So, you have been working out for a few months (maybe even a year) and checked out our calisthenics workout for beginners (opens in new tab) as well and thought "I can do something a bit more advanced than that". Well, even if you do give this workout a try, you better be super careful. There is a reason why it is called the hardest calisthenics workout.
You won't find flashy poses like the human flag on this list, because quite frankly, they are not considered actual exercises, more like displays of your strength. We could say 'hold the human flag position for 20 seconds', but then again, there are far better (and more challenging) things you can do instead of just holding onto some bars sideways.
The below exercises require strength, stamina and a lot of will power. When performing highly demanding exercises as these, it's less about the girth of your upper arm and more about you knowing your limits and pushing yourself through the mental walls which will inevitably come at some point during your training.
Also, if you are overweight – and/or haven't exercised ever or for a while – please be extra careful even if you just want to try these out. Maybe consider losing some weight (opens in new tab) first and building up some basic level of strength before you try out hardcore calisthenics.
Having good cardiovascular health also helps, so getting a multi-sport watch (opens in new tab) is a good idea. With it, you can track your key body metrics with enough precision but they can help you if you ever wanted to do half marathon training (opens in new tab) too. Or you know, maybe just a couch-to-5k (opens in new tab).
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Take some protein
Here at T3 we keep on harping on about protein in every exercise related article. That's because protein is essential for muscle building. We understand that chugging down protein shakes every hour is a bit too much for some (and it is also unnecessary), but tracking your protein intake is a must if you want to get stronger (and bigger).
One of the most convenient way to make sure your protein levels are high enough is to drink protein shakes. The easiest way to introduce 50+ grams of protein to your diet is to replace your mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks with protein shakes. That would also cut back on your fat and sugar intake, too. So many birds with one stone.
Considering you are working out more vigorously – and since you are reading an article called the hardest calisthenics workout it's a safe bet that you are, or plan to be – you might want to take some creatine too on a daily basis. This well-researched substance can help boost performance and can be taken with any liquid (and you only need 3-5 grams a day).
In case you need even more energy, you can consider taking some pre workout formulas, too. Pre workout powders are a mix of active ingredients like caffeine and vitamins which can help you focus even more in the gym. You can also get stimulant-free versions without any sugar or caffeine.
And drink water, like 2-3 litres a day. That's even if you don't exercise. Just do it.
The hardest calisthenics workout – 5 bodyweight exercises that will put you through your paces
1. Muscle up
Muscles worked: pulling motion – lats , biceps, shoulders, pushing motion – triceps, core
Sets/Reps: do two sets or six reps
Have you ever thought "Wish pull ups were a bit more difficult"? Aren't you lucky, because muscle ups are here to make pull ups, much, much harder.
Muscle ups are a combination of pulls ups and push ups. You work your back, your biceps and your triceps, all in one – supposedly – smooth movement.
You start off as you would if you did pull ups, so hanging from the bar, hands a bit more than shoulder width apart, core engaged. You pull your weight up and as you get to the highest point of the pull up, you move your grip in a twisting motion so you can push yourself over the bar.
On the way down, be extra careful not to hit your chin in the bar. Due to the nature of the movement, you are most likely to perform it slow which is perfect for elongated muscle activation.
Not hard enough? Get a dipping belt (opens in new tab) to add some extra weights to your muscle ups.
Also, check out 11 of the most searched questions about pull up bars answered here.
2. Korean dip
Muscles worked: Triceps, shoulders, upper back muscles, core
Sets/reps: do two sets of eight reps
The main difference between a run-of-the-mill bodyweight dip and a Korean dip is that with the latter, you hold on to one bar and the bar is behind you. Your palms are facing forward and arms extended (not locked, though).
Lower yourself down as far as you can without forcing your elbows in unnatural angels then push yourself back up.
With Korean dips, your legs will naturally go behind you in the lowest position of the movement as you balance your body on the bar. This makes it these tips more difficult because not only your arms are in a more jerked position, you also have to push yourself up and forward as you extend your arms back up.
A real triceps killer.
Nor hard enough? Are you mad? Why would you want this to be any harder? If you want to go crazy, you can try doing ring dips. That'll sort you out.
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3. Hanging leg raise
Muscles worked: abs, core
Sets/Reps: do three sets of 12 reps
Abs exercise doesn't get much harder than this. We already covered hanging leg raises and dubbed it the hardest abs exercise (opens in new tab) for a good reason. It's up there with ab rollouts, but in all honestly, ab rollouts have nothing on hanging leg raises.
The hanging leg raise is pretty self explanatory exercise, but a couple things worth mentioning nevertheless.
Try to raise and lower your legs slowly as you perform hanging leg raises. Not only will this activate the muscles for longer, it will also help you not to swing. It's not called swinging leg raises, after all,– this is not CrossFit.
Also, in order to work your biceps a bit more and help you stabilise your body more efficiently, you can bend your elbows in a 90 degree angle. Like how you would have them if you were performing a chin up and stopped halfway.
Not hard enough? Try hanging windscreen wipers. That will work all your upper body for stabilisation and kill your obliques in the process, too. A win-win situation if you ask me.
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4. Pistol squat
Muscle areas activated: quads, abs, glutes
Sets/Reps: do two sets of ten reps
You'll need strong quads to perform even just one rep of pistol squat. With this exercise, you will literally have to push your whole bodyweight with one leg, and mainly your quads/glutes. If you haven't got any equipment but want to give your quads a beating, definitely do pistol squats.
To perform a pistol squat, lift your arms up so they point forward and away from your body. This will help you balance as you bend your legs. You will also need to lift off one of your legs off the ground, with this leg being straight as you bend the other.
The actual movement is quite straight forward: you bend the weight-bearing leg until your bum touches your heel on the floor then extend back up. The leg off the floor should stay off the floor and straight throughout the movement. Arms should point forward all the way through for added balance.
Pistol squats ideally should be performed in thin soled exercise shoes. Running shoes are most usually designed to roll forward, especially the well-cushioned ones like the Hoka Carbon X, so in order to keep your balance, you'll need thin and flexible soles on your shoes.
Not hard enough? Try doing shrimp squats. It is also a one-legged variation, but in this case, you hold one leg behind you with the other arm extended in front of you.
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5. Decline diamond push up
Muscle areas activated: chest, triceps, delts
Sets/Reps: do two sets of 12 reps
And to box off the the hardest calisthenics workout list, decline diamond push ups are great to bomb those chest muscles, with added pressure on the triceps.
Legs should be elevated, the higher the elevation, the more push ups work the shoulders (and less the chests). With diamond push ups, your hands should be closer to each other than with regular push ups. In fact your index fingers and thumbs should touch to form a diamond shape (hence the name).
As you do a push up, concentrate on maximum muscle activation and keep your elbows tucked in as much as you can.
Otherwise, standard push up (opens in new tab) rules apply.
Not hard enough? Get a weight vest (opens in new tab) to add apply more pressure on the pecs. And try doing it on a medicine ball.
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