Starting a new workout program is always a challenge and you’ll want to see the progression as soon as possible.
It can start to get discouraging if you feel like you’re not progressing the way you want or seeing the results that you want to obtain.
Instead of focusing on outward progression, there are tons of great ways to work through the calisthenics progressions that will push you toward your fitness goals.
The important thing to remember when it comes to calisthenics progressions is to work up slowly and steadily.
Jumping straight to the hardest move can feel like a shortcut to the top but in reality, it just puts you at risk of injury in a major way.
Start slow and move forward with each progression as you feel ready.
Your personal fitness goals are going to be different from the person standing next to you so align your progressions with your goals and you’ll soon start to see results that will astound and amaze!
The Basics of a Progressive Calisthenics Program
Calisthenics has been gaining in popularity in the past few years with gyms and parks popping up in cities around the country.
The bodyweight movement program has benefits for every body type and fitness goal and gyms with certified coaches can help you progress through your unique program.
Progressive calisthenics is a section of workout programs that employ progressive overload.
The basic tenant of weightlifting or working out is to “overload” your muscles so that they’re forced to restructure and become stronger.
Progressive calisthenics works along with the same principle by using the muscles differently to support or move your entire body.
There are three main ways to progressively overload your program for progressive calisthenics.
The first is by adding more weight. Since most moves for calisthenics programs are strictly bodyweight, your coach or program may ask you to employ a weighted vest or belt to increase the resistance.
The second way that you can overload your program is by adding in more frequent workouts.
Instead of only working out three times a week at a certain weight, you’ll add in another couple of daily workouts that will overload your body.
The last way to increase this load is by adding more reps to each set. Typical sets are 10-12 reps each but you can increase the number to overload your body according to the program.
You may also need to extend the time you hold moves like dead hangs or planks to accomplish the same goal.
Each of these is added into your routine slowly so your body won’t collapse under the changes and weight!
This keeps you safe and your workout increasing at a measurable pace that can then be controlled and monitored.
You’ll be able to listen to your body when it comes to aches and pains and adjust your overall workout without losing your progress.
Progressive calisthenics is all about moving forward in safety.
You may feel like you’ve reached a plateau when it comes to bodyweight moves but with these progressions, you’ll be able to continue with your new favorite exercises and start to see changes in your body.
The entire time you’re increasing the weight, frequency, or reps, you’re keeping a careful eye on yourself and your safety.
The moves themselves are worthless if you’re not being safe or conscious of your lifting and workout form!
The Reasoning Behind Following a Progressive Calisthenics Program
There are so many different reasons to get into calisthenics and then progressive calisthenics.
One of the main reasons that people jump into calisthenics programs is that they’re easy to accomplish anywhere in the world.
You don’t need special equipment for most of the moves so you can get done with your entire workout in the backyard or the local park.
Progressive programs mix up the moves and work your body in different ways while maintaining a safe maximum load.
You’re going to move forward in your program without being required to do the same moves each time you decide to workout. This adds an element of fun and unpredictability to your workouts!
No longer are you stuck moving from the bench press to the leg press and back again. You’ll be able to work toward your ultimate goals without being stuck in a rut.
Following a prescribed program keeps you safe and moving forward more accurately.
If your goal is to be able to do some of the most complicated calisthenics moves, a progressive program lets you move forward bit by bit.
You’ll be safe but still moving in the program toward those highly impressive and trying moves.
These programs will also work muscles that you didn’t even know you had. As you progress along the way, you’ll end up working more than just the muscles that you’re targeting for the day.
You’ll find that you’re sore in the best ways possible at the end of the day.
Calisthenics in general and especially the progressive programs teach your body to have functional strength rather than cosmetic.
The moves prescribed are often practical to your everyday life and will leave you stronger and not just with fancy muscles for show.
The Goal of a Progressive Calisthenics Program
While everyone’s fitness and wellness goals are unique, some overall goals linger behind the program.
The most basic moves for the programs for bodyweight workouts have eventual progressions that are extremely difficult.
When you start with a progressive program, your overall goal is to gain functional strength and in turn, be able to do these much more difficult progressions at the end of your program.
