Most calisthenics exercises are modifiable to make them easier or more difficult depending on a person’s fitness level and goals.

Calisthenics exercises help build strength using only a person’s body weight, instead of weights or other resistance devices.

The right calisthenics workout plan depends on a person’s fitness level, exercise preferences, and fitness goals.

These calisthenics exercises work for most fitness levels, and people can modify them to make them easier or more difficult.

a man performs incline pushups as part of a calisthenics workout planShare on Pinterest
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Calisthenics movements use only a person’s body weight for resistance. This builds strength and mobility without requiring additional equipment.

It is also possible to add weights to some calisthenics movements to make them more challenging. For example, a person might hold weights while doing squats or lunges.

Some examples of calisthenics movements that work for most fitness levels include:

  • squats
  • pushups
  • lunges

Simple modifications can help beginners master movements that feel too challenging.

Or, a person’s strength and endurance might increase to the point that they find the exercises too easy. A person can then modify the exercises to make them more challenging.

A calisthenics workout plan can help a person meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC’s) recommendation to get at least 2 days of strength training per week.

Calisthenics exercises can also target specific muscle weaknesses and other issues.

For example, squats can help strengthen the pelvic floor. This is helpful for all people, but it may be especially beneficial during pregnancy and after childbirth.

True beginners may be unable to do some popular calisthenics movements.

Squats, for example, require strength and mobility that an exercise novice may not have.

A person can try the modifications below to more easily perform calisthenics movements.

These beginner movements help strengthen the tendons, stabilizer muscles, joints, and larger muscle groups in preparation to move onto more difficult progressions of each movement.

Modify squats

A traditional squat involves bending the knees while lowering the torso into a seated position with the back straight and core engaged.

To do this as a beginner, a person can practice assisted squats.

To perform an assisted squat:

  1. Lower the body to a seated position over a stable surface of around knee height, such as a coffee table, chair or bench.
  2. Pause for a second in the seated position, allowing the surface to take the body’s weight, before using the muscles of the legs and glutes to return to a standing position.
  3. Repeat for 2 sets of 10 reps, gradually building up to 2 sets of 30 reps before moving onto traditional squats. Perform this exercise twice weekly.

When moving onto traditional bodyweight squats, a person can try spreading their legs shoulder width apart, then moving them closer together to increase the difficulty of the movement as they build strength. Do 3–4 sets of 5–10 twice weekly.

Gain better balance

People who struggle to do a modified squat or who need to improve their balance can try another modified version.

  1. Drape a rope or exercise band over a door-mounted pullup bar, gripping it with both hands.
  2. Holding the rope, lower the body into a squatting position. Do 2–3 sets of 5–10.

Strengthen the core with planking

To perform a modified plank:

  1. Lie face down on the floor, then rise up onto the elbows, keeping the back straight and core engaged.
  2. Shift onto the knees, with the torso elevated off of the floor as much as possible. Hold for 15–30 seconds. Repeat 2–3 times.

Try an easier version of the lunge

A person who finds the lunge difficult can try a modified version called the reverse lunge.

To perform a reverse lunge:

  1. From a standing position, bend one knee and take a step backward.
  2. Lower the body into a lunging position, with the back knee parallel to the floor and the front knee at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Repeat on the other side. Do 2–3 sets of 3–4.

Modify pushups

To make pushups easier, and to avoid injury by pushing themselves too hard too soon, a person can try wall pushups.

Place the hands against the wall and extend the legs out behind the body. Push down toward the wall. Or try knee pushups. Get into a pushup position balanced on the knees, and lower down and push back up. Do 2–3 sets of 5–10.

Strengthen the core and the back with birddogs

  1. Get on hands and knees on the floor, with the knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Extend one leg straight out behind the body, lifting it off the floor.
  3. Extend the opposite arm straight out, balancing on one arm and one leg. While keeping the spine and neck straight, hold for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat on the opposite side.

As a person gains strength, balance, and fitness, they can graduate to a more traditional calisthenics workout.

A person should perform the following exercises 2–3 times a week with at least 48 hours between workouts to rest the muscles.

