Calisthenics and building muscles

mikhael

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Is it possible to build muscle with calisthenics? This simple question is permanently drilling my mind leaving an open space for the answer. Thus I decided to ask you dear Strong First forum members for help in solving this issue.
 

North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
The simple answer is yes.
The longer answer is yes but it is more complicated than building muscle using external resistance. One of the biggest factors in my opinion and experience is the difficulty loading the legs. Muscular demand on the legs/squat pattern is a major limiting factor in how much mass your body overall will develop.

Yes you can get very strong and build muscle doing calisthenics. It helps to have a solid foundation with weights/external resistance first, and transfer some of that to calisthenics, calisthenics at the higher levels being more complex than using weights. You need to manage a wider range of movement and loading patterns, it is not possible to just say "I'll do 5x3" or "DeLorme 3x10" across the board because all the movements have their own rep ranges - some better for strength and some better for endurance. Success hinges on accumulating a bunch of progressions for the lifts you want to use, so you can better manage the set and rep scheme.
 

pet'

More than 5000 posts
Hello,

Chirstopher Sommer for instance as a good program called "building the gymnastic body". In it you can get both strong and athletic.

Kind regards,

Pet'
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Senior Certified Instructor
Is it possible to build muscle with calisthenics? This simple question is permanently drilling my mind leaving an open space for the answer. Thus I decided to ask you dear Strong First forum members for help in solving this issue.
Look at gymnasts - they're pretty muscular.

-S-
 

Nate

Triple-Digit Post Count
I like Step ups and Glute Ham raises with competitive ladders from Beyond Bodybuilding.
 

Marc

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
For upper body the answer is def yes! You can literaly spend your whole training career progressing with gymnastic rings, parallettes, levers and hand balancing.
Legs are a bit tricky. You can build strong and powerful legs with bodyweight only but not to the same extend as your upper body. If you want to push your leg strength/hypertrophy past a certain threshold you'll probably have to use external weights at some point.
 

pet'

More than 5000 posts
Hello,

You can also use a regression:
One set of the hardest variation you are capable of. You stop when you are very close to fatigue. Then, with minimum rest, you do another variation, but slightly easier. And so on.

For instance, it would be something like:
pistol > cossack squat > air squat > lunge > calf raises

Kind regards,

Pet'
 

Augustus F-N

Triple-Digit Post Count
Yes. But as noted above the legs will be a limiting factor.

I trained bodyweight only for years and put on a decent amount of weight. I started back squatting recently (without changing anything else) and added 10kg of pretty solid bodyweight in about 3 months. Mostly to my legs.
 

Papa Georgio

Triple-Digit Post Count
From Pavel, not me

"You will make your best gains if you have access to quality hardware: barbells, kettlebells, pullup bars, and so on. But, unless you live the predictable life of a greenhouse plant, sooner or later you will end up in a situation in which you have no iron around." from "The Naked Warrior: Master the Secrets of the super-Strong--Using Bodyweight Exercises Only" by Pavel Tsatsouline

Later on in book he talks about advantages of body weight (accessibility & enforces healthy body weight) and disadvantages :

"The biggest disadvantage of bodyweight exercising is that this approach doesn’t enable you to perform full-body pulling movements, such as the deadlift, the snatch, or the clean. Such moves are fundamental to training in most sports. While you could develop the muscles of the posterior chain with back bridges, back extensions, and reverse hypers, training the muscles and training the movement are “two big differences,”" from "The Naked Warrior: Master the Secrets of the super-Strong--Using Bodyweight Exercises Only" by Pavel Tsatsouline

So I'd say you need to examine your goals. Book is Probably worth a read.
 

pet'

More than 5000 posts
Hello,

Even a simple pistol squat requires a decent level of strength, among other things. Of course, it depends on multiple factors (goals, recovery, injury history, etc...) but building up to 5-10 pistols with good form "means" you built a good amount of strength.

Steven Low shows that about 50-55% of bdw pistol is roughly a 2x bdw barbell squat.
Estimates by the math: A general comparison of barbell squats to pistol squats

So to a certain extent, even very light weights, such as 10kg, may tranfer to even greater strength.