With little, practical changes and steps, you’ll be able to reach your fitness goal and do the more difficult moves that come at the end of the program.
Being able to impress your friends on the pull-up bars is one thing but knowing you’ll use this strength in your everyday life is quite another!
There are several specific calisthenics and bodyweight exercises that you’ll go through for your overall calisthenics progressions.
These will lead you toward your end fitness goals as well as to the final iteration of the move.
Remember that you’ll work through each of these in order and only move on to the next progression when you feel like you’re in a good position and that you won’t have any injuries.
If you’re just starting but you’re ready to work toward a full pull-up routine or you want to start impressing people with your pull-ups at the gym, there are a few key places you’ll want to start.
This progression is to get you to do a one-arm pull-up!
Start by doing vertical pulls. Use this simple exercise to lean back then pull yourself forward, gradually training and working the muscles in your arms and shoulders.
This is one where you’ll do lots of repetition over a longer period and there’s no set rep sequence for this move.
Move on to horizontal pulls also known as inverted rows. You’ll hold onto a bar or similar structure and keep your heels on the floor.
Hang by your arms at a 30-degree angle to the floor then simply pull yourself up so your chest almost touches the bar.
Lower yourself back down, all while keeping your body in a straight line through the move.
Next, you’ll move on to jackknife pulls. This will help you progress toward a full pull-up by simulating half of the motion that will eventually be accomplished by your arms and shoulders.
Grab onto the pull-up bar with your knees on a raised surface. Then you’ll simply pull yourself up to the bar then lower back down to the first position.
Repeating this for several sets will help your body adjust to the sensation of moving up toward the bar.
The next iteration is half pull-ups which are slightly more difficult than the aforementioned jackknife pull-ups.
Instead of resting your bodyweight on a raised surface, you’ll hold your entire weight with your arms. Place your arms apart on the bar and your triceps should be parallel to the ground.
If you need to, you can jump to get to this position or use an elevated surface.
Go through the entire range of motion by pulling yourself up the short distance until your chin is near the bar then lower yourself back down.
Now you’re ready to move on to the full pull-up! This will start as a dead hang with your entire body weight hanging from the bar and your arms.
Pull yourself up through the full range of motion to the bar and keep your body controlled on the way down. The form is crucial here so don’t go through half of the motion and throw yourself out of whack.
After accomplishing full pull-ups and appropriately showing off your new skills at the gym, you’re ready to progress again to close pull-ups.
This move is going to closely simulate the way your arms will end up being positioned for the one-arm pull-ups. Put your hands close together on the bar which will create a narrow base to work from.
Your hands should be touching each other when you dead hang then go through the entire range of motion.
Close pull-ups are a great step toward your eventual goal and the uneven pull-ups will get you even closer to your goal. Grab the bar with one hand and use your other hand to grasp your wrist.
Use the muscle movement from both arms to go through the range of motion for this move. The exercise will help you get a feel for what one-arm pull-ups look like!
Half one-arm pull-ups start with your body in a raised position with one arm only on the bar.
You can jump to get to this position or use an elevated surface. Then you’ll pull yourself up so your chin is above the bar.
While it’s only a short distance, there’s a lot of power and form that you can learn through the process!
You’re so close! Next, we’ll go through a routine of assisted pull-ups.
You’ll need an exercise band or a towel that will be wrapped around the bar. With one hand on the bar and one on the assistance band or towel, you’ll pull your body through the pull-up until your chin is above the bar.
The last progression in this pull-up routine is the full one-arm pull-ups.
You’ll hold the bar with one hand then completely extend your arm and dead hang, keeping your other hand behind your back the entire time.
You’ll end up using just one hand to pull your body up until your chin is above the bar. Then control your body weight on the way down.
Chin-ups and pull-ups are often used interchangeably but there is an entire workout dedicated just to chin-ups and another to pull-ups!
Chin-ups require the same focus on your back and shoulder muscles.
To reach easy, smooth chin-ups you’ll want to start by doing chin-ups twice a week at opposite ends of the week.
Begin week one with band-assisted chin-ups with a band that will get you through 5-7 reps per set.
