Calisthenics for Lifters: 12 Week Workout to Improve Performance

Roger “Rock” Lockridge
Written By: Roger “Rock” Lockridge
October 28th, 2020
Updated: March 4th, 2021
118.9K Reads
Muscular shirtless man in black shorts and shoes doing pushups outside.
Use your bodyweight to burn some serious calories. Take your fitness and physique to the next level with this 12 week calisthenics workout designed specifically for lifters.
Workout Summary
  • Main Goal
    Lose Fat
  • Workout Type
    Full Body
  • Training Level
  • Program Duration12 weeks
  • Days Per Week
  • Time Per Workout25-35 minutes
  • Equipment Required
  • Target Gender Male & Female
  • Recommended Supps
  • Workout PDF Download Workout

Workout Description

When you see the word “calisthenics”, one of two thoughts comes to mind immediately. It's either a grandparent talking about exercising and that was all they needed, or a PE teacher with a sweaty hoodie and whistle yelling out numbers while a bunch of kids were doing their best to perform some random exercise.

In all seriousness, calisthenics are exercises that involve your bodyweight providing the resistance. These movements read like they are simple to perform, but they can provide a surprising challenge if you give your best effort towards them. Not to mention, they can help you burn some calories too. Using them in conjunction with a bodybuilding training program can help you improve your overall fitness and physique.

Recommended: Need help losing fat? Take our Free Fat Loss Course

A Full-Body Calisthenics Program

There are some calisthenics that you already may be doing as a part of your training. I’m talking about movements like pullups, dips, and planks. We won’t add those into this program. Instead, we’re going to focus on other calisthenics and create a workout you can do twice a week in place of your cardio session.

When you choose to work in the two workouts is up to you. If you want to do them after a normal training session, that’s fine. You could also do them on their own day when you have more energy. Just make sure you don’t do them directly before your weight training.

The Exercises

Before we talk about the workouts, let’s get into the exercises themselves. There are 9 on this list plus one other one that we will cover on its own. Each of them have their own purpose, but when grouped together, you will feel like you’ve done a full-body session.

What you will notice is that all of these exercises are bodyweight only. You shouldn’t need any equipment to do any of these. If you have access to a bench or bar and want to add exercises like dips and pullups in, feel free to do so. These exercises should be pretty basic, but if you do need form instruction, refer to the exercise guide section here on M&S.

  • Push-Up
  • Superman
  • Sit-Up
  • Mountain Climber
  • Side Bend
  • Squat Jump
  • Lunge
  • Straight Leg Toe Touch
  • Calf Raises

The 10th Exercise

When the topic of calisthenics come up, someone always ask about the biceps. This one is the closest one I have that will directly work the biceps, but it may be more of an isometric exercise than a calisthenic. This exercise is Zottman Hand Curls. It will also benefit your triceps slightly.

Hold your hands down to your sides at arms’ length. Spread your fingers as wide as you can. Bend the elbows and lift your hands up while keeping your upper arms to your sides. In other words, pretend you’re doing a curl. Squeeze the biceps as the hands come up. Flex them as hard as you can as if you have a heavy plate in your hand.

Once your elbows are bent and your biceps are flexed, turn your hands so your thumbs are closer to each other. Now imagine you’re pushing something down to the floor and straighten your arms. Once your arms are back to your sides, that’s one rep. Repeat for the desired reps.

Athletic woman in black sports bra and leggings doing lunges.

Warming Up

Prepare for this workout by committing 10-15 minutes to walking and stretching. While you’re walking, listen to upbeat music or a podcast to help yourself meditate or get your mind right. Your focus and attention are just as important as your ability and effort.

When you’re stretching, establish that connection with each muscle. How do they feel? How warm and loose are you right now? Can you give your best effort? Knowing your body will help you use it to achieve your maximum potential.

Related: 6 Common Warm Up Mistakes You're Still Making

Calisthenics Workout 1: Upper/Lower Split

The first workout of this program breaks down the exercises into two groups; upper body/abs and lower body. You’re going to perform each exercise for time. So instead of counting reps, you’ll do as many reps as you can in a time limit. Do all five exercises in each group as a giant set. You will do three rounds of each group with rest periods in between.

