Bodyweight Calisthenics Workout: Progressive Training Routine | Not Your Average Fitness Tips

Bodyweight Calisthenics Workout: Progressive Training Routine

When you think of a calisthenics workout, what comes to mind?  Sadly, for many people, it’s probably something like high school gym class or an aerobics routine.  However, a true bodyweight calisthenics routine can help a person gain immense functional strength.  A key feature of a calisthenics workout is that it should be a progressive training routine.  In this manner, a person continually gets stronger rather than focusing on endurance.

What’s interesting about calisthenics exercises is that they’ve really been around forever.  A calisthenics workout was the predominant form of training prior to modern advances.  Warriors and strong men of old would use their own bodyweight and through progressive training gain considerable strength and power.  The standard bench press pales in comparison to the ability to pull oneself up a mountain or push stationary objects.

Calisthenics Exercises

Most people equate calisthenics with pushups, pullups, and squats.  These bodyweight exercises provide a great starting point in building strength.  The problem is that eventually these exercises focus on endurance rather than strength.  It’s nice to be able to do 100 pushups, but I’d rather be able to do 10 perfect one-arm pushups.  Strength training needs to be done with low reps to maximize muscular development.  To perform low reps, bodyweight exercises have to be made more difficult.  Well guess what, you can create a highly challenging calisthenics workout by using only your bodyweight.

Here Zuzana demonstrates what she considers the hardest pushup ever…guess she hasn’t tried one-arm handstand pushups!

Calisthenics not only help you gain functional strength, but can also help you develop a lean body.  In fact, I’d argue that using your bodyweight alone can sometimes be preferred in getting really defined muscles.  Consider that some gymnasts have never picked up weights in their lives.  Meanwhile, they can support themselves on rings and bars and flip and jump through the sky.  There are stories of gymnasts who can deadlift and bench press ridiculous amounts, despite never having lifted weights before.  Pull ups are almost an afterthought unless they are held down by more than half their body weight.  Aside from amazing strength, most gymnasts have massive, well defined arms.

Progressive Training Routine

It should be pretty clear that bodyweight exercises should be included as part of any training routine.  However, ensuring that you keep progressing to harder and harder exercises, rather than more and more reps, is of the utmost importance.  That’s why I recommend the progressive training routine outlined in Convict Conditioning.  Essentially, you perform six different exercises that work the major muscles in your body.  The 10-step progessions are constructed so that everyone from a beginner to advanced exerciser may be challenged.

  1. Pushups: Wall Pushups to One-Arm Pushups
  2. Squats: Shouldered Squats to One-Leg Squats
  3. Pullups: Vertical Pulls to One-Arm Pullups
  4. Leg Raises: Knee Tucks to Hanging Straight Leg Raises
  5. Bridges: Short Bridges to Stand-to-Stand Bridges
  6. Handstand Pushups: Wall Headstands to One-Arm Handstand Pushups

1930’s strongman Bert Assirati could perform a one-arm handstand at 266lbs and was one of the heaviest men to perform the iron cross!

There are specific set and rep goals for each exercise prior to advancing to the next progression.  This ensures you keep getting stronger rather than focusing too much on endurance training.  There are even additional variations beyond the 10 steps.  Given that only about 3% of people accomplish the final step for all 6 exercises, it’s unlikely you’ll need to do anything beyond, but it’s nice for variety.

Start Building Functional Strength

I’d like to offer a challenge.  Join me in giving up weights for the next 2-3 months.  Substitute your weight lifting routine for a bodyweight calisthenics workout.  I guarantee your muscles will be challenged.  In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll actually gain strength if and when you go back to lifting weights.  Get started with a progressive training routine in order to ensure you continue to gain strength with calisthenics exercises that are increasingly challenging.

56 Responses to “Bodyweight Calisthenics Workout: Progressive Training Routine”

  • All gymnast I see at the Olympics have really hard lean bodies so it goes to show what bodyweight exercise can do for.
    Interesting challenge to consider bodyweight workouts but will have to be another time like when summer comes around.
    Raymond

  • Josh:

    One thing to understand about gymnasts and their routines is that they train in their discipline for 8 hours or more per day. That is one of the reasons they are so developed.

    While body weight training can be excellent, and a great supplement to weight training, you have to align them with your goals. Very good article.

