Can you build muscle with calisthenics alone? Part 1

I see a lot of confusion in the fitness community, so today I'd like to post about my personal experience and how you can build lots of muscle just with bodyweight exercises alone (no weights whatsoever) in the most efficient way.

The methods

I've discovered plenty of ways that give amazing hypertrophy results, and these are enough to last you a lifetime of progress and gains. More info on the article links provided and in future upcoming articles.

  • Myo reps - I explain these in this article. I got my newbie gains with about 7kg of muscle in 4 months with myo reps so they're quite effective.
  • High volume - Lots of reps, lots of sets. Think Herschel Walker, Mike Tyson and more athletes (and even prison inmates) getting big by doing thousands of pushups, pullups, dips, air squats every day.
  • High frequency - Think Greasing the Groove, or full body workouts daily, or 2 sessions a day. For more about the science on this, check out Migan at Team3DAlpha.
  • Reaching failure - Forget 3 sets of 12 and pre-determining your reps on a given session. Go all the way for gains. You can even keep it extremely short with Single Set to Failure with the 3 basic compound movements: push up, pull up, squat.
  • Pyramids - I got the biggest leg gains in the shortest amount of time with pyramids, with nothing but the bodyweight air squat. 512 squats in less than 20 minutes. Just 20 minutes for serious gains!
  • Low to none rest times - Just keep it moving. Prison style. Build BOTH muscle endurance and muscle with this.
  • Isometrics - These are the most awesome finishers. Try setting your legs ablaze with wall sits, deep yoga squat or yoga Warrior sequences right after the 512-squat pyramid and let me know if you can walk tomorrow.
  • Slow and full ROM - Many are in disbelief that pushups and pullups can build muscle all on their own, but when I see how they perform the exercises I understand why they think that. Calisthenics are not cardio. Ensure strict form, full range of motion, slow range of movement, even if you're doing MetCons.
  • Variations and skill training - I only needed the standard pushup to gain all my muscle in shoulders, breasts, triceps and traps, and only the standard bodyweight squat to cover my entire lower body muscles, but you can still keep it fun and challenging by adding as many variations to the exercises as you want, and even progress to advanced skills. That's a whole lifetime of progression right there.
There are so many ways to build muscle you can never get bored, never stop progressing and can work with your schedule. Myo reps and Single Set to Failure can be as short as 5 minutes a day. High volume can be as much as 3-4 hours a day or even just 20-30 minutes if you do high reps with EMOM, AMRAP, pyramid sessions. Greasing the groove sets take 30 seconds each hour. There's nothing more flexible than calisthenics, they can be done in any progression, with any method you want, anytime, anywhere. How's THAT for optimal training?

Shock the system

Every month or 2, I like changing things up with various routines and methods, most of them (if not all) created by me for more fun lol: MetCons, pyramids, PPL, upper-lower, full body workouts, high frequency, high volume standard compound movements, low rep advanced movements and isometrics, skill training, or even just taking a few days or weeks off just with some yoga and cardio. 

Even though my main reason for this is because I like to have fun with my training and keep things fresh, there are more benefits to this too. 

  1. For one, you can never reach a plateau with this. 
  2. Each method has benefits and carryover to the other methods: greasing the groove makes you stronger (increases your rep max), isometrics help with muscle endurance for high volume training later on, skill training can strengthen your core and you feel more stable and fluid (flexible) with other, more hypertrophy or strength focused movements, therefore improving your overall form and efficacy of muscles recruited in the movement.
  3. Best recovery is no recovery. If I'm getting fatigued after 2 months of high volume training, I do a few weeks of isometrics or low rep movements. If I'm feeling bored with all the skill training, I take a break with MetCons. If life gets chaotic, Single Set to Failure, Myo Reps and Greasing the Groove whenever I can squeeze a few quick minutes in are my friends. If I REALLY need a rest, yoga on its own or some light cardio is the way for me. Either way, my muscles are always stimulated and working with something.
  4. I can do this for an entire lifetime. People think you only have to keep pushing yourself with reps to get anywhere with calisthenics and that you will plateau eventually and need to lift weights. No. You do different things. Challenge your body in ways you haven't before. Take breaks. Try something new. Invent a new method even. The ways to progress and keeping your training fun is truly limitless.

I am NOT a doctor, personal trainer, registered dietician, nutritionist, athlete, influencer, nor at the end of my fitness journey. The content of this blog is based on what worked for me and is for informational purposes only, not a replacement for medical advice from a professional. Furthermore, we and our bodies are unique, so everybody is different. My results may not reflect your own. Any action you take upon the information provided by ZenGainz is strictly at your own risk.