A bulging pair of biceps—what a sight, right? A symbol of strength as old as society (perhaps even older), a strong pair of arms speaks for you whether or not you’re talking at the time.
These days though, bicep calisthenics seem to have fallen out of favor.
Heavily benefitting from muscle group isolation, gym-goers often get their bragging rights sooner into their training than those favoring bodyweight exercise.
Calling this a fault of choosing calisthenics for your bicep workout would be a mistake.
Sure, the comparative lack of isolation does make progress somewhat slower, but also leads to an—in the long run—more thoroughly developed (and balanced) physique.
But in order to successfully push your bicep muscles beyond what currently seems like their limit, you will need to know how muscle gain happens.
While working out is by itself a good thing, the know-how is always just as important as the drive behind the workout. And, much like training improperly can lead to injury or loss of time, so can overworking your biceps without knowing how the process works—lead to severe self-sabotage.
In essence, in order for muscle gain to happen, these factors need to be considered (listed in order of importance):
- Time under tension (oftentimes abbreviated as TUT)
- Proper nutrition
- Progressive overload
- Muscle isolation
The more of these are met, the easier (and sooner) muscle gain will happen.
This isn’t limited to biceps, it applies to any muscle. Out of the four factors however, the first one demands by far the most attention.
Making TUT Work for You
Despite being a major contributor to muscle building, TUT oftentimes (and perplexingly) ends up ignored.
Inexperienced calisthenics users tend to either go straight for the most difficult exercises (which they can’t repeat many times, leading to low TUT), or go overboard with reps on easier ones (leading to insufficient tension for gains to happen, regardless of time).
They key here is balance. You will need an exercise that hits all the right buttons for you, and that you can keep doing for a respectable amount of time. If not, you can increase your TUT by modifying whatever else you are doing in one of the following ways:
- Do slower repetitions (3 to 5 seconds is good)
- Aim for 8-12 reps whenever you can. If this makes the exercise too difficult, move over to an easier variant until it becomes possible
- Take longer breaks between sets and/or increase the number of sets
Not being in caloric deficit is always a necessity when trying to build muscle.
As a tricky part of body to build with bodyweight exercises, your bicep gains (if any) will be minimal while you are trying to cut. Protein, fat, water, it’s all good.
Progressive overload comes down to moving on to more and more difficult exercises as you keep getting stronger.
Remember not to compromise TUT while doing this; more tension is always good, but not if you decrease stress time enough to impede progress.
Since we will be focusing on calisthenics for biceps, it could be said that a degree of muscle isolation will be a given. However, keep in mind that that most bodyweight exercises are, to a degree, compound exercises, leading to more evened-out results.
Best Calisthenics Exercises to Make Your Guns Shine
Listed below are tried-and-true methods of making your biceps pop. You can’t really go wrong with any of them:
- Push-ups (regular, wide and close grip, diamond; mix-and-match)
- Dive bomber push-ups
- Reverse hands push-ups
- One-armed push-ups
- Bench dips
- Chin-ups (or assisted chin-ups for those having trouble)
- Isometric chin-ups
- Inverted rows
Space these out over your week, and you’ll be rocking a solid pair of guns before long! As always, don’t forget to warm up and give yourself rest days!
Calisthenics Biceps Workout Program
This exercise schedule will follow no rigid progression, but should instead be considered a framework for you to add to. Push-ups becoming too easy? Slow down, increase the number of sets, or both!
- Push-ups (regular): 3 sets of 10 reps
- Wide grip push-ups: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Close grip push-ups: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Dive bomber push-ups: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Chin-ups/assisted chin-ups: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Isometric chin-ups: 3 sets of maximum duration
- Inverted rows: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Diamond push-ups: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Push-ups (regular): 1 set of 10 reps
- Chin-ups/assisted chin-ups: 1 set of 10 reps
- Reverse hands push-ups: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Either one-armed pushups or diamond push-ups: 3 sets of 10 reps
- Push-ups (regular): 2 sets until failure
- Chin-ups/assisted chin-ups: 2 sets until failure
And that’s it!
Keep tinkering, don’t forget what you’ve learned, and the results will be within your grasp. Whether or not you end up making them your own though, will as always be up to you!
Chris is an experienced Calisthenics practitioner focused on isometric exercises and street workout. He founded thehybridathlete.com in 2017, which was subsequently acquired by theyhybridathlete.com
He is based in Portland and has been working out using solely his own body weight and bars for the past 6 years.