Man doing Calisthenics workout

Calisthenics for Bodybuilding: What Are the Best Bodyweight Exercises To Build Muscle?

12 min read

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29 Mar 2024


Hack Beast Mode

  1. What are calisthenics?
  2. Benefits of calisthenics for bodybuilding
  3. Can calisthenics help with muscle growth?
  4. Basic calisthenics exercises
  5. Intermediate calisthenics exercises
  6. Advanced calisthenics exercises
  7. Incorporating calisthenics into your workout routine
  8. Common calisthenics mistakes to avoid
  9. Calisthenics equipment and tools
  10. Should you do calisthenics for bodybuilding?
  11. What else can you do to level up?

Are you looking for a way to level up your muscle-building results?

Maybe you’ve been hitting the gym, but have hit a bit of a roadblock—you’ve plateaued and have been stuck in the same place for a while.

Or maybe you don’t always have the time or ability to get to a gym at all, so you need a new way to keep up your workouts without sacrificing your gains.

Fortunately, bodybuilding doesn’t have to be all about lifting super heavy.

Forget about weights, machines, and fancy equipment—you’ve got some of the very best apparatus with you at all times: Your own body.

You can get in a quality workout just by using your weight and the strength of your muscles.

While you shouldn’t fully replace heavy weight training completely, bodyweight workouts (also known as calisthenics) are a great alternative when you’re pushed for time. They’re also an epic way to get a pump if you don’t have access to equipment, you’re recovering from injury, or when you just fancy shaking things up a little.

So, let’s take a look at how you can do some bodyweight bodybuilding to enhance your progress.

What are calisthenics?

Calisthenics, also known as bodyweight training, isn't just a way to burn a few calories—it’s a holistic approach to transforming your body composition by using your body itself.

There are lots of dynamic bodyweight movements that engage multiple muscle groups at once. These body-boosting powerhouses can promote functional strength and enhance your overall athleticism—so you should really give them a try.

By just manipulating body positions and leveraging gravity, you can sculpt a lean and muscular physique without the need for expensive gym memberships or bulky equipment. Epic.

It doesn’t matter if you're a seasoned bodybuilder looking to diversify your training routine or a beginner just starting out on your fitness journey: Calisthenics can be a really versatile and accessible way to pursue your goals.

Yes, there are endless progressions and variations, so bodyweight training can be tailored to any fitness level, ensuring you can continuously build muscle and improve your fitness and sports performance.

Benefits of calisthenics for bodybuilding

Calisthenics workout

Calisthenics can be a real game-changer when it comes to bodybuilding, as it provides a range of benefits that set it apart from lifting weights as resistance training.

One of the major advantages of calisthenics is its ability to promote functional muscular strength.

Unlike isolation exercises with weights to target specific muscles, calisthenics engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously, mimicking real-life movements to enhance overall athleticism.

This can translate into a well-rounded physique that not only looks strong but is actually able to perform at its peak in various physical activities.

In addition to building strength, calisthenics can also promote muscle hypertrophy (a.k.a. Colossal gains).

There’s a bit of a misconception that bodyweight exercises will only result in lean and toned muscles, but you can also tailor calisthenic exercises to target specific muscle groups to stimulate muscle growth.

By manipulating variables like rep and set counts, leverage, range of motion, and tempo, you can progressively overload your muscles to achieve the hypertrophy needed for growth.

Another benefit of regular calisthenics is its unique ability to improve your body control and proprioception.

A calisthenics workout requires you to control your body in space, which enhances your kinesthetic awareness and coordination. This also contributes to better overall athleticism, as well as reduces your risk of injuries in other physical activities.

Can calisthenics help with muscle growth?

Even though it doesn’t involve lifting heavy weights, calisthenics is still effective for muscle growth. Let’s get scientific for a minute to see exactly how it works.

Just like with strength training, your muscles experience tension and stress when you perform bodyweight exercises. This leads to microscopic damage to your muscle fibers.

This damage triggers a cellular response, which leads to the activation of satellite cells and the release of anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. 

These satellite cells then aid in the repair and growth of those damaged muscle fibers, resulting in muscle hypertrophy.

Calisthenics also allows for progressive overload, which is vital for successful muscle growth.

Progressive overload is all about gradually increasing the demands placed on your muscles over time. 

With calisthenics, you can achieve overload by manipulating the variables mentioned above. For example, you can mix up your range of motion, tempo, and add external resistance.

By continually challenging your muscles in new ways, you’ll stimulate further growth and adaptation​​—and using your body weight provides plenty of opportunities to do this.

Calisthenics also activates lots of stabilizer muscles and improves neuromuscular coordination. 

