder- or easier versions of them. Here are some calisthenics beginner goals:

  • 15 Elevated Push-ups 
  • 10 Upper Body Elevated Rows
  • 8 Negative Dips 
  • 8 Negative Pull-ups 
  • 30sec Support Holds 
  • 45secHollow Body Holds
  • 45sec Arch Body Holds
  • 60sec Active Hangs

To learn more, check out my Calisthenics Beginner Guide > or do some of my Beginner Calisthenics Workouts >

Home > Complete List of Calisthenics Exercises > 12 Essential Calisthenics Execises