It is common knowledge that working out will help you build muscle. The rate at which you build those muscles and how big they get, however, is all dependent not only on your efforts but also the type of workout you do.
For a long time weight lifting has been the king of muscle building. It is the 1st go to if you say that you want to work on your muscle definition. However, if you are not interested in weight lifting, is there another option?
A calisthenics workout plan is a type of exercise regimen that involves exercises that rely on your own body weight and movements to promote strength, endurance, flexibility and coordination.
Those who do this kind of workout have been seen doing seemingly impossible feats, like some kind superhero. Yet, does calisthenics build muscle? Can one rely on a calisthenics muscle-building workout and manage to get the body of their dreams?
Read on to find out!
Can You Build Muscle With Just Calisthenics?
Yes, you can.
Calisthenics are a good choice for anyone who is looking to start exercising in a bid to tone muscle and increase mass and strength. Building strong healthy muscles is not only a good aesthetic choice – well toned muscles are certainly beautiful to look at – but it is also good for your health.
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases emphasizes the importance of strong healthy muscles by stating that they not only help keep the body strong, but also go along with efficient movement. This even goes as far as to result in breathing better and boosted blood circulation (3).
To understand how using calisthenics for muscle mass works, we must first understand how muscle is built.
When you workout you put strain on your muscle fibers, which causes temporary damage to the fibers. Rest, as well as an adequate protein intake allows the body time and energy to repair the damaged muscle fibers by building them back stronger and bigger. This is known as muscle hypertrophy (6).
Thus, the more you workout – increasing both duration and intensity, the more the fibers continuously are broken down and repaired over and over, resulting in bigger and stronger muscles.
With this in mind, we can see how calisthenics muscle growth is absolutely possible. The initial growth may not be as impressive, but the more you do these exercises and learn more tricks to challenge the body and muscles, the more strength and size of muscles will increase.
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Can I Get Ripped With Just Calisthenics?
Yes, you can. As previously stated, weight lifting is the kind of workout most associated with muscle growth. There are even multiple studies supporting the fact that resistance training works incredibly for this purpose (10).
That said, you shouldn’t discount bodyweight reliant exercises like calisthenics just because of this. Exercising using your bodyweight and gravity has also been proven to help increase muscle mass. A study published in Nature, 2023 (2) is one such example.
In the study researchers took 13 sedentary women and divided them into two groups – the first did progressive bodyweight exercises and the second did barbell back squats. Both groups worked out just twice a week for a total of 6 weeks.
The goal of the researchers was to compare muscle strength, muscle thickness and body fat percentage as well, for the participants.
At the end of the 6 weeks, researchers found that both groups showed a significant increase in both muscle strength and thickness. However, body fat percentage changes were higher in the barbell back squat group (2).
So yes, building both muscle strength and increasing muscle mass is possible with calisthenics – you don’t always need weights for this goal.
But what about body fat? Will you be as ripped (as seen in the study above), as using weights seems to be better at reducing fat percentage?
Yes, you can still be quite ripped with a low body fat percentage by exercising using calisthenics alone. What you need to remember is that calisthenics places high importance on strength, mobility, and coordination – all this burns a lot of calories, which works to reduce body fat percentage.
In a study published in Frontiers in Physiology in 2022, researchers found that bodyweight workouts like calisthenics count as high-intensity interval training (HIIT (9). Studies on HIIT exercises have shown that such kinds of workouts are great not only for weight and fat loss but also for obesity prevention (4).
How Long Does Calisthenics Take To Build Muscle?
Calisthenics muscle growth and strength improvements will likely start becoming noticeable after 4 to 8 weeks of not only consistent but also high intensity training.
This is especially true for beginners who are not accustomed to working out and likely to have more body fat than the intermediate or experienced lifters. That said, those with experience in weight lifting who are choosing to switch to calisthenics will see changes much faster – perhaps in as little as 3 weeks.
Will I Lose Muscle If I Switch To Calisthenics?
No, you will not. As explained above, calisthenics works just as well as weightlifting in building both muscle mass and strength. As long as you keep pushing yourself while working out – and eat enough protein to support muscle growth, you will gain strength and mass.
The daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for this macronutrient in minimally active adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (5). Yet, for optimal muscle growth you will need to consume more than the recommended amount.
A meta-analysis published in 2020 stated that increases in protein intake, ranging from 0.5 to 3.5 g per kg of body weight, can support increases in lean body mass (1).
