5 Best Calisthenic Exercises For Martial Arts

Most martial arts schools don’t train the upper body as it should be trained. Most of them rely on exercises such as push-ups to build the upper body strength. That’s the reason why most martial artists though they have powerful legs cannot generate an impressive amount of power with their punches. And that can be accredited to poor upper body strength.

Today, we’re going to list down the 5 Best Calisthenic Exercises For Martial Arts which will help you to strengthen your upper body by working your shoulders.

But before we begin, I advise you to start with a warm-up. Since these exercises are high-intensive exercises, it’s important to get your body ready for it. Most of the injuries in the upper body happen in the scapula area and the rotator cuff. Additionally, you should also do hip rotation exercises as part of your regular warm routine before you start up with calisthenic exercises for martial arts.

Start with working on your shoulders – a body part extremely neglected in martial arts. For that reason, we’re going to start with a handstand pushup.

Handstand pushup

To perform a handstand pushup, find someone or something to support your leg. As in the image below, you can see I’m taking the support of the push-up rod.

Handstand Pushup - Calisthenic Exercises
Handstand Pushup with Support

When doing the handstand pushup, make sure to keep your glutes tight. This will support your lower back and prevent injuries. When performing the handstand, stay in a straight line and don’t arch your back. If you can’t go deep enough with your push, just try to go as far as you can.

Elevated Pushups

If you’re just starting out, don’t worry because, with time, your shoulders and biceps will adapt. If you find handstand difficult, to begin with, you can start with the easier version of it. In the image below, you can see that, you can even do an easy version which is more doable by just elevating your legs. Elevated Pushups will still put tension on your shoulders and your upper plex.

Elevated Pushups for easier execution

Having talked about the shoulders, it’s time to move onto another undermined part in martial arts – Back. This is majorly due to the lack of equipment in martial arts. In order to work the back, you need a bar for it. Most martial arts schools only have one or two bars in the school which isn’t enough for all the students. So that’s why they don’t pay too much attention to the back and end up relying only on pushups.


The bread and butter of back training are pull-ups. They are one of the greatest compound exercises. They work the lats, the upper back, biceps, forearms, and even the abs.

Pull-ups for Back & Shoulder Strengthening
Pull-ups for Back & Shoulder Strengthening

Now, if you feel that bodyweight pull-ups are easy for you, you can add weights and try doing weighted pull-ups or weighted chin-ups. As you can see in the image below, I’m adding plates to add more resistance to my chin-ups.

Adding plates to your pull-ups
Adding plates to increase resistance

I added x2 plates of 10 kgs each for 1-2 reps max. You can see that in the video below.

Pull-up with 20 kg plates

Now let’s move towards the next exercise which focuses on the chest or the triceps.


This is a great exercise for the upper body. In my opinion, a trained martial artist should be able to do at least 20 dips. If you can’t pull off 20 dips then there’s something wrong with your conditioning. Also, martial arts rely heavily on body coordination, so you should be in your full capability to manage your weight and play with it.

Dips to improve your upper body strength - Calisthenic Exercises
Dips to improve your upper body strength


Muscle-up according to me is one of the greatest exercises for the whole body. It combines pulling, pushing, core strength and explosiveness. If you are conditioned enough, you have to master this exercise. It is great for body coordination. Furthermore, this kind of strength will translate well into martial arts. In my opinion, an advanced martial artist should at least be able to pull off one muscle-up.

Muscle-up exercise improves the overall coordination

Finally, let’s move towards the last exercise, which is the core exercise.


L-Sit should be done with a 10-second hold. You can see the actual L-sit in the image below. However, if you have a hard time holding the L-Sit, you can do a variation of it in the image shown below.

L-Sit Calisthenic Exercises for Upper body
L-Sit exercise variation
L-Sit Variation


Once you’re done with these exercises, you’re done with the upper body workout. These 5 Calisthenic exercises are great to activate your entire upper body and provide you an additional edge over your fellow martial artists.