Kind regards,

Pet'
 

the hansenator

More than 500 posts
IMHO, the biggest advantage of bodyweight exercises is that you can do them regardless of your current place.
The irony is that a lot of body weight exercises require equipment you might not have available - pullup bars, parallel/dip bars, rings, a wall you can kick up against, stall bars, etc. Where you can get a lot done with a barbel and some floor space.
 

pet'

More than 5000 posts
Hello,

Depending on the protcol one is following, this is true. Nonetheless, this is true above all for upper body pulling. Basically, pull up bar, ring, tree branch, etc... I do admit this is an issue. On the go, I either use isometrics or simply take a break from pulling

It remains possible to build a lot of muscle without equipment: any kind of push up and squat variation. For core, plank, LSit, etc...

Kind regards,

Pet'
 

Kozushi

More than 2500 posts
Walking and running are things most of us do and maybe all of us should do. These are no equipment exercises and well worth the time investment!

If you're kind of heavy then you can go a long way with bodyweight moves including things like chinups and dips. I love my gymnastics rings for ring dips.

But I've had some thoughts about all this: gymnastics is the best kind of callisthenics. What is different about gymnastics from callisthenics? It's the movement involved.

We do quite a bit of gymnastics at judo. All of those rolls, carthwheels and stuff I don't have names for that anyone would understand, involve flinging ourselves and whirling and rebounding all down the length of the gym.

For instance, I can't do a handstand nor a handstand pushup, but I do lots of cartwheels, roundoffs, back rolls to spring ups, the "inchworm", moving judo pushups etc...

I've come to believe that if you're working out with just your body then it is you duty to MOVE. This is how you'll get yourself strong and fit.

Just start even with simple forward rolls from standing and back up to a standing position. Then start doing them backwards.

It is MOVING that makes you stronger. Stationary callisthenics are great but are only a small part of the bigger MOVEMENT picture.

I'm a huge advocate of gymnastics and had all my children trained in it for years. It's one of the best things you can do for yourself. And, of course, judo involves a certain degree of gymnastics so I consider myself a low-level gymnast.
 

pet'

More than 5000 posts
Hello,

I agree with @Kozushi

Bodyweight with compound moves can build insane strength, which can be used in daily life as it makes the body work as a single unit. Nonetheless I admit that barbell work can also get the job done.

We can look at MMArtist, capoeira, or gymnast. All these guys have incredible strength, endurance, power, etc...and apply it. If we look at movement for its own sake, Ido Portal is one of the reference. He is built like some kind of Greek god.

Building mass and strength using calisthenics or weights depends on both training and nutrition. Some guys have incredible strength and know how to apply it. For instance Fedor Emilianenko remains quite fat but strong. On the other side of the spectrum, gymnasts are also strong but have far less fat.

Animal walks are great tools to build strength and coordination. They are some kind of compromise because they will not build as much strength as a pure strength training, and will not build as much coordination as a specific discipline. If nutrition is on the point it will burn a little extra fat, but not as much as pure LSD and / or HIIT.

Raw strength is one thing. How to apply it is another, mainly depends on the goal

Kind regards,

Pet'
 

Molson

Triple-Digit Post Count
Going back to the original question, I’d say it depends mostly on the body type (mezomorph, endomorth, ectomorph). It also depends what do you mean by building muscles. For a newbie, any strength training will get the muscles a basic definition. Beyond that, it depends. An ectomorph needs a barbell for true hypertrophy, KB will only get him a little. The other two types will build more muscle with body weight only training, thanks to both genetics and starting body weight.
 

mikhael

Quadruple-Digit Post Count
Well, I'm typical endo, with roughly 18-20% of body fat, thanks weight loss from 89 kg at the beginning of the year to 77 now.
Why I asked this question, because I really like training only with bodyweight. And I have to admit that I should focus more on Strength rather than building muscles. Where is strength there are muscles, and seeking real gains I should get back to the kitchen.
 
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