Natural Muscle—How Much Can You Gain…Really?

by Paul "Coach" Wade on November 8, 2016

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Al and Danny Kavadlo for Paul Wade

I’ve found that these days I keep getting asked the same questions over and over. Why did you get those lame tattoos? How come your face looks so much older than your body? Who are you, and what are you doing in the girls’ locker room?

That’s my personal life, but in my life as a coach I get a lot of repetitive questions too. Since I wrote C-MASS, here is a doozy that crops up over and over again:

How much muscle can I gain without steroids?

Yeah, you’ve heard it too, right? Well I can’t promise you that I can give you a concrete answer, but at my age I sure am getting good at rambling—so if you’ve got five minutes, stick around and listen to old Uncle Paul. There’s five bucks in it for you. (There’s not.)

Alright. Let’s start with a baseline. (I’m going to focus on the males here because, well, it’s only the males that seem to care about gaining maximum muscle—forgive me, my bodyweight bodybuilding sisters.) How much does the average untrained dude weigh? Modern stats tell us that the average American male these days weighs around 190 lbs. But modern stats are misleading, because we are interested in muscular bodyweight, right? And let’s face it, the modern generation is the fattest ever. Fat Albert, fat. So let’s go back to the sixties—before the obesity epidemic was in full swing. In that decade, stats tell us that he average male was a much sleeker 166 lbs. Now, this wasn’t a lean, steel-cut “six pack” Kavadlo-type athlete—just a regular, untrained not-fat dude. So let’s make this a pretty rough weight for “Mr. Average”—166 lbs.

Now, the Million Dollar Question: how much muscle could our Mr. Average gain, just through training and eating right?

The problem with answering this question in the modern era can be summed up in one word—drugs. Drugs have skewed Joe Public’s vision of what can be achieved by training, more than most people could even imagine. (More on that in a little bit.) So in order to look at what’s really achievable naturally, we need to go back to a time before steroids hit the training scene.

You might be surprised how far back that actually is. Most people probably associate the first true “steroid-era” with the seventies, and the larger than life physiques of men like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, as seen in the movie Pumping Iron (which was based around the battle for the ’75 Mr. Olympia). In fact, similar (and in some cases, identical) compounds to those used by the seventies crew were already for sale in the US in the late fifties. The Soviets were experimenting with steroid-based drugs for Olympic lifters in the forties, which is no surprise because testosterone was first synthesized in the early thirties. If we go even further, natural testosterone—from animal cajones—was first being injected into humans as far back as the nineteenth century. (Hell—that’s before even I was born. I think.) So bodybuilding drugs ain’t new, kids.

As a good guideline though, we can say that—in America, at least—steroid-based PEDs were not being tested on weightlifters until the fifties. So if we go back to the forties, we should—probably, if not absolutely definitely—be able to find drug-free, natural bodybuilders at their peak. This, in turn, should maybe give us at least a clue how big and lean our Mr. Average could aspire to get, at a push.

So let’s look at arguably the best (and most muscular) bodybuilder from the forties: the guy the other lifters all called “the King of Bodybuilders”: Clarence “Clancy” Ross. Clancy was Mr. America 1945—the biggest bodybuilding title in the world back then. (The Mr. Olympia title wasn’t created by Joe Weider until 1965.) How big was he? He was about 5’10, with 17 inch arms, and he weighed in at 185 lbs pounds, soaking wet.

First things first—to many of you on the fitness scene now, this will seem like a ridiculously light weight for a “big” guy. Hell, lean bodybuilders nowadays sometimes hit the stage at close to 300 lbs! So as a result some of you may be thinking…185? At 5’10?! Did this guy even lift?

Uh, yes, He did. In fact, Clancy was a monster who outlifted 99% of modern bodybuilders: he could curl 200 lbs, bench 400 lbs, squat 500 lbs and—get this—perform a standing press of 320 lbs! (Good luck seeing that in a modern gym.) He was also a big fan of traditional calisthenics.

That 185 sure looked good on old Clancy. He had a six-pack like bricks on a building, pecs like huge slabs, muscular, separated quads, round, thick delts and loaded guns.

Bodybuilding King—Clarence Ross!

Bodybuilding King—Clarence Ross!

Actually, Clancy was undernourished and underweight for his frame when he started training. But if he had been the “average” male weighing 166, that would mean he put on close to 20 lbs of muscle as a result of his training and diet (actually probably more like 25-30 lbs, as Clancy was leaner than the average guy.) There were a tiny number of men in the forties who were bigger than Clancy—George Eiferman is an example—but there are always going to be taller guys or real genetic outliers who screw the curve. The fact remains that Clancy is a great example of what “big” is for a male of good health, average height, and normal-to-excellent genetics.

In reality, when guys ask me about how much muscle they can add, it’s obviously impossible to answer. You’d need to see into someone’s genes to know the answer—to also know their hormone levels, dietary habits and work ethic. But as a good rule of thumb, most men who are not underweight and are dedicated to their training and eat and rest adequately can gain 20-30 lbs of solid muscle via training alone. (Obviously you can dial up or down the numbers according to height.) Clancy is an extreme example—among the world’s best—but as you can see from his photo, 20-30 lbs of muscle on a fairly lean physique is enough to make you jacked as sh**. Hell, if you are lean enough, as little as ten pounds of muscle added to your frame will make you look like a buff dude. Toxic drugs are not required to look great.

At this point, a lot of younger guys will be shaking their head, and saying I’m just an ancient loser who’s setting the bar too low for athletes. (They’re right about the ancient loser part, sure.) I get emails all the time about this guy and that guy who does bodyweight-only on YouTube, and is built like a friggin’ Pershing tank. Many of them weigh 200 lbs with change, and are often sliced to the bone. These men are putting on 40 plus pounds of muscle using bodyweight training, their fans tell me. Well, sure they are. They are on steroids. Do you think you are only allowed to use bodybuilding drugs if you lift weights? Jesus, there’s steroids in all sports now. Hell, even the International Chess Federation started doping tests for steroids in 2003. (I’m not kidding. Look it up.)

Why are so many modern athletes lying about their natty status? A simple law of human behavior. Anything which gets rewarded happens more, and anything which gets punished happens less. There are lots of rewards for lying about drug use—more fans, more views, more sponsorship, more respect, etc.—and plenty of punishments for telling the truth—stigma, being banned from sports, jailtime, etc. Of course these guys lie: I don’t even blame them. The problem is though, it creates false expectations, particularly for the younger athletes. They think they suck, or their training sucks, because they don’t look like some juiced up balloon in six months. As a result, they either get despondent and quit training—and so lose a myriad of lifelong benefits—or figure it out and take the drugs, ruining their hormonal profiles and setting up a future health minefield along the way.

It’s understandable that so many people overestimate the amount of muscle that a natural athlete can put on, because drugs have skewed their view of reality beyond belief. To see just how much drugs have changed the picture, check out the biggest bodybuilders after drugs began to infiltrate the scene. Let’s take a look in time lapse, every twenty years:

  • The best bodybuilder in the world in 1945 (Clancy) weighed 185 lbs.
  • Twenty years later, the best bodybuilder—the 1965 Mr. Olympia, Larry Scott—weighed 200 lbs: heavier AND leaner than any Mr. America in the forties. (All this, and he was three inches shorter than Clancy!) What caused this huge jump? By now bodybuilders were using the oral steroid Dianabol and almost definitely injectable steroids like Deca-Durabolin, which was available from the late fifties. They were probably taking fairly light to moderate doses (by modern standards) and only using the drugs before competition, coming off them for long periods.
  • Twenty years later—it’s 1985 and the world’s greatest is Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney. At 5’11, Haney weighed in at a phenomenal 245 lbs. With paper-thin skin and dehydrated, Haney weighed about 70 lbs more than old Clancy! What caused this quantum leap? Maybe Haney was just more intense in the gym, or trained better? In fact, no—by all accounts, Clancy Ross could outlift Lee Haney on his best day: so it wasn’t the training. The real reason is that by now the top bodybuilders were using much larger doses of drugs, for much longer periods. They were also “stacking” multiple oral and injectable compounds, and beginning to use low doses of Human Growth Hormone (HGH)—which, at the time, was extracted from corpses, meaning that if the dead body had a disease, you got it too. (Oh, it made you a bit bigger than the competition, though.)
  • Fast forward another twenty years to 2005 and basically things have got ridiculous at the top level. Mr. Olympia now is Ronnie Coleman, and he’s stepping onstage weighing 290 lbs (!), ripped to bejesus, and looking something like a cross between a walking chemical toilet and a badly-drawn comic book. This guy weighed well over a hundred pounds more than poor little Clancy, while being only about an inch taller. What caused this latest “improvement”? Huge doses of the same old steroids, now stacked year round, plus much larger doses of more modern, synthetic growth hormone, along with widespread heavy use of insulin, which it turns out, is a another massively anabolic drug when applied in a certain protocol. Hell, guys are now literally shooting oil into their muscles just to keep the expansion happening.

This is the context modern students of bodybuilding have to enter—is it any wonder they have lost all sense of what’s real? Let’s get some reality back. Let’s look back to the old physiques—the guys under 190 lbs, with abs: look at Eugen Sandow (180 lbs), Clancy Ross (185 lbs), Roy Hilligenn (175 lbs). These men were pinnacles of strength AND health, and looked as big (and healthy) as any normal person could want.

