Building Muscle With Calisthenics – The Easy Way

Written by Tihomir Stefanov, M.S.(C), PT

| Published on

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Tired of spending hours at the gym, pounding away on expensive equipment you don’t really understand how to use? 

Calisthenics could be your savior! 

With a combination of bodyweight exercises and creative thinking, calisthenics lets you get all the muscle-building benefits of the gym … Or does it?

Well, in this article, we’ll discuss just that – is bodyweight training superior or inferior to weight training?

We’ll also answer some commonly asked questions regarding calisthenics, such as:

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1. Can you build muscle with calisthenics only?

2. How often should I do calisthenics to build muscle?

3. How long do calisthenics take to build muscle?

4. Why is it so hard to build muscle with calisthenics?

And so, if you’re trying to learn more about building muscle with calisthenics, stay tuned and read on!

What Is Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is like the fitness version of “if you can dream it, you can do it”. 

It’s an ever-evolving workout protocol that utilizes bodyweight exercises as its primary form of resistance. 

It can be anything from push-ups and squats in your living room, to handstands and levering exercises at the park, to more ambitious workouts such as planche variations or even some Muay Thai drills. 

Whatever the level may be, calisthenics has the go-ahead for getting creative with your exercise routine and always finding something new to work on. 

To summarize, calisthenics mainly revolves around using your own body weight to create resistance against the muscles.

How Do We Build Muscle?

Now, to learn more about building muscle with calisthenics, it is of the essence to learn the fundamental principle of muscle-building.

That fundamental principle and the reason why our muscles grow is namely “progressive overload.”

Now, progressive overload may sound like a complicated term, but really, it’s just getting your muscles to do more work than they’re used to. 

This can mean more repetitions, more sets, shorter rest times, more frequent training sessions, or even an entirely new, more complex exercise.

It can also mean doing the same exercise with the same sets and reps… but at a slower pace (creating more tension across the same number of reps.)

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Basically, as an end result of this unknown training stimulus, the body goes, “hey, I don’t know what this is, so I better be prepared for it, or even more next time!”

This is how the muscles grow bigger and stronger.

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Advantages Of Calisthenics

Calisthenics offers an incredibly effective way to get fit without the need for expensive gym fees or equipment. 

All you really need is your own body weight and some motivation – something most of us can find within ourselves if we look hard enough! 

Calisthenics can help strengthen muscles, improve balance and flexibility, and make us feel more energetic throughout the day – all with just a few moves! 

Best of all? You don’t have to worry about any late-night trips to the after-hours gym – it’s literally always open in your mind and in your living room. 

In summary, the biggest advantages of calisthenics are 3:

1. You can start right off

2. You don’t need equipment

3. You can do it anywhere

Disadvantages Of Calisthenics

Trying your hand at calisthenics may seem like a great exercise choice, but don’t be too hasty! 

While it can serve as a great way of exercising your chest and arms (which, let’s face it, is all that most people care about), other muscle groups just aren’t as lucky. 

Sure, you’re doing push-ups and bodyweight squats, but due to not being able to progressively overload as much or really target certain muscles in the same way you would with equipment, those workouts remain pretty much the same for eternity – or until you find some complexity like a planche to add to your push-ups!

So why is it so hard to build muscle with calisthenics?

In essence, though bodyweight has the benefits of accessibility and being an effectively free way to train, it has the disadvantages of not being able to target some muscles that much and a hard time realizing progressive overload due to the absence of weights.

This is why it may be hard for most!

Calisthenics VS Weightlifting

When it comes to building muscle, a classic debate is calisthenics vs lifting weights. 

If you’re new to exercise and strength training, then calisthenics is a great way to start, and you can get some pretty amazing results just by body weight alone. 

However, when it comes to overall muscle-building potential and targeting different areas of the musculature optimally, there’s no denying that pumping the iron is king. 

Why? Well, because in the gym, you have another great way to realize progressive overload, and that is, namely, increasing the weights used.

On the flip side, with classical calisthenics, where you only use your body weight, this is unfortunately not possible, and the main way to progressively overload is to increase the number of sets, reps, and training sessions per week.

But then again, why choose one or the other?

Combining both methods gives you the best of both worlds – you get all of that fantastic calisthenic work plus all of those dimensions added by weightlifting. 

And if you’re someone who likes to stick to the monkey bars, make sure to get some added weights to help you progressively overload!

Get some dumbbells, disks, or even weighted vests, and you can progress well ahead of time!

Calisthenics FAQ

Alright, so far, so good – we learned a thing or two about calisthenics and the comparison between that and weightlifting.

Now without further ado, let’s go ahead and answer some questions.

Muscle Growth

One of the questions we often get asked is – Can you build muscle with calisthenics only?

And, well, the answer is a resounding yes!
Calisthenics seems to be an effective way to build muscle, and let’s be honest – the progressions get more and more fun with each training session.

Nevertheless, if you are primary goal is to build muscle and sculpt a physique that is as aesthetic as possible, you are probably best off combining weightlifting with calisthenics.

Training Frequency

Another question we get is – How often should I do calisthenics to build muscle?

And well, the answer is… it depends.

Mainly, though, you should stay focused on starting with a weekly number of sets and reps that you can comfortably do and increase those over time (progressively overload.)

Based on that weekly number of sets, you can determine for yourself how many training sessions are appropriate.

Now, because calisthenics is generally less strenuous for the nervous system as compared to weightlifting, we recommend most people train every other day at the start and then move on to daily workouts, with 1-2 rest days per week.

Oh, and hey, calisthenics is not all about push/pull-ups… Make sure to do your sprints!
The lower body needs some love too

Results Timeframe

Last but not least, how long do calisthenics take to build muscle?

We all want to know when we’re going to reap the fruits of our labor, but the truth is that the rate of building muscle is individual for everyone.

Some people respond quite well to training, while others, well… not so much.

But don’t let that discourage you because, technically, we progress a little each day.

And it takes some time for those little changes to stack up until you can finally see a change in the mirror.

So, hey, here’s an incentive for you to stay consistent!

So, is building muscle with calisthenics possible?

After reading this post, you now have a better understanding of how effective calisthenics is in the context of building muscle. 

Remember that progressive overload is key, and you can achieve this by slowly increasing the number of reps and/or sets you do per exercise or by adding new exercises to your routine over time. 

Last but not least, always listen to your body and give yourself adequate recovery time between workouts. 

If you stick to these guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to building the strong, healthy body you deserve.

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