5 Best Calisthenics Exercises for Your Upper Body

Updated on March 28, 2022

Calisthenics workouts are free-body exercises that don’t rely on anything except for a person’s own body weight. The good thing about calisthenics is its simplicity. 

You can perform many of the calisthenics exercises without any equipment. You rely on the weight of your body, pushing against gravity to achieve the results you are looking for

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Best Calisthenics Exercises that can help you Build Upper Body Muscles  

Do you want a well-tone upper body but don’t want to fort out on gym membership or spend countless hours in the gym? If that is your challenge, then, try building your upper body with calisthenics exercises.

In this article, I will recommend to you the best calisthenics exercises that can help you build your upper body muscles. 

The good thing is, you can do many of these exercises using simple calisthenics equipment even at your home. And these calisthenics home gym equipment will not cost you much to acquire.

As stated, you don’t need any expensive fitness equipment for calisthenics exercises. But you can use a few calisthenics equipment such as gymnastic rings and dip bars to help you achieve quicker results, and to push yourself to challenging levels.

You don’t need to get out of your home for any of these exercsies. The only thing you need is motivation and commitment. These are the two things that our muscles crave the most. 

Pull-Ups: Key to the Big Back & Biceps

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When it comes to the strength of your upper body, you can’t neglect your back. And what’s better for your back than a pull-up? You can do pull-ups at home with simple a calisthenics equipment such as a pull-up bar. 

The regular pull-up exercise is a beginner-level exercise. But some beginners struggle to perform pull-ups. If you find yourself in that situation, then, you can start with assisted pull-ups. That can help you develop the pull-up exercise, while at the same time, gain strength in your back muscles. 

Pull-ups come in many variations. Different grips on the pull-up bar help you to target different muscles. 

You can for example, target your back more with a pronated grip. 

Another common variation – chin-ups – helps you in train your biceps. 

Level: Beginner


  1. Primary muscles: Lats and Biceps
  2. Accessory muscles: rhomboids, trapezius, and core

To perform the exercise:

  1. First, you have to hang yourself from a pull-up bar. Initially, you have to keep your elbows and shoulders fully extended; a position called dead hang. 
  2. Depress your shoulder blades to convert into an active hang. 
  3. Driving your elbows towards your hips, pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar.
  4. Lower down yourself while controlling your steady motion. 
  5. Repeat the same process for multiple reps

Push-Ups: Staple for Your Front Torso

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Push-up is an exercise that you can perform without using any calisthenics equipment. Push-ups also provide better stability and zero chances of injury (1). In addition, according to research, plyometric training involving push-ups is better for enhancing your upper body power and strength (6).

Push-ups are the staple for your front torso. They engage your chest, triceps, and shoulders (3). You can change the targeting muscles by changing the position of the hands. For example, a slightly wider hand position targets your chest more. 

One of the common variations is diamond push-ups. This targets your triceps more. You have to place your hands on the ground in close approximation such that the index fingers and thumbs of both hands make a diamond. 

Level: Beginner

Target: Chest (Pectoralis Major) and Triceps

Here’s how you can do push-ups:

  1. Place your arms underneath your body just outside the shoulders, extend your legs, and maintain a straight bodyline.
  2. You then have to lower your body until your chest touches the ground.
  3. You have to maintain a straight bodyline throughout your movement
  4. Your arms should make an angle of 45 degrees with your body in the lower position.
  5. Raise yourself using the strength of your arms and chest. 
  6. Repeat the process for multiple reps

Dips: The Triceps Builder

According to a study, dips can help develop a solid mind-muscle connection with your triceps (2). Thus, if you want to get the triceps of a beast, you’ve got to do this exercise. 

Level: Beginner


  1. Vertical posture: Triceps
  2. Bend-over posture: Chest (Pectoralis Major) 

Dips target your triceps, but they can also target your chest. You can change the target muscle by changing your posture. 

Dips come in many variations. But the one that focuses on your triceps involves the following steps. 

  1. Begin the exercise in a support hold position. It would be best to keep your arms straight in the primary position. 
  2. Keeping your elbows fixed, lower your body until a 90-degree angle forms between your arm and the forearm.
  3. Using the force of your strong triceps, lift your body again to the primary position. 
  4. Repeat the process for multiple reps.