Traditional bodyweight squats

To perform traditional bodyweight squats:

  1. Focus on keeping the back and spine straight and engaging the core, glutes, and leg muscles to lower the body to a seated position before rising back up to a standing position.
  2. If a person stumbles or has to round their back to do the exercise, they are not yet ready for the intermediate version.
  3. Perform 2–3 sets of 5–15 squats as fitness levels allow.

The traditional plank

To perform the traditional plank:

  1. Rather than planking on the knees, lie face down, then raise the body up onto the elbows and feet, engaging the core and keeping the back straight.
  2. Hold for 30 seconds, gradually working up to longer holds. Repeat 4–5 times.

Incorporating traditional lunges

Continue performing reverse lunges in 1–2 sets of 5–10. Then add in traditional lunges.

To perform traditional lunges:

  1. Take a step forward, then lower the body down so that the front knee is at a 90-degree angle with the floor, and the back knee is parallel to the floor.
  2. Perform 1–3 sets of 5–10.

Traditional pushups

A person can strengthen the chest, core, shoulders, and arms with pushups.

To perform traditional pushups:

  1. Lying flat on the floor, elevate the body into a pushup position, with arms extended and palms down on the floor, roughly shoulder width apart.
  2. Lower the body down to the ground with a controlled movement, not letting the body fall, and keeping the hips in-line with the spine, torso straight, and core engaged.
  3. Inhale during the lowering (negative) portion of the movement.
  4. Push up through the palms using the chest, triceps, and shoulders. Exhale while performing the pushing portion of the movement.
  5. Perform 2–3 sets of 5–10 reps.

As a person builds strength and muscular endurance, they can try seeing how many pushups they can do in a minute, while still maintaining proper form.

If a person has reached a point where they can perform a high number of wall pushups, but still finds traditional pushups difficult, they can try:

  1. elevating the hands by doing pushups against a raised surface of around waist height, such as a table
  2. keeping the knees on the floor while performing pushups to take some of the weight

Incorporating pullups

Pullups work the back, shoulders, and arms.

A door pullup bar makes them possible to do at home.

If a person cannot yet pull into a pullup, try hanging from the bar for 10–30 seconds for 4–5 times with a 60–90 second rest in between.

A person can also use a resistance band to perform assisted pullups as they gradually build strength.

Advanced calisthenics workouts build upon intermediate skills while adding additional challenges.

To increase the overall intensity of a workout, a person can try doing more reps and more sets of the movements in the intermediate section above.

When this no longer feels like enough, a person can try these modifications:

Weighted squats

To perform weighted squats, simply hold weights, such as dumbbells or kettlebells, while doing squats, gradually working up to doing the same number of squats done without weights. Perform 5–15 reps per set to fatigue.

If a person does not want to use weights, they can try doing single-leg squats, or pistol squats, by lifting one leg off the ground and extending it straight forward while squatting down.

One-leg plank

Someone can make a plank more difficult by balancing on just one leg.

Try slightly lifting one leg while planking, working up to progressively longer holds. Then repeat on the opposite leg. Perform 5–15 reps per set to fatigue.

Weighted lunges

A person can increase the difficulty of lunges by holding dumbbells while performing them, which helps build raw strength by increasing the intensity.

To increase muscular endurance instead, they could increase the number of reps and sets they perform at the same level of intensity.


To increase the intensity of the pullup component of their workout, a person can work to fatigue by performing as many unassisted pullups in a set as possible.

They could also increase the difficulty by holding the position at the top of the movement, with the chin and chest over the bar for 30 seconds, before lowering the body back to the starting position and hanging for 30 seconds.

Advanced pushups

To increase the difficulty of pushups, a person can elevate their legs on a surface such as a bed or sofa to increase the load on their arms, chest, and shoulders.

A person can also try one-handed pushups, or handstand pushups against a wall.

No calisthenics workout can work for every ability level.

But it is possible to modify the same exercises as a person’s strength, muscular endurance, and skill at performing each movement progresses.

As with any new fitness routine, a person should talk with a doctor or physical therapist if they have underlying injuries or if they have trouble performing basic movements.