Workout Plan

How to Build Upper Body Strength using Calisthenics

Upper Body Calisthenics Workout

Many people think the gym is the only way to get strong, but they’re missing out on the benefits of calisthenics! Not only does it target multiple muscles at the same time, but it also helps to build upper body strength more effectively than traditional exercises like bench presses, bicep curls, and shoulder shrugs. So if you’re looking for a fun and effective way to get stronger, give calisthenics a try!

This blog post will dive into how to get the most from your calisthenics upper body workout. No need for a gym membership – just your body weight and some simple equipment!

If you’re looking for an excellent upper body workout that will increase strength and muscle using only bodyweight training, then you are in the right place!

Calisthenics has become renowned for its superb strength abilities and stunts. So, this routine will provide you with great foundational strength to get those upper body skills on lock, such as straight bar muscle-ups, planches, and levers.

Take note that you still need to hone in on the skill and progress carefully if you want to master the move. This workout will accompany your mission for the skill and, of course, transform you into a greek god in the process.

Upper Body Calisthenics Workout

Get ready to build those biceps and shoulders! This workout is designed to help you reach your strength and muscle development goals through the best calisthenics exercises for your upper body. So let’s get started!

If you’re seeking full-body exercise, you can include a separate leg day or two into your training routine for maximum results.

Be ready to tackle intense workouts to build muscle and strength! Maintain short rest periods between exercises to push your muscles to the limit and get your strength to superhuman levels! 

This entire workout only takes about 30 minutes, so get ready to save some time and build an upper body of steel!

This is an Intermediate Workout

The workout is intermediate, so don’t be demotivated if you cannot do the exercises and routine yet. You’ll get there eventually. However, newbies should first learn the basic movements with the proper progressions for their skill level.

Utilize the Basic Movements

Even if the workout is meant for more experienced athletes, don’t be fooled – basic doesn’t mean easy! However, with the proper structuring of compound exercises and carefully selected bodyweight exercises, you can build muscle, lose weight and develop strength. So get ready to push your body to its limits!

Here’s a fundamental rule we’ll keep referring to with bodyweight training (or when weight training or any other physical fitness discipline): Quality over quantity! Form is everything!

Remember the essential golden rules when performing each exercise. These rules are vital to get the most out of your fitness routine. Despite any level of knowledge, these core rules must be remembered.

Upper-body calisthenics workout diagram
Upper Body Calisthenics Workout Flow

Before you dive into this calisthenics workout, remember to get your body moving and your blood flowing with a proper warm-up. You’ll thank yourself later!

Straight Bar Dips120
Chest Dips120
Incline Push-Ups120
Planks190 Seconds
Moves, sets, and reps for the upper-body calisthenics workout

How to Complete the Upper-Body Calisthenics Workout:

Take a short break between each exercise, then take a 3-minute breather before starting the next round. After that, put your best foot forward and go for the complete four rounds!

Want to add a little weight for your shoulders? Try adding Egyptian lateral raises!

Upper Body Calisthenics Workout: How it’s Done


Your standard back and bicep builder, basic yet still highly effective, is a must-have for an upper-body workout. Start with a dead hang, then activate your lats by depressing your scapulas for a dynamic hang.

In the active hang position, drive your elbows toward your hips. Try to come close to the bar with your chest. You’ll still get a slight arch in your back, which isn’t a significant form mistake. In fact, it enhances your lats activation! Of course, you can still do the pull-ups with a straight body line. However, this will engage your core more than your lats.

Get creative with pull-ups and tailor your workouts to meet your specific goals! For example, chin-ups can help target your biceps, explosive pull-ups can help prepare you for muscle-ups, and L-sit pull-ups with legs straight in the L-sit position can offer an excellent challenge for more advanced athletes.

If you’re having discomfort in your elbow when doing chin-ups, neutral pull-ups are an ideal solution.

How to perform:

  1. Dead hang on a pull-up bar with hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Depress and retract your scapula to move into an active hang position.
  3. Pull your body towards the bar until your chin is over it.
  4. Slowly lower yourself down with control.
  5. Repeat the movement for reps.

Coaching Pointers:

  • Maintain an active hang during the entire motion and only release back to a dead hang at the bottom
  • Full range of motion
  • Drive elbows toward your hips as a cue
  • Core engaged
  • Full body tension

Dips on Straight Bar

If you’re looking to ace the muscle up, you’ve got to practice this exercise. Dips on a fixed bar target the chest with tricep and shoulder activation as a bonus. Lean your upper body forward to ensure you reach the 90-degree angle with your arms and lean your lower body forward to get the balance right.

How to perform:

  1. Begin in a straight arm-supported hold on a straight bar.
  2. Slowly lower yourself down until your chest touches the bar.
  3. Push back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for reps.