Hilligenn: shorter and lighter than Clancy, but still a slayer.

Hilligenn: shorter and lighter than Clancy, but still a slayer.

One more common question, to finish. This muscle gain—20-30 lbs—can it be done using calisthenics? Or are weights required? My answer is: maximum muscle mass CAN absolutely be achieved with bodyweight-only training. External weights are not required. You only need to look at the current rash of calisthenics stars who are using the same kinds of drugs as the hardcore bodybuilders used back in the sixties (Dianabol, Deca, test). Guess what? They have the same types of upper-body measurements as the bodybuilders had then! This is because your muscle mass is not determined by your training stimulus, but by your hormonal profile.

I hear gym lifters tell me: yeah, bodyweight exercise might be good for the upper-body, but you can’t build huge legs with calisthenics alone. Again, this is something of a modern illusion. what folks don’t realize is that all these “huge” legs aren’t being built with barbells but drugs. Remember—it’s the steroids that make you big…the training is way down the list! Look at those huge, overgrown cows and bulls these days; they have huge hips and asses just like modern bodybuilders, but it’s not because they are going to some secret bovine gym. It’s because they are being shot with hormones—steroids and growth. In fact, some popular modern anabolic steroids (I’m lookin’ at you, trenbolone) are literally just the dissolved animal steroid pellets farmers give to livestock to make them bigger.

It ain’t the drugs, bro! It’s heavy squats!

It ain’t the drugs, bro! It’s heavy squats!

It’s a prevalent myth that you only grow if you take steroids and train hard. There are plenty of studies that show you will grow more than any hard-training natural athlete just by sitting on the couch, if you are loaded up with steroids. It’s your hormone levels that primarily cause growth: like I say, training is very secondary. Remember: these drugs are legitimately used for people with horrible injuries and wasting diseases, to add muscle mass…the patients aren’t lifting weights, but the drugs work anyway. Remember going through puberty? When over a year (or even a summer, in some cases) you went from being a scrawny boy to suddenly having some muscles? It happens whether you exercise or play video games. It was caused by a sudden surge of natural steroids.

Training heightens the effect of the drugs, but not nearly as much as most non-athletes think. Clancy Ross built 24 inch quads by doing squats with 500 lbs…meaning his LEGS in 1945 were the same size as Ronnie Coleman’s ARMS in 2005! I’m pretty sure Ronnie wasn’t doing 500 lb curls. Work your legs hard with squats, one-leg work, sprinting and jump training, and yes, they will reach their natural limit. But they won’t ever be 36 inches unless you’re also willing to inject your body every day to make them that way.

Okay, ramble over. Go back to work. And remember, brethren—all this is just my opinion, based on what I’ve seen. I’m not claiming to have the final answers on fat-free mass indexes or stuff like that. If you still have questions, I’d love to hear ‘em. Slap them in the comments below and I’ll answer. If you think I’m wrong, yell at the screen. Or, better yet, hit me up in the comments section and tell me where I’m screwing up.

I’ve got a pot of coffee on the stove, and I’m always ready to learn.

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  • Welcome back Coach – it’s been a while!

    Great piece. Health and strength much more my focus (as per old time strongmen) as I move into my 40s. I want to be hitting the chins and dips for a long time and I want to be able to move well.

    It would be great to hear your current thoughts on training for longevity in another piece.

    Stay well.

    • Carl! Bless you for the welcome my man–I missed you guys! I’m glad you like the article, that means a lot to me. And trust me–from an older brother to a younger one–“moving into the 40s” makes you a young guy in calisthenics. If you train sensibly and keep injury free, you have years and years of great progress in strength ahead of you. Remember, the Mighty Atom was performing in his eighties!

      I’ll start thinking about a longevity article just for you my man. Please keep me posted on your progress?

  • Brad Sadl

    Great article Coach. I recently went on a cut diet…I was walking around at 175-178 thinking I was mostly muscle LOL …70 days later and 20lbs later I weight somewhere between 157-160 and I’m lean mean and ripped. Recently posted my results and got all kind of comments about how I looked. At my lowest weight ever I was 145lbs…this was when I got marred 18 years ago- that was my non weightlifting lean starting point. Over the years I’ve added about 15lbs of muscle and it looks awesome on me imo. Everything you say here has shaken out in my life. I think what it comes down to is that people never feel happy with where they are …that’s why training for aesthetics is so disheartening. I think training for the love of training is so much better…even though initially it was to look better what sustained me was love of sport.

    Anyway, I was kind of hoping for a clarification article about the one arm pushup – (people are as confused about that as they are about how much mass someone can put on their body without drugs ) but I loved this article nonetheless! Thanks for all the great material~ 🙂

    • Brad! Hey, I HAD heard rumors goin round about how it all looks awesome on you!! Seriously, it sounds like you are one of the few who got it EXACTLY right, so keep on keeping on, stud.

      Thanks too for the great comment, I think it’s always important when real athletes step in and talk about hard-won experience. It means a lot, Brad.

      Hey, I hear you about the one-arm pushup. Did you ever check out the Super FAQ? I put a ton of clarification in there. I can find a link if you missed it bud?

      • By the way, I caught you in that 50 rep armor challenge: BAD ASS

        • Brad Sadl

          Thank you that was fun!!!

          • yeah, really cool to watch, too. Keep kicking butt, stud!

      • Brad Sadl

        Thanks!!! I do remember that now…getting old 🙂

      • aaem

        Where would I find the Super FAQ section?

  • martymonster

    Hi Coach, This is totally spot on. Love being reminded about the greats from the past, as God knows perspective is often required. Good training + Good diet = Great results. It’s such a simple equation. Just add grit to make pearls.
    FYI. Closing in on my one arm pushups. Using a 4inch block to support the working arm and getting 6-7 reasonable reps. Might just bag a true OAP before the end of the year. I’m giving you a fair deal of credit for that.

    • Hey Marty my man! I’ve missed you, bless ya for the comment and update.

      And SH*T, what an update!!

      Please keep me posted on the OAP. If anyone has it in you, you do. Kudos for the incredible commitment and progress! Kickin ass on the pushes, how are them there pulls coming along brother?

  • James Downie

    Excellent article!! You have said what I have been saying for many years!!

    • I am just passing on your wisdom, my master!!

      Thanks for the feedback James, glad you approve bro and I appreciate you taking the time to let know. The intelligent folks have worked most of this out already but honestly, it’s REAL hard for the kids these days to know which damn way is up.

  • Mikey T

    Yes! Always looking forward to your perspective on things! Keep on keeping on man!

    BTW: I recently learned the Stand-to-Stand Bridge and let me tell you, there’s something about doing that movement for reps that makes life feel so…freeing.

    • It’s Mikey! The Great One is here!!

      Hey, bless you for commenting bud, it means a hell of a lot to hear from ya. Congrats on such a great achievement of true “supple strength”!

      For what it’s worth, I know exactly what you mean. Feels like your whole body is lighter, more energized…hell, there really is something to this calisthenics thing, right?

      Thanks again and please keep in touch my friend. It was great to hear from ya!

  • YES! It’s always so great to hear from Coach! It’s funny, I’d really like for those old “bodybuilder” ideals to come back including the very early women’s Olympia winners. And frankly I’ve been able to do pretty well in the muscle dept. with Convict Conditioning (especially pull-up related) and eating the best meats and vegetables I can get my hands on…

    • Hey, it’s my favorite, Adrienne!! Hey, what’s right is right–I have indeed seen your physique become even more awesome over the years, due to your intelligent, consistent training.

      And yeah, the early, drug-free women looked amazing. I remember Gladys Portugues (spelling?!) as a stand out back in the day. And Marjo Selin. And Carla Dunlap!

      I would love to know your view–how much overall size do you think a natural girl can put on?

    • Matt Schifferle

      I’m right there with ya Adrienne. I once saw a pro body builder walking around town and it somehow looked funny to me, like he was wearing a muscled super hero consume or something. I also remember my old friend Mark who was a BW machine and he looked incredible in person. Totally down for the “classic” BB look.

      • I agree. Sleek, functional muscle is always best, and it doesn’t need to be huge mass if it’s built RIGHT. We always go on about gymnasts being jacked, but the average male gymnast is only about 150.

  • James Thomas

    Thank you, great article! Your wisdom is deep Coach! I have fallen off the wagon, the school of hard knocks and all that stuff…….read over our old email conversations and am now back in the game all fired up! My best wishes to you Paul 💪💪

    • It’s my man, James! It’s awesome to hear from you my friend–God bless ya for stopping by to update me.

      I’m sorry you had those knocks bro, but shit, if this article has put you back in the fight, hand on heart, that alone made it worth writing. Just start slow and easy–you’ll get it all back and more, I promise. You’re the man!

      And remember–if you start again, then you didn’t really “quit”, right?

      Don’t be a stranger and please keep me posted on your progress. I’ll be watchin ya!!

      • James Thomas

        Wow, I wasn’t expecting a reply, or you to remember me haha 😊
        Thank you for the inspiration, I’ll definitely keep you posted with my progress 💪
        Also, I noticed someone else mention prison boxing/fighting methods…I don’t know if you remember me asking about it in the emails, but we have a name ready for that publication so you just have to put it together now 😉😉👍👍
        Sending best wishes 😊

        • Brother, we are gonna have to put you on staff at Dragon Door!! Bless you for the reminder, great you know you have my back bro, thanks! Best wishes back my friend.

