Calisthenics is a great style of training for lots of things – mastering your bodyweight, increasing mobility, functional fitness. But is it good for hypertrophy? Calisthenics comes under the umbrella of strength training, but many people would question whether it’s possible to truly build muscle using calisthenics. Let’s look into it.
Is calisthenics the same as strength training?
Strength training is a wide category that incorporates any training style that uses resistance. Strength training can range from heavy barbell training like Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, to bodybuilding, to using weights machines at the gym. And – yes – it also includes using your own bodyweight as resistance.
Calisthenics is the art and sport of mastering your own body, using bodyweight as a resistance tool. So yes, calisthenics can definitely be considered strength training.
Can you build muscle doing calisthenics?
This brings us on to the key question of using calisthenics to build muscle. Many people think that because calisthenics doesn’t use external loads – like barbell, dumbbell, or machine weights – it can’t build muscle.
We say go and look at the physiques of top calisthenics athletes! There are plenty of jacked and stacked calisthenics athletes out there who do nothing but calisthenics, rig work, and bodyweight training. Obviously genetics plays a part. But the fact remains, anyone can build muscle using calisthenics.
How do you build muscle?
The human body needs certain criteria to build muscle. These include mechanical tension (stretching tension and contracting tension), time under tension (sets, reps, tempo), load, metabolic stress, and training frequency. Calisthenics provides all of these.
In fact, we’d argue that a decent calisthenics routine plus above-average nutrition will lead to better muscle gain than a free weights routine plus sub-optimal nutrition!
Best ways to build muscle from calisthenics
So you want to use calisthenics to build muscle? Smart idea. There are so many reasons to love calisthenics training. It’s simple, portable, can be done anywhere and anytime. You don’t even need any equipment (although a few basic bits of kit can seriously level up your calisthenics game). You don’t need a gym membership or lengthy workouts
The best way to build muscle using calisthenics is to pick a few basic movements that cover the key muscle groups. Make sure you can do good form, and give yourself room to scale up the intensity.
Train frequently (but give yourself time to recover). You can’t expect to build serious muscle with one or two calisthenics sessions a week, but you wouldn’t expect to put on size with a couple of gym sessions either.
Just like with any kind of strength training, make sure your calisthenics sessions cover push, pull, legs, core, and full body movements. Remember that you don’t need to do isolation exercises like biceps curls when you’re a calisthenics athlete. Calisthenics movements create tension throughout the body and pack a lot into every exercise.
22 best calisthenics exercises for muscle growth
Hindu push up
Archer push up
Down dog push up
How to build leg size with calisthenics
One thing people love to criticise calisthenics for is its comparative lack of leg exercises. We get it, when you compare lower body calisthenics movements like pistol squats and sissy squats to a huge deadlift or a stacked leg press, it can look too light.
The trick to using calisthenics to build leg size is to work with sets, reps, and tempo to increase time under tension. 4 sets of 8 pistol squats, done to depth, with a slow tempo will build more muscle than a few shaky reps on the hack squat machine where you don’t even break parallel.
5 tips for building muscle with calisthenics
Build a routine that covers major movements (push, pull, press, core, trunk, legs)
Move on to higher level versions of movements as you progress
Use rep ranges of 6-8 or 10-12
Increase volume by increasing sets to around 4-6 sets
Use tempo to get more time under tension (3+ second eccentric)
Calisthenics for muscle gain
We hope we’ve tempted you to try calisthenics for functional, athletic looking muscle that moves well and looks great. If you need more guidance on how to follow a hypertrophy focused calisthenics routine, check out the Gravity Fitness app. And if you need a few bits of quality kit to support your functional fitness journey, the Gravity Fitness online store has everything you could possibly need.