The biggest myth with bodyweight exercises is that it’s difficult to make the calisthenics workout more challenging which is why we created this calisthenics progression guide.
When you use weights you can simply add weight.
When you use your own body weight most people just do more reps or exercise harder.
Yet in order to reach your muscle-building goals, you need to do low reps.
So how do we stay in low rep ranges without “adding weight”?
Answer: Do More Advanced Exercises
Advanced Exercises Build Strength When Using Your Own Body Weight
When you choose a calisthenics exercise that is challenging, you’ll automatically stay in a low rep range.
As you get stronger the number of reps increase.
If you lift weights it’s easy, right?
Just grab heavier weights as your muscle gets stronger.
Yet when you use bodyweight exercises this presents a problem.
You can’t make push-ups harder in the same way you can make a bench press harder, ie- adding weight.
However, you can make your calisthenics workout harder in other ways by incorporating more challenging exercises like a handstand push-up.
The Calisthenics Progression Guide is designed to help you build mass and strength by progressing from one exercise to the next.
How Long Does It Take To Progress In Calisthenics?
How long it takes you to progress with calisthenics training depends on your weight, your diet, and the training frequency in which you do your workout routine.
It also depends on your goals and exactly what progress might look like for you.
To go from overweight to jacked will probably take years of daily bodyweight training to lose fat build muscle.
Similarly, if you are super skinny with no muscle, you’ll need the same type of dedication with your calisthenics training to start building muscle.
If you are already in shape and just looking to take it to the next level, it could take 6-12 months to see results from your calisthenics program.
But if your calisthenics progress is more focused on strength, range of motion, and improving your overall calisthenics skills you may be able to reach your goals much faster.
There is more to being healthy than having huge muscles, though that is one of the main reasons people do bodyweight training.
How To Use This Calisthenics Progression Guide in 3 Easy Steps
Step 1: Find out your exercise level (see levels below).
Try the body weight exercises from each category and award yourself the corresponding points if you can do that exercise for 12 reps (30 seconds if it’s a static hold).
Don’t award yourself points for exercises below that difficulty just the exercise where you can complete 12 reps in good form.
The goal here is to simply find your level of ability for each of your body’s muscle groups.
For example, in the Chest Category, I can do 12 reps of Uneven Push-Ups.
That means I would award myself 7 points and move on to the next category, NOT points for each exercise below the Uneven Push-Up.
Step 2: Once you have a point value for each category add them up together.
Locate your category below:
- Bodyweight Grasshopper: 0-13
- Bodyweight Ambassador: 14-27
- Bodyweight Warrior: 28-38
- Bodyweight Jedi: 38-51 (This is where I am at with a score of 44.)
- Bodyweight Sensei: 51-67
Step 3: Make a list of the calisthenics exercises from each category that is just above the level of difficulty that you are currently at and start working on it.
Call it your Calisthenics Progression List.
This will keep you motivated for your upcoming training session plus get you used to new calisthenics movements and build muscle.
There are a lot of tutorials that are designed to help you so follow them and continue to build up strength and size by staying a low rep range.
Calisthenics Progression Guide For Every Major Body Part
This calisthenics progression is laid out in order of easiest to hardest.
Remember that the goal is to work out in the rep range of 8-12.
Once you can get to 12 reps of a certain exercise it’s time to try the next exercise.
Chest Calisthenics Progression Exercises
Incline Push-Ups (1 Point)
This is a beginner chest body weight exercise that works mostly the lower part of the chest muscle.
If you are just starting out on your fitness journey this is the perfect option.
You can use a wall or bench or whatever elevated surface you can find.
What’s up Tommy Clifford (He’s the guy in the video… one of my childhood friends who now does Iron Man Tri’s).
Push-Ups on Knees (2 Points)
Ah, the traditional “girly push up”.
Although with some of the girls that follow SOA I’d be careful who you say this to.
When you put your knees on the ground it takes a lot of the strain off of your chest muscles.
So if you are a beginner then start here.