  • Dave,

    Convict Conditioning is one of the best fitness books I own. I don’t think I will ever get to the point where I can do one arm handstand push ups, but the section on abs and the back bridge section are especially outstanding.

    A “must have” book in my opinion if anyone wants to get extremely strong with body weight work.

    Good stuff!

    -Rusty

  • Raymond,
    I’ll let you know how the challenge works for me.

    Josh,
    You’re absolutely correct. Gymnasts dedicate the majority of their lives to exercising…a luxury most of us don’t have. I’ll be sure to report back whether I lose any mass by doing bodyweight training. I plan on going back to weight training in a few months.

    Rusty,
    Along with Visual Impact, Convict Conditioning is a favorite of mine. I’ve always been a fan of increasing functional strength, so I’m hoping to do that over the next few months before hitting Visual Impact again in December/January to start building bigger, denser muscles in preparation for the summer.

    Dave

  • This kind of training is excellent for those that still want to maintain ridiculous amounts of cardio. Not too much muscle mass, but a TON of functional strength.

    -Drew

  • Drew,
    Your comment about muscle mass and functional strength reminds me of Bruce Lee. At one time, he focused on bodybuilding and bulked up to 150lbs but found he actually lost strength and speed. By reducing his weight back down to 135lbs, he was much more functionally fit for martial arts. The bottom line is that bulky muscles don’t necessarily make you stronger.
    Dave

  • Drew, Dave-

    I don’t know if you guys follow boxing at all, but if you do, remember when Floyd Mayweather recently fought Juan Manuel Marquez?

    I remember hearing that Marquez was trying to gain some weight to move up a division, and was doing more traditional bodybuilding style “bulking” to gain muscle mass.

    He was obviously overmatched in the fight and had a really tough time against Mayweather. His trainer blamed weight training for making him slow.

    Maybe if he would have followed Convict Conditioning, or even simply more ‘functional’ weight training, it would have been a better fight?

    Who knows…

    Ian

  • I’ve been focusing on bodyweight exercises for months now and couldn’t be happier with the results. I’ve also been working with my trusty kettlebell, and don’t think I’ll be giving it up soon however. Gotta get my cleans and presses in one way or the other! But most people greatly overestimate the importance of lifting when they can get a minimalist workout that will get the job done more efficiently.

  • Ian,
    I follow boxing here and there but it doesn’t surprise me that Marquez felt slower due to putting on muscle mass. As I mentioned, Bruce Lee was the prime example of someone who could have been a bodybuilder but chose to have a lean, functional body. David Beckham is another example of someone who actually avoids weight training because he felt like the added bulk slowed him down on the soccer field. That being said, I think Mayweather still would have handled Marquez at any weight. Now, Mayweather-Pacquiao, there’s a fight I want to see!

    Darrin,
    Glad to hear bodyweight training has been effective. Some time I’m going to have to try kettlebells. I read so much about them and they would definitely fit well with my fitness goals. One thing at a time though…

    Dave

  • I like the challenge and I’m going to take you on it.

    I’m interested in doing full body calorie burning for a month with body weights, like trying to do 50 burpees in 3 minutes and so on. I’ll take on convict conditioning afterwards for sure.

    I do a lot of yoga as I enjoy the body weight exercises. You definitely gain a lot of strength as you push little muscles that you not always challenge and that resonates when you go back in the gym and you’re stronger with your shoulders and legs. however I think doing one hand head stand push ups is a completely different level. Its intriguing and I imagine that with training its achievable.

  • Alejandro,
    Taking on these kinds of challenges every once in a while helps bring out the best in me…I’m a competitor by nature. Sometimes lifting more doesn’t cut it so goals like your 50 burpees in 3 minutes or Convict Conditioning’s one arm handstand pushups really give me a renewed drive. Yoga is underrated and I’m looking to incorporate more of it into my routine going forward.
    Dave

  • Great article man. I am huge believer is mixing free weights with body weight exercises.

