There is no need to limit yourself to the same boring old push-up’s, pull-ups and squats, I have always believed in the old-fashioned way of training using just a good bodyweight workout. The lack of distractive elements make calisthenics feel like a more pure and dignified art form as being badass training methodology.
Traditional staples like squats, push-ups. pull-ups and dips will never be pushed to the side but there are several other exercises and variations that you should include in your regimen if you want to gain strength, power and overall gains.
It is a great idea to keep building around the basics as they can give you a lifetime of viable training, however, the exercises that I have written here will challenge your body in unique ways and give you results you might not otherwise get.
I am going to take the assumption that you already do push-ups and dips, these are classics for a reason, they work. If you feel like you have reached a sticking point, especially due to your triceps then take a look at the skullcrusher.
The normal skullcrusher is a triceps extension exercise performed lying on a bench and using external resistance like a barbell or dumbbell. This rulebook gets thrown out the window when you do a bodyweight skullcrusher. Perform the same movement pattern but only use your body, leveraged against a horizontal bar. Employing this change means you will smash not only your triceps but also your abs, chest, shoulders and back as well as you no longer rely on the bench for stability.
Start out in a narrow-grip push-up position, arms shoulder-width apart or slightly closer with your hands on a bar or other elevated surface. Keep your hands close together and your elbows facing downwards to keep emphasis on the triceps. Only bend at the elbows, not the shoulders and lower your upper body down until your forehead is between your hands. Press from the triceps and push yourself back up. The lower the incline is, the more challenging the exercise will be.
When it comes to vertical pulling exercises in an urban environment, the main focus is usually on pull-ups using an overhand, wide grip. With so much attention focused on this pull it is easy to forget about the close-grip chin-up which is great move in it’s own right.
Some people who specialize in bodyweight training will tell you that no exercises emphasize the biceps, well to that I say try 3 sets of 15 close-grips chins and let’s speak again. The underhand grip allows you to recruit your biceps to a much greater degree while the overhand grip places more engagement to your upper back muscles, both exercises do hit the arms and lats. Close-grip chin-ups are the perfect mate for skullcrushers as the two moves emphasize antagonistic muscle groups while smashing your core. When combined, they work together in building a balanced, symmetrical upper body.
To do a close-grip chin-up, grip an overhead bar with your palms close together, facing you. Brace your full body as you pull your chest towards the bar, pull down and back, making sure to focus on the acute bend in your arms. Now lower yourself back down with control, keeping your abs engaged in order to avoid swinging. You should keep your legs straight and squeezed together for the full range of motion.
You are not strong without strong legs, this is true for calisthenics and any other form of strength training. The shrimp squat which is also known as the skater squat is a unilateral leg exercise that is similar to a back lunge but with a difference. In this exercise, you keep your rear foot elevated rather than placing it on the ground. This small change puts a large muscular burden on one leg at a time so make sure to train both sides equally.
Start by standing on one foot with the opposite leg positioned behind you and bent at the knee. Slowly bend at the hip, knee and ankle of the standing leg and lower your back knee until it gently touches the ground. You will need to lean forward in order to maintain your balance at the bottom position. Now press with the foot of your standing leg and return to the top position.
I would recommend performing shrimp squats whilst grasping your elevated ankle with one hand or you can do it with both hands behind you. The latter variant puts more weight onto your heel and shifts the balance against you making the exercise a lot more difficult. Shrimp squats also provide a deep stretch to the quadriceps and hip flexors of the rear leg so take it slow if you have any flexibility issues.
Sit-ups are great in whatever method you use and are a staple for many people but if you want to increase the difficulty without adding weight then you can just make an adjustment on the leverage.
Windshield wipers place your body in a vertical position thus creating a mechanical disadvantage against gravity, they also limit your points of contact to just your hands and really alter the range of motion, this is a lot of bang for your buck.
Start out by hanging from a bar or other surface with your hands in an overhand grip. Lift your shins all the way to the bar, keeping your legs straight and together, it can be helpful to imagine pushing the bar down towards your shins. The bar will not move but you will, make sure you squeeze hard to help maintain control.
When you reach the top, start rotating your trunk so that your legs move towards one side and then the other. The twisting movement emphasizes your obliques and serratus muscles. Do your best to avoid bending your elbows when performing windshield wipers, a mild kink may be unavoidable at first.
The first time you do a windshield wiper you may not be prepared for how much upper body strength you need so brace yourself. The exercise is harder than it looks and is not just an abs exercise. There is a lot of upper body pulling involved so be ready to work your whole body.
There are many times with fitness where we ignore muscles that are not seen. There is nothing wrong with training for aesthetic goals, we have all done that but it is also important to be strong in the muscles you can’t see working in the mirror, things like the hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors.
Bridges are a great way to achieve this, they are more associated with yoga rather than strength training but make no mistake, the single-leg bridge builds spectacular strength in the posterior area.
Start your single-leg bridge by lying on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms at your sides, palms down. Press your feet into the floor, raising your hips into the air as high as possible, squeezing your glutes. Lift one foot above your hips with the elevated leg perpendicular to the ground. You will have to press very hard with your grounded foot to keep your body up in the air but be certain to train both sides evenly.
Your shoulders do receive a proper workout from push-ups, pull-ups and planks but when you do handstand push-ups you then enter a new realm where the primary mover is now the shoulders.
Even people who are adept at pressing huge loads on the military press are usually surprised when they attempt handstand push-ups. Like the bodyweight skullcrusher, the exclusion of a bench or other external stabilizer means you have to keep a tight body so you can brace and support yourself.
You can start by kicking up into a handstand against the wall. Be sure that your elbows are locked at the start to help prevent any unfortunate mishaps and then lower yourself down until the top of your head comes in contact with the ground. Now, push yourself back up, keeping your entire body taut the whole time. Next, engage your glutes and abs in order to avoid bending your back excessively and try not to flare out your elbows. You can also do this exercise with a narrower grip for additional triceps emphasis.
Once you put any of these moves into your program, you will definitely rock your body in unprecedented ways. If you have found yourself at a plateau, physically or mentally then these might be the thing to light the inspirational fire you have been seeking from your workouts.
Give these bodyweight workouts a try and push for even greater results than before.
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