Top 10 Calisthenics Arm Exercises For Strength And Hypertrophy

Training arms will not only give you are more aesthetic look but also help prevent common injuries and improve your overall calisthenics performance. Discover how you can train your arms effectively with calisthenics!

Anatomy and Function of the Arms: How to target specific muscles

Before getting into the exercises it is good to have a basic understanding of the anatomy and function of the arms, this way you will know which exercises target different muscles.
The arm is composed of various muscles that are responsible for movements at the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand. These muscles can be broadly categorized into anterior (front) and posterior (back) groups, based on their location.

  • Biceps Brachii: Located on the front of the upper arm, the biceps are responsible for flexing the elbow joint. They also contribute to forearm supination (turning the palm upward).
  • Brachialis: Situated underneath the biceps, the brachialis is a primary elbow flexor.
  • Triceps Brachii: Located on the back of the upper arm, the tricep’s main function is to extend the elbow joint.
  • The forearm muscles can be broadly categorized into flexor muscles (located on the palm side) and extensor muscles (located on the back of the forearm).

10. Best Calisthenics Arm Exercises

Now you know the anatomy and function of the arms, it is time to get to know the best exercises to train the arms. That is why I have compiled the best exercises you can do to get stronger and bigger arms using body weight, for you pleasure!

5. Best Calisthenics Bicep Exercises

1. Chin Ups

Chin-ups are an excellent exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, including the biceps. The primary muscles worked during chin-ups are the back (especially the latissimus dorsi), biceps, and forearms. By using a narrow grip you can achieve greater elbow flexion which is the primary function of the biceps along with supernation.

Here’s how to perform chin-ups to emphasize the biceps:

  1. Use an underhand, supinated grip (palms facing you). Your hands should be spaced slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart if you want to emphasize the biceps.
  2. Start by hanging from the bar with your arms fully extended. Your body should be straight, and your feet should not touch the ground.
  3. Initiate the movement by pulling your chest toward the bar. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together and bringing your elbows down and back.
  4. Continue pulling until your chin is over the bar. Hold for a brief pause at the top to emphazie the contraction.
  5. Lower your body back down with control, fully extending your arms.

Experiment with grip width. A narrower grip may increase bicep activation, but find a width that feels comfortable and allows for proper form.

2. Rope Climbs

Rope climbs are an effective exercise that can engage the biceps along with several other muscle groups, including the back and the forearms to a high degree. When performing rope climbs, you pull by flexing the elbows which places a significant demand on the biceps.

Rope Climb Technique:

  1. Start pulling yourself up using a hand-over-hand motion, alternating your grip on the rope.
  2. Once you reach the top, touch or grab a designated point, and then descend in a controlled manner.
  3. Descend by using a hand-over-hand motion while controlling the speed with your arms.
  4. Once you reach the bottom rest for 3+ minutes and repeat for sets.

The lowering phase is crucial for engaging the biceps. Control your descent rather than letting your body drop quickly.

3. Back Lever

The back lever is a gymnastics exercise that primarily targets the biceps and shoulders through an isometric contraction. While isometrics isn’t as effective for building muscle as using dynamic movement, they definitely work. If you want to place extra emphasis on the biceps a supinated grip is recommended.

How to perform back Levers like a pro:

  1. Begin by hanging from a horizontal bar or a pair of rings.
  2. Invert your body, bringing your legs over your head. Continue to rotate your body until you achieve a horizontal position.
  3. Hold this position with straight arms and a protracted scapula.
  4. From the back lever position, you can either lower into a german hang position or return to the dead hanging position by reversing the motion.

Remember that the back lever, should be approached with caution, and progress should be gradual otherwise, you risk serious injury. Start by doing skin the cat to prepare the elbow joint and from there progress to tucked isometric holds.

4. Pelican Curl

The Pelican Curl is a bodyweight isolation exercise that targets the biceps, so if you feel your biceps need extra work this is the option for you. The pelican focuses heavily on the stretched position of the bicep, which tends to build more muscle according to a study done on the biceps using the preacher curls.

How to perform curls like a pelican:

  1. Grip the rings with a supinated grip, placing your hands shoulder-width apart. You should start at what is the bottom of the push up position.
  2. Slower lower your body down by extending the elbows behind you, until it is completely straight.
  3. Begin pulling your body up by flexing your biceps, continue pulling until your chest touches the bar or your hands reach chest level.

It’s essential to approach the Pelican Curl gradually and with caution, as with the back lever this exercise can place a lot of stress on the elbow joint.

5. Body Weight Bicep Curls

The body-weight bicep curl is another great exercise for isolating the bicep, bodyweight curls are highly effective and scalable. Your body doesn’t care if you lifting an external weight, or using your body weight as resistance as long as there is enough tension those biceps will grow.

How to curl your body for big biceps:

  1. Grab the bar with a supinated grip (underhand grip) and walk back, leaning your body backward.
  2. Pull your body towards the ring or bar, by flexing your elbows and pulling with your arms.
  3. At the top of the movement squeeze and fell the contraction in your biceps.
  4. Slow lower yourself down to the starting position maintaining tension throughout the full range of motion.