  • Louis,
    I think mixing the two can really provide a great total body workout. I’m focused entirely on body weight training now but in another few weeks, I’m probably going to add weights back in.
    Dave

  • chris:

    Can you send me a full one-week calisthenic programm ??(I go gym 5 times a week).Thx

  • Chris,
    Can you provide some more info? Do you want a 5 day routine to supplement or replace weight training? Are you training for strength, mass, or a specific sport? How do you separate workouts (legs/arms, pushing/pulling, etc.)? I’d be happy to offer some suggestions. You could also just get Convict Conditioning and read their suggested routines or use the knowledge to construct your own program.
    Dave

  • Rob:

    Just go on youtube and type in “Hannibal workout”. That guy has one of the best bodies I’ve ever seen. And its all bodyweight stuff like CC

  • Rob,
    He’s definitely in ridiculously good shape. In fairness I could point to people who just do weight training that look great as well, but I think examples like Hannibal prove that you don’t necessarily need weights to get an amazing body.
    Dave

  • Kent:

    I’m 51 years old, and about four months ago I stopped going to the gym completely and switched to a combination of bodyweight training and kettle bells. My joints feel better, I feel more agile and athletic, and my midsection is more muscled and toned than it’s ever been, despite my rarely doing ab-specific exercises. I’m now a convert and will likely never go back to the bodybuilding style of working out.

  • Kent,
    I think as we age, bodyweight training becomes more and more beneficial. I’m glad to hear it’s helped you build a healthier body. Kettlebells are great too!
    Dave

  • John:

    Hi Dave I just happened across your site. Very well done!

    I’m 59 years young and just getting back into shape after a couple of years vegging out. At my age once you get the taste of being fit and then go back to being yucko, it really hurts. I can’t wait to get back.

    I’ve been using a leaner diet combined with a 20 minute powerwalk daily plus some very slow motion free weight exercises.

    I like the Convict Conditioning concept though and will probably give that a go. All I know is I have to keep moving, the alternative is not pretty!
    John

  • John,
    Glad you’re enjoying the site. Even more excited to hear you’re getting back into shape. It sounds like you’re off to a good start. The functional exercises in Convict Conditioning should be helpful in improving your overall strength. It’s not the best fat burning workout, but you won’t find bodyweight exercise progressions as well laid out. Let me know if you have questions along the way.
    Dave

  • John:

    Actually Dave I’ve found in my own body that any kind of strength exercises coupled with a balanced diet of lean protein, fruits and especially most veggies, is a very potent fat burning combination. I don’t even have to put a fine point on it. Just limit or eliminate the bad stuff like flour and sugar and do the above and presto chango!

    The key for me is finding strength exercises I like.
    Warmly, John

  • John,
    You hit the nail on the head. Diet is so key and it sounds like you have a perfect approach. I think you’ll have fun with the Convict Conditioning exercises. Just remember that it’s going to take time to make your way through the progressions.
    Dave

  • Chris:

    Dave,
    Found your site while searching for articles on calisthenics. Excellent piece. I’m 26 and have been lifting weights with the goal of general fitness for more than eight years now. I stumbled across ‘Convict Conditioning’ at my local library in early April. While I found prose portions of the book a little hard to get through, I was very intrigued by the progressions outlined in the book and the concepts behind them so I decided to incorporate them into my workout. Six months later, I’m still methodically making my way through the progressions (still a long way to go!) and have become a convert to calisthenics. While I still use free weights for some isolation lifts, I’ve nearly removed weighted exercises from my workout. The concepts of ‘Convict Conditioning’ work perfectly for me and my goals, and I think the progressions (and really, calisthenics in general) are a really great option for anyone who either doesn’t like gyms, can’t get to a gym, or prefers working out at home (and doesn’t own a lot of equipment). So I’m with Dave: if you haven’t tried going to strictly bodyweight exercises yet, give it a shot, and ‘Convict Conditioning’ is as good of a place to start as I’ve found. You might be surprised by not only your results but by how much you enjoy it.
    Chris

  • Wow. That 1930 strongman picture is impressive. He’d be a good bouncer. I agree with giving up weights for a while. I’ve been doing push ups for the last 2 weeks. No weight training. Just very slooow push ups with very straight back. And then I just hold when I get up until I can’t hold anymore. It’s like isometrics. I can especially feel it in my abs and triceps.

  • Chris,
    Couldn’t agree more about Convict Conditioning. It’s so fun to make your way through the progressions as well. Each step is a new challenge.

    Ab Belt Abs,
    In my opinion, pushups should be a staple of any routine, even one that is primarily focused on weight training. Recently I’ve been doing my strength training with weights first, then a bodyweight routine, and finish with some circuit training exercises.