However, two studies published in 2022 in the Sports Medicine journal, as well as the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, concluded that protein intakes of 1.5 to 1.6 g per kg of body weight per day were optimal for increases in muscle strength and mass (7, 8).
What Is The Best Calisthenics Diet To Build Muscle?
Unlike diets such as keto, veganism, paleo, etc., there isn’t a ‘calisthenics diet’. This is especially true if you’re looking for one specifically tailored to help you build muscle. Note, if you want to achieve this goal, make sure to eat a diet high in protein.
Those looking to lose fat and gain muscle should have a calorie deficit, while those who are underweight or at a comfortable weight but aiming for the same goal should consume a calorie surplus. Use a reputable calorie counter to help determine the perfect calorie deficit or surplus for your goals.
Is It Easier To Build Muscle With Calisthenics Or With Weight?
As seen in the study published in Nature, calisthenics is just as good as weight lifting in terms of increasing muscle mass (2). However, in terms of which one yields faster results, weight lifting does seem to have the advantage.
As explained, calisthenics only uses your bodyweight to complete the workout – basically you work with what you have. While this has been proven to produce great results, the results may take longer.
However, because you are using both your body weight plus extra added weight, with weights the muscles are strained more and thus may lead to faster results and relatively easier progression.
Is Calisthenics Better Than Gym?
It depends on how you look at it.
For people looking to improve the functionality of their muscles and those who prefer not to pay for the gym or simply want to push their bodies to the limit, calisthenics might be a better option than the gym. Also, because calisthenics uses no extra weights, it is considered a much safer and better option for true beginners.
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Is It Possible To Do Calisthenics For Each Muscle Group?
Yes, it is. Instead of always doing full body calisthenics workouts, you can choose to switch and split your workouts. This can allow you to target and train each muscle group, which can be rather effective for muscle hypertrophy.
Which Are The Best Calisthenic Equipment For Home?
One of the best things about calisthenics is that they are cheap, as they don’t require any equipment. However, having some equipment can help make the exercises easier. Some of these include:
- A yoga/exercise mat
- Pullup bar
- Resistance bands
These are enough to start your journey. Other things are optional as you can replace them with things you already have at home.
Ps. if you choose to do your workouts outside, especially at a park, you will not need to buy anything as everything you can use is there.
How To Start Calisthenics At Home: What Do I Need?
How to start calisthenics at home? As long as you have access to the above mentioned equipment, you are ready to go.
Infact, a pull up bar isn’t as important as it can be substituted with monkey bars at the park to do pull ups, and two chairs with a sturdy broomstick to do inverted rows or tricep dips.
Simple workouts like push-ups, planks, lunges and squats, as well as some mountain climbers and burpees are a great place to start.
Does Calisthenics Make You Lean or Bulky?
Calisthenics produce a lean figure, rather than a bulky one, as seen in body builders.
Why Are Bodybuilders Bigger Than Calisthenics?
The extra weight from free weights as well as gym machinery helps them build much bigger muscles than calisthenics who just rely on their body weight and gravity for hypertrophy.
What Are Negatives In Calisthenics?
Perhaps the only negative to calisthenics is that it will not help you get huge bodybuilder muscles like resistance training does. However, if this is not your goal, then calisthenics has zero negatives and is perfect as an exercise regimen.
The Bottom Line: Is Calisthenics Worth It?
Yes, calisthenics is absolutely worth it. The answer to ‘does calisthenics build muscle?’ is a resounding yes.
The workout also improves overall health, helps with weight and fat loss and improves cardiovascular health, boosts endurance and prevents obesity. Unless you have an underlying health condition, there is absolutely no reason for you to not give calisthenics a chance.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Dose–response relationship between protein intake and muscle mass increase: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (2021, academic.oup.com)
- Effects of progressive body-weight versus barbell back squat training on strength, hypertrophy and body fat among sedentary young women (2023, nature.com)
- Healthy Muscles Matter (2023, niams.nih.gov)
- High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How much protein do you need every day? (2023, health.harvard.edu)
- Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Synergistic Effect of Increased Total Protein Intake and Strength Training on Muscle Strength: A Dose-Response Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials (2022, sportsmedicine-open.springeropen.com)
- Systematic review and meta-analysis of protein intake to support muscle mass and function in healthy adults (2022, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- The Acute Physiological and Perceptual Responses Between Bodyweight and Treadmill Running High-Intensity Interval Exercises (2022, frontiersin.org)
- The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training (2010, journals.lww.com)