Regular Push-Ups (standard) (3 Points)
I think everyone knows the classic push-up.
Make sure your back is straight and you go through a full range of motion.
Wide Push-Ups (4 Points)
This exercise is similar to the standard push up but you’ll be positioning your arms out wider at about 1 1/2 times the width of your shoulders.
Decline Push-Ups (5 Points)
Now we are really starting to step up our game.
Find something to put your feet on like a chair or couch.
Then crank out your push-ups.
The decline allows you to focus on the upper portion of your chest and build your upper body strength.
It also puts more of your own body weight on your upper body with the help of gravity.
If you are looking for that extra lift in your pecs then this is the perfect exercise.
Dips w/Elbows Out (6 Points)
Dips are one of my favorite chest exercises.
Find some parallel bars at the local park or get some chairs and do them off of the backrests or the seat (if it’s high enough).
Make sure your elbows are pointed out. This will shift the focus from your triceps to your chest.
Uneven Push Up (7 Points)
Get in the same position as the normal push-up but shift your weight over to one side.
You can either put your hand on an object like how you see in the video or you can simply shift your weight to one side.
One Arm Push Ups (8 Points)
If you have successfully made it through the 70/30 – 90/10 splits then it’s time to work on the one-arm push-up.
If you still can’t quite do a single rep of the one-arm push-ups try holding it in certain positions as a static exercise.
For example, hold the top position as long as you can.
This isometric will engage the same muscles as the normal one-arm push-up and get you prepared for the full exercise.
Tuck Planche (9 Points)
I love this exercise.
It’s more of a strength exercise and less of a muscle mass exercise but I had to throw it in because it is still challenging.
You can either do these on the p bars or on the ground.
Make sure that you lean far enough forward for your weight to be balanced.
Also, make sure to keep your arms straight.
Tuck Planche Push-Ups (10 Points)
This exercise is just like the Tuck Planche but you’ll be doing Push-Ups.
Try to not let your body swing forward too much otherwise you’ll just be doing the standard dip exercise.
Planche (11 Points)
This is a super hard exercise that relies on whole-body strength as well as the chest muscles.
There are moves that seem to defy the laws of gravity and this is certainly one of them.
Planche Push-Ups (12 Points)
If you get to the point where the planche starts to get easy go for planche push-ups.
It will take it up several notches.
Planche on Rings (Maltese) (13 Points)
And the kingpin of all chest bodyweight exercises…?
Few people on the planet have the patience and determination to master this move.
It is very much a “gymnastic” move but if you have a set of rings you’ll be to practice this move too.
Your Score For Chest: ___
Shoulders Calisthenics Progression Exercises
Plank with Knees On Ground (1 Point)
When you are first starting to strengthen your shoulders this is a great exercise to start you off.
Hold it for as long as you can.
Once you can hold it for 30 seconds try the standard plank.
Plank (2 Points)
The plank is a great exercise for strengthening not just your shoulders but your entire body.
Make sure you keep your back straight so you don’t put undue strain on your low back.
Frog Push-Up (3 Points)
We’re going to quickly ramp up here. 😉
Frog Push-Ups are no easy bodyweight move.
You’ll feel it quickly on your shoulders.
Supported Handstands Holds (4 Points)
Doing handstands against a wall is a great method of learning the unsupported handstand.
Prop yourself up against a wall and hold the position as long as you can.
Supported Handstand Push-Ups (5 Points)
If you have shoulder problems then I would stop with the Supported Handstand Holds.
This exercise will really challenge the strength of your shoulders.
Try to go as low as you can.
Handstand Holds (6 Points)
The exercise is as much about balance as it is about strength.
It may take several months before you can hold yourself without the wall.
But don’t worry.
The time will pass quickly if you focus on your goal.
Handstand Push-Ups on Parallettes (8 Points)
Most people see this type of handstand push-up as harder than doing them on the ground.
Yet I actually find them easier.
However, I put them here because most people find them more difficult.
One Arm Handstand (9 Points)
This is the ultimate shoulder exercise.
