What do you do when you’ve had enough of your physique, and decide it’s time to build muscle?
Do you scramble to the gym, pick up the heaviest weight and start curling it, or jump on the bench press for an hour and see how heavy you can?
That’s mistake number 1.
Influencers consistently plug that the only way you can “get gains” and be as shredded as them is by lifting heavy and targeting one specific muscle.
But this way doesn’t work for you. You have observed little progress and little understanding of how to train.
Fortunately, you’re not alone.
There are a huge number of tactics that you can use to build muscle, with some working a lot better than others, and some even allow you to work out on your own terms, rather than finding the time out of your busy schedule to commute to a packed gym
In this comprehensive guide, we go all-out on one specific technique that can change the way you develop your physique using just your body weight.
With just a simple calisthenic routine, you can turn your body into a physique you have only ever dreamed of, all while having fun pushing your body into positions you never thought you could.
Starting with this simple routine, you can adapt to your body and become a calisthenic master, all from the comfort of your own home.
Let’s get into it.
How Can We Build Muscle With Calisthenics?
If you don’t know what calisthenics is, let me bring you up to speed.
Calisthenics is just a complicated word for bodyweight exercises.
Usually, when I tell someone about calisthenics, they shy away.
Everyone tends to have this stereotype that to do calisthenics, you need to have insane strength to pull and push your body in complicated upside-down and inside-out movements.
Whilst this is true for the masters, it is not the case for the majority.
The great thing about calisthenics is the wide variety of exercises for each muscle group, so you can tailor a routine specifically for your body weight and strength.
This helps you push your body at your own pace and ultimately results in you building muscle while toning your physique.
I can hear a question echoing through your mind as I write this.
But how can we build muscle if we aren’t slowly increasing the resistance our body is pushing, or pulling, against?
Well, let me break that down for you…
How To Introduce Progressive Overload Without Weights?
The most common way of progressively overloading is by increasing the weight in small intervals, over time.
You are correct.
However, mistake number 2 in this article is believing this is the only method of overloading.
Here are the 3 main ways you can progressively overload using nothing but calisthenic exercises.
- Increase The Volume: By adding volume to our workout, whether that be through more repetitions, or increasing the number of sets, we can overload our muscles through fatigue. This enhances the stress your muscle fibers are under, meaning they can repair bigger and stronger.
- Advance Into Complex Moves: Changing the position of your body from just a simple exercise, like a pushup on your knees, to a more advanced exercise like an incline pushup, or an archer pushup, can increase the intensity of the movement on your muscles. Adjusting to an exercise causes you to become stagnant, so varying it as you get stronger will be similar to adding external weight, helping with hypertrophy.
- Increase Time Under Tension: Performing the same exercise, but slower and with a greater range of motion, is an excellent method to progressively overload your body with calisthenics. As you get stronger, you may start to move with more confidence, meaning you can complete the full motion of the exercise, a lot slower. This means your muscles will be working for a prolonged period of time under tension, so more muscle fibers need to recover bigger and stronger.
My Simple Full-Body Calisthenic Routine For Effectively Building Muscle
If I were to ask you what the most effective bodyweight exercise is, I could probably read your mind and guess it would be the pushup.
And quite rightly so.
The pushup is the perfect calisthenic exercise for those of you in the beginner-intermediate section of our fitness journey, looking to put on muscle mass in the upper body, or more specifically your chest muscles, and your triceps.
Another great thing about the pushup is that it doesn’t just stop at building muscle around your chest area.
The pushup is an excellent exercise due to the stress your body position puts on your core, resulting in a complete improvement in your posture and balance.
The pushup also strengthens the joints and flexors around your shoulders and lower back, helping to reduce injuries in those areas, and enhancing your sporting abilities.
Progressively overloading with this exercise is relatively simple.
We can increase the number of sets and reps, make sure we are going as low to the ground as we possibly can and hold the position for longer.
Or, we can advance into exercises such as clap pushups, which require explosive strength, or the Planche Pushup, which is a challenging exercise relying on your gymnastic ability as you push your whole body without your feet planted on the ground.
I also recommend adding the pike pushup routine, to provide your shoulders with some much-needed resistance.
How To Do It
- Find a comfortable flat surface and get into the plank position, with your hands and feet firmly on the ground.
- With your arms extended fully, engage your core and keep your back straight.
- Lower your body slowly, by bending at the elbows. Try to get as low as possible, with the full range of motion being just an inch from the ground.
- Hold this position for a second, tensing your chest.
- Drive through your palms, extending your arms back to the original position.
- Repeat for around 8-12 reps.