    Dave

  • I am a weight machine (i.e., nautilus) workout guy and have belonged to health club/gyms for over 30 years. Because of my profession, I have to travel a lot and end up in hotels often. Here is where I have unintentionally opted for body weight workouts. Often the hotel gyms are weak, so what do I do? I do it all in my room with a combination of push-ups and sit-ups. I only spend about 15 minutes doing this, but always feel that same sense of exhilaration after the workout as with a regular weight machine workout. So it is nice to have some affirmation from you that body weight workouts do a lot of good. I stumbled upon the practice but am now glad that it is a proven fact and excellent substitute to regular gym weight-lifting workouts. Thanks!

  • Peter,
    Bodyweight workouts can be a substitute or complement to your existing weight lifting workouts. They’re perfect for the hotel or when you don’t have a lot of space or equipment.
    Dave

  • Khristian:

    hey can you please send me whole bodyweight training? i want to gain massive amount of mass and very dense strong muscle.. i cant do 100 pushups in 1 go and about 15 pullups in a go. hope to hear from you soon.cheers.

  • Khristian,
    You can download my free Fitness in a Flash or How to Get a Beach Body books for some tips on bodyweight training and sample routines. You can also read this post:

    http://www.notyouraveragefitnesstips.com/best-workout-routines/bodyweight-workout-for-mass-strength

    After that, I’m happy to help you craft your own routine.
    Dave

  • Dave,
    I never knew this: “Strength training needs to be done with low reps to maximize muscular development.”

    Up till now been doing too high of reps I guess. I’m going to start trying to do some one arm pushups and what that girl was doing in bodyrock.tv. In fact, I think i’ll have to go and watch bodyrock.tv just now;)

  • Robert,
    Strength training is all about low reps and avoiding failure. Bodyrock TV is a fun place to learn about exercise as well.
    Dave

  • DY:

    Although I love strength training, calisthenics, interval training, and competitive sports, I get bored easily. I just moved to a new apartment where everything I could possibly do is only a block away (e.g. gym, track field, soccer field, a very very steep hill for uphill sprinting). I don’t have one specific goal; I have many. I would like to gain muscle, acquire good muscular endurance, build cardiovascular strength. How can I combine it all? Or should I? Or do I perform a routine for a certain amount of weeks then switch it up (e.g. strength training for a month then calisthenics for 2-3 weeks). Advise is much appreciated.
    D

  • D,
    Sounds like you have a lot of the same goals as me. My preference is to combine a variety of methods. I’m sure it’s better to focus on one goal at a time, but it feels like a limiting factor for me. I split training into 4 days of weighlifting/bodyweight training and 2-3 days of HIIT. I’m going through the Visual Impact Muscle Building program now, so my routine changes, but generally here’s what I like:

    2 days of pushing exercises; 2 days of pulling exercises per week
    20-30 minutes of heavy lifting: 3 sets of 3-5 reps avoiding failure (this will help you gain strength and some size; if you want more size, then lift lighter for more reps…confusing concept to most, but I’m happy to explain further)
    10 minutes of bodyweight exercises: one arm pushups, pullups, dips, inverted rows, etc. (this focuses more on muscular endurance since you can generally perform more reps of these exercises)
    10 minutes of circuit training: you can include weights or just do bodyweight training or kettlebells. (the focus here is on muscular endurance and cardiovascular endurance)
    Optional 15 minutes steady state cardio to burn some fat

    HIIT will be done 2-3 mornings per week and improves leg endurance and cardiovascular endurance. I like 15 second sprints with 45 second slow jog repeated 8 times. Follow that with 15-30 minutes of steady state cardio. Finish with 1 minute fast jog with 1 minute slow jog repeated 5-10 times.

    Hope that provides a good starting point. I can delve deeper into any or everything. Switch your routine every 6-8 weeks and you’ll hopefully avoid boredom. I can provide some tips on that too if needed.

    Dave

  • This is very interesting because my understanding and personal training with weights focused trainers has led me to believe that while bodyweight workouts as described here can be intense and have great results, I have always thought that they can not compare to weights in results. But the stories about the gymnasts “who can deadlift and bench press ridiculous amounts, despite never having lifted weights before” is intriguing and makes one question the necessity of a weights versus this type of workout. I am going to check the info on convict conditioning, I am always open to new insights on exercise.