Upper Body Giant Set

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Push Up 3 30s None
Superman 3 30s None
Zottoman Hand Curl 3 30s None
Side Bend 3 30s None
Sit Up 3 30s 2min
*Rest for 2 minutes after sit-up's and repeat from the top for 3 rounds

Lower Body Giant Set

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Squat Jump 3 30s None
Lunge 3 30s None
Straight Leg Toe Touch 3 30s None
Calf Raise 3 30s None
Mountain Climber 3 30s 2min
*Rest for 2 minutes after mountain climbers and repeat from the top for 3 rounds

Calisthenics Workout 2: Full Body Circuit

For the second workout of this program, you will perform circuits. That means you’ll do all ten exercises in a row before taking a break. You’ll do 10 reps of each exercise totaling a 100 rep circuit. For movements like lunges and mountain climbers, you’ll do that 10 reps for each side.

The challenge for this workout is individualized. It’s based on your fitness levels. For the first workout, go for four total circuits. If that is enough to challenge you, then great. Stick with those and make it a goal to improve so you can eventually do five or six. If you have to stop early, do so but make it a goal to try for four next time.

For those of you who weren't satisfied with four rounds, do as many as you can for up to eight. That would be 800 total reps in one workout. You’re sure to torch some calories and increase muscular endurance if you can pull that off. You could even see a little more muscle as well.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Push Up 4-8 10 None
Superman 4-8 10 None
Sit-Up 4-8 10 None
Zottman Hand Curl 4-8 10 None
Mountain Climber 4-8 10 None
Side Bend 4-8 10 None
Squat Jump 4-8 10 None
Lunge 4-8 10 None
Straight Leg Toe Touch 4-8 10 None
Calf Raise 4-8 10 2 min
*Rest for 2 minutes after sit-up's and repeat from the top for 4-8 rounds

In Between Sets

What you do in between these circuits or giant sets is just as important as doing the work. Actually, what you don’t do matters as well. For example, don’t sit down. You may be tempted to sit on a bench or the ground, but doing so will make getting ready for that next set even tougher than it already will be. Stand, walk around, take deep breaths, and then get into the starting position you need to be in so you can start when your rest period ends.

Also, drink water or an intraworkout drink. Sip it slowly but don’t go without fluids while performing this workout. This is especially true if you’re going to do it outside and the temperatures are higher. Staying hydrated is paramount when doing this type of training. Even if you’re slightly dehydrated, your performance will not be optimal and you stand a greater chance of injury.

As soon as the workout is over, relax for a few minutes so you can cool down. Then, go home and recover. Eat a solid meal with proper sources of protein, fats, and slow digesting carbs. How you feel after can make you more excited about doing the workout again next time.

John C.
Posted on: Thu, 05/23/2024 - 16:00

Hey thanks for the article

Is workout 1 (upper/lower) same day as workout 2?

What would be a good way to incorporate it into a 3 day split program?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 05/28/2024 - 08:34

Hi John, they are on different days. What is your current 3-day split? I may be able to help you implement this.

Posted on: Thu, 01/11/2024 - 11:43

I am currently running a 6-day a week PPL program mainly focusing on compound lifts. I have some accessories but I am focusing on strength and mobility. I stretch/do yoga right after every lift to help with flexibility. How can I add calisthenics into my program? Should I do them after my lifts? Would doing it before make me too fatigued? I want to be very proficient in bar work and mobility. Honestly just being a functioning human being who is flexible, mobile, and strong.


M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sun, 01/14/2024 - 18:11

Thank you for reading M&S, AL.

I believe doing them after the main lifting work would be best because I wouldn't want to be fatigued or use any energy going into the compound lifts. So, alternating yoga on some days with calisthenics would be the best play in my opinion. Thanks for the question and best of luck.

Posted on: Wed, 02/22/2023 - 09:00

May i ask your opinion to begin with calisthenic for upper body program to begin with?

