Calisthenics is becoming increasingly popular every year, regaining the popularity it once had when it was the only form of strength training before bodybuilding appeared.

However, many believe that this type of training movement will only be able to meet some fitness goals.

That's why I decided to include bodyweight exercises in my routine for a few months and to apply the same to my clients.

In this article, I will share with you what I concluded after that period and some general fitness facts to help you start your calisthenics journey.

The short answer is - yes, you absolutely can build muscle with calisthenics.

Most exercisers probably know you can build muscle with calisthenics solely, but you came for a more in-depth explanation.

Knowing the context is necessary to understand better whether it is the right choice for you and how to reach your sports objectives with your own body weight.

Woman with a Calisthenics Body

What Exactly Defines A Calisthenics Body?

You have a calisthenic body if you build your muscles solely by doing bodyweight exercises.

Some more common terms are street workout body and street workout physique. The difference between gym and calisthenics body is easily noticeable.

Those who train without weights look muscular but also lean. You can't expect a massive chest, biceps, and other muscles if you don't use dumbbells, machines, and barbells.

On the other hand, you will get a functional body, better prepared for different everyday activities than if you only do resistance training for muscle gain.

Weighted calisthenics like weighted push-ups, chin-ups, and pull-ups can lead you to a muscular physique if you struggle to progress with just your body weight.

Related Article - Full-Body Calisthenics Workout Plan For Beginners

Benefits Of Adding In A Calisthenics Workout Routine

There are numerous benefits of adding a calisthenics workout routine beyond functionality.

If you switch from lifting weights to bodyweight exercises such as pull-ups and push-ups, you will notice that you are more mobile and functional.

You will undoubtedly heal many injuries because you will no longer expose your muscles, joints, and tendons to excessive weights.[1]

The possibility of new injuries will also be significantly reduced because your body weight limits you, and all you can do is increase the volume but not the load.

The Old Debate – Bodyweight Vs Weight Training?

I know many hardcore gym-goers and calisthenics athletes will disagree, but for me, the old debate regarding bodyweight vs weight training is redundant and wrong.

Both training approaches are great and have so many benefits, so it's best to combine them. This way, you will develop the whole body and make it capable of different activities.

You can combine both in one workout, for example, doing a movement such as a bench press and push-ups during chest day.

Or you can have periods of weight training followed by periods of bodyweight training.

Choose the approach you like better and think will best meet your goals, but definitely don't exclude one because both have limitations.

Related Article - Calisthenics Body Vs Gym Body

Calisthenics Workout Routine

5 Tips To Build Muscle Mass With Calisthenics

Let's look at how to build muscle mass with calisthenics most effectively. If you skip any of these steps, you will still make progress, but it will be slower and less apparent.

1. Have A Personalized Calisthenics Training Program

You will find thousands of training programs out there that will supposedly lead you to success.

If you have some knowledge about fitness, you can use these programs to create one that is right for you.

However, if you are a beginner, it is better to seek the help of a professional.

A personal trainer will conduct all the tests and then create a personalized program that will be ideally balanced based on your current condition.

The workout plan will be demanding enough to make progress but not too challenging to cause injuries.

The main problem is that not all training programs will be personalized. No two people are the same, which is why each must be approached differently.

Related Article - How To Build A Calisthenics Home Gym

2. Progressive Overload

In my opinion, no other method of strength training is as effective as progressive overload, and many studies can confirm that theory.

It does not matter what type of strength training you do; it is essential to increase the stress on the musculoskeletal and nervous systems gradually.[2]

You cannot expect to keep doing the same exercises and to see improvement indefinitely. It's like that in every field, including fitness.

You learn more and more demanding things every year in school and college, and the same goes for training.

You have to expose your body to more and more stress progressively. The goal should not be to increase sets, reps, and frequency at once but rather one step at a time.

Every few weeks, increase a few reps, and every few months, add a set or throw in a new variation and exercise.

Also, it is necessary to incorporate deload phases to build muscle with calisthenics.[3] During this time, you will do slightly less for a short period.

3. Proper Diet

Indeed, you will only achieve your targets with a consistent diet.

You have to supply the body with enough protein, carbohydrates, and fat so the muscles can grow and the tendons, ligaments, and bones can be strong.

The source of macronutrients is equally important. You can't eat fast food and expect to be Mr. Olympia, although you meet the caloric and macro intake.

Food is also necessary as fuel. You will not have the energy for strenuous workouts if you ignore your nutrition.

Supplementation in the form of vitamins and minerals, creatine, whey protein, and BCAAs, among other things, help significantly too.

4. Rest & Recovery

Exercisers are often aware of the consequences of nutrition on health and fitness progress.

Still, the number of those people, even experienced ones, who do not know that rest and recovery are of utmost importance is staggering.

You can train twice a day, but if you don't rest and recover properly, injuries and muscle-building stagnation are inevitable.

You should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep because that's when the body heals best.

The circadian clock is influenced by the light and dark cycle, which is why nighttime sleep is essential and cannot be compensated for by naps during the day.