  • Philly Spartan

    Fun read. The logic regarding steroid use is essentially unassailable. Let’s take it further though — how many of today’s professional athletes (not just bodybuilders) and even Crossfit superstars are on steroids? How do they maintain lean muscle mass at levels that would exceed the top bodybuilders of the 40s?

    • Philly…damn, now that’s a badass question right there, and you’re so right: this is EXACTLY what we should be talking about next. I’m really not in the locker rooms injecting these guys, but the reality is–PRACTICALLY ALL serious pro and semi-pro athletes are on steroid and PDEs. When there is a reward for being better than the next guy, steroids are inevitable.

      Sure, if the athletes (lookin at YOU, Crossfit) are bigger than former Mr Olympias (DURING THE STEROID ERA!) then sure, people will be smelling a pretty friggin big rat. But in truth, size is just one factor. These drugs don’t just make you big; they increase aggression, endurance (red blood cell counts), recovery, etc. And they can be use used in protocols that give different results while avoiding detection. The public just do not get this yet.

      I’m not slamming Lance Armstrong–I like the guy–but I remember folks saying “there’s no way he is on drugs, look at him–he’s skinny!” But look, in the end he was on enough shit to embalm a mummy.

      Interested to hear your thoughts on this, Philly (although judging by the fact that you asked the question I’m betting you have already worked much of this out)…

  • Andrew

    Hello Mr. Wade,

    About 4 years back I bought your book “Convict Conditioning” after seeing it in Dragon Door and was inspired by it; I had found a workout philosophy that I could totally agree with on many levels.
    I’ve been doing calisthetics as my primary workouts since then and made some major results but I feel like I’ve reached a wall. I’m about 170lbs, in pretty good shape but still have some lingering body fat that I can’t shake (mostly in the core and pectorials) and still struggle with pulls-ups and doing more than 50 push-ups in one go. My upper body needs improvement. I’ve recently started adding weight exercises (squats, thrusts, dead-lifts).

    Anything you can suggest otherwise? Is it possible for me to stick with calisthetics but up my game? Am I just not pushing hard enough with my workouts?

    Thanks,
    Convict Conditioned Convert

    • Yo! CCC! Thanks so much for your cool comment–it means a lot that you took the time out to write me. Thanks!

      The first thing to remember is that if you can drop and hit 50 pushups, you are already in the top 1% of bodyweight ability. Great work!

      The lingering body fat is diet, pure and simple. The real problem with fat loss at your level is that–like everything–you get diminishing returns. At 300 lbs you can lose like lightning; at 170 there’s just not that much left to lose. But you can get there!

      As for your training–my advice is shake stuff up. Set serious goals and give yourself 3-6 months. You want ideas of how to shake it up, just lemme know what your regular training is like, and I got your back! We can do this together, bro!!

  • AndrewLudington

    Great article. Unrealistic/unhealthy body images are so prevalent and they skew perceptions terribly. Your comment about leanness having more to do with looking “big” than absolute mass is spot on, too. I play the “tough guy” in a show. At a lean 155 pounds (5’9″), I’m not what anyone would call big, but people ask me all the time how to get jacked. (I frequently direct them to the coaches I most admire, as I’m no expert.)

    • Andrew! Hey, thanks so much for your feedback my man!! You know, what you say I agree with 100%. Being lean is the key to looking good–muscle is very secondary. The trouble is, most people just don’t realize just HOW MUCH fat they gotta lose before they get there. I was talking to Al only yesterday about the same thing. I remember hearing Arnold talking about Bruce Lee, and he basically said the reason he looked in such great shape was his leanness, not his conditioning. Look how light he was (about 130-140, I think?) and he still looked like a badass!

      Any chance of a link to the show you’re on, bro? Ya got us all curious as hell up here!

      • AndrewLudington

        Hey, coach! Thanks for your reply! Bruce Lee was my childhood hero. I loved his movies growing up; they inspired me to get into weightlifting, martial arts, calisthenics and wrestling. As a skinny kid, I knew I had a lot better shot of looking like Bruce than like Arnold. That perspective has kept me on a healthy track my whole life. I’m much more motivated by being strong, light, flexible and well than being large. I’m, ahem, not as young as most of the people reading this site and I don’t think twice about diving into a day of any physical pursuit I choose. Here’s the link to the show:

        On YoutTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmgVz1AN1SzwCo9n1IJx_jA

        On its dedicated site: http://www.darkage.tv/

        • Dude! The show is awesome–kinda reminds me of a cross between The Walking Dead and Dr Horrible’s Sing Along Blog–if that makes any sense to any other human? REALLY well made…

          I really enjoyed the trailer and am up to Season 1 Ep 3 so far; watching it in between writing. You are looking in fantastic shape my man–fun fight scene in the trailer. Bruce would be as proud of ya as I am!

          • AndrewLudington

            HA! I love that comparison. I think it’s better than the previous best I’d heard which was “Mad Max meets Friends.” Thanks very much for the kind words. It was a labor of love to make that show and it’s always gratifying to hear that someone has enjoyed it.

          • “Pants-Free Friday”

          • AndrewLudington

            You have no idea how surreal this exchange is for me. I bought Convict Conditioning for me and my brother in law the first month it was out. It’s pretty amazing to see you quoting my show all these years later!

          • Me too bro–just finished the season 2 movie (I honestly don’t use the interwebs much and hardly ever youtube) and this feels like talking to a celebrity. Virgil is my number one anti-hero! (No spoilers there, see?) Virgil is f***ing awesome!!

            …Both Virgils. 🙁

          • AndrewLudington

            Pretty amazing that you have the ability to inspire and encourage in all aspects of life, not just your line of business. It makes me want to go out and shoot a movie this morning! Thanks for the really nice feedback.

  • villafan

    Hey Coach
    Great article my friend, it has been too long. Last time we chatted I was trying to get my STS bridge down and got it pretty good now. Also Aston Villa were awful to watch, oh they still are….!
    It’s funny but only as I hit near 40 did I really start to add more muscle but I remember you saying this was prime time for growth as your metabolism slows.
    Hope you are well.
    Steve

    • Steeeeve! Ah, man, how I have missed your wit and wisdom! I’m happy as hell to see you are still kickin ass and taking names…

      However I was so very sorry to hear that you are still a Villa supporter. In fact I thought of you just the other day my friend. I got a new Gmail account, and Google asked me for a password…I put down ASTON VILLA DEFENSE but the computer said it was “too weak”.

      In all seriousness you would be surprised how many guys only start to hit their stride at about 40. Unlike Villa you are nowhere near your prime yet, my man!!

      Thanks for dropping in, you honestly made my day dude.

      • Also, I forgot to say–congrats for kicking the PCCs’ ass!! Also, anyone reading this needs to check out your website:

        http://www.bodyweightbasement.co.uk

        Keep spreading the gospel, bro!

      • villafan

        Ha ha. Thanks Coach, smiling for the rest of the evening now.

  • I had a picnic today: soup from a thermos, sandwich with some salami from a very good butcher with some spinach, some nuts & cherry tomatoes. Grapes & yoghurt to follow. A short way away was a mediocre restaurant which is overpriced but temptingly warm on a day like today.

    I was in the botanical gardens & a short while later I was doing some incline push ups, free squats & other movements that just felt good to do in the moment – no real plan. I met up with another local calisthenics practitioner & we chewed the fat about people & circumstances. Sometimes we practice some moves – he can do all the things I find difficult.

    A short way away is a gym with all mod cons & enough weights to provide ballast for a container ship. Which is better? Picnic or restaurant? Gardens/park or gym? I don’t speak for anyone but myself. Gyms don’t attract me, but they have value for many people.

    I’ve encouraged a number of friends recently to practice some strength training. A few injuries, ambitions & specific survival circumstance were mentioned but none of them really wanted to hit the gym & join the lycra & MTV lifestyle that seems to be popular. I remember the wrestler Roddy Piper saying MTV was “Music to vomit to” which sticks in my head, & I’d largely agree.

    Years ago, trying to design a programme for strength & endurance untainted by the drug takers point of view I found a book about sumo wrestling, describing how the wrestlers carried each other around on their backs to gain strength. I was 238lbs & had a friend who was 300lbs+ so we tried it, eventually doing twice weekly on a flight of 33 steps – up & down, ten gos each. When he quit I took to pushing a car uphill. Unsurprisingly I have resembled for a lot of my adult life a small sumo wrestler. It was amazing fun & I’ve stayed clear of drugs, gyms, special diets & all that sort of stuff & built a decent amount of useful strength & endurance.

    I’m still having fun. Progress is being made slowly, I’ve gone from sets of 15 to 101 on the incline push ups in 2 years & the physique has improved. Occasionally I have a go at doing a thousand reps of something in a day – 550 incline pushups in one set last month improved on my 353 of the previous year. Simple compound movements. I do some dips & pull ups as slow as I can as well as doing 5 minute isometric holds & row a boat sometimes.

    I’m not very good at any of it, but you don’t have to be to enjoy it & benefit. I failed the Century test (no excuses) & didn’t pursue it – I gained the manual from attending the PCC which was valuable along with hanging around with the Kavadlos for a weekend. It was magic. What I learned (as if I didn’t already know) is that all that is needed is some internal motivation. Anytime, anywhere that suits is good enough. The rest just falls into place so long as you persevere.

