20 Hardest Calisthenics Exercises of All Time – But That Are Doable

Hardest Calisthenics Exercise

What are the hardest Calisthenics exercises of all time? The answer to a prying question everyone has wanted to know, forever. At least, I did. I’ve compiled a list with 20 of the hardest Calisthenics exercises and skills imaginable, but which still serve the purpose of Calisthenics. These Calisthenics exercises might be hard, but they are realistic skills like those you see in the many Calisthenics competitions we as Calisthenics Worldwide frequent, like the Barbenders Static Cup. So, I’m not talking about Goku or Baki level shenanigans, but valuable skills that you can learn, and which have a positive impact on your progression. We already listed what the easiest Calisthenics skills are, but what are the hardest Calisthenics exercises?

#1 One-Arm Pull-Up

The One-Arm Pull-Up is up there with the hardest Calisthenics exercises you can do. Not only do you have to pull your whole bodyweight with just one arm as opposed to two with a regular Pull-Up, but the way our limbs function also works against you. We can exert the strongest vertical force when our arms are in line with our shoulders and our bodies (most importantly the shoulder chain) kept vertical.

When you do a One-Arm Pull-Up, gravity causes your body to tilt sideways until you’re hanging diagonally underneath the pulling arm. You must also fight this tendency for a good, straight Pull-Up. This makes the One-Arm Pull-Up more than “merely” twice as difficult as a regular Pull-Up. You can expect to do much less than half the number of normal Pull-Up repetitions for One-Arm Pull-Ups. 

All that said, the One-Arm Pull-Up is still a very achievable skill with a clear line of progression. As long as you keep working on increasing your Pull-Up repetitions and One Arm Dead Hang, you will make it to One-Arm Pull-Ups.

#2 Handstand Push-Up

One the flipside of the hard Pull-Ups, the Handstand Push-Up is also one of the hardest Calisthenics exercises. At first it might seem the same as doing Weighted Calisthenics. You add some weights to your body to simulate what it would be like when your feet are no longer touching the ground. But it’s not that simple. For starters, your arms are extended vertically above (or rather, beneath) your head in a handstand. This changes the way your muscles are activated than when doing regular or even Pike Push-Ups, where your hands are extended in front of you.

Our shoulders can lift the most weight when compact and at a low angle of extension. That makes Handstand Push-Ups harder than normal, weighted Push-Ups at the same resistance level. Added to this is the stability issue. You’re inverted and must simultaneously maintain your balance while moving up and down with just your arms. 

It is one of the hardest Calisthenics exercises, but also one which you can achieve with the right Handstand progression. The exercise itself also gives you great returns.

#3 Planche 

Once you master the planche, you feel like you’ve reached a Calisthenics milestone. Planche is hard because it musters your entire body to execute the technique well. What’s more, there can be no weak links. Your whole body must be strong and fit to pull this off. It is one of the first static skills in Calisthenics signaling that you’ve achieved a certain level of progress for your whole body. You can’t get away with too much focused or isolated exercise to achieve the Planche. 

At the same time, not pushing your boundaries with a full body workout regime won’t get you there either. Mastering the Planche means you’ve mastered your body to a significant degree. Not the hardest Calisthenics exercise, but certainly an important and quite hard hurdle to overcome early in your Calisthenics career.

#4 Maltese 

The Maltese shouldn’t be excluded from the list of hardest Calisthenics exercises. It looks like a Planche, which is already hard, but takes things up a notch or two. The muscle activation is completely different from the Planche and the level of stress put on your joints and muscles is a lot higher. The Planche keeps your arms and shoulders compact, putting most of the force on them straight down and through the supporting bones. The Maltese in Calisthenics takes all that force and puts it on your shoulder joints and muscles instead.

Not only is this a stylish skill, but it also gets you great results as a next level static skill. You demonstrate a nigh-perfect level of control and mastery of your body, while also being a formidable compound exercise that targets almost the whole of your body to a high degree.

#5 Dragon Maltese

If the normal Maltese wasn’t hard enough for you nail eaters out there, then the Dragon Maltese might be just the thing you’re looking for. The technique starts with the normal Maltese done on Parallettes. You might think: “but using Parallettes makes the Maltese easier, right?” This is where Yordan Stanchev’s solution comes in to make one of the already hardest Calisthenics exercises even. Hypothetically the easiest version of the Dragon Maltese is where you hold the legs of the Parallettes instead of the handle with your thumbs pointing down.

It can get even crazier with the Dragon Maltese. You can also assume a normal Maltese on your Parallettes and then tilt the back of the Parallettes off the floor so that they stand diagonal.

