Training with High Volume Calisthenics Workouts. Why and How?

Hi! I am the author and founder of Old School Calisthenic

July 15, 2017

High volume calisthenics is an old training mechanism used by classic bodyweight bodybuilders. Even the army does volume training.

They utilize high-volume calisthenics for conditioning and strength purposes, but I also discovered how effective it could be in muscle growth too. But the results are related to the amount of work you put in over a long period of dedicated training.

This training method continuously stresses and fatigue the muscles using basic calisthenics exercises, and it does it by accruing a higher and higher volume.
While for many, this approach is known to increase only muscular endurance, for athletes like me, it has been a useful method to develop a strong physique that is muscular and athletic as well.

The Truth About High Volume Calisthenics

The key to successfully train with high volume calisthenics lies in simplicity. The strenuous workload comes naturally from the extended physical effort, intensity, and frequency. It is what makes your muscles burn, scream for mercy, and hurt the days after.

Your muscles and nervous system can’t endure hundreds of reps unless you do simple, light, and compound exercises. For this reason, it relies more on exercises like dips, pushups, pull-ups, squats, and some other full-body movements such as burpees, plyometrics, sprints, uphill sprints.

The idea of high volume training is to squizz those muscles out of energy by working up to failure. To achieve that, you need a high amount of sets and repetitions and minimum break time. As easy as pushups might be, doing hundreds of them, they automatically become tough.

By developing that muscular endurance, you also grow in strength and size. The muscles become brutally strong due to the complexity of the movements. A compound exercise doesn’t isolate other essential muscle groups. Instead, they work together as a system.

The beautiful part is that you don’t need any other exercises than what’s basic and simple. And trust me when I say that complicated does not mean advanced nor does simply mean easy. After several years of training in this method, I can say that it never gets easier no matter how advanced I am. Thus, I stick with simplicity and progress or maintain what I’ve built upon the same training method.

The hardest part is to tracking progress. Continually draining the muscles of energy, leaves you with soreness. On some days, you will feel incapable of performing as usual. There is a higher demand for sleep and nurture when you keep overloading and overusing. But it is a normal and natural response. That only means that your body will evolve if you learn how to adapt.

To train high volume calisthenics, you need:

  1. Only the most uncomplicated, compound and essential variations
  2. More volume, meaning more sets and reps than you usually do
  3. Shorter rest times between sets or cycles
  4. A higher frequency. Train the same muscle groups multiple times.

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The Single Required Exercises

Pull-Ups Family: Wide, Regular, Close Grip, Chinups, Close Grip Chinups, Commando, Body Rows, L-Sit Pull-Ups, Towel Pull-Ups, Lever, Uneven, Weighted.

Pushups Family: Regular, Incline, Decline, Wide Grip, Diamonds, Uneven, One-Arm Pushups, Lever, Triceps Extensions, Plank-to-Pushups, Handstand, Pike, Skull-Crushers.

Dips Family: Bench Dips, the regular dips, Front-Bar Dips.

Leg Raises Family: Regular Leg Raises, V-Raises, Toes-to-Bar (Full Leg Raises), L-sits, Flutter Kicks, Knee-Raises, Mountain Climbers, etc.

Squats Family: Burpees, Full Burpees, Squats, Sumo, Close, One-Leg, Pistols, Jump Squats, Frog Jumps, Crouch Walk, Lunges, Bulgarian Splits, etc.

Other Variations: Jumping Jacks, Jump Rope, Sprints, Running, Hill Sprints, Bridges, Planks, etc.

I didn’t train with anything else in the past years, and I am more than happy with the results I got, not only from an aesthetical point of view but performance-wise also.

Frequency

How frequent you train tells a lot about your dedication, work ethic, and perseverance. I know that many train 3 times a week and are satisfied with their results. Unless you are too, then I suggest 4 to 5 workouts per week. For many genetically gifted, training at a bare minimum is enough. For everyone else, it requires not only more time, but also more work.

In the past 5 years, I trained with an average of 4-5 workouts per week, month after month, and with very few weeks off in a full year. Also, mind that I own a vast sports background from childhood. In the absence of that, you need a serious training regimen, my friend.

You should also train your big muscle groups twice a week. That’s achievable only if you include more workouts, as suggested above. By training the same muscles more frequently, and adding more workouts, you accumulate volume. And this is especially important for one whose fitness level is low. If you can’t do hundreds of reps yet, you can compensate by training more regularly.

What matters is to work hard, daily, and track the volume in a training log. I used to count how many pull-ups, pushups, dips, sprints, miles, and squats I did every week. It was the only way I could measure progress over time. My body transformation came after performance increased.

Volume and Intensity

There isn’t a specific volume or benchmark that defines the required number of reps and sets for hypertrophy, endurance, or strength gains. Many suggest including tougher variations, a low volume, to grow strong and muscular. I more often choose light exercises, and somehow I am stronger and look better than many who promote the other method.

For instance, lever pull-ups are still compound and basic. Still, it’s more challenging to do 100 lever pull-ups instead of 100 regular pull-ups. They generate more tension in the muscles, and that will cause your strength to drop. Or at least, for that intensity and workload. In reality, there is still energy left if you continue with lighter variations like body rows.

lever pullups and regular pullups

So instead of quitting after you’re done with the most difficult variations, continue with the lighter ones like body rows or chinups, etc.

If you train intensively, rest briefly, and use only hard variations, then the volume drops. The key is to balance the intensity. Do those tough variations, and drain your muscles with them (progressive training is effective as well) as long as you focus on volume too.

In your quest to train more, I suggest you find ways to regulate the intensity and tension generated by exercises.