    Hey coach, good to read your words again.

    • villafan

      Hey Dan
      Cool to see you on here.
      We should reconnect, go hit the pull up bars 💪

      • I was doing some isometrics last week & a lady got talking to me about calisthenics. “There’s a chap near me who I see sometimes in the park with some rings,” she said. I said I thought it was probably you. Are you about tomorrow? I’m out & about between 9 & 3 so could catch up if you’re not busy. I’ll call tomorrow morning.

        • villafan

          Yep that was most likely me!
          I am struggling tomorrow but Thursday i am free if you are?

          • Morning would be good, working PM. Can you talk tomorrow okay?

        • Honestly, it’s not a good sign of a high calisthenics population when the two guys doing it in the same town are both famous for it.

    • Dan, if I’m gonna write an article on the limits of muscle growth, do me a favor and for Christ’s sake don’t use that profile picture on the comments. Those delts and traps of yours are kinda making me look bad here, bro.

      I’m loving hearing about your achievements and training–great work on the bodyweight (550 inclines? You MONSTER!) The sumo stuff is intriguing. I always wanted to learn more about sumo training. I did hear years back that the traditional method was very bodyweight based, involving thousands and thousands of FULL bodyweight squats in particular. Mind you, I also heard it is one of the most fixed sports in the world.

      I want to commend you my man for all the great work you always do to promote fitness and strength. I know you didn’t hit the numbers for the Century, but I want to extend an offer to you…if you ever want to work on it again and reattempt, send Dragon Door the video, and I will review it personally. (This offer has been greenlit right from the top–Al Kavadlo himself.)

      Six months to 100 reps. I’ve seen the other stuff you can do. You can do this, too..just a thought. ;-).

      • I’ve read a few books on Sumo wrestling, the best so far being “The World of Sumo” by Takamiyama (Jesse Kahauluna). You’re right about the thousands of reps. Taka makes the point too that the giant physiques are built by excessive & often forced eating before sleeping to deliberately lower the centre of gravity for better wrestling performance. Chiyonofuji, Terao & Fukonoshima (HAKU/MENG to prowrestling fans) all had physiques that seemed achievable to me in what I was doing & wanted to do, but larger than what most in calisthenics would aspire to. As for it being fixed, similar to pro wrestling it never bothered me – wrestlers & circus performers do stunts in front of a live audience. Hollywood actors in films get to have multiple tries with stunt doubles & the outcomes are also predetermined. It’s entertainment bottom line & I appreciate the skill of a stuntman or wrestler as I would a gymnast or other sports practitioner.

        The century was surprising, I bombed out on the push ups which I didn’t expect – but I’d taken a good battering from the weekend. The standard of the rest was way higher than me & my legendary inflexibility was ably demonstrated to all. I loved it though, amazing experience.

        Pull ups are my greatest challenge. I told someone the other day that I’ve been doing them for 25 years & still aren’t any good at them. I use rings now, as injuries to opposing arms mean straight bar grip is uncomfortable whichever way round I do them. The rotation of the ring cures the problem & I don’t miss further workouts then for more rehab. I’ve done 131 single pull ups on rings in one day last December, pausing between each rep in sets of 5 & 1 extra to finish. Puttting them together into 10 is a different matter. I’ve never trained to be explosive, just slow brute strength. I did ask JDC & Al about the SCC as that would be more my route, but London this year was the first go & it’s a stretch to do a one day across the pond for them or me. These are ultimately excuses – I’ll make my pitch via video in due course.

        Thanks Coach!

        • Dan, hell I agree with you about the sumo. As for the physiques, I wonder how much drugs have got into the sport? I honestly have no idea. I will check the book you mentioned though my friend, thanks for the heads up!

          You know it’s funny; I experimented with rings in the past and liked them but I have done virtually ALL my pullups in 2016 on rings. (I began playing with them again after reading Mike Gillette’s great book.) It makes it a little easier on the elbows–I still gotta stretch out my golfers elbow–but the difference for these rusty shoulders is night and day. My shoulders have never felt better. This sounds like total treason but at my age I my never go back to a bar! But I always like to change stuff so who knows.

          Pullups for volume are just always going to be more difficult for taller, heavier athletes. That said, if you are capable of knocking out 131 reps in a day, that to my ears sounds way more challenging than ten in a row, and in my opinion any athlete that can do a set of five is capable of a ten. You remind me a little of a Steve Justa or a Bruce Lee–both very different from the status quo but freakishly strong in their own methods. If you ever write an ebook on what you’re doing currently just holler, I’d love to read it. I bet I’d learn a lot of left field stuff.

          Looking forward to that video some day, Dan!

  • Ashish Shukla

    Hey Coach,
    Great Article once again. I have got CC1, CC2 as well as C-MASS.
    Just yesterday I re-re-re-read C-MASS ;-).
    And from a long time I wanted to thank you but could’nt find any ways or means. At last I got the chance today, thanks to Kavadlo brothers.
    I did weights for 2 years but could’nt get any results. From last 6-8 months I started with calisthenics with the help of Convict Conditioning and I am very happy with the progress in strength as well as mass. I have been skinny all my life (5’10” and around 140lbs) and much interested in putting on mass so you guys have helped me a lot. Still a long way to go.
    Thanks again. Hats off to you, Sir!!!

    • Ashish! Thank you SO MUCH for your kind comment–I swear, it made my day. Bless you for reading my books, putting the training into practice, and most of all, thanks for reaching out and telling me. Seriously, it means more to me than you can ever know.

      And hey–you can get there. You are young and strong, and have YEARS of growth in you yet. Remember, if you need any support, I am here for you, as is the entire community. Please keep in touch and keep me posted on your progress!

      Thanks again and hats off to YOU my friend!!

  • It’s true that perceptions get skewed a lot by seeing guys on drugs. Even though I’m not into muscle building so much, I still sometimes think my training sucks because I’m not bigger after 3 years’ work. Thanks for writing Coach!

    • Daniel! Thanks so much for your feedback, I appreciate that s*it my man! It’s true that growth after the first few jumps slows down very radically. But on the plus side–strength keeps improving much longer. The key to not getting blue is to focus on the strength…and hell, isn’t it cooler to be stronger than you look, rather than weaker (like the big bodybuilders)?

      Thanks again for the comment, I really, really appreciate it Daniel…hope to speak to you again!

  • Collin D’Anna

    Great article Coach! Hope to see ya back with more. PS- I really enjoyed the SCC certification this past weekend with Danny K.

    • God damn, we have an SCC in the house!!

      Hey, awesome to get feedback from ya Collin, and even more awesome to hear that you took that SCC…come to think of it, looking at your photo, I could just tell that you look like one of life’s winners…

      More articles…hell, if an SCC asks, I gotta do more, am I right?! Thanks again, and don’t be a stranger my man!

  • Jo6ka

    Hi coach,

    great to hear from you! The article looks like a great reality check. I remember a (very young) guy he told me that John Grimek is too small which really shocked me back then.

    By the way, really like your sense of humour 😀

    Best wishes,

    Joe

  • Vít Stefanovič

    Hey coach, great article! I have been progressing in calisthenics for 18 months no, following you book and being a low-weight (around 130 lbs), I must say I didn´t gain a single pound by doing calisthenics workout, even though I look better, am stronger and feel better than before, when going to gym. It´s all in genetics and I dont get why many ppl are obsessed with gaining weight and feel wrong when not having the size of an elephant after years of training.

    Cheers!

    • Vit, so great to hear from you my friend! Bless you for using my book, and thank you so much for commenting–I’m real glad you are looking and feeling better!

      You are so right about genetics and size. A little known fact: back in the twenties, the best gym in the world was probably Sig Klein’s gym, which housed the strongest weight-lifters and physical culturalists on the planet. The very best of these had a special society, called the “15 inch arm club”. So basically, the biggest, most muscular athletes in the world a century ago were struggling to get 15 inch arms. What does that tell you about how hard it is to gain size without steroids?

      Thanks again for reaching out, Vit. It was great to hear from ya–please stick around, there’s more to come buddy!

  • Alex Haines

    Hey coach great to see another article from you first let me start out by saying steroids are for the week if you wanna be big or strong put the damn time in and do the work that needs to be done it’s that simple STOP BEING LAZY…now I have read cc1 cc2 and also c-mass.. I recently have been reading Danny’s and al kavadlos book great readin just finished up street workout love it. I been doing calisthenics for about 2 years now haven’t gotten to much mass outta it but I have never been stronger in my life and I love it :).. I see you tell people they should shake up there program a little bit any advice you can give me on how to do that recently I been doing full body workouts mon wed and fri and skill work tues and thurs and taking the weekend off is this a good routine or what can I do to make it better.. thanks coach

    • Alex! I agree with every damn word you have written, and would sign up to your newsletter for sure!

      Glad you are getting stronger my man–strong people are cooler AND harder to kill, so that’s always a plus. Looking to shake things up from a classic routine, eh? How about something totally sacrilegious, old pal? Forget the efficient total-body stuff and spend 3 months on a classic 3-day split, maybe with a day off thrown in somewhere.

      Day one is 3 types of pushups; a handstand, a flat, and something else. Warm up (possibly with a lever) then 5 hard sets each. Push those reps, dammit! Then finish with another five sets for a triceps exercise–close grip pushups, tiger bends, anything.

