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Bodyweight Bodybuilder: The Mass-Building Calisthenic Workout

Bodyweight training isn't just for martial artists and other wiry athletes. Match the perfect movement with the right rep scheme, and build muscle without any equipment!

As a longtime proponent of bodyweight strength training, the most common question I get asked is if it's really possible to build muscle and strength without a gym. My answer is always a resounding "Yes!" Unfortunately, even this response is often met with skepticism. To many people, getting in shape without joining a gym or even lifting weights sounds too simple to work. Fitness doesn't have to be complicated. All you need to get in great shape is the will to train hard and the discipline to do it consistently.

While bodyweight training can make you strong and muscular, it isn't as glamorous as it might look on YouTube. You have to do lots of the basics before you start trying anything fancy. Cut yourself a big slice of humble pie and be ready to push, and pull yourself.

PULL-UP PROGRESSION

Watch The Video - 01:36




Three for All ///

The three most essential movements for building strength and muscle with bodyweight training are push-ups, pull-ups, and squats. I told you we weren't going to get fancy here.

These three basic moves and their progressive variations are enough to keep anyone growing for many years. The trick is to make sure you continually challenge yourself to increase your reps so you can progress to harder exercise variations once you can handle them.

Eventually you can build up to single-limb variants of these classic calisthenics. Does that still sound too easy? See if you can do a clean one-arm push-up, one-legged squat, or one-arm pull-up and get back to me.

Regardless of what training modality you use, the way to grow stronger is to begin learning a movement pattern with a relatively low amount of resistance. Gradually add more as the body adapts. All types of strength training operate under this principle of progressive overload.

In weight training, exercises can be learned with an empty bar to get a feel for proper technique before progressing to heavier poundage. This allows the lifter to learn the form without having to overcome much resistance. Due to the nature of bodyweight training, however, progress must be approached differently.

Leverage Overload ///

Since there is no way to do a one-arm push-up, pistol squat, or one-arm pull-up without a significant amount of resistance, you must build up to advanced moves. Do this by practicing variations in which the body is positioned in such a way as to create less resistance. As you grow stronger, you can gradually introduce harder variations. A key principle of this type of progressive calisthenics training is manipulating leverage to vary the intensity of the exercises.

For example, if you can't do full push-ups, then start with incline push-ups. Conversely, if you can do 30-40 consecutive push-ups, you're ready to try moving to a harder variant, like close push-ups. When you get your numbers up on those, you might try archer push-ups, then self-assisted one-arm push-ups before working your way to full one-armers.

This process can take a while, but with dedication, a beginner can go from incline push-ups all the way to one-arm push-ups over the course of several months or years. These same types of progressions can easily be applied to squats and pull-ups as well.

Progressive Calisthenics (Squats)

Watch The Video - 01:39




Sets and Reps ///

If your primary goal from training is to build mass, I recommend using a standard bodybuilding template structured around basic calisthenics like the ones listed above. Find variations that will cause you to fatigue at around 10-15 reps and perform 3 or 4 sets of each exercise. Perform two pushing movements, two pulling movements, and two squatting movements in each full-body workout. If you stick to your program, get enough sleep and eat enough, you will undoubtedly see an improvement in both your strength and mass.

Here's a sample full-body program that could work for an intermediate-level trainee:

Full-Body Calisthenics

It may take some time to increase your reps on these basic calisthenics. With consistent practice, you can work toward adding more reps and eventually start moving to more difficult variations like muscle-ups and full pistol squats. Be patient and stay the course; whether you lift weights or use your own body for resistance, you can't get strong and build muscle without hard work and dedication. Enjoy the process and make every rep count.


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About The Author

Al Kavadlo, CSCS is one of the world's leading experts in bodyweight strength training and calisthenics.

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calimocho

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calimocho

thanks for listing these progressions, helps me visualize where I am with strength in the three different movements areas.

Jul 15, 2013 6:10pm | report
 
AlexHallYEAH

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AlexHallYEAH

prefer to use weight than all this bodyweight bs

Jul 16, 2013 3:26am | report
 
blake.arnold89

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blake.arnold89

Can you perform the advanced versions with flawless technique for reps???

Jul 16, 2013 5:01am | report
rennbj4

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rennbj4

Yes, me too, but that doesn't make this bodyweight BS. Go back to the bro gym.

Jul 16, 2013 9:09am | report
BIHAjdin

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BIHAjdin

I prefer to use weight too but that does not mean its BS dont be so full of yourself Respect goes a long way especially if you only work out at the gym BROO!

Jul 16, 2013 10:20am | report
Spawn8214

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Spawn8214

Body weight exercises are actually very useful and a lot of professional fitness models and movie stars cycle body weight training and weight training. Some of my hardest workouts have been body weight circuits.

Jul 19, 2013 11:50am | report
Ralfonso1989

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Ralfonso1989

Look up names like Hit Richards and Brandon Wynn and just try saying that again.

