If your training goal is gaining muscle, getting stronger, or changing the look of your body then you’ll naturally want to choose the best type of training for building muscle. You know traditional gym workouts with weights is good for muscle gain, but you really want to do calisthenics. Can you build muscle mass with calisthenics alone?
Calisthenics training is really good for building muscle, especially in your upper body and core. This is because it combines load (your bodyweight) with movement against gravity. You might think this can’t build as much muscle as using weights machines or free weights, but it’s actually a more functional way of building strength and muscle tissue.
How does calisthenics build muscle?
The fundamentals of muscle gain are the same whether you lift weights, do calisthenics, or use unconventional training tools. To build muscle, you need to give your body a stimulus (load) and repeat it often enough (reps, sets, and training frequency). This stimulates the release of metabolites and muscle-building hormones.
You can achieve this by any kind of training that involves load: barbell, dumbbells, strongman training, or simply by having a physical job that involves hefting heavy stuff around!
Calisthenics builds muscle by using your own body as load, and giving you a constantly varied training protocol that is fun, motivating, and easy to recover from so you can tick the “training frequency” box too!
Does calisthenics build as much muscle as weights?
The amount of muscle you can build is partly determined by genetics, body shape, and muscle insertions. But of course, it’s also impacted by the amount of stimulus you place on your body.
If you want to get really big, you will need to lift weights either instead of calisthenics or as well as. Calisthenics is amazing for building functional, full-body muscle but there is a limit to the amount of sheer mass you can gain with calisthenics.
Calisthenics will build as much muscle as free weights to a point, but if you want to push past that point then you’ll need to train (and eat) like a bodybuilder.
Will parallettes build muscle?
Parallettes are one of the most versatile pieces of calisthenics equipment. You can use parallettes to do traditional exercises like push ups and l-sits, or master more advanced bodyweight exercises like elbow levers. Parallettes will build muscle because they allow you to get more range of movement in bodyweight exercises, and enable you to create a full-body workout with just one piece of equipment.
3 training rules of gaining muscle with calisthenics
If you want to build muscle with calisthenics, you need to train regularly enough to stimulate muscle growth. This means finding a balance between infrequent or sporadic training, and overtraining. A good rule of thumb is 3-5 times per week.
Progressive overload is crucial to muscle gain. If you were training with weights, this would mean adding more weight. Because calisthenics uses bodyweight, you must add more volume (reps and sets), time under tension, or frequency (training sessions). You could also add in the use of weighted tools like sled, kettlebells or Indian clubs.
Varied full body training
Make sure your calisthenics training is varied enough to work every muscle group throughout the week. The best way to do this is to vary the exercises you do, the grip you use, or the variation of exercise (close grip push ups vs wide push ups, for example).
The best calisthenics workouts to grow muscle
Any variation of handstand will build serious muscle in your shoulders, arms and upper back. Handstand holds against a wall (on parallettes or just on the floor) are a good start point.
Using parallettes or gymnastics rings for push ups will recruit stabiliser muscles to build more muscle. Calisthenics style push ups also work with greater range of movement to build more muscle.
Pull ups are a great muscle building movement, and can be used to work towards more challenging skills like muscle ups. Whether you do them on rig or rings, pull ups build a lot of muscle in your lats, upper back, mid back, and arms.
Dips are a great way to build muscle in your triceps, chest, and front delts at the same time. Do them on parallettes or rings for an extra challenge that will bring your core muscles into play too.
Hanging leg raises
Leg raises, knee ups, or l-sits might look like ab exercises but they are actually almost full body exercises. Leg raises or knee ups require you to hang from rig or rings, which will also work your arms and back. L-sits need you to push down on parallettes or rings, which will put load through your arms, chest, and shoulders.
Check out the Gravity Fitness online store for quality, durable calisthenics equipment for home or gym use. Need training tips? Search the Gravity Tribe group on Facebook for videos, coach Q&As and more.