Building Muscle with calisthenics has always fascinated me. By the name calisthenics, that came to my mind were the Instagram sponsored ads about calisthenics and how these ripped guys control their bodies most of us can only watch and appreciate. Once I got curious and I began to dig deeper. We will not only be addressing the question whether building muscles with calisthenics is possible or not, but also talk about the science that will make this possible and how far is calisthenics sustainable for an average guy.
Before moving ahead, let’s define calisthenics in simple words. Calisthenics is a kind of physical activity where you use your own body as a resistance and your muscles generate force, basically working them out. The basic calisthenic exercises include our normal push-ups and pull-ups which we all are familiar with.
The Science Behind Building Muscle With Calisthenics
As mentioned earlier, calisthenics will make you lift your own body in various positions to train your muscles. Like in push up, we are targeting chest. However, the important question is, ” My body weight is constant, then how are we suppose to progress to gain strength and mass?”
The answer lies within calisthenic exercises itself. As you learn the basic exercises you move to difficult positions while targeting those same muscles. The number of exercises you can perform is huge but you cannot perform exercises that are beyond your level. Meaning, suppose you just started and you can do push-ups easily, doesn’t mean that you can do a front lever too.
You can clearly see here, how a front lever puts your body in a difficult position and that is what calisthenics is meant to do, change your body position, and challenge you to grow stronger.
Progressive Overload: Calisthenics Vs. Weight Training
In weight training, you use weights. Add a 5 lbs plate and you can overload your muscles easily. That’s how we keep building our strength. We keep increasing the weights or overall intensity of the workout. Therefore, the fact is your progress. From lightweights to heavyweights. You can’t just pick up a 40 lbs dumbbell and do bicep curl on day 1.
You will be shocked to see calisthenics following a similar trend. Calisthenics does not let you add weights except in pull-ups or chin-ups kind of exercises. However, in order to perform advanced exercises, you have to learn the basic movements, mobility, and balancing techniques. Just like you can’t go from zero to hero in weight training in terms of weight, in calisthenics you can’t perform advanced exercises unless you practice and practice and finally reach close to performing it.
Calisthenics Can Be A Blessing To Your Core
You ask any expert in calisthenics, they have very strong cores. By core, I mean their back muscles as well as anterior muscles like rectus abdominis and obliques. Calisthenics involves core in most of the exercises. Your core acts as a stabilizer and is responsible for the transfer of energy. It is pretty much a foundation for all your movements. So, yes you can dream about those six-pack abs provided your nutrition, and rest remains on point.
In case you are serious about getting into calisthenics, your upper body is going to become so much stronger that you won’t miss weight training. Having said that, weight training can also give you a stronger upper body but calisthenics is just specializes in this context. Now, you may ask, will I grow bigger? The answer to that is, yes you will but how much compared to an alternative reality where you have done weight training, that depends on your body and tough to say.
The One Problem With Building Muscle With Calisthenics
Calisthenics has no wonder grabbed a special place in my mind, but the only fact that does makes calisthenics a second option is, the lack of its ability to transform your lower body into a stronger version. The most common exercise that you can think of is squat which is an awesome compound movement but calisthenics lacks in producing that kind of huge challenge to your lower body that it creates for your upper body.
The number of exercises is limited for your lower body. This doesn’t mean that calisthenics is an all bad training method. The scientific evidence is quite clear which shows that our lower body is designed to produce a huge amount of forces. That means, in order to train it, you will need a huge amount of resistance. No wonder, guys perform leg presses with 700 lbs weight and are still finding it comfortable because that’s what they need to build those muscles.
It will pretty rare to see a guy who performs calisthenics with big leg muscles. Even though they are ripped and perform movements we can’t replicate, when it comes to lower body muscle mass, it becomes a problem.
What to expect from Calisthenics?
Till now, you must have understood that calisthenics is not meant for giving you huge muscle mass. Yes, with proper nutrition and recovery, you will be ripped, get noticeable muscles because you are using your muscles to generate a tremendous amount of force. However, strength and your body’s ability to achieve that extraordinary mobility is the priority if calisthenics.
There is pretty much no reason to not try calisthenics. If you are left without weights, then don’t hesitate and give calisthenics a try. If you do have access to weights and thinking about making a shift to calisthenics, my opinion will be, give it a try. See if you like it, give your body something new to feel. It might result in breaking a monotonous resistance training program and give positive results.
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My Personal Experience With Calisthenics In Quarantined
I have always been that resistance training guy. Whatever body composition changes I have achieved it was based on weight training and cardiovascular exercises. As the quarantine hit us, we lost access to gyms. I didn’t have weights at home unless we are talking about putting books in a backpack and using it as a resistance.
It this during this time when I thought of trying something new, a new training program. I built a training program based on bodyweight workouts only. However, it had lots of variations, such as on chest day I couldn’t do bench press so I had many varieties of pushups like the Hindu push-ups and wide push-ups. The motive was to challenge the muscle groups from different positions and range of motions.
The results aren’t at all disappointing. All my muscle mass was the result of weight training. Now, calisthenics may not have improved it, it helped me to maintain it. I didn’t had calisthenic equipment like pull up bar or dip bars, that might be given me some leverage. I followed the training plan for about 2 months and I would say, my body welcomed this change in training.
I loved the training because it was only based on bodily movements. It took a short time and was quite intense. I could finish each workout in 25-30 minutes including a 10-minute warm-up.
If you’re like me, who wants to stick with weight training but is still interested in calisthenics, you can include some bodyweight exercises in your exercise plan. When it comes to advance exercises, the only way to perform them is by practicing and progressing gradually. Therefore, you can practice it and try to master those movements even if your actual training plan is weight-training based.
The one thing I would like to highlight is, focus on your nutrition and recovery process because that will form 80% of your muscle building process.
I find calisthenics very fascinating and have added some of the exercises in my workout plan. So, basically, I have combined calisthenics and weight training but it’s still an 85% weight training plan. I am currently studying a book on calisthenics and it is like an encyclopedia of calisthenic exercises with professions to advance exercises too, which I love as it’s helping to make a training plan as well. I am quite sure, I will be trying a full calisthenic based program again in the coming months.