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Upper Body Calisthenics Workout Guide

    Upper Body Calisthenics Workout

    If you are at a higher level of bodyweight training, it is a good idea to split your plan into a lower and upper body calisthenics workout. This way you can give an extra boost to your muscle development and skills.

    Splitting up your program has many benefits.

    Firstly, you can do more types of exercises for one particular muscle group to boost its size or define it. Also, you can focus on a body part that you think need more attention. For example, instead of just doing regular push-ups, you do decline ones as well to target your upper pecs. Or, besides doing just pull-ups for your upper back, you have time to strengthen your lower back.

    Besides, you can get ready with your workout faster as if you were doing full body training. With that, you can avoid over-training which has a counter effect on your development.

    Finally, your program will be not as dull as if you were doing a total body workout all the time since you need to include more types of bodyweight exercises.

    How do I have an upper body calisthenics workout?

    Firstly, we have to talk about the muscles of the upper body. There are major and minor parts.

    The big ones are your: chest and back.

    The smaller ones are your: shoulders, biceps, triceps, forearms. We can get the core here as well, but that area can be worked as part of a lower body workout.

    For me, the two exercises for the big muscle groups and one for the small ones work the best. However, I usually have 2 for the shoulders, since they are my weakest point.

    This way, if we add up exercises, I do about 10 types of activities with 3 sets (abs is included). So, in the end, I have about 30 sets per training.

    Why do not I do more exercises as bodybuilders do?

    The reason is that almost all the calisthenics moves are compound exercises. So, you cannot focus on just particular muscle since during the movement many other muscles are engaged. If you lift weights, you can isolate far better, so you can have more exercises.

    For example, I train my biceps with close grip chin ups. Naturally, during the motion, my shoulders and back work as well (one benefits of calisthenics vs weights). If I lifted weights, I would do dumbbell biceps curls when just the biceps work.

    I try to follow the rule of thumb in muscle building even if I do calisthenics which is “quality over quantity.” It is far more important how you perform the exercises and which one you do than the number of the practices.

    About the number of sets

    After many years of both bodyweight training and weight lifting, the scheme of 12 for the big and 8 for the small worked for me the best. So, I have 12 sets for big muscles per a week and 8 for the small ones.

    Of course, if one par to my body needs more attention, I increase the sets, but not drastically.

    How many workouts per a week?

    When I do a 2-day split I have a calisthenics upper body workout on day one, and lower body on day two. Then, I have a rest day in between. Then, the same. At the weekend, I have a rest for two days doing cardio instead.

    This way I have enough time to recover, but still, my muscles have enough work for the week.

    What are the best bodyweight exercises for the upper body?

    For chest

    For the chest push-ups and its variations. There are hundreds out there. Decline ones for upper pecs and incline for the lower. Plyometric ones to improve the explosive power. Also, tough ones such as the one arm push up to boost strength. There are tons of variations for every chest development purpose.

    Related: Check out a big list of push up variations here.

    For back

    Without a doubt the pull up and chin up are the winner here and again their variations. The one arm versions can build incredible strength. However, I have to mention lower back exercises here. That part is usually neglected, but a vital part of a healthy and strong core.

    Related: Learn more about bodyweight lower back exercises here.

    For triceps

    What would be better than dips on parallel bars or a straight bar? Perfect for strength and mass development.

    For biceps

    It might seem to be complicated to train via bodyweight moves, but you can learn some powerful exercises here. I do close grip chin ups for it, and it works.

    For shoulders

    Pike push-ups on the floor or with parallel bars, or handstand push-ups are the two most beneficial moves, but you can find many calisthenics shoulder exercises here.

    For core

    When you train your midsection, what you should pay attention to is exercising every part of your core. Not just your abs, but your lower back and oblique. There are hundreds of bodyweight moves for those areas, but you can find calisthenics core workouts here for inspiration.

    One more advice: TEST!

    During the years what I have learned is not to follow everything I read about working out and every plan that is said to be the ultimate method.

    We are different. We have strength and weakness. We come with a different background.

    So, you need to customize the workout for your needs and keep the progressive overload in mind.

    Firstly, do not make the typical mistake of doing mainly those activities that you are already good at, or focus on those muscles that are the most developed part of your body. You should step out from your comfort zone, and focus on your weaknesses. Can’t you do many pull-ups? Work for it! Have a small chest? Focus on it!

    Just be patient and work, and results will come.

    Also, a little bit about progressive overload that means you should “attack” your body at each training a little bit more to not let it get used to the same load. Do just one more rep, switch to harder exercise or increase speed.

    Upper body calisthenics circuit training workout plans

    Even if I recommend to customize your program, here are few example routines to start with. They are packed with the most beneficial bodyweight exercises but tweak the reps for your needs.

    upper body bodyweight training

    Calisthenics circuit routine (intermediate) | Credit:

    intermediate level



    To sum up

    I hope you like this guide, and you can get a powerful upper body calisthenics workout routine. Pick the right moves, stick to your routine and you will be able to build an upper body as if you were lifting weights in the gym.

    If you have any questions, feel free to ask below.



    James Wright

    James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

    2 thoughts on “Upper Body Calisthenics Workout Guide”

    1. Hello!

      I’m a total beginner who wants to start body weight training. Can you give some advice about exercises and equipment because I want to work out at home?

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