Today’s post will address a question that we get frequently: Is it possible to build muscles solely through calisthenics training?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, our answer is yes, it can. And we’ll show you how and why in this article by giving a brief overview of muscles are formed and how to train calisthenics if your goal is to build muscles.
So let’s start at the beginning…
How are muscles formed?
There are 3 types of muscles, of which skeletal muscles, which are the muscles that we voluntarily contract (unlike involuntary muscles such as the heart) and are usually visible, such as biceps, the chest muscles, triceps, etc, we will be focusing on.
These are formed by basically damaging the tiny muscle fibers and then sending our immune system to rebuild them even stronger.
Without getting into too much technical detail, this is the process by which muscle is formed- You exert a lot of pressure into your muscle tissue, which then breakdowns and is rebuilt even strong.
How to train calisthenics for muscle growth?
Having said that muscle results from breaking down and rebuilding tissue, your first thought might be that this is only possible by lifting weights.
This is, of course, not true. The truth is that your own bodyweight is 99% of the times more than enough weight to build muscle.
How to build chest, shoulder, and bicep muscle with Calisthenics
In order to build muscle with calisthenics, we will implement roughly the same principles as weightlifting.
Here are some guidelines:
- Focus on exercises of which you can do 8 to 12 repetitions per set. The last few reps should be made in extreme discomfort
- Do at least 3, ideally 4 sets of each exercise
- When you think you can’t do any more reps, do 1 or 2 more. If needed with assistance
- Depending on your weight, adjust the ratio of protein to carbs in your meals. If you want to gain mass, eat more carbs, if you want to lose weight cut on the carbs. A common pitfall of the calisthenics diet is the focus on losing weight. If you want to build muscle you should have a healthy intake of protein and carbs, as well as micronutrients.
And here are our upper body exercise recommendations:
- Pull-ups: The cornerstone of a calisthenics workout. Do 4 sets of 12 reps every other day and
- Muscle-ups: If the previous exercise becomes too easy
- Dips: This exercise will focus on lats, triceps, and biceps. If 12 reps become too easy, use a weight vest or belt to increase difficulty.
- Chin-ups: Great to add variety to the pull-up
- Push-ups: Try different variations such as the diamond push-up, or inclined push-ups if regular ones become too easy
Weightlifting can be a quick fix for building muscle, but please be aware of the enormous strain it can put in your body and the immense risk of injury that this kind of workout has in your body.
We hope that with this article we have convinced you to ditch the dumbbells for your own body weight or a pull-up bar.
If we haven’t, please leave a comment below with your thoughts and we’ll do our best to change your mind!
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.