Your whole body needs the strength to do a proper Maltese and then you’re also maintaining your balance. Your wrists and forearms will be fighting the Parallettes tendency to snap back down into place or slide down the legs of the Parallettes. Since it requires the cooperation of relatively small muscles, like those around your wrists and in your hands, the Dragon Maltese is one of the hardest Calisthenics exercises.

#6 Victorian or Victorian Cross 

Victorian is an older skill that came to Calisthenics through gymnastics. As the name suggests, this skill first appeared in 19th century gymnastics manuals. Despite being an older static skill, it is still one of the hardest Calisthenics exercises imaginable. It is a reverse Maltese or reverse Planche. Instead of lifting into position, you hang between the parallel bars in a horizonal, floating position. Your arms are also kept stiff beside the body.

The hardest version is the one on the parallel bars. You need exceptionally strong forearms for this skill, but like with the Planche and Maltese, your whole body needs to be honed to a high degree of strength and skill. Before you can even start, full mastery of the Front Lever is required and then you may start practicing on a single horizontal dip bar first.

#7 Hefesto 

The Hefesto combines a back lever with a sort of Muscle-Up. It is an advanced Calisthenics skill that requires mastery over the Back Lever first before it can be attempted. After the back lever, you pull yourself up until your torso is above the bar, like with a Muscle-Up. Since your arms are behind you, this puts a lot of force on your triceps. As one of the hardest Calisthenics exercises and certainly a very hard Push-Pull combination exercise, the Hefesto is a testament to your skill and dedication to Calisthenics.

Nevertheless, the Hefesto is absolutely an achievable and valuable skill to learn. With your back lever and muscle-up progression done, you can start combining them with Dips, Skin the Cat, Korean Dips and eventually the Hefesto itself.

#8 Manna

The Manna is like an L-Sit on the floor, but then you raise your legs until your feet are pointing straight up, after which you continue to move your legs back further, rotating and bending your body until your legs are (nearly) horizontally pointing backward. This requires tremendous strength in your arms, abs and core, but also the ability to compress your core and abs enough to fold your body upward. These areas are stressed differently throughout the exercise. 

Needless to say, you need to be very strong but also very agile. You won’t get there just pumping weights or doing Yoga. Only through Gymnastics or Calisthenics can you achieve both the functional strength and mobility required to pull the Manna off. The Manna is certainly one of the hardest Calisthenics exercises, but once you’ve acquired the L-Sit, progression is straightforward. Raise your legs a little higher every time, going from L-Sit to V-Sit and then beyond.

#9 Iron Cross / Inverted Iron Cross 

The Iron Cross belongs in the same family as the Maltese and came to Calisthenics through gymnastics. You perform the Iron Cross on the Gymnastic Rings and is as “simple” as extending your arms straight out while keeping your body straight and plumb. Looks are deceiving, of course, as this is one of the hardest Calisthenics exercises you can do using the rings. Your shoulders are at a 90-degree angle and you’re suspending your bodyweight at the farthest reach of your arms.

Your arms act as a lever, and the weight is your body. This means that the effects of gravity are maximized in this position, making the basic Iron Cross a very hard exercise already. Variations are the L Cross, where you do an L-Sit after assuming the Iron Cross and the Inverted Iron Cross where you do the technique upside down.

#10 90 Degree Push-Up

Handstand Push-Ups are hard, and the Planche is hard as well, but what if you combine the two? Sorry, they don’t magically become easier but quite the opposite. The 90 Degree Push-Up sees your start in a Handstand position. Instead of doing a “normal” Handstand Push-Up, you bring your body down back to horizontal as well into a Planche position but with your arms bent. You then push yourself back upward, raising your body back into a Handstand position. 

I believe that this combination of two already hard exercises makes the 90 Degree Push-Up a contender for the absolute hardest Calisthenics exercise. This technique puts a massive amount of resistance on your Musculus Deltoideus, the largest shoulder muscle. That said, both the Handstand Push-Up and the Planche are very realistic skills you can achieve with some dedication and then it’s only the transitional move that needs extra practice. Amazing technique, amazing to look at, still doable.

#11 Impossible Dip 

Dips but from an advanced position on the parallel bars by leaning back and pushing your hips past the position of your hands. Just reading the mechanics of that tells you that the Impossible Dip is indeed a very hard skill. Although not technically very advanced, the level of triceps strength required makes it one of the hardest Calisthenics exercises on my list. Even if you have exceptional arm strength, this exercise will be hard on the elbows and simply takes a very long progression path to achieve safely.

