Build Strength and Power with Calisthenics

Hi! I am the author and founder of Old School Calisthenics

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There are multiple ways to gain maximum strength and power with calisthenics. One of them is what I usually do, training the muscular system with volume that eventually develops the required strength and power too. And the other method that I recommend even more is training the nervous system and neural muscle connections only. The second option is the fastest approach, and I want to reveal how to stimulate your nervous system and become a lot powerful and stronger.

To achieve maximum strength and power, you have to stimulate your nervous system to the highest capacity. That means it requires exercises that generate tremendous force and contraction under a short time under pressure. In other words, you need incredibly intense exercises, those difficult exercises that create high tension and fast contractions. The more force you produce to execute a movement, the more powerful your contraction is. Thus, the nervous system has to respond fast, effectively and get better. Consequently, it will unlock more power and strength over time, with consistent training.

The Difference Between Power and Strength

There is a slight difference between power and strength. In fact, we have several types of strengths:

  • Dynamic strength
  • Maximal strength
  • Static strength. And even
  • Strength-endurance. It is often called muscular-endurance.

This last one is more related to volume, high-reps, and hypertrophy. Only the first types of strengths concern me in this article.

Dynamic strength is an explosive strength related to power somehow. But power is that kind of physical ability when we lift something extremely heavy from the ground, or when we move a heavy object from A to B in a few seconds only. Also a very powerful short sprint at full capacity. You can take a look at powerlifting. Practically, even in bodyweight training, if you have one difficult exercise that you can only do for 1-2 reps before failing, then that will train your power. It’s still heavy lifting or pushing but you are doing it against gravity, using your own body weight as resistance. Because the nervous system and muscles aren’t strong yet, it fits perfectly into your strength and power training.

The more advanced you are in calisthenics, the more difficult it is to stimulate the nervous system and create more forceful contractions. The variety of exercises available that cause high stimulus narrows down to only a handful. So it’s easier and better if you are not yet too advanced.

Enhancing the Maximal Strength and Power with Calisthenics

I suggest you find those compound exercises that you can do with perfect form and execution for 1-2 reps only before losing shape and cutting on the range of motion. That will train your power. And here, mind that I also consider short sprints because it’s a quick burst of energy and still bodyweight. That’s a sort of explosiveness and you need powerful legs and midsection to accelerate fast during the first seconds.

Then you have the maximal strength that you can train with exercises that allow you more than 2 reps and up to perhaps 5-6. They are slightly less intense than the ones best used for power. Still, these two abilities are strictly connected with each other, so you can train them both in the same workout. In fact, every time you train for your maximal strength, you’ll get the other as a byproduct and vice-versa.

The nervous system needs proper warm-up to unlock full strength

After an excellent warm-up and remember what I say now. The nervous system unlocks your full power and strength when the body is exceptionally well warmed up and not sore or in pain from the previous workout sessions.

Never begin a bodyweight strength workout session unless your body is well warmed up. You can follow my total body warm-up in the video below:

Improving the Dynamic Strength or Explosiveness with Calisthenics

Almost any kind of bodyweight plyometric exercise will improve your dynamic strength or explosiveness. I say almost because you majorly need the ones that require more strength and power, or other said exercises that generate a lot of force to execute the movement.

Now, remember that I said that strength is related to power? Well, let’s take explosive pull-ups with clapping as an example. It’s a dynamic exercise, a very explosive move that also produces high force and fast contractions. It will enhance at the same time your power to pull and even the overall strength but especially the dynamic one. If you also do high-rep hypertrophy pull-up workouts, then that extra muscular endurance will help you build more reps for these dynamic pull-ups too. This is how you can chain them all by choosing regressive and progressive exercises, going back and forth, focusing over what you can control best which ultimately impacts the other exercises or skills.

Sprints are efficient in gaining enormous leg power and strength, but they work effectively for endurance as well. Plus, your midsection will strengthen at the same time with your legs. All you have to do is include various types of sprints, on different distances, speed, pace and even with elevation gain like hill sprints.

Regarding upper-body plyometric exercises, you have various types of explosive pushups, dips, and pull-ups. For the lower part, you can integrate stair jumps, frog jumps, high-jumps, box jumps, and long-distance jumps. But exercises like jumping lunges, jumping bodyweight squats or burpees, although explosive, they don’t produce much force, so it’s less likely to be useful for power and strength.

Overall Strength and Maximal Strength

Now let’s talk about the exercises that build overall strength and maximal strength more specifically. You need more time under tension than when you do power exercising. But if the exercise you do is too easy and you can rep out a lot, then you have to modify it more. You need a more forceful muscle contraction, and that depends on your current strength level, obviously! However, the nervous system has to be put to challenge, and you can do that well with tough bodyweight exercises.

For many, even doing regular chinups can fit into their strength routine. I, for instance, need to work with a towel, single-handed, or do weighted calisthenics to enhance my maximal strength. These two last options are both fantastic and useful.

Then one-arm pushups or handstand pushups can be part of your strength training. If you can do one-two reps of them only, then that’s perfect if you can execute that rep correctly. You’ll build more pushing power at some point! Only after you can boost more than 2-3 reps per set, your strength and endurance for that tension and intensity will increase more significantly.

