My Best Tips To Build Muscles with Calisthenics

Hi! I am the author and founder of Old School Calisthenics
Tips to Build Muscles with Calisthenics

These insights represent my best recommendations for building muscle mass through calisthenics training. I have personally tested and refined these methods over several years and have also applied them to others. Their effectiveness is not only backed by exercise science but also validated through empirical experience. While the results have been exceptionally good for some, others have experienced more modest improvements. Nonetheless, I encourage you to consider these strategies, as they offer a well-rounded approach to muscle development in calisthenics, blending scientific principles with practical, real-world application.

Do Basic and Compound Calisthenics Exercises

One-Arm Aussie Pull-Ups

In calisthenics, isolation exercises are scarce, making it challenging to target a single muscle group without involving others. For instance, when training biceps, back muscles are also engaged, and similarly, triceps exercises invariably activate deltoids and pectorals. This approach reflects the natural and functional synergy of muscle chains. Embracing this holistic method, I advocate for compound exercises that engage multiple joints and muscle groups simultaneously. Although modifications can slightly alter the focus, complete isolation remains elusive. For example, when aiming to strengthen the arms, exercises like push-ups and pull-ups become essential. By adopting a narrow grip and employing supination (chin-ups), the intensity on specific muscles can be enhanced, yet perfect isolation is unattainable in calisthenics.

Functional training leads to significant strength gains, with simple yet compound exercises often delivering the most effective results. To encourage muscle growth, exercises should be sufficiently challenging to maintain strong form and execution technique, yet not so difficult as to be unattainable. In calisthenics, it’s a well-established principle that higher volume training is beneficial, as muscles typically respond well to this approach, both empirically and observationally. There’s also considerable evidence suggesting that higher volume training is key in stimulating muscle hypertrophy.

For instance, in my personal routine, the initial 8-10 push-ups serve mainly to reach a baseline level of muscle fatigue; these repetitions are somewhat less impactful. The critical phase begins when the exercise becomes more challenging. In my case, this is usually between the 15-25 repetition range, where continuing despite difficulty is crucial. However, these numbers are not one-size-fits-all; they vary depending on an individual’s fitness level and adaptation. It’s important to gauge your own capacity and adjust accordingly.

Therefore, focus on basic, simple exercises and incorporate more challenging variations. Rotate these exercises on a weekly basis.

Train More Frequently

To put it clearly, frequent training enhances efficiency and adaptation to the exercise stimulus. This strategy helps prevent overly exhausting workouts that can impede full recovery. The key is to train at or slightly above your capacity, but it’s crucial to ensure complete recovery between sessions to maintain this frequency. The volume of training plays a significant role here, along with post-workout nutrition and rest. The goal is to manage the volume so it’s substantial enough to be effective, yet not so taxing that you’re unable to repeat the workout within a 3-4 day interval.

To give you an example, if my goal is to develop shoulder muscle mass and I’m more focused on this aspect than on developing biceps and triceps, then my training plan will include two shoulder workouts per week. The objective is to identify those fundamental exercises that target the shoulders more and other muscle groups less. I will adjust the volume so that I can perform two effective sessions per week, while also ensuring proper nutrition during this period.

You Need Hard Work to Stimulate Hypertrophy

Grow Muscles with Calisthenics

To clarify, the body responds more effectively to greater physical exertion. The more intense and frequent you train, the better the response. In essence, those who put in extreme effort will experience faster and more significant results. However, it’s important to note that this only holds true up to the point where training exceeds your capacity. This level of intense training is more suitable for experienced, well-conditioned individuals and requires time to achieve.

Conversely, if the training stimulus is weak, the results will be correspondingly modest. For beginners, it’s crucial not to overexert, but there’s a substantial learning curve. As a novice, you’ll need to experiment extensively with your own body to understand the necessary workload to stimulate muscle growth effectively. Additionally, if the protein intake throughout the day isn’t sufficient, you won’t see significant improvements in performance or muscle mass, regardless of your training efforts.