To make the Impossible Dip possible, it’s best to first master the Dip, the advance Bench Dip and the Muscle-Up. Then you progress to Muscle-Up Dips, then elevated Dips with your feet resting on a stool or bench and then gradually removing the support under your feet completely. 

#12 Human Flag

Imagine a flag celebrating your Calisthenics achievements. Except, you are the flag. You grab a pole at around waist height and above your head, then straighten out your body horizontally so your feet come off the ground. You now resemble a flag. Another way of putting it is that you assume a Wide Pull-Up Grip dead hang but where the bar is vertical instead of horizontal. For a nice and symmetrical look, both arms need to remain straight. This puts a lot of compression on the lowest arm and shoulder and a lot of stretching on the higher arm and shoulder. You can also cheat a little by bending the upper arm and keeping the lower straight.

It’s not just your arms, but also your core, sides, abs and legs that are heavily involved in achieving and (more importantly) maintaining the Human Flag position for even a couple of seconds. I rate this one a little lower on the utility scale. The Human Flag is certainly one of the hardest Calisthenics exercises, but it’s not really an exercise that would substitute other exercises.

#13 One-Arm Handstand 

Famous Calisthenics athletes like Sondre Berg look amazing when doing skills like the One-Arm Handstand for a reason. It just is an awesome technique that really shows your mastery over balance and upper body strength. Being able to casually do a Handstand and then removing one hand from the equation is no simple feat. But once you’ve mastered hand balancing, it is more about achieving even better balance than getting stronger.

With Handstand Push-Ups under your belt, the One-Arm Handstand should be a cake walk. The right Handstand progression and a specialized program like the Berg Movement App makes the One Arm Handstand achievable. The One-Arm Handstand also trains the balance needed for some of the hardest Calisthenics exercises, like the Handstand Push-Up and 90 Degree Push Up.

#14 Front Lever Touch

After the Front Lever comes the Front Lever Touch. This is like the Front Lever, but, instead of hanging, you stay at the top of the bar with your arms in full flexion. This is much harder since your upper arms and forearms are more engaged than with a simple Front Lever return. Although this is a steppingstone to things like Front Lever Pull-Ups and the One-Arm Front Lever, it is already a difficult Calisthenics skill to master.

Very hard but not impossible. This technique is definitely worth it, though, since it opens the door to one of the hardest Calisthenics exercises you could possible learn. Once you’ve learned the Front Lever Touch, the Front Lever Pull-Up is much easier to learn, too. These are techniques that work wonders on your arms and your upper body strength in general.

#15 Front Lever Pull-Up

The Front Lever Pull-Up is one of the hardest Calisthenics exercise and certainly one you should learn. Engaging in a Pull-Up while doing a Front Lever instantly transforms this static skill into a broad compound exercise. 

To progress to this point, you can complete your Pull-Up progression first and master the Front Lever and Front Lever Touch. Once you have those, combining the Pull-Up and the Front Lever comes almost naturally. You can make great use of Resistance Bands to conquer that final hurdle when you start doing full Front Lever Pull-Ups.

#16 One-Arm Front Lever (and Pull-Up)

The One-Arm Front Lever and Pull-Up are contenders for my personal take on hardest Calisthenics exercises. The same kind of mechanics as with the One-Arm Pull-Up apply here in that the center of gravity of your body will want to find its equilibrium under the one hand that’s holding the bar. To combat this, you move your hand a little towards the center, but even then, your biomechanics aren’t optimized for this kind of hold. It is far more than twice as hard as a two-handed regular Front Lever as there will always be a tendency for your torso to rotate away in relation to your arm.

Especially your biceps will work overtime to keep your posture straight and balanced along with the usual suspects for a Front Lever like the sides, back and shoulders. Progression towards the One-Arm Front Lever is straightforward, though. You start with the Front Lever then go to Front Lever Touch, Front Lever Pull-Ups and, if you want, you can add weight to your exercise. By the time you have Front Lever Pull-Ups under the belt, you can start doing One-Arm Front Levers and finally One-Arm Front Lever Pull-Ups. The One-Arm Front Lever Pull-Up is one of the hardest Calisthenics exercises, but it can give you great results.

#17 One-Arm Planche

You’ve mastered the Planche and now you need a new challenge. How about doing the Planche but with one arm instead of two? To allow for the proper balance, the supporting arm is stretched. This means the One-Arm Planche combines the difficulties of a One-Arm Handstand with those of the regular Planche. That makes the One-Arm Planche a serious contender for being the most difficult and hardest Calisthenics exercise. 

Where the force of gravity travels straight down through your stretched arm with a One-Arm Handstand, at least, including the Planche hold now puts this force perpendicular to your shoulder. Progression to the One-Arm Planche can only start after you’ve mastered the One-Arm Handstand and the Planche. Mastering 90 Degree Push-Ups and Handstand Push-Ups are also highly recommended.