Coaching Pointers:

  • Maintain scapula depression
  • Don’t let elbows flare out
  • Core engage
  • Full body tension

Chest Dips

In the next exercise, it’s time to really focus on your chest, triceps, and shoulders. You’ll be on parallel bars, so you’ll be able to go lower than with the earlier dip variation. Challenge yourself to go lower than 90 degrees – your shoulders will thank you! As you do the chest dip, tilt forward and look down. Add weights or try the exercise on gymnastics rings for an extra challenge.

How to perform:

  1. Begin in an arm-supported hold position on parallel bars or dip bars with your arms straight and hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend your arms by slowly lowering your entire body. Lower yourself until mobility and strength permit: ideally, at least 90-degree arms or lower.
  3. Push yourself back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the movement for reps.

Coaching Pointers:

  • Maintain scapula depression
  • Don’t let your elbows flare out
  • Keep your core engaged
  • Keep full body tension throughout the movement
  • Maintain a forward lean to activate more of your chest muscles.


Push-ups are a classic calisthenics exercise that will help you get more out of your chest, tricep, and shoulder workouts. Get creative with your push-ups and try different variations to help you achieve other goals and focus. You can even play around with variations similar to pull-ups. For instance:

woman doing push ups

How to perform:

  1. Begin in a push-up position with arms straight, legs extended, and a straight bodyline.
  2. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the ground
  3. Push back up to starting position.
  4. Repeat the movement for reps.

Coaching Pointers:

  • Maintain scapula depression
  • Scapula protraction at the top; retraction at the bottom
  • Don’t let your elbows flare out
  • Keep your core engaged.
  • Maintain full body tension
  • Lean forward when going down

Incline Push-ups

You’re probably feeling fatigued, but let’s give the chest, triceps, and shoulders one final push with a simpler push-up variation.

Discover a comfortable elevation you can perform with: the higher the height, the easier the exercise, and vice-versa. Identical key points as the standard push-ups. It is almost identical to wall push-ups. We will do this to amplify the training intensity for our pushing muscles.

Once more, have some fun with this particular exercise. If you’d like to target specific muscle groups, try the more difficult push-up variation from the preceding movement. For instance:

How to perform:

  1. Begin in a push-up position with your hands on an elevated surface, arms straight, legs extended, and straight bodyline.
  2. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the ground
  3. Push yourself back up into the starting position.
  4. Repeat the movement for reps.

Coaching Pointers:

  • Maintain scapula depression
  • Scapula protraction at the top; retraction at the bottom
  • Don’t let your elbows flare out
  • Keep your core engaged
  • Maintain full body tension
  • Lean forward when going down


End your routine with a core isometric exercise, like the plank, one of the most engaging calisthenics exercises.

For the ultimate core challenge, try elbow plank! This position is similar to the starting position of a push-up but with shorter leverage that adds demands to your core. Not only is this a great core exercise, but it will also help train other muscles like your shoulders and glutes to help stabilize you into position.

Developing planks will deliver exceptional core strength to other calisthenic activities too!

Keep your body straight and scapula protracted as you engage all your muscles. Remember to breathe normally throughout – this will help push your body to the limit!

Spice things up by switching to a hollow body hold or one-arm plank if you find the 1-minute mark easy.

How to perform:

  1. Place your elbows on the floor, shoulder width.
  2. Extend your legs backward.
  3. Keep a straight body line.
  4. Hold for a specified amount of time.

Coaching Pointers:

  • Maintain scapula depression
  • Scapula protraction
  • Core engage
  • Full body tension
  • Straight bodyline
  • Tilt your pelvis backward

What if I Can’t do Some of the Exercises? 

Before we discuss adjusting your training, you should know that cookie-cutter routines could be holding you back. Read on to learn why and what you can do about it. 

Create an optimal training routine just for you-

Have you ever struggled to find the proper routine that fits your needs? We often get stuck with pre-set routines based on a generalized level – beginner, intermediate, advanced. Let’s explore how to find the routine that works for you!

Lack of personalization is hurting your training.

Struggling to keep up with the exercises? Poor form and movement dysfunction can put you at risk for injury. On the other hand, if the activities are too easy, you’ll be wasting your valuable time as your muscles won’t be challenged to grow.

The best advice I can give is to learn about your body. Learn what you can and can’t do, and work on improving it!

To learn actionable tips you can use to constantly improve your workout routines subscribe to our email below!

In 2013 I attended TVCC with my studies focusing on nutrition and biology. After leaving TVCC I pursued a career in inbound marketing and have worked in many different industries including health and fitness, firearms, coaching, and many more. I spent 6 years training for powerlifting and 6 years after training for a bodybuilding show in Idaho, which sadly did not come to fruition.

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