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Plank is one of the best body-weight exercises you can perform at home. It is one of those calisthenics exercises you can use to improve your posture and strength without any significant training equipment (5).

Regular planks focus on the muscles in front of your abdomen. But, if you want to engage more of your oblique, you can go for a side plank (7)

Level: Beginner

Target: Planks will help you engage your core, shoulders, and hip muscles. 

How to do the plank pose

  1. The starting position is like the push-ups, but you have to place your elbows on the ground this time. 
  2. Contract all of your muscles to stabilize your body.
  3. Breathe at an average pace, and feel the tone in your abdominal muscles while breathing.
  4. Hold this position until your body gets fatigued.

Crunches: Get Rid of Your Belly Fat

If you are a beginner, a small dose of crunches once a week can help you develop endurance (4). You wouldn’t need any calisthenics equipment for crunches. But using plates of various weights can help you provide resistance and gain strength. 

Level: Beginner

Target: Upper abdominal muscles

Here’s how you can do crunches in five easy steps:

  1. Lay on the ground keeping your back flat.
  2. Bend your knees to make a 90-degree angle between your thighs and trunk.
  3. Place your hands behind your neck to avoid using unusual momentum from the motion of your hands. 
  4. Keeping your core erect, pull yourself up using your core muscles until your elbows touch your knees.
  5. Slowly move down to the primary position while feeling the stretch on your core muscles.

Trying to get fit does not involve spending much of your valuable time in the gym. You can achieve your fitness goals by working out at home with a few home gym equipment

While some exercises may require some expensive fitness equipment, most calisthenic exercises require no gear or only a few inexpensive calisthenics equipment.

Thus, there is no excuse to delay the start of your fitness journey. Start with calisthenics exercises and you will be on the road to getting the body of your dreams.


1. Alizadeh, Shahab et al. “Push-Ups vs. Bench Press Differences in Repetitions and Muscle Activation between Sexes.” Journal of sports science & medicine vol. 19,2 289-297. 1 May. 2020

2. Bagchi, Amritashish. “A comparative electromyographical investigation of triceps brachii and pectoralis major during four different freehand exercises.” Journal of Physical Education Research 2.2 (2015): 20-27.

3. Calatayud, Joaquin et al. “Muscle Activation during Push-Ups with Different Suspension Training Systems.” Journal of sports science & medicine vol. 13,3 502-10. 1 Sep. 2014

4. Epstein, Leonard H., et al. “A Comparison of Lifestyle Exercise, Aerobic Exercise, and Calisthenics on Weight Loss in Obese Children.” Behavior Therapy, vol. 16, no. 4, 1985, pp. 345–56. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1016/s0005-7894(85)80002-2.

5. Juan-Recio, C et al. “Short-term effect of crunch exercise frequency on abdominal muscle endurance.” The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness vol. 55,4 (2015): 280-9.

6. Leslie, Kelly. L. M., and Paul Comfort. “The Effect of Grip Width and Hand Orientation on Muscle Activity During Pull-Ups and the Lat Pull-Down.” Strength & Conditioning Journal, vol. 35, no. 1, 2013, pp. 75–78. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1519/ssc.0b013e318282120e.

7. Ronai, Peter, and Eric Scibek. “The Pull-Up.” Strength & Conditioning Journal, vol. 36, no. 3, 2014, pp. 88–90. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1519/ssc.0000000000000052.

8. Thomas, E., et al. “The Effects of a Calisthenics Training Intervention on Posture, Strength and Body Composition.” Isokinetics and Exercise Science, vol. 25, no. 3, 2017, pp. 215–22. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.3233/ies-170001.

9. VOSSEN, JEFFERY F., et al. “Comparison of Dynamic Push-Up Training and Plyometric Push-Up Training on Upper-Body Power and Strength.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 14, no. 3, 2000, pp. 248–53. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1519/00124278-200008000-00002.

10. Yetman, Daniel. “The Benefits of a Side Plank and How to Do It Safely.” Healthline, 10 Nov. 2020, www.healthline.com/health/side-plank#:%7E:text=While%20ab%20exercises%20like%20crunches,the%20side%20of%20your%20core.

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