      Day two: warm up (jogging?) then 5 sets of calf raises, 5 sets of your hardest squats, 5 sets of bridges, and something for abs. Burn out with two high reps sets of half squats.

      Day three: warm up with hanging lever work, then five sets of pullups, five sets of horizontal work, and several sets of towel hangs to burn out.

      Get ready to feel trashed, and don’t forget to fuel that machine. And sleep!! I promise you will grow, AND be glad to get back to your current routine! Thanks for the awesome question good buddy, and keep me posted on your progress!

      • Ashish Shukla

        Hi Coach,
        Is it good or actually favorable for mass gain, those 5 sets? I got the idea from the book that 2 sets are enough although I might be considerably wrong…..

        • Ashish–as ever, you are on the ball!

          Two sets–in my humble opinion–is optimal for mass. However, I sometimes jack up my sets to improve endurance, recovery time, and to set up factors (circulation, cardio, waste metabolism, willpower) that will help growth when I return to my two set workouts. Also, it’s about VARIETY. You cannot do a routine–even the best one in the world–100% of the time. Remember, I’m suggesting something different for ya here.

          Hope that makes sense, bro?

      • Alex Haines

        Thanks coach I really appreciate the routine one question though you say do 5 sets how many reps on each set do you recommend..

  • Jay

    We all love to hear coach’s wisdom! Your words always resonate with that truth spot we all have my friend! Growing up in a world sugar coated with ‘Hollywood muscle’ has done none of us true athletes any favors. We need people like you and the kavadlo Bro’s to inspire us to be the best we can be without the never ending drug spiral that will be the end of the modern fitness world. What people fail to realize about the drug game is that, we all have a genetic limit as regard to adding muscle, once were past that (through drugs) no amount of training and food is going to keep this new bulk on our frames when the drugs cease so what next?..We’d have to do what the wrestlers and top pro’s of today do and NEVER come off the stuff!! Yeh, that’s right, that genetic limit passed a long time ago and it’s just unthinkable to go back their now, not now we have all this jacked up social media followin muscle… We become addicted to the phony. Or we can just enjoy our training and be what Mother Nature intended without getting caught up in modern societies madness for ‘more’ .. God bless you coach 👊

    • Jay, first up, bless you for reaching out and making a comment–I appreciate that sh*t more than you know, my friend. Seriously.

      Secondly, I am grateful as hell that you raised such important issues about the drugs. If I had another five pages of space, I woulda talked about exactly what you are mentioning, the negative stuff about the steroids. You are right, of course–since our size is mostly determined by our hormonal profile, once you come off the drugs, the size goes too. In fact, you lose MORE size after the drugs, because your own testosterone is in the head. That–as you say–is why the users have to stay on for life.

      Big respect for raising this important point for the people. Even a few years ago, too many people believed you could keep the gains after coming off juice. It does my heart good to know that you young athletes are getting increasingly well-educated about this stuff and making the right choices.

      Love it. Keep doing those pushups, Jay!!

      • Jay

        Thanks coach!!! And you keep inspiring us! We need our straight-talking honest coach to give us the truth so that we can be true to ourselves ! Our beloved world of strength, sweat and hard work needs trainers like you, friend! Please keep us all posted with your timeless training wisdom , it’s always massively admired. 👊💪

        • Respect goes right back atcha big guy. Don’t be a stranger!

  • Ben

    Awesome article, if I ever even came close to Clancy ross I’d be a happy (buff) guy (currently at 5FT 7: and 80KG’s, maybe 15% bodyfat). I have a question about cadence and training, I do all of my exercises very slow around 3-4 seconds up, 1-2 at the top and 3-4 seconds down, do you think this is too slow? My reps at most are 2 sets of 10 for 8 big compound moves 3 times a week. Also think we can expect another article?

    • Ben

      Not sure if you’ll see this side note coach (This is the question I meant to ask) what do you think of combining you 2 hard sets method with the joe hartigen method? For example I do the hartigen method for my heaviest presses and pulls then do a easier version for 2 sets so it looks like this, one arm push ups 5,4,3,2,1 reps, close push ups 10,8 reps. I use the standard 2 sets for squats, leg raises bridges etc. Really after that oldschool john grimeck body. (also please give us a picture! crop the head out or anything coach we just want to see the type of build years of experience and training gives)

      • Ben, I don’t miss anything written by my bodyweight brothers, you should know that!

        As for your method–I don’t like it. I LOVE it.

        I would stick to 5,4,3,2,1 for the heavy exercise, then switch to 2 sets (10, 8) for a slightly different variation. You cannot fail.

        (When you make huge gains from this, and write a book about it, mention Joe, willya?)

        • Ben

          I’ve been making steady progress so far following the advice you’ve given, most of my muscle has come from the standard exercises like push ups and pull ups so I can’t wait to see what results i’ll get when I begin the slightly harder stuff! I’m not much of a writer (always prefer to practice and not preach since guy’s like you have already got a handle on that) but I’ll always tell people to get their asses out of the gym and start training the hartigen way, oldschool for the win!

          • Keep it old school! (I LOVE this guy!!)

    • Ben! Hey my man, great to hear from you! And hey, physique wise, you aint doin too bad kid–keep up the superb work.

      I LOVE questions about cadence. Love. It’s one of the real forgotten keys to perfect training.

      Hm. Is your cadence too slow? First up–you can train at any speed you want, so there is no universal “too slow”. However, I think you should spend the bulk of your training time moving slightly faster. The trouble with moving as slow as you are is–it’s f***ing hard. It will lead to burnout. The goal of slow-ish movements is not to hit any magic numbers, but really just to remove momentum from the game. You can still remove momentum and go a little faster. I’d even go as far as to say that on the last 2-3 reps you can go faster still, while being as strict as possible. Even a little body English is okay on the last couple reps.

      Remember too, that I said “the bulk” of your time–up to 75%–should be spent at a nice, low-to-zero momentum speed. Use the rest of the time to explore and experiment, for variety and athletic benefits. Go back to your movements, or even slower; experiment with isometric holds and levers (zero speed!), as well as fast and even explosive movements.

      As for another article–Ben, you twisted my arm. Only for you, brother!

      • Ben

        Can’t wait! I’ll take your advice and switch to a 2-1-2 second cadence, and no need to worry about athleticism, I can bust out a front flip or backhand spring when needed.

        • You are on my side for the next zombie apocalypse, stud!

  • Brigadir

    Coach, what we don’t have today is the most important factor- PATIENCE
    Thanks for another great advice/suggestion

    • Brigadir, it’s awesome to hear from you–and I am grateful you mention this. Something I didn’t write about really in the article are moral qualities. Patience. The slow burn. Milking gains. Strength for life. Mobility for life. Healthy muscles into old age.

      Thank you for the wise words!! Please stick around our community my friend.

  • FattyWhale

    Ha! Perfect timing.

    Remember when I was going to write something on exercise theory, but I wasn’t able to finish because it was constantly changing?

    Well, that eventually ended up sending me in a totally different direction. But it turned out to be an even greater game-changer than what I was originally working on.

    And since I’m getting close to finalizing the presentation, I started thinking recently about how I was going to get it to you. And lo and behold, here you are. 🙂

    So if there’s a good way to contact you, I’d love to get your thoughts about it.

    Thanks again.

    • FattyWhale? God damn brother, you are looking jacked as f**k!!

      Sure, I remember! Holler at Dragon Door support. Send Dennis there an email and he will either pass it on to me or send you my email. Either way, look forward to hearing what you’ve been up to pretty soon…

      • FattyWhale

        Sounds good.

        It’ll probably be a few weeks before it’s ready — I’m hoping to be finished before the end of the year, but things seem to have a way of getting pushed back this time of year. xD

        • Just gives me something to look forward to, my man!

  • Matt Schifferle

    Coach! So great to hear your wit, wisdom and experience. So glad you’ve decided to tackle this topic as it’s been a subject of great frustration for me. The muscle building expectations these days is bent to the point of insanity.
    I’m going to totally bookmark this and share it as much as I can. Thank you so much.

    • Finally…we hear from the modern day master of calisthenics muscle himself!

      …My heir in the world of bodyweight bodybuilding!

      …The Fit Rebel!

      Honestly Matt, I’m just glad you agree with me on this, you coulda just shown a photo of yourself and disproved everything I said about building muscle. One of my readers (nameless) once emailed me and mentioned you as an example of a calisthenics athlete on juice, so it can be done.

      How you doing big guy? any new books or projects on the horizon for us?

      • Matt Schifferle

        LOL, it’s quite the compliment actually to be suspected of being on juice. Never doing of course, too many better ways to spend money.

        Just finishing up the physical edition of Fitness Independence, and working on Books 2 & 3 of the Red Delta Project. I’ll send you digital copies. I think you’re going to really like what I’m cooking up!

        • “Too many better ways to spend money.” I swear, this guy could be my kid!

          Ah man, I CANNOT WAIT to read your stuff…We’ll bump it here on the blog if you want. I know a lot of folks could really use your thinking. Many thanks again for the great input, it means a lot coming from you man.

  • Kevin J. Coolidge

    Great article and pretty close to my own observations from lifting over the years

    • You see Kevin? It’s right what I always say, great minds think alike!

      Honestly man, bless you for the input, I really appreciate it.