Enough sleep is one of many parts of the recovery process.

In addition, recovery includes stretching, massages, and low-impact activities ideal for active recovery, such as swimming, yoga, and walking.

5. Mind-Muscle Connection

The mind-muscle connection is usually recommended to advanced exercisers, but I think it is necessary to introduce my clients to this as soon as they master the basics.

It is actually focusing on the contraction of a specific muscle, and that brings multiple benefits.

The main advantage is certainly better muscle stimulation and, thus, growth. It is also possible to overcome certain deficiencies and muscle imbalances.

The mind-muscle connection can be used to complete different tasks more efficiently and successfully in everyday life.

This connection is very important for gym workouts, and I think it is even more important to build muscle with calisthenics.

Since calisthenics limits you with adding load, you need the advantage of other methods, such as this one.

Other Benefits Of Calisthenics

I have already gone through the main benefits, but there are definitely more that I must mention to help you understand the benefits of this type of training.

No Equipment Needed

Body movement is the name of the game.

You can do calisthenics training with just a few basic pieces of equipment like a dip station and pull-up bar. Or you can do the training without a single piece of equipment.

This is a considerable advantage compared to gym training.

Calisthenics allows you to stay in top shape if you don't have time to go to the gym, travel often, or gyms are closed due to the pandemic.

We should remember the financial factor too.

Gym membership fees and buying gym equipment are significantly more expensive in the long term than buying calisthenics equipment or training in a street workout park.

Functional Exercises

Of course, one of the main reasons you exercise is building muscles and, thus, appearance. However, that must not be the only reason.

Different types of strength and agility training should prepare your body for various activities.

If you can't push and pull weights when you're moving or squat and lunge when you're playing with your child, you're not taking all that workouts have to offer.

Calisthenics is made up of functional exercises, unlike a gym, where we often do bodybuilding exercises that develop muscles from a different angle.

Still, without real applicability, here, everything is transferable to life outside of sports.

Fat Burning

In general, a compound movement has so many benefits.[4]

One of the main ones is fat burning. Multi-joint or compound exercise demands more from your body, and therefore body burns more calories. You build more muscle that way too.

The more muscles you have, the higher your basal metabolism is, which translates into a higher expenditure of calories compared to isolation training.

If you have too much fat, you can burn fat and lose fat with just your own bodyweight in both the lower body and upper body.

There are very few isolated movements in calisthenics, and most exercises hit multiple muscle groups, which is why fat burning is another benefit I must mention.

Strong Core

A weak core is the cause of many problems. Back pain, improper posture, and poor athletic performance are just some of the issues if core strength is neglected.

If you decide to do calisthenics, you won't have to worry about it anymore.

The above-mentioned multi-joint calisthenics exercises you will do during every training session and more isolated ones as leg raises are perfect for core strength and losing fat.

You will strengthen your core during each rep and set because the exercises require a stable trunk and, therefore, non-stop core engagement.

After all, how could anyone do the human flag, weighted push-ups, and pull-ups if they have weak core muscles?

Muscles and Calisthenics

Cons Of Calisthenics

Nothing is perfect.

The following things are shortcomings of bodyweight training that you can overcome, so don't give up even before you start but be aware of what else you need for a flawless body. 

You can combine weight lifting and calisthenics for the best possible muscle gain.

Not Ideal For Bulking

People often opt for the bodybuilding technique of increasing muscle mass called bulking.

Bulking is actually the consumption of a large amount of macronutrients and, thus, calories that will make you gain weight.

Weight training should stimulate the muscles to grow and use all those extra calories for muscle growth, not for gaining excessive belly fat.

While you can try to eat that way and do calisthenics exercises, they won't bulk up the same as when you use free weights because you will not be able to compensate for that training volume and trigger muscle hypertrophy.

You can still build strength and muscle mass if you add a new challenge weekly.

Leg Training

Calisthenics training is perfect for upper body muscle building, but leg training is probably the biggest problem.

If you've ever been to the gym, you know that the legs require much more weight to progress than the upper body.

Your body weight is not enough for muscle development, even if you are 200 lbs.

You will have to do many reps sets and change body position, which will be enough initially, but the body will get used to it over time.

Then you should proceed to more demanding variations, for example, single-leg squats (pistol squats.)

All this will not be enough to have massive quads and calves, so resistance training is necessary for gaining muscle in the lower body.

Challenging For People With Higher BMI

Your body weight can be a limiting factor. No matter how strong you are, it's tough to do a movement like pull-ups and dips when you're 250 lbs.

If you look at the people who can do the most pull-ups, they are mostly very muscular guys around 160 lbs (sometimes even skinny guys), usually shorter, which means shorter arms and, thus, shorter levers.

They can often do more than 100 decline push-ups and make the one-arm pull-up look easy.

So if you are an endomorph, there is a good chance that calisthenics is not for you, but you must find another, consistent training approach to build muscles because of your body composition.

Females And Calisthenics - Can You Build Too Much Muscle?

Women are often reluctant to try any strength training.