  • Elroy,
    Everyone has a different opinion on the matter. I like incorporating weights in my routine because they do help increase strength and mass. However, bodyweight exercises are invaluable in building functional strength. Gymnasts are an elite group and if you extend the analogy to the animal kingdom, look at the immense strength of gorillas. They spend all day swinging and supporting their bodyweight…not many gorillas care about their bench press.
    Dave

  • Stan:

    I;m 42 years old. I work out 5 days a week, M-F. I used to Run 5 miles a day & lifted weights for strength traning. I got up to benchpressing 250 lbs. One day around November, I tried 260 & dropped the weight on my chest (Someone helped me get it up before I injured myself seriously.)beacuse I couldn’t control it. & I injured my left shoulder. Since I ran 5 miles a day, I’m lean, but I didn’t have definition. (I did about a 200 situps a day.)I switched to doing calisthenics, wide grip Pull ups, Close grip chinups, Dips,Incline Pushups, Leg Raises w/a 10 lb medicine ball, Immideately, I began to get definition,& my six pack came w/ no extra ab work. (I even stopped doing 200 situps a day.)It’s January now, & I’m running 7&1/2 miles a day, & I now do two additional types of pull ups,w/ my legs streched out 90 degrees,& another were I bring my knees up to my chest, & roate them. What I need to know is what do I need to do In order to perform a muscle up, Handstand pushups,human flags, & other high end calisthenics excercise. Or am I running too much to achive the muscle mass. Any Info you can give me will be really helpful. Thanks

  • Stan,
    Sounds like you have a great routine going. I’m glad to hear you stopped doing all those crunches…not so great for the back in the long term! Depending on the intensity, running for long distances can make muscle growth difficult. However, growth in your upper body will be somewhat independent from your lower body. The high end calisthenics exercises you discussed are exactly what the book Convict Conditioning helps train people for. The first volume focuses on one arm pushups, one leg squats, one arm pull ups, hanging straight leg raises, stand to stand back bridges, and one arm handstand pushups. The second volume includes more specialized training for hands/forearms and goes into detail about achieving the human flag.

    Here’s some articles on Convict Conditioning 1 & 2:

    http://www.notyouraveragefitnesstips.com/best-workout-routines/best-bodyweight-exercises-convict-conditioning-results

    http://www.notyouraveragefitnesstips.com/best-workout-routines/convict-conditioning-2-review-paul-wade-advanced-prison-training-tactics

    Sorry to direct you to a book, but it really lays out a great step by step process to achieve some elite bodyweight feats. I’m happy to provide some more flavor if you’d like or other a good starting point on any of the exercises you mentioned.

    Dave

  • Lisa H:

    I see all these men talking about Convict Conditioning but will it work for a woman too? I recently had a baby and am trying to get back to the shape I was in before. Any suggestions on how to do this? I’m also a stay at home mom so I have to be able to work around my baby’s schedule. Help!

  • Lisa,
    Trying to get back in shape after having a baby is always tough. My wife experienced this first hand. Convict Conditioning is a great program to get really strong but in my opinion isn’t the best workout to help you lose fat. If that’s your primary goal, a healthy dose of high intensity exercise and a good diet go a long way. I can provide plenty of details on either if you’d like. As a starting point, you could check out this post:

    http://www.notyouraveragefitnesstips.com/best-workout-routines/best-weight-loss-workout-routines-for-women-at-the-gym-at-home

    This is the program my wife is currently doing. It’s too early to tell what the results will be but I can vouch that the principles and approach are top notch.

    Let me know what else would help you. Info on diet, weight training, bodyweight exercises, cardio, etc.?
    Dave

  • Rick:

    I would never of thought that a 266 lb guy could do a one-handed handstand like that. The body I’ve always wanted is one like a gymnast. They are the true definition of ripped and lean.

  • jeff:

    can you dive deeper on a routine that combines visual impact wiht convict conditioning. I work also in the 3-5 rep range (avoiding failure) and two exercises per boy part. I have thought about putting pushups or pullups at the end of the hiit training but was unsure of how it would mix with a high volume low rep base workout…

    thanks and appreciate the advice and possible routine example.

