High volume calisthenics is an old training mechanism. Classic bodyweight bodybuilders use it to enhance strength and muscularity. It mostly consists of basic and big movements such as pull-ups, dips, squats, and their variants.
You essentially use only bodyweight exercises to transform the body to its best. Nowadays, many professional athletes and even the army do high-volume calisthenics workouts.
Bodybuilders use high-volume calisthenics for conditioning and strength purposes. It boosts the anaerobic capacity in the muscles and increases fatigue resistance. But I also discovered how effective it is in building muscle too. Yet, the results are related to the amount of work put in over a long period of consistent training. If you push your body, you will adapt and see results.
This training method constantly stresses and fatigues the muscles until they burn out. And it’s done by increasing the work capacity through more reps or sets. It can also be done by training frequently, provided you don’t do many reps and sets in a single workout.
For many, this type of calisthenics workout only increases muscular endurance or stamina; under this circumstance, you also need some progressive overload. It has been a useful training mechanism for athletes like me, but I should mention that recovery and nutrition also played a crucial part. It genuinely helped me get a strong body that is muscular and athletic. So yes, using only bodyweight workouts, you can build muscles that show.
The Truth About High Volume Calisthenics
The key to train with high-volume calisthenics lies in simplicity, somehow monotonous but cyclical workouts. Use compound and fundamental bodyweight exercises, plus a few variants (different grips and body positioning) to train your full body.
This training method fits any fitness level, being effective even for beginners in calisthenics if selected the right variations. The whole workload comes from the sets and reps you do. You won’t need to use harder and harder progressions or modify an exercise to continuously make it harder. You can do that too if you feel like that’s better, it will work, but you still need to add sufficient reps and sets to build a great physique. Practically, you do more with less. I think this is the best calisthenics approach to building shredded muscles.
This strenuous workload comes naturally from the extended physical effort, intensity, and frequency. It makes your muscles burn, scream for mercy, and hurt the days after. So yes, the muscle soreness that follows as a byproduct of volume training is a sign you are moving in a good direction. This calisthenics training method will push you to the limit.
Your muscles and nervous system can’t endure hundreds of reps unless you do simple, light, and compound exercises. Also, you can’t do only high-volume workouts, either.
So it relies more on exercises like dips, push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and some other full-body movements such as burpees, plyometrics, sprints, and uphill sprints. As I said, you’ll also be forced to train in the green zone, lighter, by including de-load periods with less volume or different and more relaxing workout.
The idea of high-volume training is to squizz the muscles out of energy by working up to failure or fatigue. You need many sets and repetitions and a relatively short break time between the sets to achieve that. It all depends on fitness eventually and you need weeks of adaption. For you, 50 pull-ups in a workout may provide similar results in terms of progress with mine at 150 pull-ups. It’s not something fixed and nailed but rather a definition of hard work.
As easy as push-ups might be, doing hundreds of them becomes tough. Do they provide results in terms of hypertrophy and strength? It surely did for me and many others. Look how many calisthenics workout followers get a strong physique.
These moderate bodyweight exercises mainly train the general or relative strength. Volume theoretically focuses a lot on endurance, but with proper recovery, calories and nutrition, you could potentially grow thicker muscles and also maximal strength indirectly.
It’s strenuous work and does not fit everyone because you need a lot of mental toughness, and you can’t do more than 2-3 tough workouts in a week, but it definitely forces the body to change its shape.
A bodyweight compound exercise doesn’t isolate muscle groups that are meant to work together as a unit. The aesthetic part is a byproduct of hard work, it comes as you master the basics, and high-reps promote neuromuscular adaptations.
The best part is that you don’t need any other exercises than what’s basic and simple. Hence, the weekly training structure will look simple and clean, as bodyweight training should be in general.
Trust me when I say that complicated does not mean advanced, nor does simple mean easy. After several years of training in this method, I can say that it never gets easier, no matter how trained I am. Thus, I stick with simplicity and progress or maintain what I’ve built upon the same training methods. I also blend calisthenics with a lot of cardio, more specifically, road and trail running, athletics and swimming. I go back and forth, depending on my goals, how my body feels, and the weather.
The hardest part is tracking the progress of your calisthenics training. Continually draining the muscles of energy leaves you sore. On some days, you will feel incapable of performing as usual. There is a higher demand for sleep and calories when you keep overloading and overusing. But it is a normal and natural response; just eat more and better. That only means your body will evolve if you recover fast and properly. That’s why I include de-load periods or focus on different training sessions like aerobics.
To train high-volume calisthenics, you need:
- Uncomplicated and rather simple, compound but essential exercises, plus their variants. For instance, the regular pull-up is the main exercise. Changing the grip wider or closer modifies the regular pull-ups, which will train the same muscles differently.