As you perform different bodyweight exercises, your body learns to recruit and synchronize the activation of various groups of muscles, leading to overall muscle development and a more balanced physique.

OK, science lesson over. Now let’s head over to gym class to look at the best calisthenics exercises for building muscle.

Basic calisthenics exercises

If you're new to calisthenics, it's important to start with the basics to build a solid foundation.

Here are some of the fundamentals to get you going with calisthenics.

Push-ups

People doing push ups

The classic push-up is a staple in any calisthenics routine. It targets your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core.

Start with knee or incline push-ups if you find a full push-up too challenging, then gradually progress to performing them on your toes and on a flat surface.

Squats

Squats are an awesome way to target the muscles in your lower body, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.

Maintain proper form by keeping your knees in line with your toes and your back straight throughout the movement.

Planks

Planks are epic for increasing your core strength and stability.

Start off with forearm planks, holding the position for as long as you can while maintaining your form. 

As you progress, you can challenge yourself with side planks and variations like the plank with leg lifts.

Remember to focus on proper form and technique for each calisthenics exercise. It's better to perform fewer repetitions with correct form than to sacrifice form for quantity.

As you become comfortable with these basic exercises, you can progress to more challenging variations and add extra complexity to your routine.

Intermediate calisthenics exercises

Once you've mastered the basics, it's time to take your calisthenics workouts to the next level. 

These intermediate exercises will help you further develop your muscles and increase the intensity of your sessions.

Pull-ups

Woman doing pull ups

Pull-ups are excellent compound exercises that target your back muscles, biceps, and forearms.

If you struggle to do full pull-ups, start with assisted variations using resistance bands on a pull-up bar or an assisted pull-up machine. You can then gradually work towards full pull-ups.

Dips

Dips primarily target your triceps, chest, and shoulders.

You can perform dips using parallel bars, a dip station, or even using the edge of a sturdy table or bench. 

As you gain strength, you can add additional weight by using a dip belt or a weighted vest.

Lunges

Lunges are one of the key exercises for targeting your legs and glutes.

You can perform them just using your bodyweight or add resistance by holding dumbbells or using a barbell. 

Try experimenting with reverse lunges, walking lunges, and jumping lunges to challenge your muscles from different angles too.

Weaving these intermediate exercises into your calisthenics routine will help you continue to build strength and muscle mass once you get into the groove.

As always, remember to listen to your body and progress at a pace that feels comfortable yet challenging.

Now, let’s step it up another gear and take a look at some more advanced movements using your body weight.

Advanced calisthenics exercises

If you want a real challenge, these advanced bodyweight training techniques will definitely provide one, as they all require a high level of strength, stability, and body control.

Pistol squats

Pistol squats

A pistol squat is a challenging single-leg squat variation that targets your quads, hamstrings, and glutes. It takes exceptional lower-body strength and balance to perform a pistol squat.

Start by holding onto a stable object for support and gradually work towards performing pistol squats without assistance.

Muscle-ups

Muscle-ups combine a pull-up and a dip into one fluid movement. They require plenty of upper body strength, core stability, and coordination.

Start by perfecting your pull-ups and dips individually, then work on transitioning between the two movements.

Handstand push-ups

Handstand push-ups target your shoulders, triceps, and upper chest. They require not only upper-body strength but also excellent balance and control.

Start with wall-assisted handstand push-ups and gradually progress to performing them freestanding.

These advanced calisthenics training techniques will push your body to its limits and can help you gain impressive strength and muscle definition.

They also require patience, practice, and proper progression to avoid injury. 

Make sure to prioritize safety and listen to your body when attempting advanced compound movements like the ones above.

Weaving calisthenics into your workout routine

You can integrate progressive calisthenics into your existing bodybuilding routine to add variety, challenge different muscle groups, and improve your overall athleticism. 

Here are some ways to combine a calisthenics workout with resistance training and smash those muscle-boosting goals time after time.

Woman doing plank exercise

Superset calisthenics with traditional strength training

Alternate between sets of calisthenic exercises and traditional weightlifting exercises to keep your muscles guessing and maximize muscle growth.

For example, you could perform a set of pull-ups followed by a set of barbell rows. Or a set of push-ups followed by a set of bench presses.

Use calisthenics as a warm-up or finisher

You could start your workout with a dynamic calisthenics warm-up to activate your muscles and improve mobility.

Alternatively, try ending your workout with a challenging calisthenics finisher to exhaust your muscles and stimulate further growth.

Focus on progressive overload

Just like with strength training, progressive overload is essential for improving muscle strength and enhancing growth through calisthenics.