Just like the handstand it also requires extreme balance.
Iron Cross (10 Points)
The Iron Cross is not only a brutally hard exercise but also an aesthetically pleasing move.
I can’t do it yet but someday I will!
Your Score For Shoulders: ___
Biceps Calisthenics Progression Exercises
Supported Chin-Ups (1 Point)
If you can’t do an unsupported chin-up then this is a great option for you.
Place your feet on a stool or chair as you do your chin-up.
Some of your weight will transfer to the chair which will make the exercise easier.
Chin-Ups (2 Points)
Once you can do 12 supported chin-ups it’s time to work on the normal chin-up.
Make sure you go through a full range of motion with this one.
Wide Grip Chin-Ups (3 Points)
This chin-up will be a little harder than the normal chin-up.
Try to keep your hands out at least 1 1/2 times shoulder width. (Note: Ideally the hands in the video should be a full underhand grip.)
Uneven Chin-Ups (4 Points)
This is my favorite way of making sure that you fatigue your muscle group within a low rep range.
Adjust the amount of weight in your arms so that they are uneven and more difficult for the arm that has more weight in it.
Front Lever Chin-Ups (5 Points)
This exercise is going to be engaging your core and lats way more than any other chin-up.
(Note: In the video, he shows a modified version of what I am talking about. My definition of front lever chin-up is where you actually hold the front lever continuously and still do a chin-up.)
One Arm Chin-Ups (6 Points)
This chin-up is very difficult.
I have yet to master them.
Your Score For Biceps: ___
Triceps Calisthenics Progression Exercises
Tricep Dips (1 Point) -This is the classic tricep exercise. Make sure you keep your elbows tight to your body.
Side Tricep Raises (2 Points)– I first learned this exercise from Tony Horton of P90X. It’s a great bodyweight isolation exercise for the triceps that isn’t too hard. Lay on your left side. Place your right hand on the ground by your left chest muscle. Keep your elbow tight to your body and push your upper body upwards. Repeat on the other side.
Close Grip Push Ups (3 Points)– This is basically a normal push up but your hands will be closed in. Make sure your elbows are brushing your sides as you go up and down. That’s the key to making it a tricep exercise and not as much a chest exercise.
Dips w/ Elbows Tucked In (4 Points)– Most people know the dip but few remember to keep their elbows tucked in. This is so important to make sure that this exercise is kept as a tricep exercise instead of shifting the focus to your chest.
Uneven Dips (5 Points) – You know that I am a huge fan of bodyweight distribution, right? Well, I am. Almost any exercise can be adapted to make it harder by shifting your weight. And Uneven Dips are a perfect example. Start off in the normal dip position (shown in the picture) but shift your weight over to one side. This will put more strain on that tricep muscle. (Note: the video does not show what I am talking about but shows a normal dip.)
Your Score For Triceps: ___
Back Calisthenics Progression Exercises
Incline Pull Up (1 Point) – Get in the normal pull up position but instead of dangling your legs, place them on a chair or stool. Some of your weight will be distributed to the chair and make the exercise easier.
Kipping Pull Up (2 Points) – “You’re using momentum! Your cheating!” Not with Kipping Pull-Ups. You’re supposed to use momentum with this exercise. 😉 This is a fun pull-up exercise that requires your to swing up the bar.
Pull Up (3 Points) – Yep, the classic. Need I say more? Yes, I must. The only thing I want to say here is that you should be focusing on your lats as you pull up. Visualize bringing your elbows down into your back. This will help you take the focus off of your biceps and put it into your back.
Eccentric Pull Up (4 Points) – Eccentrics are the Ace-Up-The-Sleeve exercise for building hypertrophy. Use this exercise to develop a nice wide v shape in your back.
Around the World Pull Up (5 Points) – These are a super fun way of spicing up your pull-ups. Make sure that you get as high and as low as you can. This increased ROM will help tear more muscle tissue.