Upper body
3 set of Superset A - weighted vest chin up with resistance band 8 to 15 reps
Weighted vest dips with resistance band 8 to 15 reps

2 set of Superset B - bars rows of 10 reps
Decline push up - 10 reps

2 set of Superset c - knees to triceps 8 reps
- tuck planches slide 6 reps

Set d - bodyweight push up max reps

Cooldown stretches

Forward fold 1min
Loaded overhead stretch 1 min
Shoulder extension stretch 1 min
Hanging stretch

Compare the below

Upper body
Strength base

6 set circuit 6 reps
1. Dips or range press
2. Chin up or lat pulldown machine or narrow pull down

Superset of 5 sets - 8 to 12 reps
1. Dumbell Chest supported row
2. Dumbell y-press

Superset 3 set
1. Bar Cuban Press 5 reps
2. Bar Spider curls on bench 20 reps

Superset of 3 set 8-10 reps
1. Dumbell Seiza french press with
2. Dumbell Low incline kickback with

Upper body 2

Strength Base:

6 set circuit 6 reps
 1. Barbell Behind Neck Press or dumbell Z Press or barbellIncline Press
2. Dumbell Horizontal Row ( power row

5 rounds
1. P-bar push up , or Horizontal Press: 8-12r
2. Cable rope Face Pulls up: 8-12r

Range Pump
1. Dumbell Eccentric Tricep extension 3x10-15r
2.dumbell Incline Bicep curl 3x10-15r
3. Elbow stab stretch: 1-2x60-90s CRAC

Trunk Flexion(Abs): 100 reps, complete as needed
Lateral Delt: Technical Failure x3 between sets of abs

Tell me what the difference do you think it is for a body that are hyperthropy

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sun, 02/26/2023 - 21:51

I can see you achieving muscle building goals with this as long as your nutrition and recovery are on point. Good luck with it, and let us know how it works for you because it may help others.

Kieran Guinnessy
Posted on: Sat, 07/16/2022 - 10:29

Hi, you're workout are brilliant, thanks you for posting them. Just with the superman you say there are better exercises for targeting that area but you still have it in the plan, is there one in particular you can recommend?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 07/26/2022 - 19:20

Hi, Kieran. Thanks for the compliment and reading M&S. In regards to calisthenics, the Superman is great. As for targeting the lower back specifically, reverse hypers, hyperextensions, and good mornings are all going to target the area more directly. This particular article was meant to focus on calisthenics and bodyweight movements, which is why supermans are still included. Hope this helps!

Posted on: Tue, 11/16/2021 - 01:11

Thank you for this workout. I have a follow up questions:

Do I understand it correctly that I am supposed to do this workout in addition to another program (like the bodybuilding program you linked to)? Or can I do only this workout?

Thank you and have a great day!

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 11/17/2021 - 18:33

Hi, Joana. Yes, you can do this with a program like the one I recommended or on its own if you simply prefer bodyweight training. If you prefer to do it on its own, then don't be afraid to go up to four times a week with this.

Posted on: Fri, 10/08/2021 - 12:25


Thank you for this article

I will be including this routine in to my weight training sessions, and as you stated above, that we have to do it after weight session, and that's fully noted
The question shall I be doing it after cardio also or before

Your reply is very much appreciated...

Thank you...

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 10/18/2021 - 20:59

Hi, Ahmed. Some people like doing these before cardio, and others prefer after. Try it before cardio one day and after on another. Whichever way you feel helps you more, stick with it.

Fiebe Op de Beeck
Posted on: Sat, 05/08/2021 - 04:27

Can you also do 4 days a week or even 6?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 05/10/2021 - 10:23

Hey Fiebe - it's best to follow the program as written.

vishnu narayanan
Posted on: Thu, 10/29/2020 - 09:36

hello roger"rock"lockridge
hi so in the workout 1 do we need to do the lower body after upper body or do it in morning and evening sessions . please reply my comment

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 10/29/2020 - 09:39

Hey vishnu - you'll do the upper giant set and lower giant set in one workout session. Hope that helps!

vishnu narayanan
Posted on: Thu, 10/29/2020 - 09:43

thank you for clearing my doubt