The Ultimate Guide To Maximising Muscle Growth With Calisthenics!

A solid understanding of how to train for hypertrophy is essential if you want to avoid wasting time, whether you’re looking to improve your skills, muscles, or strength!

Mechanisms of hypertrophy

Muscle hypertrophy, the increase in muscle size, is a complex process influenced by various physiological mechanisms. The primary drivers of hypertrophy involve cellular and molecular changes that occur in response to resistance training. Here are the key mechanisms of hypertrophy you should know:

1. Mechanical tension

Mechanical tension is a key physiological factor involved in the process of muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle size). It refers to the force generated within a muscle when it contracts against resistance. Mechanical tension is the primary mechanisms by which resistance training stimulates muscle growth.

2. Metabolic stress

Metabolic stress occurs when resistance training creates an accumulation of metabolites (such as lactate and hydrogen ions) within the muscle. Including a variety of training modalities, such as incorporating high-repetition sets, drop sets, or blood flow restriction training, can help maximize metabolic stress and contribute to overall hypertrophic responses.

Training principles for building muscle with calisthenics

Know you understand the mechanisms that create hypertrophy, it is time to dive in deeper and learn about the training principles that underlies hypertrophy training. That way you will have a better understanding on how to structure your training to make effective progress. The following are the key training principles for hypertrophy training with calisthenics:

1. Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID) & Progressive Overload

Specific adaptation to imposed demands is the fundamental concept in exercise science and training, that states that the adaptations the body undergoes as a result of exercise are specific to the type of training or stress imposed on it. In other words, the body will adapt in a way that is specific to the demands placed on it during training. However in order too keep making gains progressive overload is necessary, which involves gradually increasing the demands placed on the body in order to continually stimulate adaptations. This principle is key for inducing physiological adaptations, such as muscle growth.

2. Supercompensation

Recovery is a critical component of any effective training program, as it allows the body to adapt to the stress imposed by exercise and optimize performance.

Supercompensation describes the temporary improvement in performance or fitness that occurs after a period of rest or reduced training intensity following a training stimulus. During the recovery phase, the body adapts to the stress of exercise and, if given adequate time to rest, it rebounds with a higher level of performance or fitness.

Key variables in training calisthenics for muscle growth

Calisthenics training for muscle growth involves manipulating various training variables to create an effective stimulus for gains. Understanding and optimizing these variables are crucial for developing a effective calisthenics program.

How many sets should you do to maximise gains?

It appears that optimal training volume for increasing muscle mass occurs at 10+ sets per week, per muscle group (1). A good general recommendation is therefore doing around 12-20 weekly sets per muscle group (2). Increased training frequency for these muscle groups may allow for more training volume to be completed successfully. Newer research on the topic shows that there higher training volume (all the way up to 52 sets per week) might produce more muscle growth (3), keep in mind this is just for one muscle group (the quads) and would be impossible to implement for the whole body. I would therefore recommend to sticking to the recommended volume of around 12-20 sets per week, and adding extra volume (all the way up to 52 sets) to bring up lagging body parts.

How many reps should you do?

The next question we might ask is how many repetitions in those sets we should do. To answer this look no further then this 2017 meta-analysis (4), Which suggest that training anywhere in the 5-35 rep range is effective for building muscle as long as the sets is taken close to failure (so no need to only do 8-12 reps). Varying the rep ranges, might actually be a good idea for managing fatigue and introducing novelty into your training.

Is variation important?

Speaking of variation switching out your exercises occasionally might also be beneficial for hypertrophy (5), as a general rule the more technical the exercise is the longer you should keep that exercises in routine, since mastering technique takes time and consistent practice.

How long rest periods for maximising muscle growth?

It is commonly believed that shorter rest periods is necessary to optimize hypertrophy. However this is a myth which is not backed up by research, on the contrary when training bigger muscles longer rest between sets of 2,5+ minutes appears to be better for maximising hypertrophy (6,7)

Should you be training to failure to get jacked?

Training to failure is not only unnecessary, it might also be counterproductive to do since it is taxing on the body and nervous system. With that said, training close to failure, with only a few reps in reserve (RIR) is optimal for maximising muscle growth (8).