Archer Pull Up (6 Points) – The Archer Pull Up is a challenging pull-up because you are essentially staying in the up position. Try your best to do as many reps as you can.
Uneven Pull Up (7 Points) – If you have read up to this point you should not be surprised at all that this exercise is in the mix.
Assisted One Arm Pull Up (8 Points) – With this pull up you are using mostly one arm to get up. You grab the bar with one hand than grab your wrist/forearm with the other. You then pull yourself all the way up.
One Arm Pull Up (9 Points) – This is just like the one-arm chin-up except you will have an overhand grip and not an underhand grip.
Your Score For Back: ___
Core Calisthenics Progression Exercises
Crunches (1 Point) – I think most people know the crunch. Make sure your shoulders don’t touch the ground and try to curl just your abs. Don’t engage your hip flexors by coming all the way up like a sit-up.
Sit Ups (2 Points) – Sit-Ups are only slightly harder than a crunch because you are coming all the way up. Make sure to not let your shoulders touch the ground.
Leg Lifts (3 Points) – Our old grade school football coach made us do these until we were blue in the face. Try to get at least 5 and move on.
Flutter Kicks (4 Points) – This exercise will work both your abdominal region and hip flexors.
V Ups (5 Points) – Start off by laying on the ground with your arms extended above you. Lift your arms and legs simultaneously. Then come back down.
Hanging Sit Ups (6 Points) – It will probably be hard to find a “non-gym” place to do these. Yet my friend and I used to do them off the back of bleachers.
Windshield Wipers (7 Points) – This exercise is just like hanging leg raise however you will be bringing them down on each side like the windshield wipers of your car.
Hanging Leg Raises (8 Points) – Hang from a bar and lift your legs up as high as you can. My buddy Pavil will show you how in the video.
L Sit (9 Points) – I do these on the p bars all the time. You can do them on the ground though too. Make sure your arms are locked and your legs are as straight as you can get them.
Dragon Flag (10 Points) – Remember Rocky cranking out dragon flags? This move is a KILLER for the abs! Gotta try these.
Human Flag (13 Points) – The Human Flag works the core and shoulders a ton. I can’t do them yet but it is certainly on my list! Honestly, I could have just as easily added this exercise to the shoulder section but decided to put them here.
Your Score For Core: ___
Legs Calisthenics Progression Exercises
Wall Sit (3 Points) – Do you remember your gym teacher telling you to do these? I remember being tortured by ours’ because he would make us do wall sits for what seemed like forever.
Falling Tower (5 Points) – Some people say you can’t isolate certain leg muscles using just bodyweight exercises. Well, this exercise isolates the quads and is brutal. Make sure that you do NOT hinge at your hips, only your knees. Also, try to get back as far as you can.
Harop Curl (7 Points) – Most people don’t know this one. If you can do it even for 5 reps going all the way down… I am very impressed. 🙂
Duck Walks (8 Points) – My buddy and I used to do these around the track. I would start off doing duck walks for 100 yards and then he would take over and do duck walks for 100 yards. We would keep alternating until we fell to the ground. It really is a blaster.
Shrimp Squat (9 Points)– Al Kavadlo made this one famous. It’s similar to the pistol squat but your leg is behind you.
Pistol Squat (10 Points)– My absolute FAVORITE leg exercise of all time. It takes balance, flexibility, and strength. The ultimate combination.
Your Score For Legs: ___
Now add up your total score from each category (Chest Score + Shoulder Score + Bicep Score + Tricep Score + Back Score + Core Score + Leg Score = Total Score) and check your level!
Here are the levels again…
- Bodyweight Grasshopper: 0-13
- Bodyweight Ambassador: 14-27
- Bodyweight Warrior: 28-38
- Bodyweight Jedi: 38-51
- Bodyweight Sensei: 51-67
So how did you do?
Once you find out your level share it in the comments below…
Remember that the cool thing about bodyweight exercises is that you only have to change your body position to exercise harder.
By putting your body in different positions you also start to strengthen multiple muscle groups and become strong enough to do more advanced calisthenics exercises.