Hypertrophy Training With Calisthenics. How To Do It?

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

February 26, 2018

Hypertrophy is the process that involves an increase in size of the skeletal muscle. It is a reaction triggered primarily by certain types of workouts that stimulate the muscle cells to increase in volume. This process occurs over a long period and only if followed by a proper diet and rest.

Is it possible to grow muscles with calisthenics? It is one of the main questions I often come across, and my answer is definitely yes. Both lifting weights or lifting the bodyweight create resistance against the neural muscular system that is going to cause it to respond. Therefore, it all comes down to how you dodge variables like volume, intensity, rest, tempo, frequency, and form -many of which are similar to how athletes approach bodybuilding. Let’s dive into specifics!

Lower the Bodyfat Percentage First!

A common mistake people do is jumping right into hypertrophy training regardless of how high their body fat percentage is. From an aesthetic point of view, it is pointless to bulk if your body fat percentage is too high. Muscles don’t grow immediately, and I reckon you want to see those tiny aesthetic improvements to keep you motivated. In this case, attaining a low body fat percentage is crucial.
Many bulk up and go through a cutting phase later. I did it too, but after all these years, training to achieve my best form, I am convinced that growing lean tissue is superior.

I started packing on muscles after I lost the extra body fat and became lean. This method allowed me to spot every incremental improvement I have made in the years since. Honestly, you can’t tell how useful abs workouts are if covered by belly fat (read here what you can do to lower your body fat percentage).

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It was last autumn when I started my solemn commitment to getting lean. I knew I had several months in front of me to achieve the summer physique. All this time, I pushed it to the very limits, and as summer approached, I struggled and accomplished even more . Throughout the journey, I learned that it takes a lot of time and work to get there so if you are willing to make a change for the next summer as well, this is the perfect moment to begin . You need a high level of discipline to stay on the path until June, but you can lose those 20 pounds, gain pure mass or get stronger as long as you remain dedicated every week from now on . It will not be about training only. Rest, nutrition, and lifestyle can influence more. It will test your mindset. Are you going to fail or not? . If you need my help, I am here! If you need my workouts, you can find them on my website šŸ‘‰ link in BIO šŸ‘ˆ . #calisthenicsprogram #highvolumecalisthenics #leanmuscle #summerbodiesaremadeinwinter

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Avoid Common Mistakes

One common mistake in building muscles with calisthenics is neglecting time under tension. You need just the right amount, not too much and not too little.

Continuously generating tension in the muscles, without releasing isn’t indicated. Typewriter Pull-ups, freestyle calisthenics, barspins, planche, are all examples of exercises that generate continuous tension.

On the opposite pole, there are far too many athletes who don’t do enough volume even if their exercises are compound and basic. They fear that adding more sets and reps will compromise their strength gains.

There is a big difference between the tension generated by high rep basic training (even at high speed) and the one created by the examples from above. Doing reps in full range of motion, up and down, is superior because it releases the stress compared to the one created by an advanced exercise.

Pushups are not very difficult to do, so you either increase the tempo for each repetition, or you can speed up, and double the number of reps. In both cases, you can have the same time under tension.

Besides time under pressure, avoid doing all the time exercises that require too much stabilization.

Muscles grow stronger and more prominent with basic, simple, and compound exercises.

The best of them are pull-ups, pushups, dips, handstand pushups, leg raises, squats, and sprints. And within those movement patterns belong several basic variations that are at least of the same importance, like diamond pushups, chinups, etc.

Too much plyometrics, isometric, and stabilization training may not stimulate a hypertrophy response.

hypertrophy calisthenics training

Also, don’t expect the same results as someone else without considering your own physiology and genetic makeup. Manage your expectations and do the best you can with the program you already follow by applying the principles herein.

Being impatient is also a mistake. To make sure whether what you do works, you need several months of constant repetition. I very often repeat my training. I keep the same exercises, but I use a slightly different approach, from sets and reps to a pyramid workout.

Avoid doing too much aerobic training if you are skinny. It was generally considered that consistent anaerobic strength training will produce hypertrophy over the long term, in addition to its effects on muscular strength and endurance. Muscular hypertrophy can be increased through strength training and other short-duration, high-intensity anaerobic exercises like circuit methods. However, by adhering to the following basic principles, you should be able to gain size with calisthenics in a matter of months.

Tempo and Time Under Tension

Time under tension refers to how much time are you putting your muscular system under load. Tempo refers to how fast or slow you are doing a repetition.

In bodybuilding, the general tempo is 3-0-3, which is considered perfect for hypertrophy. This means that the concentric portion of the movement is about 3 seconds, and the eccentric part of the movement is also about 3 seconds. You can also pause at the top or at the bottom if you like, for 1-2 seconds.

You can respect this general rule in calisthenics as well. If you want, manipulate the tempo a bit, like 2-1-4, 3-4-4, 3-2,4, or even 2-5-3.

