6 Basic Calisthenics Exercises YOU Need for Strength

How to: Push Ups

Keep your core & back straight. For traditional push ups, there should be no exaggerated curve in your back. Your wrists should be in alignment with your shoulders and you should be facing the ground to have your spine remain in a neutral position.

Your typical push ups are either a wide-stance push up with your hands spread past shoulder length or you can do close-stance push ups with your hands brought in closer and your arms tucked into your body.

If you’re struggling with your push ups, you can do knee push ups or incline push ups. For incline, you’re placing your hands on the bench to take some resistance from your body weight. 

If you already have some killer strength, you can make the push ups more advanced by doing some single leg push ups, lifting one into the air. Using the bench, you can also do decline push ups, placing your feet on the bench and adding resistance to your chest day.

How to: Squats

Moving on to traditional squats, find a footing that allows you to go through with the best range of motion. There’s a slight difference in how your feet and knees will be pointed in this stance for your benefit. Your knees should be aligned with your toes in your stance. You want to go down to about parallel, and if you have great flexibility and range of motion (ROM), you can go past parallel until you begin sacrificing your form.

Another exercise that targets your glutes in a different area are the goblet squat or sumo squats. Typically with this, you want to have some sort of weight to hold in front of you. You can use household items for extra resistance. Go down as far as you can, right around parallel. Your toes will be pointed out more dramatically than traditional stance and your knees will generally be aligned with your second toe.

To make this exercise more advanced, you can do pistol squats or assisted pistol squats using a bench. Kick one foot out in front of you, find your balance in the center, and go down slow and controlled on one foot, using a bench as assistance if needed.

For a more cardio-based / plyometric exercise, you can also do jump squats where you push from the heels and jump up and land back down into a squat, repeating this motion. I will typically have clients do this for about 10-20 reps or anywhere from 20-60 seconds depending on their current fitness level.

How to: Lunges

With lunges, you want to step out wide enough that you can bend your front knee to 90 degrees and your back knee bent nearly touching the ground. When you’re coming up, push from the heel of your foot, using the forward leg.

You can do walking lunges, standing lunges, reverse lunges (meaning you step backwards rather than forwards), switch lunges (also referred as jump lunges: the plyometric version), or pulse lunges.

How to: Tricep Dips

You can start with your tricep dips from the ground, sitting in the same position you would for a crab walk, palms facing inward towards the rest of your body and using your arms to lower your body down. You want to feel this in your arms. Some people will treat this as a glute exercise, using their hips to thrust themselves up; don’t do this. The predominant muscle you’re using is the triceps, so you shouldn’t be using your glutes to push yourselves up at all. This should be the deadweight.

The progression of this exercise would be to place your hands on a bench, keeping your feet on the ground and again using your arms to lower yourself down slowly and again to push yourself back up.

How to: Pull ups

With pull ups you can go at a wide grip, grabbing the bar with your palms facing away from your body and positioned past shoulder length. You can do narrow grip, same position, just bringing in your grip closer to shoulder length. You can also do reverse grip, which is where you grab the bar with your palms facing towards you and in the same width-position as you would narrow grip.

You can make this exercise easier with assisted pull ups, which is where you tie some heavy-duty resistance bands around the pull up bar and put your knees or feet on the bands to help pull you upwards. If you don’t have bands, another reliable option is to do deficit pull-ups, where you come up as fast as you can, but lower yourself down to full extension as slowly as possible.

How to: Crunches

There are a million different crunch exercises you can do. Your most common is just a regular crunch: bending your knees and lifting them from the ground with your elbows bent towards your head and using your core to pull you upwards towards your knees.

If you want to work your obliques more with these crunches, you can do some bicycles or bicycle crunches. You’ll be in this same crunch position, but you’ll peddle your feet as if you were riding a bike and use your core to bring one arm closer to the opposite leg.

If you’re burning out on the bicycles, we can do toe taps to work these obliques as well, keeping your feet on the ground and your arms on the side of your body, you’ll use your core to reach the side of your foot with the palm of your hands, alternating each time.

Another popular core exercise which is an advancement of your crunches or sit ups are your leg reaches. Stay lying on your back and kick both legs up in the air, keeping them as straight as possible. I should be able to lie a book flat on your feet while you’re doing these. You’re going to do the same thing with your arms as you did the bicycles in reaching one arm to the opposite leg, but your legs will remain still this time and you’ll just use your core to move your upper body towards your legs.



Lexes O'Hara

Lexes O'Hara is a personal trainer and nutrition coach. Her work philosophy is to teach her clients to, "train, eat, and live like a bad ass." Certifications include NASM CPT and FNS.