You’ll then work through this move to be able to do 10 reps on your first set then decrease the resistance of the bands forcing your body to do more of the work until you’re back down at 5-7 reps per set.
Start your unassisted chin-ups with a dead hang and go through the range of motion for 3 sets of 5-7 reps.
You can also keep using the bands to get to this spot but mix up how you use them by switching from putting your foot in the band to putting your knee in.
For the second day of your first week working through the chin-up progression, you’ll go through chin-up negatives.
Start on the ground with your arms fully extended then jump to get to the top with your chin over the bar. Hold your body there for three full seconds.
Once you’re able to do this more easily switch to jumping until your chin is over the bar then lower your body back down all while keeping it under control fully.
The final iteration for the chin-up progression is to do 5 sets of 3 reps with a 2 count descent.
You’ll keep progressing in this vein until you can do 5 sets of 3 at a 3 count descent. You should then be able to do a full chin-up with ease!
The dread of middle school PE students and full-grown soldiers alike, the push-up works a whole different set of muscles down your back and throughout your shoulders and forearms.
You’ll be working through this progression to be able to do a one-arm push-up!
The first move in this progression series is simple and can be done anywhere that you can find a wall.
First things first: find a wall. Next place your hands at about shoulder height and shoulder-width apart on the wall.
Lower your body toward the wall before pushing yourself away again. You’ll do these often and keep repeating the move to build up toward more complicated moves.
The incline push-up which is the next step in this progression is simple and can be done nearly anywhere as well. Start by finding and setting up a table, chair, or set of stairs.
Put your hands on the object in front of you and do a push-up at a stable pace keeping your body in control going up and coming back down.
Keep your feet planted on the ground and focus on using your shoulders and arms during the move.
Kneeling push-ups may feel like a shortcut but they will lead toward bigger and better things in no time.
Kneel on all fours and balance on your knees with your palms flat on the ground about shoulder-width apart. Progress through your sets and reps from this position to train your muscles to finish the move smoothly.
Half push-ups utilize an exercise ball to make things more challenging before moving on.
Keep in mind that what you’re progressing toward and don’t be satisfied with only finishing the move in front of you.
Move your body into a push-up position for this exercise then lower your body down until your hips touch the ball then push back up.
You’re ready to move on to a full set of full pull-ups! This is the same motion you’ve been practicing and will feel smooth and relaxed through your sets and reps.
You’re almost ready to move onto something more challenging but allow your body to practice and adjust to this move adequately before moving on to the next iteration.
Close push-ups operate on the same concept as close pull-ups. You’ll start with your hands in the same position as the full pull-up but turn your hands inward toward each other so that your fingers are nearly touching before you start through the range of motion.
Your body will then drop toward the floor until there’s only a little bit of space before you hit the floor. The closeness of your hands teaches your body to recognize the way it will feel using only one hand to complete the move.
The final step before completing the full one-arm push-up is to do an uneven close push-up.
You’ll get out your exercise ball again and place your off-hand on it. Then use one arm and your extra to give balance while pushing up through the motion.
Once you’re able to finish these moves with ease, you can progress to full one-arm push-ups!
This is going to take a while to finish the progressions so don’t expect your body to complete them within the first week of training.
Squats are loudly applauded at the gym as they’re typically loaded down with huge amounts of weight. But to get through this progression and reach a pistol-squat move, you won’t need the gym, the applause, or even the extra weight.
To get your body used to the full movement that’s needed to complete the move you’ll start with shoulder stand squats.
Balance on your neck and shoulders and extend your legs straight out into the air. Contract them back until your knees are nearly touching your chest.
Your body will begin to recognize this motion for squats.
Next, you’ll move on to jackknife squats with a lowered bar. Simply start by bending over then you’ll bend your legs until your thighs are nearly parallel to the floor.
This is extremely simple and you’ll end up repeating it over and over until your body is used to the motion.
Supported squats are the next step for you. You’ll use a bar to give you added support. Begin the move standing straight up then bend your legs as completely as you can until your butt is almost touching your heels.
Keep your knees in alignment over your toes so you don’t hurt yourself in this progression. Then you can use the bar to push yourself on the way up.
