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If you want to build calisthenics muscle mass and bulk up, you need to pick up some heavy stuff repeatedly… or so you’re told.
I’m here to tell you that you don’t. Your body alone is heavy enough to achieve that same exact goal, minus the expensive gym membership, free weights and complicated machines.
Not only does bodyweight training allow you to bulk up as well as a bodybuilder, but it provides your body with more than just some new, pretty-looking muscle. With bodyweight training, you build muscle, increase strength, develop endurance… and get into a split while you’re at it!
Yes, You Can Build Mass With Calisthenics
Why would lifting weights be more effective than bodyweight training? Your body doesn’t differentiate the kind of weight you’re working on, but rather how you work. Bodybuilders have the muscle-building technique down pat, while calisthenics tends to be better-known for muscle endurance.
…but that’s not all calisthenics is good for!
We live in a society convinced that without the gym, you can’t get fit.
I’m here to tell you…that’s a preconceived notion and a load of bullsh– bullcrap.
Ever Google male gymnasts? They’re packed with muscle, yet rely ONLY on bodyweight training.
Here’s the thing: to build calisthenics muscle mass, you gotta train a bit differently.
The “Science” Behind Building Muscle Mass
How does calisthenics muscle mass grow? If you don’t know, well… you should, and I’m here to help you into find out how.
Muscle doesn’t grow while you’re training it. It grows when you’re resting.
For your muscles to experience that growth, they need to be challenged by tension or weight for an extended period of time. It is this specific kind of stress that breaks down muscles with micro-tears.
Rest allows them to rebuild. If you’re eating enough calories, your body will naturally use that rest-time to both restore the muscle and add some mass to it.
Calisthenics can easily recreate a situation where enough tension or weight is placed long enough on the muscle that it’ll resist, then tear, and rebuild with more mass. The more you train, the more tension or weight you’ll need to place on the muscle. It’s levels of resistance grow the more you train and develop strength.
See? You don’t need to be a bodybuilder to build calisthenics muscle mass.
How do I build muscle mass with calisthenics?
Create a tension/resistance in the muscle.
This stress will help your muscle grow in the same way weight-lifting would.
But if you want to build muscle mass as quickly as possible, calisthenics won’t be right for you.
If you want to make it a long-term thing though, calisthenics is totally for you.
Calisthenics is focused on progressions. Start with what your body allows you to do, then up the ante as you keep training.
More than that, don’t think that just because you can easily execute 20+ push-ups, you’re advanced.
Calisthenics wants you to slow it down, and focus on your form.
Here’s some useful terminology if you take your training seriously:
1. Concentric, or positive movement is the movement where you go up in your push-up. Technically, it’s the motion of an active muscle while it’s retracting under load.
2. Eccentric, or negative movement is the movement where you go down in your push-up. Technically, it’s the motion of an active muscle while it’s lengthening under load.
Bodyweight Muscle-Building Techniques
You don’t need to be a bodybuilder to build muscle mass, but you do need technique. Here are some of the main tricks you can use to maximize your bodyweight training aiming to build muscle mass.
1. Slow it DOWN
Bodyweight training relies heavily on the application of concentric and eccentric movement. Depending how you train both concentric and eccentric movements, your body will develop differently.
So even if you can do 20+ push-ups, I want you to slow down the entire movement and deconstruct it into separate steps.
Instead of powering through as many push-ups as you can, do less and focus on your form. In fact, try taking 30 seconds for each aspect of the movement.
Go down slowly, controlling your descent the entire time (4s minimum). Once you get down to a couple of inches from the ground, stop for a couple of seconds before pushing yourself back up in one explosive move.
By doing this, you’re taking the time for your eccentric movement to happen. You’re helping the muscle develop differently than most people train it. In fact, eccentric movements are where the micro-tears I mentioned will happen most.
So stop ignoring the eccentric movements if you want to gain that big muscle!
2. It’s All About The Angles
Angular training is this awesome technique where you use the angle of your body to create more tension in the muscle.
If you move your body around, adjust its angle, move your elbows in or out, bend or extend your knees – you’re doing angular training.
