How to Build Mass with Calisthenics: 3 Strategies for GREAT Results

Guess.  What.

I can show you how to build muscle without going to the gym.  Ever

The question is this: will you follow all my advice and build mass with calisthenics?  Or just keep Googling around for the answer?

That, my friend, is up to you. 

The sad truth:  Mainstream media likes to perpetuate the idea that you must train at a gym with fancy equipment like machines and free weights to build muscle.  This is just a marketing scheme.  After all, gyms need to make money to stay in business, right?

The good news:  I - along with many other people - have disproven that theory time and time again.  You indeed can use calisthenics to build muscle mass. 

In this post, I'll be handing you a silver platter with 3 essential strategies for building muscle with calisthenics.  If you follow all 3 of these strategies as described, I promise you'll see results in as little as a few weeks and quickly realize that gyms are not a necessity.



Strategy #1:  Bodybuilding Techniques with Calisthenics

What?!  But you can’t do bodybuilding with calisthenics!


The same training concepts that apply to building muscle in the gym also apply to building muscle outside the gym with bodyweight exercise.   Here’s exactly how you can apply those concepts consistently to build mass without weights.

Do LESS of the following:

  • Skill work or strength training (fatigue at low reps)
  • Muscular endurance workouts (very high reps)
  • Cardio training

Do MORE of the following:

  • Focus on the hypertrophy rep range (8-12 reps)
  • Higher-volume workouts (more sets per workout!)
  • Put new skills on the backburner

This might mean going back to the basics for a while, and that's perfectly fine.

How about a detailed explanation and some examples of each of the bullet points you should be doing?


Focus on Hypertrophy Exercises

Make sure whichever exercises you choose allow you to fatigue in the 8-12 rep range.  Same as bodybuilding, this is the ideal rep range for optimizing blood flow to your muscles and initiating growth and repair.  Here are some examples:

Example 1:  Archer push-ups are too hard for you because you can only do 5 reps per side.  No problem!  Do an easier variation, such as diamond or decline push-ups to fatigue in the ideal 8-12 rep range.

Example 2: You can only do 6 pull-ups, so not quite in the hypertrophy range yet.  No worries! Instead, get below your trusty Lebert EQualizer and opt for assisted pull-ups (a.k.a Australian pull-ups) to fatigue in the ideal 8-12 rep range.

 Image courtesy of Lebert Fitness

Image courtesy of Lebert Fitness


Higher-Volume Workouts

Whatever volume of sets you are currently doing – increase it. 

There are two basic methods to accomplish this.  You can (A) increase the number of sets per workout, or (B) increase the number of workouts you do per muscle group per week.

Here's an example of each option.  

Option 1: Add more sets to your existing workouts.  For example, let's say you're currently doing 12 sets per muscle group in each workout.  Simply increase the number of sets per muscle group to 16 (or any number higher than 12).  

Option 2: Increase the number of workouts you do per week.  For example, you continue doing 12 sets per muscle group in each workout, but you do a different split so you’re now working each muscle group three times per week instead of twice.  In calisthenics, this could mean opting for an upper body/lower body split instead of a push/pull/legs split if you workout six days per week.


Put new skills on the backburner

This is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll elaborate anyway. 

Now, I’m not saying you won’t build any muscle mass at all from training skills.  However, learning new skills such as the dragon flag or handstand won’t do much in terms of bulking up.  Skill training will mostly distract you from your hypertrophy training.

Therefore, my recommendation is anyone looking to gain serious mass with calisthenics should put new skills on hold temporarily. Once that trip to the beach or tropical vacation with your friends is over and you’re done showing off your gains, you can get back to focusing on new skill development.


Strategy #2:  Eat a Caloric Surplus  

Whether you’re using your bodyweight or dumbbells for resistance is irrelevant; consuming more calories than you burn is necessary for building muscle mass.

You also need to be in a positive nitrogen balance, which means that you’re taking in more nitrogen than you’re putting out.  This ensures a state of anabolic growth. 

So how do you achieve a positive nitrogen balance?  Simple: eat enough protein. 

This doesn't mean you should eat tons of meat and neglect your fruits and veggies.  Au contraire, it means eat extra health consciously and make sure to include quality protein sources every meal.  



Although protein supplements are popular, they’re not necessary.  Just be sure to include whole food sources of protein at every meal.  Some examples are beans, nuts, seeds, fish, eggs, chicken and turkey. 

The rest of your calories should come from complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, oats, vegetables and whole grain breads and pastas.


Strategy #3:  Take a Creatine Supplement

This is the secret weapon.  Of all the nutritional supplements available, creatine monohydrate is by far the most effective for gaining mass.  Building muscle with calisthenics is even easier when you use this supplement.

I recommend you check out this creatine monohydrate on Amazon’s site.  It’s from one of the most well-known supplement manufacturers, Optimum Nutrition, is extremely affordable and works very well.  I cycle this creatine whenever I’m looking for that extra boost for size gains.

Creatine assists in the rapid resynthesis of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), which is essentially the “raw energy” we use to contract muscles.  By having slightly more ATP during your sets, you can squeeze out those extra few reps to increase gains. 



Further, if you do a loading phase of creatine, which essentially means a higher dosage (20g per day) for the first five days of usage before dropping to maintenance dosage (5g per day), you’ll notice an increase in muscle size due to water retention.  This is not true muscle gain, but it helps you look bigger right off the bat, which is always good for the ego.

Use creatine for 6-8 weeks and then take a month off to give your body a break.  This is called a "cycle" and is a safety measure recommended by manufacturers so your body doesn't reduce it's own creation of creatine.


What are you waiting for?

So there you have it.  Now you know the 3 essential strategies for gaining muscle with calisthenics.  Not much different than that of a weight lifter, is it? 

Always remember this: your body doesn’t know the difference between lifting itself or external weight for resistance.  So, if you follow the same basic guidelines as bodybuilders (hypertrophy rep range, positive nitrogen balance, creatine supplementation) you’ll see a noticeable difference in no time. 

Happy training!