  • Great post coach. Just to add to this, I’ve noticed that this is a growing problem amongst Personal Trainers, which to me is a massive shame. We should be teaching our students that they can achieve anything that we can, not giving them an impossible to obtain body goal without taking “Supplements”

    • Dave! Hey, really great to hear from you again buddy. How’s your training going?

      Everything you said is goddam right on. We live in an absolutely crazy world, sadly. When kids grow up with Arnold, Stallone and Hulk Hogan as their childhood idols, you have an uphill battle readjusting that viewpoint. It can be done, but the individual really has to go through the fire first…

      • Very good thanks mate, my one arm chin-up is coming on well, can do it dead-hanging with a slight bend in my arm. The overhand version is a whole different story though, will take more time to get that one down.

        Been really busy turning my site into a calisthenics PT business this year, but will see if I can get an article or two in for you guys next year.

        • Awesome news on the progress–Jack Arnow would be proud. Keep those elbows healthy! Good luck with the business–I know how smart and capable you are, and that you will go from strength to strength.

          Now how didja know I wuz gonna harass you for an article…?!

          • Thanks Coach, your praise means a lot to me. There’s a big demand in Sydney for calisthenics, so things are going well at the moment. Haha, I miss writing for you guys, so will definitely put some time aside for it next year.

            Any news on another book in the future?

          • Sydney is lucky to have an awesome coach like you, my man!

            Another book? After the last one I swore there would be no more…but lately I’ve had so many emails asking for more information on Joe’s methods…it’s been making me think…

            …Watch this space, bud…

  • Aleks Salkin

    Awesome article, Coach. I love and cannot get enough of your writings, especially given your love of the old school. In my need for a “fix” I’ve been reading through your previous writings again recently and it’s really been getting the gears turning for some big changes in my own training over the next few months. Thanks for this article, and hope to see more as time goes on.

    • Hey, it’s my old pal the Hebrew Hammer!! How are things out in Israel? What changes are you making??

      You can’t leave me hanging like that bro, you got me hoping you’re switching over to bodyweight only!

      Always awesome to hear from the #1 strength trainer in Jerusalem.

      • Aleks Salkin

        You know it, man! Things are going a-okay out here. As far as changes I’m making (apart from moving to a different country, which is a whole different story) I’m coming to the realization that I’ve gotten too big for my britches and am in need of a return to the bare-bones basics as well as higher reps (I’m training to recertify at a level 2 kettlebell cert and my calisthenics skills have slide back tremendously). So yes, when I’m done with that cert I’ll be largely switching over to bodyweight only for some time; thinking I might track the progress and do a before and after and go into some details on my program and everything as well. I’ll keep you posted, of course 🙂

        Glad to hear from you every now and again here on the blog! There is some great writing appearing here on a weekly basis, but hearing from the man himself every once in a while is always a nice twist.

        Looking forward to future articles and correspondences!

        • Hey, it’s all happening for you my friend! Plenty of higher reps on the basics? How the hell can ya fail, dude?!

          Please keep me posted and I wish you all the best with the changes. Be safe and keep kicking ass, bro.

  • Sam

    Hi Coach!

    Great blog post, as always coming from you Paul. I apologize in advance for that I’ll propably ramble a bit (more than you) here and this will steer away from your post´s subject. But anyway, I would love to hear your opinion to my situation.

    I hurt my shoulder couple of months ago and I got to the the MRI scan done and a torn labrum was found. Shoulder is a bit loose at the moment. Abduction and flexion are a bit problematic when the humerus goes over the level of the ear. Also, circumduction or lateral rotation done at that level are very difficult.

    Muscle atrophy and all that negative shit seem to be inevitable. From my previous experience, I am pretty sure that a surgery is required to fix the situation, same seems to be the view of the orthopaedist and the physiotherapist. It will very likely take months before I get to the surgery. I am still able to do a lot of stuff, and I’m trying to take this in a positive way and I’m trying to strengthen the shoulder as much as possible and as safely as possible.

    I know you ain’t a doctor, and regardless of my situation, I would still like to know what would be your recipe in general to strengthen a loose shoulder with calisthenics? At the moment I’m doing the big six as well as I can (uneven puhsups with a basketball and horizontal rows especially for the shoulder). I’m also doing twists and the rest of the trifecta, windmills and reaching towards the ceiling. Are there any more stuff you would add or some steps that would be extra beneficial for this kind of situation?

    • Okay Sam, you are smart enough to say everything I was gonna start with (I’m no doc!!) so let’s cut to the chase!!

      1. Don’t lose motivation–injuries are part of the game. For all of us. You will have good days and bad days. Roll with it. You’re doing better than many who are still kickin ass!

      2. Not only will calisthenics help, they are ESSENTIAL long-term, particularly with shoulders! Those who are injured and use them less, lose them.

      3. No pain during training. Do not train through injury pain. This is true for everything, including the Trifecta. Find an arsenal of stuff you can do, don’t hurt yourself with stuff you can’t do (yet). Don’t be ashamed to drop stuff or change the system for now!

      3a. A little injury site stiffness the next day is a different animal, and to be expected.

      4. Think about adding more pulling exercises if you can do them without pain–at least one horizontal and vertical.

      5. Focus on reps for a while. Volume, rather than intensity. A light session is better than no session. Strength progress is secondary, if at all.

      6. Rotational work, when warm and loose. Ceiling reaches. Wall dogs. (You seem to have this down!)

      7. Rest. This is the big paradox of recovery. Volume yes, but some days off. Completely!

      8. Sleep position. This is absolutely friggin essential. LEARN TO SLEEP ON YOUR BACK FOR A WHILE. Nothing’s prolongs shoulder pain more than sleeping on that arm, but most folks don’t even think about it.

      9. Don’t “dwell”. Yes, do the rehab work but don’t think about the injury all day every day. Focus on other stuff; legs, mobility, nutrition, knowledge, etc.

      10. Time. Shoulder pain WILL get better with these tips but it can take up to a year. Just don’t quit!!

      I hope this helps bro–sounds like you got it covered anyhow. Keep me posted and I’m here to help!

  • Antonluigi Federico

    Hi Coach Wade,

    thanks for this new post!
    I enjoyed its content and style as I did with CC1, CC2 and C-Mass.

    I engaged in the trip of calisthenics 19 months ago, just after reading your works and I’m not able to stop.
    It’s being a daily pleasure to walk this journey and see the results on my health, body, mind and self-confidence.
    I just wanted to thank you for sharing your (hard earned) knowledge in this field and for such a lifelong gift.

    • Antonluigi! I want to thank you so much for your kind feedback…it seriously made my day to know you have joined the Bodyweight Brotherhood!

      Bless you for reaching out, posts like yours are what keep me going. Please keep me posted on your progress buddy!

  • Rick

    Today’s problem is almost everyone is looking for a quick solution, and willing to sacrifice their health for it. Even people wanting to lose weight are looking for a magic pill. Weight loss or muscle gain:- change your lifestyle, enjoy the journey, results will follow.☺

    • Rick, something is telling me you are gonna do okay in this world…

      God bless you for the awesome comment and the words of wisdom, which I deeply hope EVERYONE who reads it will follow!!

      Please stick around, we need guys like you in the community. I hope to speak to you again!

  • Igor Stroganov

    So prior to my callistenics study I was like 142 pounds dry mass (6’0 – 185 cm height), got to 163 in one year and a half, this fall lost 3 p due to 2 month flu and etc. It seems that I can get like to 76-78 kilos (167-171 p) and that’d be my effective (functional) working mass, am I right?

    • Igor–you got it, stud!

      But one proviso. I can’t see your genetics, but 21 pounds in a year is a helluva gain, even for a tall dude. So who knows? I think you can get to at least that, but you may be a genetic outlier who can gain even more. The only way to know is to train like a mother for the next five years. So do it.

      You got this my man–please keep me posted on all that prime beef you gain, stud!

      • Igor Stroganov

        So to make this story more precise. Since teenager, I was always like 142 p, 6.0 height and that got me some problems with my back and well, I looked like a geek, thin and tall. I tried a lot of thinks like yoga, different types of gymnastics to cure my back, but with no sound effect. And no muscle growth. I even started working with barbells, but again, no sound result. Then my friend gave me the CC1 book, saying “try this, it might be interesting for you” and I got caught. I started to do the whole program as it is described from the beginning and well, it got me like 9,5-10 kilos (21 lb) in roughly 1,5 years. I think I could do more, but at that time I suffered from nose issues, like 2-3 month of cold and sinus trouble and so on. So I reached 74-75 kilos (~164 lb) and then my progress stopped. Well, the progress in reps remained, though slowed a bit, buy my weight didn’t increase. And for a 1,5 years it all stalled. Even reps reached plateau. For example, last year I did 12-14 good head bridges and could do more. Though I never went for clear strength approach, I still try to gain some good mass and then go for strength. Also there’s an issue of three small kids, which seriously limits available time and sleep. And work, of course :/.
        Though all in all, I managed to cure my back, I feel good and energetic and control of body and speed of reaction are very good, especially compared to previous years. And I’m 35 years old right now.
        This summer I found a very interesting article about natural bodybuilding. The guy deals mostly with barbells and free weights, but I think the methodology is the same, you just use different type of exercises. So he digs deep into current medical research (mostly from USA and Europe) and he is a bodybuilder himself. And what he says is that a lot of programs bodybuilders use work nicely for juiced guys, but they do not work for natural bodybuilding. So that you have to use less split, give rest between sets, start you training session from the biggest muscle (to gain better hormone results) and don’t overtrain. And try to keep no more then 72 hours between same muscle group session. At that time I used a veterano approach which I liked (a muscle group per day, 1-2 days rest), but after reading this article I compressed my routine to:
        1st day: bridges, squats, handstand pushups (I do half).
        2nd day: L-raise (I do around 18-20 normal L-raise, or 10 V-raise), pull-ups, pushups (I do horisontal dips when I can, I really love this drill).
        3rd day: rest (maybe +1 day if lack of sleep or else).
        I did this for around a month and got increase in reps and this routine was very rewarding for me. But well, then my kids brought home something nasty and I got 2 month out of regime.
        Now I’m slowly restoring my form and getting to that routine.