#18 Dragon Press 

The Dragon Press isn’t very popular and that’s because it’s a very, very hard exercise. It might not look like it but looks are deceiving when it comes to the Dragon Press and it definitely deserves a spot on the hardest Calisthenics exercises list. You lie flat on your back, then raise both your shoulders and your lower body until only the rounding of your upper back touches the floor. You use the fingers of your hands placed next to your hips to press down for support. It looks easy enough, until you do it. Most people find that they can’t, or not for more than a second or two. 

It’s the deception of looking easy but being hard that makes this skill so unpopular. People think they ought to be able to do it, but then they fail. Instead of owning up to their current shortcomings, they just ignore the Dragon Press. That’s a pity, since it can be a very helpful supplementary exercise when you’re training for the Victorian Cross or the Front Lever.

#19 Pistol Squat

It’s just a Squat but with one leg. That should be easy enough, right? For many people the Pistol Squat is one of the first major hurdles they encounter in Calisthenics. That’s because the Pistol Squat is often introduced right after the basics of Push-Ups, Pull-Ups and Squats are covered. These don’t require a lot of balancing, if any, and consist of gross motor skills like bending both elbows and knees. 

The Pistol Squat is a dive in the deep end then. Not only does it half the available muscle power for the Squat, it’s also one of the first if not the first Calisthenics exercise beginners encounter that require them to maintain balance. Not the hardest Calisthenics exercise overall, but if you lack the ankle mobility or you’re just starting Calisthenics, it can be quite a hurdle to overcome. You can cheat a little and place one hand against a wall, though.

Extra Mention: #20 Close To Impossible (CTI)

The Close to Impossible is a static hold on the Pull-Up Bar where you keep your arms straight and level to the ground but your body straight and vertical, perpendicular to your arms. In other words, it’s like you are holding the bar while standing perfectly straight with straight arms, except there is nothing to stand on. This is my nominee for absolute hardest Calisthenics exercise (if you can call it that) of All Time.

The technique itself is impossible. Since the center of mass of your body is at a distance from the bar (of roughly the length of your arms), you’re creating a lot of torque on your hands. Even if your shoulders and arms could take the force, you cannot generate sufficient grip strength to counteract that torque with friction. 

The torque generated would exceed the structural integrity of human muscle fiber. If you weigh 70 kilos (154lb) and your arms are 1 meter (or about average), the torque generated on your grip would be around 700 Nm (Newton Meter):

T (torque) = Fm x Fg x r

T = 70 x 9.8 x 1

T = 686 Nm

Fg is gravity

A 2022 Audi R8 Quattro 5.2 liter with 620bhp engine, “only” delivers 580Nm. Even if you “could” do the Close to Impossible, executing the technique would destroy your hands, making you fail in your attempt automatically. Close to Impossible, is impossible.

How To Achieve the Hardest Calisthenics Exercises Yourself

I’ve made sure to largely only include those skills and techniques that are achievable to human beings (except the Close To Impossible). The hardest Calisthenics exercises might look impossible, but they’re not. With enough dedication and patience, you can acquire these amazing skills and reap their benefits. For this, you need a solid and continuous Calisthenics Program or at least a good Calisthenics App that covers all the fundamentals and builds up from there. 

Conclusions About the Hardest Calisthenics Exercises and Skills

Hard, harder, the hardest Calisthenics exercises and skills are quite the achievements of those who learn to perform them. They are awesome to behold and even more awesome to do yourself. So don’t let this list discourage you but do the opposite. Get out there, get fit, get healthy and (most) of the hardest Calisthenics exercises will be very doable.

There will always be a discussion around what the hardest Calisthenics exercises are. What do you think are the hardest Calisthenics exercises? Did I miss any?

Frequently Asked Questions About the Hardest Calisthenics Exercises

Prying questions about the hardest Calisthenics skills and Calisthenics exercises remain.

Which is the hardest skill in calisthenics?

1. The hardest Calisthenics exercises and skills are:
2. One-Arm Pull-Up 
3. Handstand Push-Up
4. Human Flag
5. Dragon Press
6. 90 Degree Push-Up
7. Maltese
8. Dragon Maltese
9. Front Lever Pull-Up
10. Front Lever Touch
11. Hefesto

What’s harder than a Planche?

The Planche is a harder Calisthenics skill, however not nearly one of the hardest Calisthenics exercises you can master. Moves like the One-Arm Planche, Maltese and Dragon Maltese are similar to the Planche but much harder to execute correctly.

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