Advanced Calisthenics Upper Body Workout

This advanced calisthenics upper body workout is designed to improve your strength for muscle-ups, handstand push-ups, dragons flags and more. 

This workout, paired with my tucked planche training, made up the bulk of my program for the past 9-weeks. In that time, I increased my pulling capacity, improved my muscle-up, unlocked my first deep handstand push-up and radically improved my planche. To sum up, I feel incredibly strong, and I hope you do, too, after sticking to this workout for a few weeks.

Welcome, I’m Summer or Summerfunfitness. I am a self-taught female calisthenics athlete. I started calisthenics with a dream of holding a 10-second handstand and doing 10 pull-ups. I fell in love with training for what my body could do rather than only focusing on what it looked like.

No longer was I stuck doing the same boring exercises for life (I’m looking at you, bicep curls); instead, I decided that I would continuously work to unlock new skills. While building a strong, athletic, mobile body to create a life filled with movement and play. 

My Calisthenics Workout Spilt

Last year, my training was focused on getting 10 muscle-ups, one arm handstands, better handstand push-ups, and achieving the middle splits. At the time, my calisthenics program was comprised of 6 different workouts. So if I ever missed a workout, I wouldn’t be able to hit that skill again for another week, which left some holes in my training. 

This year, I was forced to radically change my routine to match the demands of my job. Living a busy life filming, writing, creating content and coaching, I wasn’t able to consistently hit my regular workout schedule – since film days take away from my ability to perform my workouts (I have 1-2 film days per week).

So I had to simplify my calisthenics program to ensure I covered my basics. That’s when I introduced my straight arm/bent arm split. 

Types of Calisthenics Workout Splits

When it comes to programming your calisthenics workout split, you have many options based on your goals, availability, and skill level. Firstly, you can draw from traditional workout splits used in the weightlifting community. These include:

  •  push/pull/legs split
  • upper/lower split
  • full body split
  • Bro split (train one body part per day)
  • push/pull split

The only difference is that you would choose calisthenics exercises over weightlifting exercises. Of course, you could also program weighted calisthenics. 

Calisthenics Specific Workout Splits

The other option is to choose from workout splits that are specifically designed for calisthenics. You could focus on skill training, dividing your workouts into drills that help you achieve particular skills (like my Muscle-Up Monday Workout or Handstand Push-Up Day). Here’s an example of a skill-based split:

  • Monday: Muscle-Ups
  • Tuesday: Front Lever
  • Wednesday: Handstand Push-Ups
  • Thursday: Full Body
  • Friday: Handstand Press

In the example above, you wouldn’t just be doing the main skill during the workout; instead, you would choose exercises that help you achieve that skill. IE, on Handstand Push-Up Day, you’d do many pushing drills; on Muscle-Up Day, you’d do a combo of pull-ups and dips. To see an example of a skill-based split, check out my calisthenics 5-day-a-week post. I followed this type of workout split for a long time; I enjoyed this as it provided a clear purpose and reason behind all my exercises. 

And then, there’s the Bent Arm/ Straight Arm split solely used by calisthenics athletes (to my knowledge, anyway).

a week of workouts

Bent Arm/Straight Arm Split

Bent arm days are when you train dynamic movements with your arms bent (pretty straight forward 😝).  These types of movements make up the average person’s entire workout routine. In calisthenics, bent arm exercises include:

  • push-ups
  • pull-ups
  • bent arm holds
  • handstand push-ups
  • bent arm planche push-ups
  • dips…etc

Then, on your straight arm day, you perform exercises with straight arms. These exercises are less common in a regular workout routine but are well-known in the calisthenics community.

Straight arm exercises include:

  • front levers
  • back levers
  • human flags
  • v-sits
  • planche
  • handstands..etc.

Why I Switched to a Straight/Bent Arm Calisthenics Routine

I decided to switch to a straight arm/bent arm calisthenics split to strengthen my fundamentals while still pursuing new skills (like deep handstand push-ups, better muscle-ups, and planches). This simplified training method meant I would slowly improve all skills – even if I missed a workout. Whereas with my skill-based split, if I missed a workout due to filming, I’d have to wait another week to work on it. 