Check out this video I posted to youtube where I do 1000 push ups all before lunch!
This is always an interesting addition to a workout routine.
Managing to finally do just one rep of this exercise is always a huge milestone in anyone’s fitness journey.
I couldn’t leave it out of this workout routine.
The pull-up is one of those calisthenic exercises that develops your full-body strength, whilst targeting those hard-to-hit muscles in your back.
This movement is perfect for creating that wing-like structure in your physique and developing a back you can be proud of.
Health benefits are plentiful with this exercise, boasting an immense amount of development in aspects such as my balance, my agility, and even my grip strength.
I also found that with intense exercises like the pullup, my overall fitness, and cardiovascular health seems to improve, helping with my mundane tasks in day-to-day life.
A little side note with this exercise – it is fairly common that a full pull-up can be difficult, especially for beginners.
If this is the case, I recommend using a resistance band to help with support, which you can pick up from my friends at DMoose.
As you begin to develop from this, and power through the regular pull-up as you become stronger, you may want to advance to more complex movements.
The muscle-up is often defined as the pinnacle of calisthenic progression, requiring strength from your chest and arms, as well as your back, to push your body above and beyond the bar.
How To Do It
- Find a pullup bar or any fixed bar that is above your head.
- Jump up and grab said bar with an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart.
- Engage your core and keep your back straight.
- Pull the bar down to your chest, activating your back muscles and raising your body up towards the ceiling.
- As your chest reaches the bar, pause for a second.
- Slowly control your body back to the original position, keeping the back activated and under tension for longer.
- Repeat for around 8-12 reps.
This routine is stacked with some of the most effective exercises.
And this compound movement is no different.
The deep squat is arguably the best thing you can do to improve the size and strength of your legs, with us going deeper than bodybuilders may go with a barbell on the back to improve our depth.
This results in an efficient workout by adding that much important time under tension.
Additional health benefits which accompany the muscle growth of the deep squat are plentiful.
Squats lower your risk of injuring your knees and ankles, due to them reinforcing the joints and muscles around those areas.
This movement is also known to help you with your core strength, resulting in an improvement in your balance and agility
Advancing this exercise is pretty simple on paper, but the movements are a lot more difficult.
You can overload your legs with calisthenic exercises such as the pistol squat, which aims to throw your balance by squatting on one leg, or the Bulgarian split squat.
Both of these are great at challenging your body as you get stronger.
How To Do It
- Start with your legs shoulder-width apart.
- Place your hands on your chest, to prevent using them for momentum.
- Engage your core and keep your torso upright.
- Squat down by bending your knees. Inhale slowly as you lower to the ground, and get your butt as low as you possibly can.
- At the bottom of this exercise, pause for a second and squeeze your glutes.
- Then, drive through your heels upwards, until your legs are fully extended. Exhale as you do so.
- Repeat this exercise for around 8-12 repetitions.
Another fairly common exercise, this one truly tests your physical and mental strength, but the outcome is far too lucrative for it to be ignored.
The main reason it is important to include exercises that train your abdominals in a calisthenic routine is because of the effect it has on the majority of our movements.
Balance is such an important aspect in squatting, pushups, and many more exercises you will experience in your fitness life.
Developing your core muscles is also vital for advancing to those more complex movements within calisthenics, and once we have enhanced our core strength, we can start to look at performing those complicated movements so few have mastered, like the human flagpole!
I tend to find that progressively overloading the plank is as simple as trying to increase the time we hold the position, but this can become a little bit tedious.
If you are looking for a complex exercise that targets the core, I recommend trying the hanging leg raise.
Or, if you fancy yourself a bit of a gymnast, why not try the L-Sit, which is one of those common positions you see at the Olympics.
How To Do It
- Find a comfortable position on the ground.
- Get into the plank position, with your body straight, and your weight rested on your elbows and feet. You can lie on your stomach as you wait for your working set to begin.
- Keep your back straight and core engaged, lift off the ground and start the timer.
- Aim to keep your body off the ground for as long as possible, record the time and try to beat it every time you workout.
Finding a method that will change the way you build muscle, and develop your physique, is a tough task.
But with my definitive guide and simple calisthenic routine, it no longer has to be.
You can now sleep easy knowing you have a workout that eases you into the life of calisthenics, increases your strength so you can advance to harder movements, and builds muscle wherever you feel like working out.
If the concept of training anywhere interests you, you should check out my free E-book, “Train Wherever The F*ck You Want”, to escape the expensive gym membership and give yourself a chance for a stress-free workout.
So, what do you think of this simple calisthenic workout?
Do you have any go-to bodyweight exercises?
Let me know in the comments below.