Oct 1, 2013 9:19pm | report
udontwannaknow

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udontwannaknow

u call this BS! **** U!!!

Aug 11, 2014 3:32am | report
rennbj4

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rennbj4

Just tried a one-armed clap pushups... and my nose is broken.

Jul 16, 2013 9:09am | report
 
jagguar

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jagguar

I was full of energy the other day and started doing some clap pushups. I was powering through them and just threw in the claps behind the back. I happened to pull it off and even made it look easy. I felt amazing. I had never tried it before and so to just pull it off like it's nothing was awesome. I guess a one-armed clap pushup is next.

Aug 20, 2013 11:20pm | report
martinholik88

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martinholik88

Thanks, I'll use this "Mass-Building" workout next time I'm smaller than you.

Jul 17, 2013 9:56am | report
 
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 5'11"
  • wt: 196.21 lbs
  • bf: 13.0%
jdalsim

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jdalsim

What are you 15-20% bf? Good bet he's pretty **** close at about 165 lbs and a lower bf.

Jul 18, 2013 1:03pm | report
martinholik88

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martinholik88

@jdalsim - Actually I'm below 10% and about 190lbs. I don't use bodyspace that much. I just go here for the articles. Ain' no body got time for that!

Jul 18, 2013 2:20pm | report
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 5'11"
  • wt: 196.21 lbs
  • bf: 13.0%
Spawn8214

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Spawn8214

Looking at your pic from April, you're not 10% there, though you may be now, idk.

I would recommend that you try to cycle in some body weight training though. Fitness isn't just about looking big, I know a lot of guys bigger and stronger than you that can't complete a full body weight circuit or do a few 400 meter intervals.

I like to do some body weight training on my rest days as a form of active rest.

Jul 19, 2013 11:55am | report
martinholik88

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martinholik88

@Spawn8214 - Jeez, you make one joke and all the haters write you stupid ****.
I can easily say that judging by your pics, your advice suck but then again, your current pic is from last year and I'm not a douche. Keep that **** for yourself and just worry about yourself :)

Jul 19, 2013 6:04pm | report
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 5'11"
  • wt: 196.21 lbs
  • bf: 13.0%
RyuuganFayt

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RyuuganFayt

Calisthenics are so heavily ignored by body builders when in fact they are some of the best exercises for gaining strength.

Jul 17, 2013 6:33pm | report
 
Spawn8214

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Spawn8214

Agreed, they really help to develop the smaller muscles that are ignored in heavy compound lifts.

Jul 19, 2013 11:56am | report
nipple313

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nipple313

Using your bodyweight is a challenge to me. I can use weights all day but focusing on my body weight every now and then at the gym is great.

Jul 18, 2013 12:57pm | report
 
jagguar

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jagguar

If full bodyweight is too much, start with the easier versions of the moves: incline pushups or pushups on your knees, australian pullups, and tricep dips on a bench or chair.

Aug 20, 2013 11:23pm | report
msutts

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msutts

Excellent article. The progressions for executing pull ups will certainly be helpful in my training! Body weight exercises are too often over looked in the body building world yet they are critical foundation for performing all other movements. Truth be told, anyone that says anything otherwise should maybe hit the books more and the gym less. Keep the articles coming and thanks for sharing!

Jul 18, 2013 1:55pm | report
 
jagguar

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jagguar

Anyone who says anything otherwise should really try doing a muscle up, or a one-hand pushup, or a handstand pushup, or a flag or front lever. Just one. Unfortunately I see too many bodybuilders who can lift crazy amounts of weight but who can't do a single pullup. My fitness goals are not to be able to simply lift heavy things up and put them back down. My goals are to be fit, physically capable, and healthy. Bodyweight exercises seem to be a great way to get there.

Aug 20, 2013 9:46pm | report
countparas

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countparas

How many times a week should we do this?

Jul 18, 2013 2:49pm | report
 
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 5'10"
  • wt: 161.38 lbs
  • bf: 30.4%
Spawn8214

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Spawn8214

I like to incorporate body weight workouts on my rest days as a form of active rest. They are great there!

Jul 19, 2013 11:57am | report
jagguar

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jagguar

That doesn't seem like much of a rest. I find that legit bodyweight workouts are harder than weight lifting workouts in the gym.

I don't see why you can't do bodyweight workouts every day if you stagger the body part, just like you would in the gym. Maybe one day of upper body, one day of lower body, and one day of core, then repeat.

Aug 20, 2013 9:50pm | report
FredPeterson

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FredPeterson

I can do pistols, but do not have greatest of angles with my legs. My out leg can't stay straight and my down foot and leg are at funky angles which is more of an ankle flexibility thing and the rest is 'body' balance.

Jul 18, 2013 2:50pm | report
 
Showing 1 - 25 of 36 Comments

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