In fact, calisthenics uses angular training to make exercises progressively difficult. It is at the core of many calisthenics progressions; a new athlete training wall push-ups will make the exercise progressively difficult by adjusting the angle of the exercise. By placing your feet further and further away from the wall, you’re adding more weight onto your arms and making the push-up increasingly difficult.
An awesome example of angular training is the Typewriter Push-Up.
In this exercise, your starting position is a wide-armed push-up. Using your toes, arms and balance, you move your weight around your body, creating the need to RESIST in a variety of way.
Guess what? You’re pushing your muscles, creating tension and resistance that will then cause the micro-tears which will then cause – guess what? – muscle growth.
3. JOIN THE RESISTANCE!
No, I’m not talking about a revolution. I’m talking about bodyweight distribution.
Even in calisthenics, you need to work with a low rep range if you want to build muscle mass. If you worked longer, you’d be focusing on muscular endurance. That’s not what you’re looking for, right? So don’t.
The thing with bodyweight training is… you can’t increase the challenge-level of your workout you carry by just adding weight.
But there’s a trick!
This is where bodyweight distribution comes into play.
It might come as a surprise to you, but when you’re in a neutral push-up position, your weight is evenly distributed between your two arms. Guess what happens if, oh, maybe you placed all your weight on your right hand?
SURPRISE! More weight is added. Suddenly your right side needs to RESIST and stay strong against this weight that you didn’t need a machine to add on.
Let’s take the Typewriter push-up again.
It’s the perfect example of angular training, but it can easily be used for bodyweight distribution.
Instead of doing the movement by pushing on your arms and moving around, repositioning your body, you can simply move from one side to the other.
You’re switching your bodyweight around without changing anything else, and bam! You need to RESIST.
You Gotta EAT If You Want To Grow BIG And STRONG
If you want to build your muscles, you gotta eat.
Well… it’s time to get science-y again.
For muscles to either be maintained or grow, you need protein. Depending what your goal is, you need lots of protein.
Remember when I talked about the micro-tears your muscles experience when you work out? When you rest, your body uses protein chains to repair those tears, and if you want more muscle, you need more protein. Basically.
Many different publications talk about this, including Men’s Health. Different studies talk about different portion-size, but most people agree that 0.75 grams of protein should be eaten for every pound of bodyweight you have…if you’re already within a healthy body fat range.
If you’re overweight, you should eat the portion of protein you’d need if you were at your ideal bodyweight.
But that’s not all.
It’s not just about eating the right amount of protein. Scheduling is super important too, and you need to portion your protein throughout your different meals. Trying to O.D. on protein in a single meal just doesn’t sound quite right, does it?
Well, don’t do it.
Try dividing your protein-intake into at least three different meals in the day. In fact, the more balanced your protein-intake throughout the day, the better. If you stock up on protein in one specific meal, you’ll basically create a backlog in your system, and your body won’t benefit from that.
And one more thing…
The most effective way to consume protein is to have a meal a couple of hours before and right after your workout. Studies have shown that slightly upping your protein-intake before and/or after your workout is one of the best ways for it to help your muscles grow.
If you work out early in the morning, make sure to eat a meal right after.
This is a promise: your body and energy will thank you.
…and your muscles will get bigger.
Gimme a muscle-building workout NOW!
Before I share the awesome program I’ve come up with, there are a few things you need to know to train calisthenics well.
For example, you might not know that your body gets accustomed to a single, repetitive routine. So let’s talk about periodization for a second.
High volume and multiple sets might pack on muscle quickly, but you shouldn’t only train this way.
Training exclusively this way will get you stuck in “general adaptation syndrome,” which means your body will adapt to the program quickly. You’ll run into a massive plateau.
This is why you should use a periodized routine. Choose one that emphasizes high volume and multiple sets—a plan that intersperses hypertrophy workouts with regular strength-focused workouts.
If you switch up your habits, your body can’t really adapt to a single workout, so your muscles will constantly be stimulated into growing. Periodization means varying exercises, workouts or weekly routines.
You could organize your week to be 2-to-1 hypertrophy/strength rotation; you do 2 hypertrophy workouts (8 to 12 reps, 6 sets) for every 1 strength workout (4 to 6 reps, 3 sets). Slotting in a strength day helps me lift more on my hypertrophy days.
Share the routine already!