Example calisthenics workout plan for muscle mass

Know you have a good understanding of how to train for hypertrophy it is time to put that knowledge into action, we do that by applying the knowledge to create a calisthenics routine. If you are interested about learning more about designing your own calisthenics program read this post, where I take your trough the steps step-by-step.

1Pull up38-122,1,0 RIR
1Dips38-122,1,0 RIR
2Rows310-202,1,1 RIR
2Push ups310-202,1,1 RIR
xBarbell/pistol squat35-151,1,0 RIR
3BW triceps extension210-251,0 RIR
3BW bicep curl210-251,0 RIR
Rest around 3 min between performing the same exercise again.
RIR = Reps in reserve

Example of Weekly Workout Schedule

Mon: Full body
Tue: Rest + Active recovery
Wed: Full body
Thur: Rest + Cardio
Fri: Rest + Active recovery
Sat: Full body
Sun: Rest + Cardio

Other considerations

Nutrition plays a crucial role in supporting muscle growth. Proper nutrition provides the essential nutrients needed for muscle repair and growth.

  1. Protein is a critical component of muscle tissue, and an adequate protein intake is essential for muscle growth. Aim for a daily protein intake of around 1.6 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight.
  2. Consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods to ensure you get a broad spectrum of micronutrients

Sleep is as an important part of your muscle-building strategy. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each day to get to most out of you training efforts. Here at the best tips for optimizing your sleep for muscle growth:

  1. Establish pre-sleep rituals to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. This may include activities like reading, gentle stretching, or relaxation techniques.
  2. Reduce or eliminate caffeine and avoid electronic devices with screens at least an hour before bedtime, as they can interfere with the natural sleep-wake cycle.

  1. TY – JOUR AU – Schoenfeld, Brad AU – Ogborn, Daniel AU – Krieger, James PY – 2016/07/19 SP – 1 EP – 10 T1 – Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis VL – 35 DO – 10.1080/02640414.2016.1210197 JO – Journal of Sports Sciences ER –
  2. Baz-Valle E, Balsalobre-Fernández C, Alix-Fages C, Santos-Concejero J. A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy. J Hum Kinet. 2022 Feb 10;81:199-210. doi: 10.2478/hukin-2022-0017. PMID: 35291645; PMCID: PMC8884877.
  3. Enes, Alysson1; De Souza, Eduardo O.2; Souza-Junior, Tácito P.1. Effects of Different Weekly Set Progressions on Muscular Adaptations in Trained Males: Is there a Dose-Response Effect?. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise ():10.1249/MSS.0000000000003317, October 6, 2023. | DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000003317
  4. Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Dec;31(12):3508-3523. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000002200. PMID: 28834797.
  5. Kassiano, Witalo1; Nunes, João Pedro1; Costa, Bruna1; Ribeiro, Alex S.1,2; Schoenfeld, Brad J.3; Cyrino, Edilson S.1. Does Varying Resistance Exercises Promote Superior Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength Gains? A Systematic Review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 36(6):p 1753-1762, June 2022. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000004258
  6. Fink JE, Schoenfeld BJ, Kikuchi N, Nakazato K. Acute and Long-term Responses to Different Rest Intervals in Low-load Resistance Training. Int J Sports Med. 2017 Feb;38(2):118-124. doi: 10.1055/s-0042-119204. Epub 2016 Dec 16. PMID: 27984843.
  7. Schoenfeld BJ, Pope ZK, Benik FM, Hester GM, Sellers J, Nooner JL, Schnaiter JA, Bond-Williams KE, Carter AS, Ross CL, Just BL, Henselmans M, Krieger JW. Longer Interset Rest Periods Enhance Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Jul;30(7):1805-12. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001272. PMID: 26605807.
  8. Grgic J, Schoenfeld BJ, Orazem J, Sabol F. Effects of resistance training performed to repetition failure or non-failure on muscular strength and hypertrophy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sport Health Sci. 2022 Mar;11(2):202-211. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2021.01.007. Epub 2021 Jan 23. PMID: 33497853; PMCID: PMC9068575.


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