- Total work volume, meaning more sets and reps than you usually do or used to do before. But do not increase volume every time or week. Be natural and let it be a byproduct.
- There are shorter rest times between sets or cycles than the typical rest time needed for maximal strength training (1-2 minutes from one set to another).
- A higher frequency. Train the same muscle groups multiple times. Once they recover, hit them again. Train 4-5 times a week! That’s what a high-volume calisthenics workout means!
The Single Required Exercises
Pull-Ups Family: Wide, Regular, Close Grip, Chinups, Close Grip Chinups, Commando, Body Rows, L-Sit Pull-Ups, Towel Pull-Ups, Lever, Uneven, Weighted.
Pushups Family: Regular, Incline, Decline, Wide Grip, Diamonds, Uneven, One-Arm Pushups, Lever, Triceps Extensions, Plank-to-Pushups, Handstand, Pike, Skull-Crushers.
Dips Family: Bench Dips, the regular dips, Front-Bar Dips.
Leg Raises Family: Regular Leg Raises, V-Raises, Toes-to-Bar (Full Leg Raises), L-sits, Flutter Kicks, Knee-Raises, Mountain Climbers, etc.
Squats Family: Burpees, Full Burpees, Squats, Sumo, Close, One-Leg, Pistols, Jump Squats, Frog Jumps, Crouch Walk, Lunges, Bulgarian Splits, etc.
Other Variations: Jumping Jacks, Jump Rope, Sprints, Running, Hill Sprints, Bridges, Planks, etc.
I didn’t train with anything else in the past years, and I am more than happy with the results achieved, not only from an aesthetical point of view but performance-wise also.
Your weekly consistency tells a lot about your dedication, determination, desire and work ethic. You have to persevere here. It’s one thing to train for athleticism and to feel fine, and a totally different story to transform your physique.
I know that many train 3 times a week and are satisfied with their results. Unless you are, too, then I suggest 4 to 5 workouts per week. Training at a bare minimum is enough for many who are genetically gifted. For everyone else, it requires not only more time but also more work.
In the past 5 years, I exercised with an average of 4-5 workouts per week, month after month, having only a few weeks off in a full year. Also, mind that I own a vast sports background from childhood. Without that, you need a serious training regimen, my friend. You need to establish a routine for exercise. But don’t think for a second that this means killing yourself every workout. Train hard, but not in a way you are out for a week.
Train the big muscle groups twice a week if they look undeveloped. You accumulate total work volume at the end of the week by training the same muscles more frequently and adding more workouts. And this is especially important for one whose fitness level is low. If you can’t do hundreds of reps, you can compensate by exercising more frequently.
What matters is to work hard almost daily and make sure to track the volume in a calisthenics workout log. I counted how many pull-ups, push-ups, dips, sprints, miles, and squats I did every week. It was the only way I could measure progress over time. I gradually transformed my body from skinny to muscular, slowly and with steady steps, because I followed a routine consistently. I kept changing it, shifting from high-volume to low-volume and back to cardio and running, depending on the recovery needs. Yet, my muscles started to grow once I was consistent with my training, eating habits and sleeping pattern.
Volume and Intensity
There isn’t a specific volume or benchmark that defines the required number of reps and sets for hypertrophy, endurance, or strength gains.
That “know-how” comes with experience. However, many suggest including difficult variations and progressive calisthenics as the main training method. On the other hand, I believe that volume-calisthenics training is, in the end, a sort of progressive training method. One centers on exercise variations and their intensity or difficulty in growing strength and muscles, and the other builds the intensity through reps and sets.
For my training method, you don’t need a lot of variants and complexity.
However, I also do difficult exercises and progressive training. But more often, I like to focus on light and moderate-intensity exercises so I can do more reps.
Watch this video below, a full uncut workout where I did 100 pull-ups as fast as possible:
For instance, Lever Pull-Ups are still compound and basic. Nevertheless, it’s more challenging to do 100 Lever Pull-Ups instead of 100 Regular Pull-Ups. Lever Pull-Ups or any other similar variations generate more tension in the muscles. They feel harder and more intense. Therefore, if you plan on doing a workout based on Lever Pull-Ups only, it won’t be long until your strength drops. But you could do more if you added some lighter variants after.
Intensity, short rest and hard variations will reduce the total work volume. The key is to balance the intensity to do more mechanical work. Do those tough variations, and drain your muscles with them as long as you focus on getting as much work as you can that day.
In your quest to train more, I suggest you find ways to regulate the intensity and tension generated by these exercises.