  • Jeff,
    I like to perform weight training first for safety reasons but mix in Convict Conditioning exercises after. I’m not following Visual Impact exactly right now but am working with 3-5 reps. I use a variety of exercises but you can get an idea how I structure things

    Chest/back
    Bench press: 3 sets
    DB incline press: 2 sets
    Pullups: one-arm, ring, standard, parallel
    Pushups: one-arm, ring, decline
    Rows: ring, inverted, bent-over

    Shoulders/biceps/triceps
    Shoulder press: 3 sets
    Handstand pushups: 3 sets
    Standing barbell curls: 3 sets
    DB curls: 2 sets
    Ring dips: 2 sets
    Dips: 2 sets

    Separately, I perform hanging leg raises and stand to stand back bridges as part of my abs routine.

    The challenge you might have is going through the progressions when your muscles are tired from lifting weights first. Since I’m at a point where I’m not trying to progress any further on Convict Conditioning exercises, I just focus on performing more reps rather than more challenging variations. For example, I perform close grip handstand pushups with my hands about 8 inches apart. It’s been very challenging for me to get my hands any closer. So I’ve just been trying to perform as many reps as I can rather than trying to get my hands to 6 or 4 inches apart. Hope that makes sense. If you want any more clarification, let me know.

    Dave

  • jeff:

    Awesome and thank you, makes perfect sense. You and Rusty have the two best sites and have been key in my training transition; I have weight trained for 20 years and over the past 12 months feel like a beginner in my transition to functional fitness and a lean look (I actually never really looked that good at any point with how I previously trained.)

    Last month for my 40th bday i did the Spartana 5k; it was fun but super challenging. I am planning on competing in the Super Spartan in April of next year (11 mile obstacle course and run) and think I may have to lay off the weights at some point for more preparation in running; I run about 3 miles with hiit and steady state 4 times a week but was still sucking swamp water with the obstacles and uphill runs.

    Do you think for these type of events straight body weight exercise and cardio a month or two prior to the run?

    Happy 4th of July….

  • Jeff,
    Appreciate the compliments. The Super Spartan sounds really challenging, seems like you have a good handle on preparations though. I don’t claim to be a running expert, but I’d shelve weight training for legs a couple months prior to the run. I’d stick with plyometrics, bodyweight exercises, and cardio to keep them in shape. As for your upper body, I’d say you can continue to perform weight training if you want. Bodyweight training, especially Convict Conditioning type exercises, will keep you in great shape though. Not a bad idea to cycle off the weights for 1-2 months anyway. Good luck!
    Dave

  • Dylan:

    Any routines that would carry over to wrestling? I lift pretty ridiculous amounts of weight for my weight and age, but feel like I lack functional strength in matches. Any advice would help, thanks

  • Dylan,
    As you know, wrestling can be just as much about technique as strength. What areas are you lacking most in? Exercises like bench press, deadlift, squats, and lunges build a good foundation and bodyweight exercises like pushups, pullups, dips, and rows are all helpful (with a weighted vest adds some variety too). It’s important to improve grip strength and neck strength as well. Plyometrics obviously help build speed and explosive power. Beyond that it’s simply about practicing.
    Dave

  • Dylan:

    I would say functional strength is my weakest link. Of course, I’m always striving to improve on other areas such as technique, speed and conditioning as well, but I definitely need help with manipulating my own body as well as building strength relative to my own body weight. And thanks for the tips on lifts that build a good base for calisthenics, they are much appreciated

  • No problem at all Dylan. As for functional strength, the word functional varies from activity to activity. In wresting, obviously having powerful legs/hips to lift someone is important, grip strength to hold them is important, and pulling and pushing are important. Then, combining those with speed and conditioning are key. Take all that into account when you’re constructing a routine. Happy to help more if I can.

  • Kevin:

    Sweet article Dave. I weight lifted for years for high school football but was living in an apartment after graduation with only access to a “fitness room” which lacked weights. So I messed with calisthenics. I dropped a lot of bodyfat because they were circuits of variations on push ups, pull ups and squats but lost mass as well. I read a lot about pyramids, high volume, negative reps, but I feel like all my attempts at these have not resulted in mass gaining. My protein, carb, fat intake is fine, when I try to get in more calories I just gain fat. But would you mind perhaps posting a 3-4 day split for muscle building calisthenics??
    Thank you!!