Don’t expect this routine to magically make your muscles grow. It’ll help, but it won’t happen in a day, a week or even a month for some people. Just keep that in mind.
Here’s a one-week program that I’ve followed with amazing results.
MONDAY – BACK AND TRICEPS
- Assisted 1 arm pull-up work 3 – 5 x 1-5 (L/R)
- Wide Pull-up 3 – 5 x 8-10 / Wide Row 3 – 5 x 8-10
- Close Pull-up 3 – 5 x 8–10 / Close Row 3 – 5 x 8-10
- Normal Pull-up 3 x MAX
- 1 Arm push-up 5 x 5 (R/L)
- Diamond Push-ups 3 – 5 x 15–20
- Triceps extension 4 x 8–10
- Straight Bar Dips 3 – 5 x 6–8 (Slow eccentric movements)
- Dips 2 – 3 x MAX
TUESDAY – LEGS
- Pistol Squats 5 x 5 – 10 (R/L) (If you can’t perform a pistol, find a variation that fits you)
- Normal Squats 3 – 5 x 15-20
- Close Squats 4 x 15-20
- Lunges Matrix (Front, Side) 3 x 6 – 8 (Go immediately from Front to Side Lunge)
- Calf Raises 5 x 15 – 20 (Slow Reps)
- 1 Legged Calf Raises 3 – 5 x 10 (Slow Reps)
- Jump Rope 3 x 70 – 140 jumps with straight knees using your calves as a jumping power / Sprints 5 x 30 m 2 x 50 m (MIX IT UP)
WEDNESDAY – REST
This means don’t work out. But if you want to move, do yoga, spend an hour stretching and training your flexibility…that’s a good thing.
THURSDAY – SHOULDERS
- Handstand Wall 3 – 5 – 45+ Sec (If you can perform a free stand handstand then do it!)
- Handstand Pushup Wide 3 x 6 – 8 (FREESTAND OR USING A WALL)
- Handstand Pushup Close 3 x 6 – 8 (FREESTAND OR USING A WALL)
- Hindu Pushup 4 x 10 – 15 – SUPERSET – Pseudo Pushup 4 x 10
- Straight Bar Dips (Slow negatives) 4 x 10
- Dips 4 x 8 – 12 (Slow tempo)
NOTE: If you can’t perform a handstand pushup, then you can follow our book on Getting Started With Calisthenics.
FRIDAY – REST
Again – stretch, do yoga, meditate, move, have fun, play with your body.
SATURDAY – CHEST AND BICEPS
- Wide Push-ups 3 – 5 sets of 15 – 25 reps
- Close Push-ups 3 – 5 sets of 15 – 25 reps
- Declined Push-ups 3 – 5 sets of 15 – 25 reps
- Dips 4 sets of 12 – 25 reps
- Chin-ups 4 x 8 – 12
- Chin-ups negatives 3 – 4 x 6 – 8 negatives
- Rings Biceps Curl 4 x 8 – 12
- Close grip chin-ups 3 x MAX (GIVE ALL YOU GOT)
SUNDAY – REST
Calisthenics can DEFINITELY help you build the muscle mass you want, but the process won’t be as instantly visible as weight-lifting.
…The results will definitely be more long-lasting though!
But what if I can’t do some of these exercises?
WHY the program above although good, WILL NOT GET RESULTS FOR MOST OF YOU…
Create an optimal training routine just for you
This is a problem a lot of us run into. We’re given routines – usually based on a standardized level – beginner, intermediate, advanced. The Movement Athlate used to do that too – because it’s very hard to create a personalized training for each and every person unless we spend a significant amount of time with them.
There was just one problem with this approach (actually there are a lot of problems with it) – it hindered our athletes’ progress. We’ve written extensively on the matter in the blog post, the end of beginner/intermediate/advanced – that is hurting your training.
It simply explains why a lack of personalization is hurting your training.
Imagine if some of these exercises above were too hard for you. Your body will try to compensate with a poor form, movement dysfunction and possibly risk injury if it’s too challenging.
And now imagine if some of these exercises were too easy they wouldn’t challenge your muscles to grow – you’d simply be wasting your time.
This is why we created The Movement Athlete: to offer a fully personalized training program reflecting exactly where your level is for optimal performance.
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