So for 9 weeks, I decided to test out this new schedule in which I did 2 straight-arm days and 2 bent arm days per week. The other two days focused on handstands and any areas I missed that week (like stretching or legs). 

Today’s workout was my first bent arm day of the week. To see my first straight arm day of the week, click here. On the second bent arm and straight arm days, I decreased the accessory work, focused on the main drills, and added some leg exercises and handstand training. Or I did the same routine at a lower volume. 

Over the 9 weeks, I saw a massive improvement in my overall strength. I achieved a piked straddle planche, 1 deep handstand push-up, improved my human flag, and can now easily rep out wide pull-ups. Oh, and I achieved my stalder press to handstand. 

Weighted Calisthenics

When I started this blog in Feb 2021, I wasn’t doing ANY weighted calisthenics. If you read my “how to combine weights and calisthenics” post, you would know that up until that point, I had always just chosen to do harder progressions of the skills instead of adding weight. 

But then, I hit a point in my training where it was time to focus on pure strength and revisit the calisthenics fundamentals to become a better athlete. And the easiest way to do that was to add weight to the basic moves like push-ups, pull-ups, rows, dips and lower body mobility training. Until now, I mainly enjoyed hypertrophy rep ranges and had yet to do a strength training phase, so it was time. Plus, my upper body had grown to a point where none of my sports bras fit anymore, so I was keen to build strength at this size but not grow any larger (I HATE shopping). 

 And thus, this workout was born.

Should Beginners Do Weighted Calisthenics?

How do you know you’re ready to add weight to your calisthenics training? Technically, you COULD add weight even before you’ve achieved the full progression of a movement; For example, you COULD do weighted negative pull-ups or weighted negative push-ups, but it’s not what I would recommend.

Firstly, focus on mastering the basics (10 pull-ups, 20 dips, 20+ push-ups..etc), then add weight or increase the intensity by choosing a harder progression.

If you don’t care about skill acquisition and just want to get stronger, add weight to the basic movements. If you want to gain skills, mix in both weighted calisthenics exercises and harder exercise progressions. For example, when push-ups become easy, try feet-elevated push-ups, clapping push-ups, pike push-ups, archer push-ups..etc. Or, when pull-ups become easy, try high pull-ups, archer pull-ups or behind-the-neck pull-ups.

Testing My Max Weighted Pull-Ups

Halfway through my 9 week calisthenics program, I decided to test my max weighted pull-ups for the very first time. What do you think I did? Guess then watch the video below!

Calisthenics Upper Body Workout

 Hitting a plateau in your calisthenics strength training? Try this weighted upper body calisthenics workout to improve your fundamental strength for muscle-ups, handstand push-ups and more.

Today’s workout is ideal for those who can do 10+ strict pull-ups, 20 dips and can a 1-minute hollow body hold. 

Not yet at this level? Check out my free beginner upper body calisthenics workouts >

1. Warm-Up
10+ Mins

2. Weighted Pull Ups
4 reps x 5 sets 2 mins rest.

When doing weighted pull-ups, I often like to superset with lower body mobility to make the most out of the session. During the 2 minutes of rest time I’ll often hold a horse stance, an active middle split or a pancake hold. 

girl demonstrates incline tricep push ups at park

3. Banded High Pull-Ups
10 reps x 3 sets

calisthenics athlete showing the difference between a crow and crane pose

4. EROM HSPU Negatives
3 reps x 6-8 second lowers x 3-4 sets.
You can do these against a wall as well.

calisthenics athlete showing the difference between a crow and crane pose

4. Weighted Australian Rows
6 reps x 3 sets

calisthenics athlete showing the difference between a crow and crane pose

5. Dragon Flags
10 full reps + max out of tuck to half lay 2-3 sets

calisthenics athlete showing the difference between a crow and crane pose

Upper Body Calisthenics Workout

Stick with this workout for a few weeks until you start to see a decrease in your capabilities, at that point, take a deload week and readdress your training. Which is what I’m doing as I write this blog. Active resting is not my favourite, but it is needed.

If you’re curious as to what my straight-arm upper-body calisthenics workout looks like, check out my “Learning how to Planche” page where I outline the entire workout I’ve been following.

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