Do you want to learn how to use calisthenics to build muscle?
Then keep reading.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- the 3 most important things you need for muscle growth,
- the best bodyweight exercises that are proven to build muscle mass, and
- how to build a calisthenics workout plan for yourself.
Let’s get started.
Although we are doctors and personal trainers, we are not your doctors. The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary activities are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any damage or injury which may occur. Please read our full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning we may receive a commission if you use them.
Okay, let’s get started.
Can Calisthenics Build Muscle Mass?
Calisthenics, like any other form of resistance training, is great for developing lean muscle mass.
That’s because building muscle requires three things.
- A muscle building Stimulus,
- Recovery, and
The stimulus for muscle growth is resistance training.
The good news is:
Your body weight can provide enough resistance to trigger the muscle-building response. You just have to learn how to increase that stimulus over time.
More on that later.
After the stimulus, you must then allow your body to rest and recover.
Without this, your progress will be sub-optimal.
Lastly, your body will adapt (i.e make itself stronger). This is when you must provide a new stimulus to continue the muscle-building process.
Now let’s go over how to actually do it.
How to Build Muscle Mass with Calisthenics (in 6 Steps)
Building muscle and strength with calisthenics is simple and can be done in 6 steps.
The very first step is…
1. You Must Be Consistent. Without This, Nothing Else Matters
The biggest and most important concept in all of fitness is consistency.
You won’t ever reach your goals if you exercise sporadically.
That is why the program you follow must be SUSTAINABLE FOR YOU & YOUR SCHEDULE.
As a busy professional, it is unlikely that you can stick to a calisthenics program with workouts that lasts 1-2 hours.
You need something that can be done in 30-45 minutes max.
Less is more.
Time is one of the biggest factors in helping you stick with a program over the long haul.
In addition, knowing that your workouts are quick can motivate you to continue showing up!
2. Learn How To Use Compound Exercises
Now, if your workout is only going to be 30 minutes, it has to be made up of the most effective exercises.
The good news is: the best calisthenic exercises are the most basic exercises. The ones that improve real-world functional moves such as pushing and pulling.
Overall, there are 6 exercises that you should focus on to get bigger and stronger.
- The Horizontal Push (which includes push-up variations)
- The Horizontal Pull (which includes rowing variations)
- The Vertical Push (which includes shoulder focused exercises like the pike push-up and dip variations)
- The Vertical Pull (which includes pull-up variations)
- The Knee Flexion (which includes squatting variations)
- The Hip Extension (which includes bridge variations)
The beauty is that all these exercises are also compound exercises.
This means that they will train multiple muscle groups at once, and elicit the biggest muscle building response.
Compound exercises are the key to creating an efficient workout.
3. Learn To Use The Proper Volume
Once you have the exercises picked out, the next thing you have to focus on is volume – aka the number of sets and reps to perform.
In general, you want to perform exercise variations that challenge you in the 6-12 repetition range.
For a beginner, 6-12 kneeling push-ups (push-ups done on your knees) might be enough to induce sufficient fatigue.
For a more advanced athlete, you may have to do decline push-ups (while wearing a weight vest) to get the same response in the 6-12 rep range.
To get the most benefit, you should do 3-4 sets of each exercise.
So in the above example, a beginner’s workout might look something like this:
- Kneeling Push-ups x 6 reps x 3 sets
- Body Rows x 6 reps x 3 sets
- Assisted Squats x 6 reps x 3 sets
4. Learn To Use Progressive Overload
Next is the concept of progressive overload.
This principle states that you must constantly expose your body to a new stimulus to induce muscular changes.
This makes sense if you think about it.
You can’t expect to do the exact same thing over and over and make progress.
It’s like reading the same 3rd grade math textbook expecting to become a better mathematician.
As you get stronger, you will need to slowly improve your workouts over time.
This can be done in a variety of ways such as increasing frequency, sets, reps, and even adding weights to your calisthenics movements.
So in the above example, the beginner can then move on to 3 sets of 8 reps for each exercise.
After 2 weeks, you can do 10 reps, then 12.
Then you can add a fourth set, or you can add weight and start over again with 6 reps.
