Despite the ever-growing popularity of calisthenics, some people still don’t believe that bodyweight exercises can be used to grow muscles to quite large sizes.
I have surprising information for you – it’s possible! Just think of people in the past, e.g. in Sparta.
They didn’t have any special equipment that nowadays we are overwhelmed by.
They relied on simple exercises that required minimal gear and would do very well in terms of muscle mass. You don’t have to feed the myths of the fitness industry and you can start working out on your own, with no additional fees!
There are basically three major factors that determine muscle growth: exercise, nutrition and regeneration.
Exercise is the prime factor that stimulates our muscles to grow. You might have experienced that feeling when you tried to gain mass so hard, yet with no visible results.
In fact, the results are ALWAYS there – you probably just missed other rules that impeded your progress. Don’t get discouraged and stick to the following rules that will elevate your muscle mass gains to the next level!
To understand the whole process, we need to start with the exercise. How muscles actually grow? The answer is simple – before we can build it, we need to destroy it first.
Our body is very smart in terms of preserving energy, therefore we won’t maintain a big mass nor get one without a proper stimulus. Resistance training, which is basically any exercise that requires muscle engagement, leads to micro-injuries that are repaired by nutrients delivered in the food we eat.
This, in turn, shifts our attention to the next factor – nutrition. Food is virtually our only source of building material and fuel that helps our muscles to function properly. Many people don’t pay much attention to types of food they eat nor to the caloric intake what may result in poor muscle gain. If we are eager to put on some muscle, we need to focus on eating right first, and then think of a good resistance training. As the old proverb goes: “abs are made in the kitchen”.
Our third crucial factor is regeneration. Now as we now know how to destroy and build muscles, we need to ensure that they are fresh and ready for new challenges during the next workout.
Rest determines our performance and ability to do over our workout routine.
Too many sessions lead to overtraining and fatigue – our body doesn’t have the time to heal the micro-injuries and to build new fibres of the muscle. If we are fired up and want to go crazy with the workout, it’s better to spend more time in the kitchen and bed, eating and sleeping well. Trust me – it will pay off!
Now as we now all the main factors when it comes to mass gaining in calisthenics, we can move on to the workout details.
It’s important to acknowledge one simple rule – and it’s called “progression is the key”.
As you remember, we need to deliver new and stronger stimuli in order to grow our muscles.
They are accustomed to the movement (muscle memory) and workload, so we NEED to manipulate these two variables.
If you are able to do 20 normal push-ups, try to put some weight on your back or change the position of your arms (wide, diamond, one arm push ups). Despite your training experience, you should start with the easiest exercises and adjust the volume and load to your abilities.
In order to know whether you are following a good progression, you should keep track of your training results in a notebook. If you notice stagnation, try other variation. Too easy? Put some weight on.
The stronger (and bigger) you become, the harder it will be for you to stay with low reps and no load exercises. That’s a very nice problem to have, isn’t it?
The second important aspect concerns the intensity of your workout. If you apply the first rule properly, you shouldn’t have problems with this one. Along with workload comes intensity. Each workout should end at the point when you cannot do another repetition. We can call this rule “train to muscle failure”.
Each workout (in perfect conditions) should be harder than the previous one – bigger workload, higher intensity, more power generated – you simply move the goalpost higher. However, don’t expect maxing your stats if you didn’t rest enough or still feel a bit fatigued. Remember not to push it when you feel under the weather – you will rock it at the next training session 😉
Calisthenics Exercises for Muscle Mass
Below we present you with sample progressions in various calisthenics exercises:
PULL-UPS: inclined x10, assisted x10, standard x5/8/10/weighted, wide grip x3/5/8/10/weighted, archer x4/6/8/10/weighted, assisted one arm x4/6/8/10, one arm x2/4/6/8/10/weighted.
PUSH UPS: inclined x10, on knees x10, standard x10, standard x10/weighted x10, wide x10/weighted x10, decline x10/weighted x10, one arm x5/10/weighted, tuck planche x5/10/weighted, planche x1/2/5/8/10/weighted, maltese x1/2/5/8/10/weighted.
PLANK: progression for all variations: (30 sec/60 sec/… sec/weighted) forearm with knees; forearm standard; arm standard; with front arm raise; plank to push up; spiderman; leg lift; with shoulder taps, side forearm; side arm leg raised; side arm; side arm leg raised.
SQUATS: progression for all variations: (x10/15/20/weighted) normal; wide; narrow; wall sit; lunges; falling tower; single leg wall sit; shrimp squat; pistol squat.
ABS: progression for all variations: (x10/20/30/weighted) crunches; sit-ups; leg lifts; flutter kicks; hanging sit-ups; windshield wipers; hanging leg raises; l sit, dragon flag, front lever, human flag (last 4 are static holds – time adjustment needed).
Weighted calisthenics are another great way to gain mass. Below is an excelent guide to this type of workout:
To wrap it up, a thoughtfully and thoroughly planned calisthenics routine guarantees you a proper muscle growth provided you follow three major determinants: training, nutrition and regeneration. Exercises need to be progressed, with an adequate amount of workload and intensity. We haven’t addressed nutrition and regeneration in detail so you can expect us to continue this topic in the following articles. We hope that you found this article helpful and will come back for further instructions concerning the topic of calisthenics. If you have any questions, feel free to ask us in comments below this article. Keep it rocking!
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.