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While bulky weight lifters may scoff at the entire concept of calisthenics, we’ll just keep to ourselves as we achieve incredible feats that can only be reached through bodyweight training. And sure, building muscle is a very straightforward concept when it comes to lifting weights. More often than not, people lift weights to build muscle, not to get stronger (whether they admit it or not). But there is a difference between big muscles and great strength! I always want my readers to keep that in mind, because calisthenics is a much different approach to physical fitness on all levels. Nonetheless, many people get into calisthenics for similar reasons that people get into weightlifting – they want to achieve hypertrophy with calisthenics. The cool thing for us bodyweight trainers is that if you shoot for hypertrophy with calisthenics, you will simultaneously build the necessary strength for challenging skills like levers, planches, and other super-cool moves that weightlifters can only dream of accomplishing.
Hypertrophy With Calisthenics – What IS Hypertrophy, Anyway?
Put simply, hypertrophy occurs when muscle cells grow in size. These cells get larger when put under physical stress, most commonly from exercising.
In ANY kind of exercise, the nerves are triggered in ways to force your muscles to contract. These nerve impulses eventually affect how protein is used throughout your body, forcing the muscles’ cells to get bigger and stronger.
As you work out, your muscles break down from all the physical strains. That said, exercising is only half of muscle growth equation. After the physical stress, your muscles must be repaired while you rest. Thus, new muscle grows in and repairs the old damaged muscles – thus, hypertrophy occurs.
Hypertrophy With Calisthenics – What Affects It?
Before you start going crazy with your bodyweight training, you first should understand that everybody’s experience with hypertrophy is different.
This cannot be helped, no matter who you are. Your genes may allow your muscles greater or lesser opportunities for hypertrophy. You see those ripped bros on Youtube showing off during their tutorials? Well, they are blessed with genes that give their muscles lots of room to grow. Not everyone is so lucky. This doesn’t mean you can’t build the STRENGTH – your muscle size may just look different as you hit hypertrophy. Also, these genetic differences may even be visible – taller people with longer limbs may take longer to achieve hypertrophy.
Type of Exercise
Generally speaking, using resistance in your exercising is the optimal way to hit hypertrophy. Cardio and explosive exercises build strength in different ways, but typically will not promote muscle growth to the same degree as resistance training.
How long are your rests between sets? How fast do you do your reps? How MANY reps do you do? Are you staying hydrated? All of this, in some degree, will greatly affect how much your muscles grow from your workout routines. Keep that in mind! Many argue that longer rests will lower the chances of hypertrophy. It is also said that slower, focused reps with proper form will increase the level of hypertrophy. Finally, many experts suggest doing as many reps as possible until failure to achieve the maximum level of hypertrophy.
Muscle growth is largely dependent on taking days off from your workouts. That means letting your muscles FULLY recover by not exercising them. Furthermore, proper sleep is critical to muscle growth. Your muscles need to sleep just like the rest of your body and mind. And without proper sleep, your fatigue will ruin your workouts as well!
Eating right is critical when it comes to hypertrophy. You hear the muscleheads talk about “bulk” days. This basically means that you consume way more calories than you expend. Obviously, you want a lot of protein, but keep other nutrients at the forefront as well. Eat lots of calories, but avoid unhealthy calories, like junk food. Eat REAL food – veggies, fruits, lean meats, and light carbs. For hypertrophy, you want a caloric surplus. You can use a calorie calculator like this one if you want to get a better idea for the food you eat, and also use one like this for the calories you expend form your workouts. There are many phone apps that combine the two, as well. You can also use this site to calculate how much protein you need to consume for muscle growth.
Hypertrophy With Calisthenics – Get Moving!
Start With the Basics
Hell, the basics are a staple no matter what your level of fitness! Keeping all the information above in mind, use this knowledge to develop a good calisthenics workout routine that you can stick with.
- Pushups – chest, arms
- Pullups – back, arms
- Chinups – back, arms
- Dips – chest, shoulders, arms
- Hanging Leg Lifts – core, legs
- Hanging Knee Raises – core
- Squats – legs
- Lunges – legs
Increase Reps – Push Yourself Until Failure
Once you are able to have proper form with the above workouts, I suggest intensifying them by doing 3 sets of each until failure. Take one minute of rest in between each exercise. This is a very barebones suggestion for a routine, but it should lay the groundwork for great things to come.
Add Variety to the Moves
Instead of pushups on the floor, do pushups with handles. Do pike pushups to put your shoulders to work. Place your feet on an elevated platform and do decline pushups! The variations for all these moves are endless, so check out the Exercises section of my website for some ideas and use your own creativity to give your muscles new challenges so they can achieve hypertrophy. Furthermore, I strongly suggest investing in gymnastic rings to add even more potential to ALL types of bodyweight exercises.
Increase Resistance Over Time
No matter who you are, workouts can eventually plateau. This is why I advocate for weighted vests, weight belts, and resistance bands. This added weight will make all these calisthenics moves much harder and will ensure that your muscles and strength will continue to grow.
Hypertrophy With Calisthenics – You Can Do It!
You don’t need free weights, machines, or gym memberships to build muscle! Use your body and mind to achieve hypertrophy through the unlimited potential of calisthenics. And of course – always remember to stretch!
Have you built muscle from your calisthenics workouts? Did you use a program, or get their on your own? Let me know in the comments below! If you are looking to get started with your calisthenics journey, I suggest checking out my reviews for the Bar Brothers “System” and/or the Onlykinds Fitness “Bodyweight Beast” programs.