Nonetheless, I do have suggestions in terms of volume and how many exercises you need in your routine:
- Four-five workouts per week, and train twice the big muscle groups. Do 2 pull-up sessions, 2 pushup sessions, 2 leg workouts, and so on.
- Choose at least 4 to 5 basic variations: wide pull-ups, chinups, horizontal pull-ups, commando pull-ups, and Aussie pull-ups. Do the same with other groups of exercises: sumo squats, regular squats, crouch walk, lunges, and jump squats. You got the idea!
- I always suggest doing at least 4 sets per variation. But that also depends on how many variations you want to include in a workout. I often do 100 pull-ups, of which 50 are chinups and 50 are wide grip pull-ups. Or I may do more variations and fewer sets, but the total volume remains!
Workout Example #1:
- Wide Pull-Ups: 5 sets x 7-10 reps
- Pull-Ups: 5 sets x 7-10 reps
- Close Grip Chinups: 5 sets x 7-10 reps
- Chinups: 5 sets x 7-10 reps
- Horizontal Pull-Ups: 4 sets x 5-10 reps
- Handstand Pushups: 4 sets x 5-10 reps
- Diamond Pushups: 5 sets x 20 reps
- Dips: 5 sets x 20 reps
- Pushups: 5 sets x 20 reps.
Workout Example #2:
- 10 Pull-Ups followed by 20 Dips, followed by 20 Pushups. Repeat the circuit 7-10 times, and you got yourself a high-volume workout, using only 3 exercises, but a higher amount of sets than compared to the workout example 1.
Adapt the reps to fit your level of muscular endurance and strength. I always give my max effort and energy into each and every workout. Sometimes I can barely train, and on other days, I can kill my workout.
In case you don’t know how much is enough, then palm callouses, clogged ears, yawns, muscle spasms, trembles, or even a glycemia breakdown, are all symptoms of demanding training. Muscle burnt too is a good sign of extreme fatigue. No need to go that far but somewhere close to that!
Recovery and Rest Times
Do not believe the myth that overtraining will compromise your final fitness goals. Try not to reach overtraining because that’s bad. So do not overload by too far and take your time to adapt to a workout. If one workout hits you too badly, then on the second time, make it lighter.
You will often feel muscle soreness associated with deep pain, no matter how good your recovery is. It happens in the beginning because your body is still under adaptation. It took me months to get better.
You can also attend some sessions of deep tissue or sports massages. Ice and cold showers also help. At home, I use a foam roller. Overtraining occurs because you don’t focus on the right things that fully heal your body. I have a lot of active rest days besides what I said above, and I also have deload weeks or alternate to cardio or HIIT.
Having a full recovery is as essential as training. For instance, a tired brain caused by poor sleep affects performance tremendously.
Regarding the rest time during your workout, here it is:
- 45 seconds to 90 seconds between sets
- 1-2 minutes between exercises
- 2 days of recovery per week
- 1-week off every 2-3 months
This is the way I do it. For each individual, it may be slightly different; hence, you should adapt this to suit your goals and capabilities.
Don’t Be Afraid to Add Reps
For most of us, our childhood was mostly physically inactive. Therefore, you have more reasons to start working out than the forever-fit and active guys.
The way high-volume calisthenics affects our behavior is interesting because our reaction to severe training is to sleep and eat more, meaning more intake of calories and nutrients. As a result, the body will start adapting to keep up. Readaptation means gaining more strength and creating more powerful neuro-muscle connections. In the end, your ability to train more will bring you to a higher rep range where the hypertrophy response will be triggered so you can sequentially gain muscle mass.
After you put a decent amount of beef on your frame, your strength will reach new heights, like what happened to me, and it will surprise you completely. I achieved the one-arm pull-ups even if I never specifically trained for them:
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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
I have only trained using volume with slight deviations ever since I came to realize its potential over advanced calisthenics too. I don’t do specific training for advanced elements, and every time I want to improve my form, or performance, let it be stamina, endurance, or power, I always go and work on my basics.
Progression and Plateaus
Plateaus exist, unfortunately. Progression isn’t a steady linear curve in fitness, regardless of the method of choosing. For this reason, I like mixing up things. I still do basic training, but I may swim or go on a trail run as a pause from my rigorous calisthenics session.
I also integrate some weighted calisthenics and a lot of running on the stairs. In this way, I can eliminate boredom, and I can give my muscles a reasonable period to aid in recovery.
I overcome plateaus by changing my mood, state of mind, and energy level. So, try to adopt a positive attitude, which helps to overcome obstacles. The rest is only patience and work ethic.
If you are convinced to try it out, then I inform you that I have a program called High-Volume Calisthenics Workouts.