There are so many ways you can enhance the workout.
The only caveat is that progressive overload should also be done in a slow yet consistent manner.
This gives your muscles time to become accustomed to your training routine and decreases the chance of injury.
5. Learn How To Eat For Muscle Growth
Now that you have your workout in place, the next component is diet.
You must give your body the necessary building blocks to develop bigger and stronger muscles.
The three things you need to focus on are:
- macronutrients, and
Let’s talk about calories.
First and foremost, building muscle generally requires that you consume more calories than you are currently eating.
The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to count calories to do this. You can increase your caloric intake in one of three ways:
1) You can increase the actual serving sizes of each one of your major meals
2) You can add 1-2 additional high-calorie, high-quality snacks into your daily diet.
3) You can consume a large high-calorie post-workout shake.
After making one of these changes, monitor your progress in 2-4 week increments, and make adjustments accordingly.
Next is macronutrient intake.
The three macros are carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
Of the three, protein intake is the most important. It is directly responsible for muscle protein synthesis.
Aim to consume at least 0.5-0.75 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight every day.
Lastly, is micronutrient intake.
Micronutrients refer to all the vitamins and minerals that you need to simply keep your body thriving.
While not directly linked to building muscle, optimizing your micros will help keep you feeling healthy and energetic.
Don’t outsource this to a pill.
Focus on increasing your intake of as many fruits and vegetables as you can, as well as whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
6. You Must Rest & Recover Appropriately
Like every sport, bodyweight training requires rest too.
Exercise is a catabolic process (which is when your body is breaking down tissue and undergoing high levels of stress).
Muscle growth cannot happen in a catabolic state.
It happens when you are in an anabolic state. This is where rest and recovery take place.
Thankfully, step #5 nutrition, will help speed up the recovery process. However, it is still important to optimize your sleep as well.
Sleep deprivation will interfere with your results and your progress. As unsexy as it sounds, sleep is crucial for muscle growth.
You can’t get around it!
If you struggle with sleep – I have an entire guide on 10+ tips to help you get restful sleep.
In addition, is important to take rest days and properly warm up before exercising.
More isn’t always better.
I suggest that you train no more than 4 days per week with 3 days to recover.
How Much Muscle Can You Build With Calisthenics?
Untrained individuals can put on anywhere from 10-25 lbs of muscle in their first year of training.
Your specific muscular potential is dependent on your genetics, which includes your height, your body type, and your body fat percentage.
After the first year of training, your rate of muscle growth will decline.
How Often Should I Do Calisthenics to Build Muscle?
You should do calisthenics 3-4 times per week to maximize muscle growth. Once you become familiar with the movements you can increase the frequency to 5 sessions per week.
It is important to start slowly and eventually increase your pace. You need to give your body time to heal from the workouts and keep your joints feeling strong.
Plus, it’s best to start slow to ensure that you can stick to the routine long term.
Remember: the key to successful training is not doing more exercise, rather it’s about following the routine consistently.
How Long Does It Take to Build Muscle from Calisthenics?
If you train consistently, you can begin seeing results within 12 weeks. But remember, everyone is unique and will respond differently to the same training stimulus.
But one thing is certain:
You shouldn’t expect a major transformation in a short amount of time.
Your performance, however, (specifically your strength and endurance) will improve at a faster rate.
That is why it’s important to start off slow and give your body time to adapt to calisthenics.
Don’t focus on immediate results but focus on consistent progress.
The First Three Months of Calisthenics
This is the initial training period. Here you will learn the basics of calisthenics, specifically the 6 core functional movement patterns.
Your body might be sore after the first few workouts, but you will see rapid progress.
With that said, I recommend that you don’t train more than 3-4 times per week to allow your body time to accommodate and adjust to the workouts.
At the end of the first three months, you should see visible changes in the mirror.
The First Six Months of Calisthenics
By the time you have six months of consistent training under your belt (plus appropriate dietary changes), you will have very noticeable changes in your muscle mass.
People will probably be able to tell that you work out just by looking at you.
In addition, you will be A LOT STRONGER.
You should be able to perform more advanced calisthenics exercises (such as muscle ups, dragon flags, and other advanced core exercises) and exhibit great body control.