Nonetheless, I do have suggestions in terms of volume and how many exercises you need in your routine:

  1. Four-five workouts per week, and train twice your big muscle groups. Do 2 pull-up sessions, 2 pushup sessions, and so on.
  2. Choose at least 4 to 5 basic variations: wide pull-ups, chinups, horizontal pull-ups, commando pull-ups, and Aussie pull-ups. Do the same with other exercise families: sumo squats, regular squats, crouch walk, lunges, jump squats. You got the idea!
  3. I always suggest doing at least 4 sets per each variation. But that also depends on how many variations I include in a workout. I often do 100 pull-ups, of which 50 are chinups, and 50 are wide grip pull-ups. Or I may do more variations and fewer sets!

Workout Example #1:

  1. Wide Pull-Ups: 5 sets x 7-10 reps
  2. Pull-Ups: 5 sets x 7-10 reps
  3. Close Grip Chinups: 5 sets x 7-10 reps
  4. Chinups: 5 sets x 7-10 reps
  5. Horizontal Pull-Ups: 4 sets x 5-10 reps
  6. Handstand Pushups: 4 sets x 5-10 reps
  7. Diamond Pushups: 5 sets x 20 reps
  8. Dips: 5 sets x 20 reps
  9. Pushups: 5 sets x 20 reps.

Workout Example #2:

  1. 10 Pull-Ups followed by 20 Dips, followed by 20 Pushups. Repeat the circuit for 7-10 times, and you got yourself a high-volume workout, using only 3 exercises, but a higher amount of sets than compared to the workout example 1.

Adapt the reps to fit your level of muscular endurance and strength. I always give my max effort and energy into each and every workout. Sometimes I can do little, and on other days, I can destroy my workout.

In case you don’t know how much is enough, then palm callouses, clogged ears, yawns, muscle spasms, trembles, or even a glycemia breakdown -are all symptoms of demanding training.

Recovery and Rest Times

Do not believe the myth that overtraining will compromise your final fitness goals. It is true however that your body will collapse, and hence you will need to do two things: sleep and eat for better gains.

You will often feel muscle soreness associated with deep pain, no matter how good your recovery is. It happens in the beginning because your body is still under adaptation. It took me more than two years to adapt and overcome pain. It’s only now after such a long time that I can train painless all the time.

You can also attend some sessions of deep tissue or sports massages. At home, I use a foam roller. Overtraining occurs because you don’t focus on the right things that fully heal your body. I have a lot of active rest days besides what I said above, and I also have deload weeks or alternate to cardio.

Having a full recovery is crucial and as essential as training or dieting. Sleep is also paramount. Even if your brain doesn’t feel energized, it affects your physical performance. I run the mountains in rough conditions, terrain, significant elevation, and extremely long distances. If I don’t focus on how to recover my legs, then for a couple of days, I can’t run the same mileage anymore. But with time, I became more adapted, and now I tend to heal quicker.

Regarding the rest time during your workout, here it is:

  • 45 seconds to 90 seconds between sets
  • 1-2 minutes between exercises
  • 2 days recovery per week
  • 1-week off at every 2-3 months

This is only the way I do it. For each individual, it may be slightly different; hence, you should adapt this to suit your goals and capabilities.

Don’t Be Afraid to Add Reps

For most of us, our childhood was mostly physically inactive. Therefore, you have more reasons to start working out than the forever fit and active guys.

The way high-volume calisthenics affects our behavior is interesting because our reaction to severe training is to sleep and eat more, meaning more intake of calories, nutrients. As a result, the body will start adapting to keep up. Readaptation means gaining more strength and creating more powerful muscular connections. In the end, your ability to train more will bring you to a higher rep range where the hypertrophy response will be triggered, so you can sequentially gain muscle mass.

After you have put a decent amount of beef on your frame, then your strength will reach new heights, like what happened to me, and it will surprise you completely. I achieved the one-arm pull-ups although I never specifically trained for them:

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The mighty One-Arm Pull-Up unquestionably stands amongst the hardest strength exercises . I never explicitly trained to achieve this magnificent strength feat and yet unlocked it as a byproduct of my basic bodyweight training. Boosting only one repetition required years of consistent training . I am thrilled with the result. It's proof that my training program works even though gaining a colossal level of strength isn't my general focus. Health and general athleticism is my primary goal, and ever will. I care more about complexity and variety rather than mastering impressive feats . I will continue to work the one-arm pull-ups indirectly, till it becomes smooth and easy . . . . . . . . #onearmpullup #onearmchinup #onearmchinups #onearmchinuptraining #onearmpulluptraining #onearmpullupprogression #strengthtraining #strengthandconditioning #strongman #strong #pullups #heavypull #strengthfeat #calisthenics #streetworkout #pullupsprogression

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I have only trained using volume with slight deviations ever since I came to realize its potential over advanced calisthenics too. I don’t do specific training for advanced elements. And every time I want to improve my form, or performance, let it be stamina, endurance, or power, I always go and work on my basics.

In the video below, you can practically see all the basic exercises I did in a full year:

Progression and Plateaus

Plateaus exist, unfortunately. Progression isn’t a steady linear curve in fitness, regardless of the method of choosing. For this reason, I like mixing up things. I still do basic training, but I may swim or go on a trail run as a pause from my rigorous calisthenics session.

I also integrate some weighted calisthenics and a lot of running on the stairs. In this way, I can eliminate boredom, and I can give my muscles a reasonable period to aid in recovery.

I overcome plateaus by changing my mood, state of mind, and energy level. So, try to adopt a positive attitude, which helps to overcome obstacles. The rest is only patience and work ethic.

If you are convinced to try it out, then I inform you that I have a program called High-Volume Calisthenics Workouts. You can find it in the link below.

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