        So five years ahead? Ok, a good goal and good time to do that 🙂

        • Igor, thank you so much for sharing this story–it kind of puts things in perspective hearing about the weight gain, and that your back is cured. Hey, if Bruce Lee could cure his back with calisthenics, so can others!

          More important, what I love about your story is that you never quit–you KEEP looking for changes, new information, new approaches. This is how winning is done.

          And yep–small kids can really give you endless colds, stress, money worries and lack of sleep. But you already know that life is just not worth living without them–even if you were a millionaire who sleeps all night and never gets colds! Please promise me you will teach them all the cool calisthenics tricks and methods you have mastered? Then they will perhaps teach your grandchildren one day!

          Hope to speak again my friend.

  • Leo

    Dear Coach Wade,

    I’m fascinated by your mentor Joe Hartigen,

    I wonder if he was very jacked, because he probably trained more for strength, right?

    – You mentioned somewhere he focused on pullups, finger pullups, grip work, leg raises, levers on the bar and on (fingertip) push ups, headstand, HS, and one leg squats.
    These are GREAT exercises, but why didn’t he do much explosive work, bridges, hspu, muscle ups, neck and calf work or flags? Because these are exercises you advocate.
    Did he do front or back levers? What about dragon flags?

    I have a lot more questions for you. If you don’t mind I contact dragon door for your email.

    P. S. During my wrist and elbow injury I experimented with gymnasticbodies by Christopher Sommer only to come back a year later to convict conditioning and discover that it is superior for my purposes. I wanted to achieve a planche and iron cross etc., but the passive stretching and brachialis strains associated with straight arm strength put me off this approach.
    I wonder if you or others did straight arm, locked out, hollow body planches in prison?

    Greeting from Germany,
    your student
    Leo

    • Ah, Leo…you get the Gold Star for questions this week my man. I love ’em! Lemme see if I can do em justice. I’ll sure try.

      First off, thanks so much for your interest in Joe. I get a HUGE amount of emails about Joe’s ideas and it would’ve made him smile.

      I would say Joe was “solid” rather than “jacked”. He was pretty short. He didn’t look like a fitness model, that’s for sure! But his tendons, particularly in his arms, were f***in massive when he flexed.

      Now, many of the old time calisthenics guys were proud of their slow movements. To them, momentum was something a gymnast did. Calisthenics was harder; you did it slow. Obviously, Joe and I differ on our philosophies.

      I saw Joe perform various levers for fun. But he did not really believe in “straight arm strength”. This seems to be a buzzword in calisthenics now, but Joe preferred exercises where you bend and flex the limbs. He thought straight arm strength (he didn’t call it that) was also a gymnastics thing, and an artificial form of strength. How often in real life do you need to be strong with straight arms? You don’t. That was his argument, anyway.

      Anyhow bro, I hope that helps. You got any more questions by all means contact Dragon Door support and they’ll pass on your email so we can chat personally. Look forward to it!

      • Ben

        Man I wish I could have met Joe, he basically embodied the oldschool way from what you’ve told us. I bet you could write a whole book on his methods (hint hint!)

  • Jo6ka

    On the other hand, as a guy interested in experimental psychology, I have an obligation to point out that people in a good mood are usually bad in using thorough analytic thinking strategies. Which means that when you set up the good mood from the start, you are practically blocking our ability to think critically about the content of the article (And that is quite a sly way to persuade people – I like it 😀 )

    Also, I wanted to thank you for the motivation you provided in this article – did not know about Clarence Ross before and that huge pushing power of his – guess some one-arm handstand pushups would not be a challenge for him, so they may be as well absolutely possible for us

    Last but not least I forgot to mention my thanks for you mentioning the calisthenics legs – love building legs via calisthenics (one of my biggest achievements in the last month was that I outgrew my jeans – even though it may be because I am alway bigger when winter is coming)

    Really looking forward to your next article – there are some topics on which I would like to know your opinion (e.g. your take on high frequency).

    so please, let us hear from you again soon,

    persist with your jokes

    and have an awesome day, coach!

    • Dude, I did NOT know that about mood…you have taught me something important here, and I am grateful. Thank you!

      I’ll try to give my thoughts on high frequency at some point, because that seems to be a cutting-edge topic these days. Generally I see exercises like women…it doesn’t matter how beautiful they are, if you do them ever day you’ll stop performing pretty soon. (Also like women, the best ones don’t agree with me for long!)

      You have an awesome day too my friend, it was a pleasure speaking with ya!

  • I have this chick who lives by the local docks I go to when I need “deep release”. (Email me for his/her number.)

    • Swiss_Olympic

      Coach, I respect you a ton, but your phrasing has my sides hurting from laughter.

      • Glad to be of help old pal (and I have emailed you the number.)

  • Ben

    My bad, one last question if I could coach (always jumbled up in the brain when you get the chance to ask questions to Paul Wade!) Since I’ve been doing bodybuilding as a hobby for a few years now I’ve gotten to single leg squats, hanging leg raises and stand to stand bridges for 2 sets of 10 reps and my legs, mid section and spine are already pretty thick and developed. What would be your advice on training for the Clancy ross look? should I level off the exercises I said and focus on my upper body now and just maintain my other exercises? and what exercises would you suggest to get a upper body like Clancy? much respect and thanks for giving me the know how to get as far as I have.

  • Ben

    I noticed he had pretty jacked arms (read very jacked) and truthfully this is probably my biggest flaw in terms of looks, I considered following my training with a isolation move to work on this most likely bodyweight tricep extensions, a underhand pull up progression and ring flies like you said, but when it comes to this do you think really hitting them hard with 6-10 ball busting reps or more reps with a easier progression?

    • Ben, another superb question. For my money, you should already be doing the basic, compound, big “builders” for arms–the pullups and pushups, handstand pushups and maybe horizontal pulls–progressively and for moderate reps.

      For this reason I would recommend that if you are gonna follow with more isolated work, go a LITTLE lighter and aim for a bit more control, strictness and feel.

      As for reps, why not combine high and low reps? Try doing 5 reps for close to failure on an arm exercise, then pause for ten breaths; then do 4 reps and pause; then 3 reps, then pause and 2. This makes for a brutal 14 rep “set”, but one that has forced you to work hard AND use high reps, plus high intensity. This works well for small bodyparts like arms which can take a pounding and recover.

      Don’t blame me when you stretch that tape, son!

      • Ben

        Awesome advice! I also took your advice and sped up a little, about 2 seconds up, one at the top and 2 down. Feels weird since I’m used to slower reps but your advice has never steered me wrong before. Cant wait to train today and use a few paused rest reps! One last question then i’ll leave you be haha. ‘with these slightly faster reps I have no doubt my numbers will go up faster, my usual progression standard is 2 sets of 10 (not including assisted reps or forced reps etc) and I suppose i’ll reach them faster, when this happens should I make small progressions or bigger progression? like taking standard under pull ups straight to close grip or maybe just bringing them 2 inches closer? same for dips, once I get to 2 sets of 10 straight bar dips not really anywhere else to go with that move so I feel like i’ll run out of progressions options by making big leaps. (sorry for the ramble!)

        • Ben–this might sound like sucky advice my dude but it’s the best I can give ya. THE REP RANGE SHOULD DETERMINE THE SIZE OF THE PROGRESSION.

          For example–if you are looking at working with 8-15 reps in your workouts, and bringing your hands in 5 inches takes your reps to 6, it was too big a step. If you bring your hands in 1 inch and find you are doing the same, strict reps you did before, it was too small. Make sense?

          One proviso–if in doubt, ALWAYS err on the side of a smaller progression rather than a large one. Milk those gains. Be slow. If a smaller progression allows you to tighten up your form–great!

          Hope that helps my man!

          One more thing that might interest ya–in his awesome book Overcoming Gravity, Steve gives progressions for one-arm dips! The take home: you will never run out of progressions. new options just open up. The road of strength goes ever on.

          • Ben

            I really appreciate all of your advice coach, you might not realise how big of a positive impact of you’ve had on the training community. It’s not a understatement to say you’ve fully changed my life and I know dam well thousands of others will say the same. The fact you take the time to reply to my ramblings means more than you know.

          • Ben–the honor is mine, my friend. The idea that the next generation of athletes like you are out there actively using the old school techniques I picked up during the bad times in my life is incredibly moving to me. Thank you for that.

            Keep kicking ass and I know we will speak again!!

  • Luka

    Hi! I have just read this article and decided to sign up and follow you, its great!
    Now I have just one question, could you please tell me what would be the most effective way to build up chest, how to train them, with what intensity, go heavy, light? or combine both? i have relatively strong chest when I flex them, but they could be better, please, I would appreciate your advice!