For the lower body, you can do squats in a single leg or assist yourself a little with the hands, depending on how strong your legs are. Perhaps, even Bulgarian Splits can work if you struggle with 6 correct reps.

I also want to specify that fast reps typically help you increase in overall strength. I like being more dynamic in my training every time, and that’s why I prefer doing fast reps than slow reps. It also adds to my total work volume. For hypertrophy, of course, both methods are essential. Still, regarding the dynamic strength and the fun factor, too, fast reps win the ground.

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The mighty One-Arm Pull-Up unquestionably stands amongst the hardest strength exercises . I never explicitly trained to achieve this magnificent strength feat and yet unlocked it as a byproduct of my basic bodyweight training. Boosting only one repetition required years of consistent training . I am thrilled with the result. It's proof that my training program works even though gaining a colossal level of strength isn't my general focus. Health and general athleticism is my primary goal, and ever will. I care more about complexity and variety rather than mastering impressive feats . I will continue to work the one-arm pull-ups indirectly, till it becomes smooth and easy . . . . . . . . #onearmpullup #onearmchinup #onearmchinups #onearmchinuptraining #onearmpulluptraining #onearmpullupprogression #strengthtraining #strengthandconditioning #strongman #strong #pullups #heavypull #strengthfeat #calisthenics #streetworkout #pullupsprogression

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Modifying The Exercises

Now let’s go back to gain maximum power. I mentioned so far the sprints and the training mechanisms for it. But you may need some examples and how you can modify your exercises. For instance, pistols are great to use for strength gains if they are hard enough. Still, once they become comfortable, they require some modification. So I’d choose some explosive one leg squats. Stay on a box, higher ground, and allow the other leg space for free movement and more balance. You are going to use it for coordination a lot.

Or you can alternate your legs, but what matters is to powerfully squat and have it leave the ground when you are on top, some sort of a jump or kick. That extra range of motion and explosion and because it’s more dynamic will produce twice as much force. Another great example is to do stair jumps in a single leg.

For the upper-body, I need one-arm chinups and even negative one-arm chinups if I want to enhance my power furthermore. Once you get more advanced and master calisthenics, it’s a question of whether you want to build more power or just stay like that and maintain. You can perhaps integrate pull-ups variations where you focus more on a single hand and assist with the other.

Also, focusing a lot more on dynamic and maximal strength exercises will increase your power as well to a certain extent.

Tips To Increase Maximal Strength and Power with Calisthenics

Tips for Maximum Strength and Power in Calisthenics

A few advantages of power and strength training is that they also build muscle size if you do volume with them. Nonetheless, you need a lot of sets even to get stronger or powerful, not only for hypertrophy. So anyone who is a firm believer in 2 working sets, Convict Conditioning style, can as well close the video right now and go chase ghosts like Paul Wade. My explanations are for those who seek the real stuff, so:

  1. Pick a few variations for the same movement pattern, like 2-4 in the same workout. It depends on how many variations you want to train.
  2. Do over 4 sets for each variation, but I suggest even 10 sets if that exercise is meant to work your power or/and maximal strength. For instance, I always do in my sprint sessions more than 10.
  3. Keep reps to a minimum, but because we are talking of hard exercises, you can’t do more than a few reps nonetheless. You compensate with a higher working set range.
  4. Expand pause from set to set, and mind that this is crucial. Your nervous system will fry rapidly if the break is short. That works for training the muscles, but not here. So anything between 3 minutes and even 5 minutes, from set to set, should be okay. It depends a lot on how fast you recover or how cold it is outside and if you lose the warmth of your body and muscles.
  5. Keep your muscles fresh, that’s why the pause is essential to be larger here.
  6. Execute always with a perfect form and in a full range of motion.
  7. You can add exercises for power and modify the following for strength. But always begin your workout with power exercises, or other said, from hard variations to easier.
  8. The strength gradually drops from a set to another, so the second or third exercise that is typically easier at the beginning can now be more challenging. Maybe at that point, you need another variation that can meet your parameters.
  9. I said that working exclusively for power and strength builds size, but not necessarily a very Jacked physique.
  10. Also, strength is a skill, and it needs constant practice. Challenge your nervous system quite often. So train almost every day if gaining strength and power is fundamentally essential, and you also may need to be time-efficient. This depends a lot on how well you recover, that’s why, if you keep your muscles fresh and stay warm, then you might get another chance on the following day to hit the same exercises or muscles.
  11. Don’t get stuck with perfect programming. If you held a training journal and kept track of your performance, then don’t expect progress to increase linearly. At some point, you’ll need a few days off and do entirely something else. Don’t forget that it’s easy to get bored and meet plateaus when you continuously do the same routine all over again.

So it’s always important to spot these details and pay attention to your training goals every week.

If getting strong is what you care only, then following my principles here will bring you real results in the following months. For those who have my calisthenics program, you can adapt the workouts easily to this training mechanism. Just modify a bit of the exercise and change the break time, sets and rep intervals, and so on. But I also offered routines already efficient for strength and power. Focus on those as well! Therefore, use it smartly.

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