Do you want to learn how to use calisthenics to build muscle?
You are in the right place.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- the three 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 You Build Muscle With Calisthenics?
Like any other form of resistance training, Calisthenics 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 only have to learn how to increase that stimulus over time.
More on that later.
After the stimulus, you must allow your body to rest and recover.
Without recovery, your progress will be sub-optimal.
Lastly, your body will adapt (i.e., make itself stronger). At this point, you must provide a new stimulus to continue the muscle-building process.
Now let’s go over how to 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 Consistency, Nothing Else Matters
The most significant concept in 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 a workout program that lasts 30 to 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 30 minutes, it must be made up of the most effective exercises.
Thankfully, the best calisthenic exercises happen to be basic movement patterns. Movement patterns that improve real-world functional strength, such as pushing and pulling.
Overall, there are six exercises that you should focus on to get bigger and stronger.
- The Horizontal Push (push-up variations)
- The Horizontal Pull (rowing variations)
- The Vertical Push (pike push-up, handstands, and the dip)
- The Vertical Pull (pull-up variations)
- The Knee Flexion (squatting variations)
- The Hip Extension (bridge variations)
The beauty is that all these exercises are compound exercises.
In other words, these exercises train multiple muscle groups at once, which elicits a tremendous muscle-building response.
These six movements will train your entire body in the most efficient way possible.
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.
You generally want to perform exercise variations that challenge you in the 6-12 repetition range.
For a beginner, 6-12 kneeling 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.
You should do 3-4 sets of each exercise to get the most benefit.
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.
You can’t expect to do the 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 improve your workouts over time slowly.
You can progressively overload in various ways, such as increasing frequency, sets, reps, and even adding weights to your calisthenics movements.
I go over several ways to progressively overload in this article.
So in the above example, you start with three sets of 8 reps for each exercise. After two weeks, you can increase it to 10 reps, then 12. Then you can add a fourth set, add weight and start over again with six reps.
There are so many ways you can enhance the workout.
The only caveat is that you should progressively overload slowly yet consistently.
Gradual changes give your muscles time to become accustomed to your training routine and decrease the chance of injury.
5. Learn How To Eat For Muscle Growth
Now that you have your workout, 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
First and foremost, building muscle requires consuming more calories than you currently eat.
The good thing is, you don’t necessarily have to count calories to do this. You can increase your caloric intake in one of three ways:
- You can increase the actual serving sizes of each one of your primary meals
- You can add 1-2 additional high-calorie, high-quality snacks into your daily diet.
- You can consume a large high-calorie post-workout shake (Here is my favorite one).
After making one of these changes, monitor your progress in 2-4 week increments and adjust accordingly.
The three macros are carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
Of the three, protein intake is the most important and directly responsible for muscle protein synthesis.
Aim to consume at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight every day.
I go over some of the best protein sources in further detail here.
Micronutrients are all the vitamins and minerals you need to 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 possible and whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
6. You Must Rest & Recover Appropriately
Like every sport, bodyweight training requires rest too.
Exercise is a catabolic process (i.e., your body breaks down tissue while exercising).
Muscle growth cannot happen in a catabolic state. Change occurs when you are in an anabolic state while resting and recovering.
Thankfully, step #5, nutrition, will help speed up recovery. However, it is still essential to optimize your sleep as well.
Sleep deprivation will interfere with your results and your progress. If you struggle with sleep – I have a complete guide on 10+ tips to help you get restful sleep.
In addition, it is essential to take rest days and adequately warm-up before exercising.
More isn’t always better.
I suggest you train no more than four days per week with three days to recover.
How Much Muscle Can You Build With Calisthenics?
Untrained individuals can put on anywhere from 10-20 lbs of muscle in their first year of training.
Your specific muscular potential depends on your genetics, which includes your height, body type, and 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 to 4 times per week to maximize muscle hypertrophy. Once you become familiar with the movements, you can increase the frequency to 5 sessions per week.
It is essential to start slowly and eventually increase your pace. Give your body time to heal from the workouts and keep your joints feeling strong.
Remember, the key to successful training is not doing more exercise; instead, it’s about following the routine consistently.
How Long Does It Take to Build Muscle from Calisthenics?
If you train consistently, you can begin to see results within 6 to 12 weeks. But remember, everyone is unique and will respond differently to the same training stimulus.
You shouldn’t expect a significant transformation in a short amount of time.
Your performance, however, (specifically your strength and endurance) will improve at a faster rate.
That is why starting slow and giving your body time to adapt to calisthenics is crucial.
Don’t focus on immediate results. Focus on consistent progress.
What To Expect In The First Three Months of Calisthenics
During the first three months of training, you will learn the basics of calisthenics, specifically the six core functional movement patterns.
Your body might be sore after the first few workouts, but you will see rapid gains and progress.
With that said, I recommend that you don’t train more than 3 to 4 times per week to give your body time to accommodate and adjust to the workouts.
You should see visible changes in the mirror at the end of the first three months.
The First Six Months of Calisthenics
By the time you have six months of consistent training (plus appropriate dietary changes), you will notice 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 might be able to perform more advanced calisthenics exercises (such as muscle-ups, dragon flags, other advanced core exercises) and exhibit excellent body control.
At this point, you can continue enhancing your workout by doing more difficult progressions of the six functional movement patterns and doing more sets and reps.
1 Year of Calisthenics
This is the time for a real transformation. One year of consistent calisthenics and a consistent diet can dramatically improve your fitness level.
Your strength and endurance will be lightyears ahead of where you started. Plus, you will have developed a high level of bodyweight mastery.
Now is when you’ll see the most considerable 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!
My Simple 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
Is calisthenics good for skinny guys?
Calisthenics is good for skinny guys if you want to develop a lean physique.
However, if you want to add bulk, it is essential that you eat in a hyper-caloric state and progressively overload your calisthenics workout by adding additional weight to your bodyweight exercises.
The easiest way to do this is with a weighted vest. (This is my favorite vest for weighted calisthenics).
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.
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 nicely.
Plus, you can do several advanced lower body movements 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:
- You can do calisthenics with little to no equipment
- You can do it anytime and anywhere- no gym membership is needed
- Calisthenics provides great flexibility – you can progress and regress all the exercises to fit your skill level.
Here are the top 15 benefits of calisthenics to learn more.
On the other hand,
- You can build more muscle with free weights (especially in the lower body),
- You can progressively overload more efficiently (by adding 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!)
does calisthenics burn fat?
Calisthenics can help you burn fat because almost every calisthenics exercise is a compound exercise. However, the best way to maximize fat loss is by improving your diet, not your exercise regimen.
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 two movement patterns per day and allow those muscles 48 hours of rest before training them again.
Just make sure to focus heavily 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 train 3 to 5 times per week instead.
Is High Rep Calisthenics Good For Mass?
Generally, it’s best to stay in the 6-12 rep range to build mass with calisthenics. Sets of 15-20 repetitions improve muscular endurance more than muscle mass.
However, for maximum size, you should also include some weight training. Bodybuilders use a mix of barbell, machine, and dumbbell exercises to achieve their massive physique.
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 to build it.
All you have to do is keep up with a weekly routine that stimulates the specific body parts 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 start their fitness journey.
Check out my entire post on Calisthenics For Women to learn more!
A Complete Done-For-You Calisthenics Workout Routine
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 bodyweight workouts started correctly!
Final Words On Calisthenics Training
Calisthenics is an excellent 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.