  • Kevin,
    Sounds like you have a solid background and are on the right track. Some of this depends on how you define muscle mass…are you going for muscle volume or density? You can create dense, defined muscles by doing low rep training. It’s tough to do with bodyweight exercises unless you add a weighted vest. If you’re focused on muscle volume, then high rep training to failure is the way to go. That being said, doing 50 pushups to failure won’t necessarily help you gain mass. I’d try to stick with the 12-15 rep range by making the exercises more challenging. For example, if pushups are too easy, work toward one-arm pushups.

    You can also focus a bit on gaining strength and size. I like Nick Nilsson’s time/volume training concept. You perform 15 minutes of one exercise. Do 3 reps, rest 10 seconds, and do 3 more reps. Once you get to a set where you can’t complete 3 reps, then rest 20 seconds. Continuing until you can’t complete 3 reps again and then rest 30 seconds. So on and so forth until you get to 15 minutes. Keep track of the total number of reps you performed and try to beat it next time. As Nick described it, you’re doing strength/power oriented sets to help gain mass without doing the high rep endurance training. If you want a simple 2 day split, perform pushups, dips (if possible), and abs on day 1, and pullups, inverted rows (if possible) and squats on day 2. You can do repeat these days so you’ll end up exercising Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri or whatever combination you prefer.

    Definitely keep the diet in line. Gaining muscle when you’re in good shape already is a slow process that requires patience. 1lb per month would be great. Don’t shoot to gain more than 1lb per week because you’ll generally add too much fat, despite what some hardcore bodybuilders would lead you to believe.

    Long response, but I hope that helps.
    Dave

  • V94:

    Hi im 19 years old and i have a fast metabolism i was wondering if i can get a bigger body by doing calisthenics if so what are some good workouts and how many sets and reps should i do and do i need to eat a lot or this type of workout wont let me put on mass

  • If you’re really looking to add a lot of mass, I find that weight training is more effective than bodyweight calisthenics. For maximum size, you should do 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps to failure. Obviously your diet is important. Don’t go crazy and overeat; otherwise you’ll end up adding as much fat as muscle. Try to eat enough to gain 1-2lbs per month. Take it slow and you can improve the muscle:fat gain ratio.

  • Stan B. Furman:

    Hey Dave, I was a long distance runner, about 5-6 miles a day 5x’s a week. last April, I injured my back in a auto accident. (3 herniated discs in my lower lumbar region. With sciatica running down my left leg.) I couldn’t stand up straight to walk much less run. Anyway I started a swimming program, along with a workout on a step mill machine at the local YMCA. The Swimming & Step mill machine gave me a full recovery without surgery, I now do 800-1000 meters a day of freestyle & butterfly swimming 5-6x’s a week, and I’ve gotten my old level of fitness back. I still do the step mill machine as well for 100 flights worth an about level#13-15, It takes me about 15 minutes to do this. When I was running, I did a full set of calisthenic exercises, i.e.: Push Ups, Dips, Pullups, L-Shaped chin-ups, behind the neck pull ups, leg raises, & swiss ball squats, w/20 lb dumbbells. And I can run again as well now, My Question is, with the swimming and the step mill exercises, do I need to go back to the running and calisthenics exercises? Or is there a way to incorporate all of the above on a everyday basis. any tips you could give would be greatly appreciated.

  • Stan,
    What a great story…congrats on the recovery. Swimming is an exceptionally good exercise. In my opinion it’s even better than running because it’s a low impact vs. running which can result in knee problems over the long term. Obviously if you enjoy running and want to get back into it, then do it. From a pure fitness and cardiovascular perspective, I think you’ll be able to stay in shape by just swimming.

    That said, I would recommend incorporating some resistance training to improve strength and bone density. I’m sure the swimming is working your muscles, but I’d try to do some bodyweight exercises or weight training either before you swim or on a separate day.

    There’s no best answer…you seem to enjoy exercising, so choose whichever exercises are most enjoyable for you. You can always rotate. Whatever you decide, just don’t overdo things.

    Dave

  • Stan B. Furman:

    Hey, thanks a lot Dave, I’m going to start slow with, Push ups, leg raises, pull ups, & Swiss Ball Squats, I’m going to keep swimming and working on the step mill. As well. Thanks again, I appreciate the advise.

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