Gradually increase the difficulty of your exercises by manipulating variables such as leverage, range of motion, tempo, more reps or sets, and adding external resistance.

Do some calisthenics circuit training

Design your own circuit training routine that combines different calisthenics exercises.

Perform each exercise for a set amount of time or repetitions before moving on to the next exercise.

This heart-pumping form of training challenges your cardiovascular system while targeting your full body.

Common calisthenics mistakes to avoid

While calisthenics is a highly-effective form of training, there are some common mistakes that can hinder your progress. 

Make sure you avoid these pitfalls to maximize the benefits of calisthenics for bodybuilding. You’ve got this.

Neglecting your form

Maintaining good form is crucial in calisthenics to target each intended muscle group and prevent injury.

Focus on quality over quantity and ensure that you're performing each exercise with the proper technique. 

Check out our YouTube channel for some demos on perfect form from the CrazyBulk athletes.

Skipping progressions

Progressions are essential, in both calisthenics and the weights room, to build strength and muscle mass consistently.

Don't rush into the advanced stuff without mastering the basic principles and movements behind different exercises. 

Take the time to progress through the appropriate variations to build that solid foundation first.

Not prioritizing recovery

Recovery is just as important as training if you want to build muscle.

Ensure you're getting enough sleep, consuming adequate nutrition, and allowing your muscles to rest and repair properly between workouts.

Ignoring mobility and flexibility

Man stretching

Calisthenics commands a good range of motion and flexibility—so don’t underestimate the importance of stretching before and after your session.

Perform mobility exercises and stretching around your routine to improve your overall performance and reduce the risk of injuries.

Calisthenics equipment and tools

While calisthenics primarily involves no apparatus, there are additional tools and pieces of equipment that can enhance your training, especially at the advanced level. Here are some options to consider.

Resistance bands

Resistance tubes and exercise bands can be used to assist or resist certain movements, allowing you to gradually progress towards the more challenging exercises.

They’re especially useful for pull-up and dip variations.

Suspension trainers

Suspension trainers, like TRX or gymnastics rings, are a versatile and portable way to perform a wide range of calisthenics exercises.

They allow for greater instability, which engages more muscles and adds an extra challenge to your workouts.

Weighted vests

Weighted vests are an excellent tool for adding external resistance to a few exercises.

Wearing one allows you to progressively overload your muscles and increase the difficulty of your workouts without dumbbells or barbells.

Parallettes

Parallettes are small, portable bars that provide a stable base for performing calisthenics exercises like L-sits, handstand push-ups, and dips.

They can also help improve your grip strength and wrist mobility.

While these tools can certainly enhance your calisthenics training, they’re not necessary for beginners—or at all, if you don’t want to use them.

Focus on mastering the basic exercises and movements first before adding additional equipment to your routine. That’s the way to win.

Should you do calisthenics for bodybuilding?

Bodybuilder doing Calisthenics workout

Calisthenics is a powerful way to unlock your muscular endurance and strength, as well as transform your body.

By using the power of your own bodyweight, you can sculpt a lean and muscular physique while enhancing functional strength and overall athleticism.

Whether you're a beginner or an experienced bodybuilder, there are endless progressions and variations to keep your training challenging and exciting.

Remember to start with the basics, make progress gradually, and always prioritize proper form and technique when exercising.

Adding calisthenics into your existing bodybuilding routine can also add some variety and test your muscles in different ways. 

Just avoid the common mistakes listed above and listen to your body to ensure you’re training safely and effectively.

With dedication and consistent training, calisthenics can help you redefine what your body can do for you.

You don’t always need expensive gym memberships and bulky equipment to get results. 

If you can’t, (or you just don’t want to) go to the gym, then a calisthenics workout at home is a great way to burn fat, build muscle, and enhance strength across your full body.

What else can you do to level up?

Whether you prefer training with weights, performing calisthenics, or like to combine the two—you also need a solid supplement routine to really supercharge your progress.

No matter what your goals are in the gym, there’s something for you in the CrazyBulk range—and everything in these is a completely safe and natural alternative to steroids.

You don’t want to do anything dangerous or illegal to make huge gains—nor should you have to.

Just take our super fast and easy quiz to find out which CrazyBulk supplements will be the best for getting the most out of your workouts. Or discover your perfect partner with our supplement matchmaker.

There are stacks for bulking and stacks for cutting. Stacks for enhancing your strength and stacks to boost your growth hormones for massive gains.

But the best place to start is with the Ultimate Stack. It’s an all-rounder that includes our top supplements for burning fat, packing on muscle, and recovering better and faster between workouts.

So go grab a stack and watch your results skyrocket.

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