They are afraid they will be building muscle too much (especially worried about muscle growth of upper body), have calluses on their palms, and don't want to go to sweaty gyms and CrossFit clubs.

That's why many women needed years to switch from aerobics to more useful workouts. Let's break down the effect of calisthenics on women.

Is Calisthenics Good For Woman?

Calisthenics is fantastic for women, just like it is for men.

Although there are significant differences in men's and women's bodies, primarily at the hormonal level (testosterone and growth hormone), it is not so important when we talk about workouts.

There is no doubt that men will build muscle faster due to higher testosterone levels.

But women will also make huge improvements with the help of calisthenics exercises, as many studies have proven.[5]

I advise all my female clients to do pull-ups, push-ups, planks, and other similar exercises since they should not skip them just because of gender.

All benefits that apply to men apply to women as well.

Impacts On Women

The impact is the same. A strong core, good cardiovascular fitness, less visceral body fat, improved mobility, flexibility, and overall athletic performance.

If you don't take my word for it, try it. Make sure to execute exercises properly, maintain good form, and follow guidelines regarding diet and rest. A fit body is just around the corner.

Famous Women Who Love Calisthenics

Some famous women who love calisthenics are Zendaya, Eve, and Demi Lovato.

The significant age difference between one of the most popular actresses today, Zendaya, and Eve, a rapper who became popular in the late 90s when Zendaya was born, shows us that calisthenics exercises are equally suitable for different age groups.

Demi Lovato has yet to talk in detail about her calisthenics workout routine. Still, as someone with a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, she certainly bases her training on those types of exercises.

Many famous YouTubers, like Chloe Ting, are advocates of bodyweight workouts.

Chloe Ting's channel features highly effective bodyweight workouts for different body parts, and her muscular body can be a great indicator of the efficiency of a bodyweight workout.

Common Questions About Building Muscle With Calisthenics

Does calisthenics take longer to build muscle?

Although very rewarding, building muscle with only calisthenics compared to using weights may take longer. This is because to progress, you have to do a significantly higher number of sets, reps, and calisthenics exercises than exercises with dumbbells and weights. That's why overall calisthenics training is more challenging and time-consuming.

How much muscle can you build with calisthenics?

There is no limit to how much muscle you can build with calisthenics. If you train regularly and consistently make your workouts harder, your progress will not stop, although, at some point, it will slow down when you hit a plateau. Try to hit every muscle group during calisthenics training for maximum muscle-building results. Diet, rest, genetics, and age play an equally important role in building muscle.

How often should I do calisthenics to build muscle?

I recommend 4 to 5 calisthenics workouts per week to my clients for gaining muscle. This is the optimal number of training sessions during which the muscles will receive enough stimulation for building muscle, and there is also plenty of time for rest, which is crucial. Whether you will train four or even six times a week is up to you, but in most cases, you should have at least one calisthenics workout a week more than you had gym workouts (usually 3 to 4. gym ones) so you will spend hours working out to get enough resistance once you start calisthenics because adding weights is not an option for most calisthenics athletes to grow muscles faster.

How long does it take to build muscle from calisthenics?

It is individual, but it usually takes two to three months to see results. Don't be demoralized if it takes more time, but keep going. If after 4 or 5 months, you don't see significant improvements and muscle building, you need to change something - to add more sets and reps and/or to start eating more food - proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Are calisthenics guys considered strong?

Yes, they are considered very strong and usually pretty lean. People who have been doing street workouts for years are above average strong, best seen by the ease with which they perform challenging exercises like the human flag and muscle-ups.

Will I lose muscle if I switch to calisthenics?

To some extent, you will likely lose muscle if you switch to calisthenics since it is not equally good for muscle hypertrophy as free weights. How noticeable that loss will be, depends on how you currently look and how much you will be dedicated to the new type of training. If your muscles are now larger than average due to years of lifting weights, you will undoubtedly notice that you have shrunk because bodyweight training cannot simulate the heavy weights you have lifted so far. The difference will be slight if you are fit but not huge. Increasing the volume of training and the amount of food is essential to minimize muscle loss. It's all temporary, and you will look even more muscular if you persevere. While gym gives size, calisthenics gives a lean, athletic appearance and vascularity.


In general, any training that can provide high levels of tension and force for your body to overcome will build your muscles and improve fitness level.

This is called the SAID principle, which stands for the "specific adaptation to imposed demands."[6]

Calisthenics is an excellent type of training, along with weight training, one of the most effective for building lean muscle mass and overall body functionality.

Calisthenics movements are more suitable for an upper-body workout because of the muscles involved.

Doing leg exercises will help you gain muscle and lose weight as well, but leg exercises are less effective than calisthenic exercises for the upper body.

Randomly doing those exercises will certainly not bring miracles, but you must focus on a training routine, rest, diet, and supplementation for the best possible results.



Last Updated on August 31, 2023

Photo of author

Filip Maric

Filip is a qualified ISSA Elite trainer since 2019. His main field of expertise is strength and conditioning, as well as working with professional tennis players. An avid amateur tennis player, you can often find him on the clay courts or enjoying a live tennis tournament.