At this point, you can continue enhancing your workout by doing more difficult progressions of the 6 functional movement patterns, doing more sets, and more reps.
1 Year of Calisthenics
This is the time for a real transformation. 1 year of consistent calisthenics and a consistent diet can lead to dramatic results.
Your strength and endurance will be lightyears ahead of where you started. Plus you will have developed a high level of bodyweight mastery.
This is where you’ll see the biggest progress you could ever achieve. You will be shocked at how much you can accomplish in 1 year.
Don’t hesitate, 1 year will go by fast!
Calisthenics Workout Plan PDF
If you’re interested in a simple template you can follow to get started with efficient calisthenics workouts – click below.
Other Related Questions
Can You Build Leg Muscle with Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is definitely better for building muscle in the upper body, but you can still develop a respectable level of lower body muscle as well. This is because your legs are really powerful. After a while, your body weight won’t be heavy enough to elicit a sufficient stimulus for continued muscle growth.
With that said, the leg muscle you can build with bodyweight training will give you a proportional appearance and complement your physique well.
Plus, there are several advanced lower body movements you can do to strengthen and develop these critical muscles.
If you can do pistol squats- you have a high level of strength, balance, coordination, and mobility!
Is Calisthenics Better than the Gym?
Calisthenics has some unique advantages over the gym that are worth noting. Specifically:
- Calisthenics can be done with little to no equipment
- It can be done anytime, anywhere
- Calisthenics provides a great deal of flexibility – you can progress and regress all the exercises to fit your skill level.
In comparison, you can generally:
- build more muscle with weight training (specifically in the lower body),
- you can progressively overload easily (by adding more weight), and
- you can isolate specific muscles better than calisthenics.
With that said, both calisthenics and weight training will get you stronger, more muscular, and leaner. You can’t go wrong with either one (or both!)
Can I Train Calisthenics Every Day?
It is possible to train calisthenics every day as long as you are splitting up your workouts in a way to allow adequate recovery of all muscle groups.
For example, you might only train 2 movement patterns per day, and allow those muscles 48 hours of rest before training them again.
Just make sure to really focus on your nutrition and your recovery. Also, pay attention to how you feel during and after each workout. If you feel beat up, dial it back.
I find it easier and more sustainable to just train 3-5 times per week instead.
Is High Rep Calisthenics Good For Mass?
In general, it’s best to stay in the 6-12 rep range to build mass with calisthenics. Sets of 15-20 repetitions tend to improve muscular endurance more than muscle mass.
But if you are interested in trying it – experiment and see if it works for you!
Can I Use Calisthenics to Maintain Muscle?
Yes, you can use calisthenics to maintain your muscle mass. The good news is, it is much easier to maintain muscle than it is building it.
All you have to do is keep up with a weekly routine that stimulates the specific body parts that you want to maintain. Just pick a variation that is challenging for you in the 6-12 repetition range.
Many experts argue that it only takes ~1/2 to 2/3rds of the volume that it took to get your physique, to maintain it.
Can Women Use Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a perfect way for women to get started on their fitness journey.
Check out my entire post on Calisthenics For Women to learn more!
A Complete Calisthenics Workout Plan
For a complete A-Z training plan that will teach you exactly what exercises to do, how to do them (with HD videos), and time-efficient workouts, check out the WCT’s Calisthenics Workout Plan For Busy Professionals.
You will get immediate access to Level 1 and Level 2 to help you get your workout started right now!
Final Words On Calisthenics Training
Calisthenics is a great way of building lean muscle.
To do it,
- make sure that you find a routine that you can stick to consistently,
- master the fundamental calisthenic exercises,
- train to a moderate level of fatigue,
- progressively overload over time, and
- focus on rest and recovery.
Get started right now!
Have you used calisthenics to build good levels of strength / or muscle?
Comment below and let us know!
Related Posts On Bodyweight Training
- Calisthenics Vs Weights: What’s Better For You?
- The Most Effective Calisthenics Workout For Abs [Just 15 Min]
- 9 Best Calisthenics Equipment You Need [To Build Muscle At Home]
Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT
Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader’s Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.