How Much Volume is Enough To Build Muscles with Calisthenics

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

March 15, 2020

How much volume is enough to build muscles with calisthenics exercises? Or other said, how much volume or sets and reps do you need in every workout and week to stimulate muscle growth with bodyweight training? These are two frequent questions I come across quite often within my community, especially because many know me already of the high-volume calisthenics training method I continuously promote.

Therefore, I think it’s about time I discuss the subject in detail and give some numbers too. Thus, if you are into basic bodyweight training and intend to grow your muscles, my article might be of great interest to you.

Muscle Fatigue Stimulates Growth in Calisthenics Training

My opinion after endless discussions with a lot of calisthenics practitioners is that many or perhaps even yourself, don’t take into consideration the essential aspects that stimulate growth. One of them is muscle fatigue. Whatever is that you do, you must squeeze those muscles to failure. And to fully drain depends entirely on your muscular endurance or how fit you are.

Volume is a crucial component because it’s the only one that fully drains the muscles and increases endurance. After all, how many reps and sets can you do of archer pull-ups, handstand pushups, and any other exercise that currently feels extremely difficult?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do them, as every compound exercise that contracts hard and recruits the whole muscles will fit great into your muscle-building workout. It is just that those hard exercises and a low volume can’t adequately drain them entirely because of the high tension they generate.

Therefore, also include in your workout, and I am not saying that you should do it every time, but you need more accessible compound exercises too. Use variations that still recruit the same muscle groups, but that allows you to endure a lot more workload to drain them fully.

I have a few more workout examples on my Youtube Channel!

How Many Sets and Reps Are Enough In Calisthenics for Growth?

You need to push yourself a little even if you do hard exercises only. The amount of sets and reps depends on how much you want to train a particular grip and muscle group. Maybe you want to work your wide pull-ups because you like how they hit your muscles. If that is what interests you more than other variations, then do as many sets and reps possible using that grip.

Wide Pull Ups

Many of you ask me how many variations you need to hit the pulling or pushing muscles. Well, I have workouts with 10 sets of 10 wide pull-ups and others where I do the same volume but divided in more variations. Which one is best? All of them because it’s not about a single workout routine. It’s the repetitive cycle that stimulates growth.

You hit the muscles hard, and as soon as they recover from soreness, hit them again with the same routine or utilize other training methods based on the same compound exercises. Make the switch from classic sets and reps to pyramid training.

If the question is whether you should do the same volume again in your second workout depends a lot on your performance that day. Sometimes I do 300 pushups in my first workout, and then 150 reps are the maximum I can endure even if the exercises are the same. Still, my fullest capacity in both workouts, so that’s why I say volume depends on fitness and training capacity for that particular day. You’re not a machine and accept that. The curve of progress in what regards the volume of sets and reps is never linear. It goes up, and it goes down as there are many influential aspects.

Sometimes I can do sets of 10 pull-ups and 20 pushups, and with other occasions, I have problems in boosting more than 6 pull-ups and 15 pushups per set. And when you really are exhausted from overall training, include a deload week or focus more on sprint intervals and cardio. Allow yourself a couple of days off, or train in a completely different manner to recover and get back fresh on the following week.

So I hope I clarified this. There isn’t a specific and definite volume that stimulates growth. You don’t need benchmarks to know when you are working hard. Your common sense should tell you that just fine. But you need enough resistance and volume to engage and train the muscles well. Find the exercises that allow you to progressively overload by adding reps and also ways to enhance recovery. The trick in keeping your performance higher lies in recovery and steady improvement; hence sleep and nutrition will contribute a lot.

Adjust sets and reps also depending on how many variations you add and how frequently you hit the same muscles in a week. I like doing two training sessions for the same muscles every week. I discovered it works very effectively for growth. One workout can be extremely demanding while the other is more focused on form, or execution, mastering new variations rather than repping out enormous volumes. But you can also try to max out again.

You have to increase your overall performance, strength, and endurance. That’s the moment when muscles start to respond more rapidly to training.

General Set and Rep Range That Stimulates Growth in Calisthenics

To make things even better, I can offer you as a bonus some numbers that you can utilize as a reference in your training. So yes, there is a general interval of reps and sets accepted and known to stimulate hypertrophy.

But before that, remember that the reps are at regular speed, pretty fast on the concentric portion and a little slower on the negative part. The pause from set to set is between 60 and 90 seconds. So we have:

  1. Over 6 reps per set to pull-ups in general. Some variations require no more than 3-4 reps like weighted pull-ups, while others like body rows need around 10 per set. A large volume of over 70 reps per workout can stimulate growth. For beginners, it might work with 50 reps. I usually plan on doing between 100 and 150 reps per session. So split your variations and sets or reps in any way you prefer to match the total volume at the end. If you focus a lot more on form and execution, the reps might cut in half, but you might gain the same time under tension, which can again be okay for hypertrophy.
  2. Over 250 pushups should be a reasonable volume. Split the sets in reps of over 15-20. Pushups feel a lot easier than pull-ups, so you have to do perhaps at least twice as much. I had sessions with over 400 reps that hit my pushing muscles really awesome. It depends on the exercises you use. Adding one-arm pushups and handstand pushups will reduce the reps tremendously, but even so, do sets of 4-5 and a maximum amount of reps. Then, include moderate and light variations too.
  3. Dips are pretty much challenging. I like doing 4-5 sets of over 15 reps. They go along with pushups just fine.
  4. When I do leg raises, I focus on repping out 10 or 15 per set. Abs recover quickly, and you can do over 100 reps in a single session without taking too much time.
  5. Then we have squats. They are easy, and I always do over 300-400 reps in a single session in sets of 40-50 reps. Then you have harder variations like pistols where you can do sets of 6-10 and lighter like walking lunges with reps over 50.

This is more or less a reference only. I suggest you find the volume in a workout that fries your muscles and continue to work with that. Nothing is settled exactly, and we are different from an individual to another, so find the sweet spot. But definitely, a training program based exclusively on low volume, I don’t think it will provide impressive long term results. On the other hand, I don’t say you should always push yourself to the extreme and get injured. It’s the sweet spot between pushing hard and enough or over the limit that increases the risks.

That’s why I usually do volumes of 100-150 pull-ups and not over 200 even though I can do 300 reps if I really want to push myself on the edge. I found my limits and discovered what volume works best for me.

Therefore, I wish you success in your endeavor, and if you need workouts based on volume, then check my programs on the website. And if you are not strong enough, I also have available a program for beginners in calisthenics.

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