Half squats don’t require you to get quite as far down toward the ground as even supported squats do.
Go through the motion for a squat with your hands in front of you but only go partway down through the motion. Then push yourself back up by focusing on your legs and thighs.
Full squats will have you sore at the end of the day! Take away the bar for support and go through the motion completely on your own.
Your butt should nearly touch your ankles at the end of the motion. This is the full range of motion for the squat so focus on your form and keep an eye out for any hitches or things that may seem off.
Close squats move on from the full squat by pulling your feet in close to each other. You’ll be working from a much more narrow base that will emulate the pistol squat form you’re working toward.
Keep your legs close together as you go through the motion for a full squat and focus on your balance overall.
Uneven squats are the next step in this plan! Start with your off foot and heel on a small exercise ball then squat down with the leg extended in front of you.
This should keep the same range of motion and help you get your balance and focus on the stance you’ll need to complete the move.
Half one-leg squats will have your off leg unsupported during the entirety of the move. You’ll squat just halfway down then push back up to complete the motion. Simple but effective!
You’ll continue with assisted one-leg squats where you’ll put an exercise ball under your off leg. Go through a full one-leg squat until the leg that isn’t doing the squatting touches the ball.
The ball is introduced to help you learn to balance as well as keep you upright during the move.
You’re ready for the final stage! One-leg squats are difficult so let your body adjust through all of the progressions before jumping straight to this final step.
You’ll stand with one leg stretched slightly in front of you. Keep this leg outstretched in front of you as you slowly lower yourself in a full squat until your butt almost touches your heel. Push back up to complete the move.
Hanging Leg Raise
This move will have you starting on the ground and end with you accomplishing a difficult move while hanging in the air!
You’ll need some specific equipment for this, most typically a pull-up or chin-up bar that will allow you to do the move.
Start this progression with some knee tucks. You’ll sit on the edge of a table or chair or other raised firm object then rock back just a bit keeping your knees tucked into your chest.
Extend your legs and lower them away from your body then return to the starting position and repeat through all of your sets and reps.
Flat knee raises have you on the floor with your legs at a 90-degree angle and your heels on the floor.
Keep your hands by your side then slowly raise your legs off the floor until your feet are about 6 inches from the floor. Stop at the uppermost position before lowering your body back to the starting position again.
Flat bent leg raises have you on the floor to begin. Your legs should end up raising just a bit, about 6 inches from the floor then you’ll lift your legs until your thighs are perpendicular to your body.
Begin back at the starting position and repeat through your reps and sets.
The next move for you will be flat frog raises. You’ll start with your back flat on the floor then raise your legs until they’re at about 45 degrees from the ground.
Every second rep should have you raising your legs until your legs are perpendicular to your body. Keep your body in control the entire time and focus on your core.
Flat straight leg raises take it one step further. Lay on the ground completely flat and raise your legs until they’re perpendicular to your body.
Slowly lower them back down, keeping the movement totally within your control the entire time you’re completing it.
Now you’re ready to take to the skies! You’ll be doing hanging knee raises next so head to the pull-up bar.
Hang from the pull-up bar in a dead hang before pulling your knees up to your chest then slowly lowering them back down to a dead hanging position.
Keep your core engaged the entire time to stop yourself from swinging around on the bar.
Hanging bent leg raises are the next iteration for your workout. Go into a dead hang again but your legs should remain in a slightly bent position to start.
You’ll then raise them until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Control your return to your starting position and engage your core during this time.
Start hanging frog raises by hanging with your legs straight then raise them slightly before lowering them back down. Every second rep should have you raise your legs even higher so they’re parallel to the ground.
Partial hanging leg raises help your body learn even better what you need to do for the final iteration.
You’ll start this move by holding your legs straight and in a slightly raised position then raise them further until they’re straight and parallel to the ground.
Hanging straight leg raises is the final step in this progression. Start with a dead hang then raise your legs and focus on your core to raise them until they’re parallel to the ground.
Once you work through this entire progression your core is going to be stronger than you ever thought possible!
Let your body adjust to this movement before moving on to the next step in the progression.
The plank is simple but works your abs in a comprehensive way that few other exercises do.