The time under tension for hypertrophy is between 6 to 12 seconds. Manipulate the tempo however you like, but fit into this interval of 6-12 seconds. Anything less than 4 seconds is not considered to be time under tension efficient for strength and power gains. I am usually more explosive on the concentric part and a little slower in the eccentric. I think that my tempo generally is 2-1-3. I compensate by adding more repetitions to each set.

Repetitions and General Volume

The volume consists of the number of sets and reps that you do.

You must first understand this principle and also about the inverse relationship between sets and reps. If your sets go up, then your reps will go down. And if your reps go up, then the sets will go down. You must find the sweet spot between them. To trigger hypertrophy, you have to add as many reps and sets possible, regardless of how you twist them. This especially if you do a faster tempo like me. Otherwise, in a slow tempo, you still need a high set interval.

How many reps though? From experience, I can say that specific rep ranges stimulate the muscles for growth, like:

  • Pull-Ups: 6-12 reps/set
  • Pushups: 15-25 reps/set
  • Handstand Pushups: 6-10 reps/set
  • Dips: 12-20 reps/set
  • Squats: 30-50 reps/set
  • Walking Lunges: 30-50 reps/set
  • Jump Squats: 15-20 reps/set
  • Sprints: 10-20 per session and of different distances
  • Hanging Leg Raises: 10-20 reps/set

Cut the reps in half and double the tempo for every rep, and you end up with the same exact thing. I like the first one better, but it should work the other way around too.

You need at least 4 variations that engage the same muscles like 4 different types of pull-ups: wide pull-ups, body rows, close chinups, and maybe commando pull-ups. Do at least 4-5 sets per variation!

Regarding the overall volume, you have to do dozens or hundreds of reps per training session. I usually do at least 100 pull-ups and 250 pushups with dips included. Sometimes I do twice as much.

Squats are even easier, so I do over 400 squat variations like crouch walking, lunges, burpees, jumps, etc.

I know that bodybuilders or maybe even calisthenics athletes would consider these numbers to be efficient for muscular endurance only. But in reality, this is not true, because increasing the ability to resist fatigue with anaerobic workout is one way to stimulate hypertrophy or muscle growth. And most of the calisthenics workouts you will ever do are anaerobic and will fatigue your muscles.

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Intensity

There are many different ways to define intensity. But, the one that interests me here is about how hard an exercise actually is to execute. For instance, the wider is the grip for pull-ups, the tougher it will be.

So, there is an inverse relationship between volume and intensity. If you use a lot of intensity, then your volume typically goes down, and vice-versa. The sweet spot for hypertrophy is to use a moderate intensity. You have to avoid doing only tough exercises to ensure a specific volume. In calisthenics, it is very tricky to do that.

Some of the calisthenics athletes will use weights for their exercises to increase intensity: weighted pull-ups or weighted dips and squats. Others will just use harder variations instead, like one leg squats or one-arm pushups, lever pull-ups, etc. I personally choose basic bodyweight exercises of moderate and easy intensity that allow me to increase the volume even more. This way, I can train for longer and exhaust my muscles. And even if I do weighted calisthenics or single-handedly exercises, I also do the other exercises of light-medium intensity. I begin gradually, like a pyramid, starting with the hardest and moving towards the easiest ones.

You have to exhaust the muscles to attain that muscle soreness the days after. Too much intensity will lower down your volume, which works kind of against muscle building. In a training session, you need to drain your muscles of energy, and the best way to do that is by getting them pumped and training for longer.

Nevertheless, when the strength dramatically decreases, and you can’t keep up with the same intensity, you have 2 options:

  1. To reduce the intensity by helping yourself with elastic bands. For instance, you can do pull-ups or pushups with rubber bands. They will allow you to add more repetitions and to preserve good form and execution.
  2. To change the exercise for an easier one. For instance, you move from Uneven Pull-Ups to regular chinups and body rows. From dips and handstand pushups or ring dips to bench dips and diamond pushups.

Work in a precise manner that allows you to hit your set and rep parameters. Also, execute the reps in full range of motion, keep a good form, and respect the tempo and time under tension too.

For instance, if I trained my back and biceps, then I’d choose 3-4 pull-up variations. I’d do as many sets as I possibly can without any help. Then I would simply complete the remaining reps using the rubber elastic bands. Good advice for beginners!

Rest

The rest interval is another thing you must always consider. It basically means how long you rest from set to set. Now, the higher your intensity is, the higher your rest intervals are going to have to be.

It is precisely why I recommended you to use moderate or even easy intensity. Then your rest interval will be sort of low-moderate. Generally, the breaking time, if you are looking to build muscles, is about 60 seconds. Sometimes less for conditioning training, and sometimes more, if you are looking to add more strength training to your program.

Frequency

This basically means how many times a week are you hitting a body part or a pattern of movements (like pulling moves). Hit the same muscles twice a week. This means you will have to repeat the pattern or the same workout.

Train your biceps, pecs, triceps, back, core, and legs twice a week.

Form

I think you know how Cross-Fit athletes do pull-ups. They move too fast and use too much momentum. The movement that triggers hypertrophy should be done in total control, and at a lower speed. The form must be reasonable, and the depth of motion should be near to complete.

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