You Need Precision

The quality of your repetitions is a key determinant of your training’s effectiveness and impact. It’s essential to develop precision in execution, ensuring not just correct form, but also clean and well-coordinated movements. This precision in execution is crucial for enhancing performance. Focusing on performance or execution in general plays a significant role in determining how muscles respond and adapt following the workout. By prioritizing precision and form, you can maximize the benefits of your training and ensure that each repetition contributes meaningfully to your overall fitness goals.

Focus! You Need Mind-Muscle Connection

Recently, I’ve incorporated resistance band exercises as a supplement to bodyweight training. Why? While I advocate for minimalist training, I believe that a comprehensive and well-rounded approach requires the inclusion of complementary exercises. In calisthenics, for instance, it’s challenging to fully engage all the muscles around the scapula. This is where resistance bands come in handy. While handstand push-ups effectively develop the deltoids, other muscles can be targeted through various push-up variations, dips, and pull-ups. However, training the rotator cuff and adjacent muscles is relatively difficult and inefficient with calisthenics alone. Resistance bands efficiently fill this gap.

Why do I emphasize this? Using resistance bands requires significant concentration to ensure effective execution. Many people use resistance bands, but few focus on the muscle activity involved.

With bands, if you don’t apply resistance during the negative phase, or if you fail to control the movement length, you won’t achieve the desired effect. The variable resistance provided by the band is also crucial. Constant attention to execution is necessary, similar to bodyweight exercises. If you’re not mindful of your muscle fibers’ activity and how you feel during each movement, you won’t achieve high-quality repetitions.

Keep The Pause Short and Burn Out the Muscles

The goal of training is to stimulate muscle hypertrophy, which occurs as a post-workout response to the stimuli generated during exercise. It’s a chronological chain of events, starting with the workout itself. The aim here is to induce metabolic stress, causing the muscles to burn a little, feel sore, appear pumped, and experience fatigue at the end of the workout. You should notice a decrease in strength, endurance, precision, and coordination. These sensations guide the selection of repetition intervals, number of sets, rest time, and the selection of exercises.

The focus isn’t on performing a high number of exercises but rather on those 4-6 exercises that effectively recruit the targeted muscle groups. What matters next is to introduce sufficient volume and quality in the repetitions to induce muscle fatigue and metabolic stress. If your muscles burn during the exercise, it means you’re stressing the muscle’s energy metabolism, which is a positive indicator in this context.

Therefore, rest periods should be relatively short to prevent the muscles from cooling down too much. This approach maintains the intensity and effectiveness of the workout, ensuring that the muscles remain warmed up and primed for the next set, thereby maximizing the benefits of the training session.

Get Enough Protein

The discussion about protein requirements is extensive, but in short, what I recommend is to focus especially on the amino acid profile of the foods you consume. You want high-quality proteins because they have an amino acid profile similar to human muscles, meaning they convert into muscle tissue more efficiently. When I say this, I’m referring to animal-based products, whole eggs, dairy, and only then to plant-based proteins.

In my training programs, I talk extensively about this, especially in the nutrition program.

As an idea, once you consume the most biologically valuable protein products, the quantity then matters. Around 1.2-2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight are necessary, so quite a lot of protein. It’s not simple, and you will need to play with these numbers. The quantity of carbohydrates and fats also matters greatly. This is another discussion, but if the macro distribution is not correct, you’ll also accumulate body fat.

For Muscles, You Need Calisthenics Split Workouts

Don’t train the entire body in one session if you want to develop muscle. In one session, focus on the upper body, then separately train the lower body, and then again different exercises for the upper body, and so on. Doing HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) is not optimal if your goal is to maximize muscle mass growth. Such workouts have their place, especially for breaking the monotony, aiding in fat burning, but the core of your training should be muscle-focused.

Table of Contents

Related Articles
best bodyweight pull up workouts
Muscle Building
Adorian Moldovan
The Best Bodyweight Pull Up Workouts

No bodyweight routine is complete without the iconic pull-up, the fundamental exercise that develops upper body strength and muscles. While the pull-up is essential, it’s

FREE 2-Week Calisthenics Workout Plan