Rather than focusing on sit-ups or crunches, this plank progression will end up training your body to complete further moves like the ab wheel.
Start with a traditional plank and hold it for 25 seconds. This is going to push your abs to strengthen so you can complete further progressions with ease.
To make it harder as you grow stronger, give yourself more time to force your body to hold the move. Breathe normally and contract your entire body so you’ll work everything from your core to your toes.
Move on to holding a plank for 60 seconds when you’re ready to progress. This might end up being the longest minute of your life.
Not only will you build strength but you’ll also create a more stable core that will help you finish the entire progression.
To continue building your stability you’re going to move on to 1 arm, 1 leg planks. You’ll do a plank move with one arm on the ground and the opposite foot on the ground.
You’ll need to focus on your core to keep your balance the entire time you’re attempting to complete the move. Start with a lower time frame before progressing toward a longer time with this move.
Now you’ll need to add in some more equipment by grabbing an ab wheel. You’ll do kneeling ab wheels to start this step!
Start with your knees on the ground and grab the handles of the ab wheel with both of your hands.
Roll forward with it with your knees on the ground still until your torso is parallel to the ground. Then return to your starting position without picking up the wheel.
You’ll move on to ramp ab wheels from a kneeling position but your body will encounter further resistance on your core due to gravity working against you.
You’ll need to find or create a ramp that you can roll up before returning to your starting position from a parallel phase.
Next, you’ll move on to standing negative wheels where your feet will remain on the ground rather than your knees.
Start this position with your torso already parallel to the ground. Rollback until you’re standing and bending straight over the ab wheel.
You’ll then keep your body in control as you roll back to the starting position with the wheel in front of you.
The final step in this iteration of the ab wheel is a 1 arm, 1 leg wheel. Start by balancing on the wheel with one hand on the wheel and the opposite foot on the ground.
You’ll keep yourself in control of the total motion until you’ve got your torso parallel to the floor then roll back up to the starting spot.
Wall Handstand Push-Up
If you’ve seen bodyweight programs that have reached this progression, you’ve probably been impressed by this entire move.
Wall handstand push-ups take a lot of strength and coordination but with some dedication and patience, you’ll be able to do them too!
You’re going to start this move by doing wall headstands. Place your head on the floor near a wall with your hand’s shoulder-width apart in front of your body slightly.
Your head and hands should end up making a triangle then put your feet up in the air until they’re resting against the wall. Your back should be resting against the wall.
Your feet should help keep your body stable while you’re in this position. Keep practicing this move until you can hold it easily for 2 minutes.
You’ll move into a crow stand next. You’ll start by balancing on your hands with your arms bent and resting your knees on your elbows.
Your head and hands should form a triangle that gives you a stable base that you can work with. From this move, you’ll teach your body to balance without having to support your body in a completely upright position.
Now you’ll move on to a wall handstand. Start by putting your hands on the floor at the base of the wall and your feet up in the air until you can rest them on the wall.
Then you’ll use your feet to keep yourself stable throughout. While you may still be leaning on the wall here, you’ll still be teaching your body how to hold the move.
The next step is half-handstand push-ups! You’ll want to start in a handstand position then let your elbows drop just a bit before you push back up.
Don’t let your head touch the floor during this time and keep your arms bend just slightly. This move will introduce your body slowly to the idea of pushing up while keeping your body balanced on your hands.
Now you’re ready to finish a complete wall handstand push-up!
Start in the same position as the half-handstand push-ups but instead of stopping halfway through you’ll want to bend your elbows even more and keep your head closer and closer to the ground before pushing back up to the starting position.
Keep your body straight and tight during this move!
Equipment You’ll Need
There are just a few things you’ll need to work through all of these progressions.
One of the biggest things you’ll need is a stable and sturdy pull-up bar.
You’ll be able to use this piece of equipment for many of the progressions so choose one that will give you the best benefits!
You’ll also want to have workout bands and an ab wheel.
There’s little equipment needed for these calisthenics moves for the most part so you can do them wherever you’d like!
Rather than jumping straight to the most difficult moves, you’ll be able to slowly progress and train your body in the best way with these calisthenics progressions!