5. Best Calisthenics Tricep Exercises

1. Diamond Push Ups

Diamond push-ups, also known as close-grip push-ups, are a variation of the traditional push-up that targets the triceps, chest, and shoulders with a particular emphasis on the triceps. This compound exercise is excellent for triceps growth, eliminating the need for time-consuming isolation workouts.

How to do diamond push ups with perfect form:  

  1. Begin in a push up position, with your hands directly beneath your chest, fingers pointing forward, and thumbs and index fingers touching to form a diamond shape.
  2. Lower your body toward the ground,
  3. Lower your chest toward the diamond shape formed by your hands. Aim to bring your chest as close to your hands as possible without losing tension.
  4. Push through your palms to return to the starting position, fully extending your arms.

Keep your body straight from head to heels. Avoid letting your hips sag or raising your buttocks too high and keep your elbows close to your torso.

2. Dips

The bodyweight dip i another great compound exercise that targets the tricep along with the chest and shoulders to a high degree. To put extra emphasis on the triceps it is recommended to keep an upright posture throughout the exercises.

Photo by Ulf Liljankoski

How to perform dips:

  1. Find two surfaces you can lift yourself in between, this can be a pair of parallel bars, chairs, a kitchen corner counter, or a pair of rings (my personal favorite).
  2. Lift yourself up so your arms are fully extended, and your body is suspended between the apparatus.
  3. Lower your body by bending your elbows until your upper arms are parallel to the ground or below depending on your flexibility.
  4. Push through your palms to extend your elbows and return to the starting position.

Top tips for perfect dips:

  • Keep your elbows close to your body during both the descent and ascent phases. This emphasizes the triceps and keeps your shoulder in a safe position.
  • Perform dips with control, avoiding rapid or jerky movements. This maximizes muscle engagement and reduces the risk of injury.

3. Impossible Dips

The impossible dip as the name suggests is a very difficult exercise, however one of the most effective for targeting the triceps. As a reader of the primalfitness blog you are no doubt very strong, although you might not be able to do this exercise yet. Luckily there is serval regression you can do to build up to the full impossible dip.

Best impossible dip progressions:

  • Banded impossible dips: Place a resistance band under your but or feets, while gripping it with both your hands to hold it in place.
  • Floor impossible dips: Place your feets on a slightly elevated surface, and lean back so you are supporting yourself on your hand and perform the impossible dip.
  • Impossible dips eccentrics: Only perform the negative/lowering part of the impossible dip.

4. Bodyweight Triceps Extensions

Bodyweight triceps extensions are a great exercise for isolating the triceps with body weight only. If your triceps need extra work this might just be the exercise you need. The bodyweight triceps extension emphasizes the loaded stretch which is great for building muscles.

How to perform tricep extension to extend those triceps gains:

  1. Find a low bar or set up a pair of rings about knee height or higher. Grip the bar or rings with a pronated grip (palms facing down), arms fully extended in front of the rings.
  2. Lower your body and bring your body forward by bending your elbows while keeping your upper arms close to your head.
  3. Lower until your elbow bent as much as possible, and feel the stretch in the triceps.
  4. Push through your palms to extend your elbows and return to the starting position.

Top tip for perfect triceps extensions:

  • Remember to engage your core muscles to stabilize your body and keep good posture throughout the exercise.
  • Don’t pike in the hips, film yourself to see if you are doing this very common mistake.

5. Sphinx Push Ups

The sphinx push up is another great isolation exercise for the triceps, this one can be done completely without equipment (which might be useful in some circumstances). If your tricpes are lacking behind and you want some extra work after your compound exercises give this exercise a go.

How to push ups like the sphinx (without losing your nose):

  1. Begin in a plank position with your hands slightly in front of your shoulders and your body straight from head to heels.
  2. Lower yourself by bending the elbow, and keeping the shoulder close to the body.
  3. At the bottom of the movement, you should be positioned with your forearms flat on the ground. Don’t put too much weight on the forearms to keep constant tension in the triceps.
  4. Push back up by extending the elbows and lock out the triceps at the top for a superior contraction

The sphinx push up is not as good for getting the triceps into a stretched position, which is good for hypertrophy. Therefore if you have the opportunity to choose between the sphinx push up and bodyweight triceps extensions I would probably go for the latter, unless the sphinx push up feels a lot better performing.

Programming Considerations for Success

All these exercises work the forearms to a greater and lesser extent. The rope climbs are especially good for building the forearms, if you don’t have access to a rope you can do towel pull ups instead.
If you feel your forearms still need extra work you can do forearm extensions and flexions with dumbbells or bands to isolate the forearms.

For isolation exercises higher reps and lighter weights are recommended, this prevents other muscles from taking over the movements and lets you focus on the mind-muscle connection (you can read more about the mind-muscle connection here).

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