    • Luka! Hey, do I know you? You live on the second floor, right?!

      Seriously: it is more than a pleasure, it is an HONOR to have you on board! As for training that chest–I recommend most of your training is spent doing two hard sets of 8-20 reps on most movements. However, for the BEST results, sometimes it’s best to use different rep ranges. My best advice on gaining muscle fast (and this applies to all body parts) was given here:

      http://pccblog.dragondoor.com/diesel-20-add-twenty-pounds-of-muscle-in-one-year-bodyweight-only/

      You’ll see I go into rep ranges more thoroughly, so I hope that answers your question. If not, shoot me another.

      Welcome to the party, bud–it’s awesome to have you here. Stick around!

      • Luka

        Thank you very much!

        • Pleasure was mine bro! Keep me posted on the growth of those massive pecs!!

  • Ben

    Me again with a controversial topic haha (I’ll have to start paying for this written gold!) Clancy was pretty slim, can you build that type of muscle while staying lean like that? I’d like to slim down a tad to maybe 12-13% BF but don’t want to slow down my muscle development. Think that’s possible coach?

    • Hell yes. I’m not a fan of bulking and cutting–this was really designed for gearheads. Natural athletes end up losing the muscle with the fat on a cut. I don’t buy the supplement company bulls**t about needed to be completely swamped with protein and calories all day every day in order to grow. Go hungry sometimes–preferably before bed–and you will liberate bodyfat. You will not lose muscle if you eat a balanced diet with adequate calories each day–even if you go hungry. Do it slow while continuing to get stronger and you WILL be improving your physique. Look at Danny Kavadlo; amazing physique, amazing performance. Does he ever “bulk”? You ever seen him tubby? Me neither.

      Hope this makes sense my man!

  • Matthew

    Thanks Coach great article, the strength World needs your writings the fitness industry has gone insane, some of the people on you tube are inhuman. Seriously messing up young people’s self image. I read a great sci Fi book by David Wrong (pen name)Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, where people started getting cyborg implants to make themselve stronger , bigger and Superhero status. Is that what is next,? Mad World. The photos of the Greek sculptures in your first book, is what I aspire too! Don’t stop writing we need you!! Old school strength training. Hell yea!!!!

  • Jann DS

    Hey Coach would just like to say love your books motivated me to quit the gym lol. I can’t read any other fitness book without comparing it to yours and they pretty much aren’t as good. I just got an injury question I’m not sure if it’s piriformis or sciatica. I can do pistol squats fine on my left but on the right i can’t get out of the bottom. Also tingling and little pain. It’s been like this for almost 2 months i just wanna get my legs back. I’ve been doing your trifecta holds 2-3 times a day and feels really good. Will this be enough to heal? Sorry for the long write up. Hope all is well for ya.

    • Jann! My man, it is an honor to have you as an example of my methods–thank you for your feedback and your great question!

      And it IS a great question–and a common question. I always say this: I’m not doctor. But since you asked I’ll give you my honest opinion. Yep–it sounds neurological. The major (sciatic) nerve travel through tight tissues in the hips and can often become stressed on compressed. This is the cause of sciatica (piriformis syndrome is actually a type of sciatica).

      Sciatic pain is often caused by weak glutes. Because the glutes are weak, the piriformis takes on some of their load, gets shortened, and presses on the sciatic nerve. So rather than the Trifecta, you should focus on glute training; bridges, partial squats, hyperxtensions, etc. Remain mobile–lots of hip rotation movements, not just up and down–keep training, and avoid anything which seems to make it worse (switch to different exercises). Sitting extensively often hurts the healing, so break it up with bridges and other glute and leg work.

      If these tips don’t help, I would look into going to an osteopath if you can. Disc issues in the back can also be a cause of this type of “hip” and rear leg nerve pinching, and these issues can usually be fixed.

      Finally–keep the faith. Sciatic pain is often prolonged, but self limiting. Anything with nerve healing takes time but it WILL happen I’ve known guys with huge rear leg/hip pain over YEARS, which eventually cleared up 100%.

      Let me know how you get on, Jann! You got this!

      • Jann DS

        Sorry for the late reply. Thanks allot I’m gonna give those a try. I’ll let ya know of my progress. I will keep the faith, it means allot coming from you thanks for the reply. Time to do my pushups…

        • Oh yes, this dude has f***ing got it!!

  • Pierrick

    I Paul, How are you ?
    good article, like always, but I thinks than if a persons take drugs for gains enhancing, it’s her choice. Sure , I’m not for performance drugs, natural body are always better in a long way, beside, natural gains are more rewarding because you know you have to work hard to have it, and the way to success is very enriching, we learns a thousand times better to know oneself
    I have some questions for you “coach” but there are no direct links with to topic of your article.

    8 months ago, I had a muscle tear at the right pectoral muscle plus an elongation of my right biceps, today I can re-do pushups, pullups, HSPU and dips, but I still have stiffness in my pecs and shoulder. Do you think that a lot of passive stretching can be the solution of my problem ?(I can do the trifecta easily without problem)

    today, I’m very interested to gain strenght specially in my pull mouvements, I want the one arm pullups ! but I have difficulty to structure a program. can you give my some tips, like training frequence, how many times should train by week ? How to choose my exercices ?

    gain huge pecs is one of my objectif too,( I know it’s conflicting with gain strenght ), when I do dips, I feel more my triceps work, have you some tips to place the charge more on the pecs ?

    Thanks for your job Paul it’s awesome !
    Pierrick, from France

    • Pierrick!! my Gallic friend, it is so very awesome of you to drop by–thanks so much! It’s really brilliant to speak to you.

      You got questions for me, eh? well, I live for ’em! Bring ’em on.

      Sorry to hear about your muscle tear–I bet you were trying to drag yourself away from a gang of excited women, eh? Yep, I know what that’s like bro. Congrats on the recovery, too–great work! The answer is that yes: passive stretching will help. Bodyweight training will help. Mobility from all angles will help. Consistency will help. And over the months and years, as your tissues reconfigure, the “stiffness” will improve. However–it’s scar tissue that is causing this stiffness, because scar tissue is MEANT to be tougher than the tissues it replaced. Although you can train scar tissue to become more flexible, in reality there may always be a little more stiffness in that side.

      …So what? You are able to train hard and improve. All warriors have scars. You are a warrior!

      Regarding pecs: Vince Gironda had a super-technique for making dips a pec exercise. He did his dips with his fingers pointing at each other. That sounds strange, so here’s a picture: http://www.ironguru.com/images/stories/32085332.jpg

      Be warned–this works, but only try this if those shoulders can take it!

      As for the one-arm pullups–let me know what level you are currently at and I can give you some special tips maybe!

      • Pierrick

        Yes, you are right, and the only thing that I collected it’s a injury ! f*****g ego! XD
        I will include more passive stretch in my routine.
        Beautifull photo ! I go to test this dips variations today, they look very interresting!
        About my pull mouvements, today the most demanding I can do, it’s hold the one arm pullups at the top position during maybe 7 to 12 seconds.I have my mucle-ups, with wide grip and close grip, and I can do the one arm hanging for 3 set of 20 to 25 seconds.

        Thanks for your answers and your support “Coach” !

        • You got this, dude. By the sound of your training and the look of ya, you are a beast!! Please don’t quit!

          • Pierrick

            Thank you for your advice “coach” I will try this routine for a few months and I will keep you informed of my progress.
            I will pass for an ignorant, but what is “turning in” to the bar? (Sorry if my English is poor)
            Thank you for your kind words, do not worry I will not quit ! 😉

          • Hm. This is kind of hard to explain. Your biceps don’t just bend your arm–they also SUPINATE your forearm. This means that when you bend your arm, your palm wants to turn TOWARDS your body.

            This means that as you perform a one arm chin, you are stronger if you supinate; which in terms of a chin means your trunk rotates slightly towards the bar (your palm can’t move because it’s holding the bar, so the body moves instead). This movement is more noticeable when you reach the top.

            I can’t find many good vids that show it real clearly, but check out this athlete’s great chin up and watch how his torso rotates into the bar near the top:

            Make sense?

          • Pierrick

            yes, I see what it’s now, Thanks to this video I have understand what is “turning in”
            very strong athlete, with full control on his one arm chin up
            Thanks you for all “coach”, Keep making good articles, we have lot of chance to have people like you, who share their knowledge To allow young people to become more strong and also better.

            Pierrick, from France

          • You’re welcome and please keep spreading the word in glorious France, good buddy!

  • Mattias Östergren

    Hey Coach!

    I’m on my fifth year doing calisthenics pretty much as described in your writing. I also enjoy Kavadlo teachings such as Street Workout and Raising the bar. I find they have provided me a great number of variations to exercises super-useful when finding that just-a-little harder (or easier) progressions. You can’t have to few progressions in your arsenal!

    I am tall and started off thin (and not so young – and that didn’t improve – I’m now older). But the training has made me very very fit compared to my friends, relatives, colleagues etc. irrespective of their age. I can do stuff they can hardly believe is possible like (ok a little twitchy) one-arm pushup, one-leg squat, one-arm hang, stand-to-stand bridges, one-arm bridges, leg raises, dragon flags, levers etc. Having this capability also appeals to my sense of accomplishent and athleticism. It is not all about muscle.

    But a little muscle is nice too. And I have gained roughly 10 kilograms. I never cared that much so I don’t have a habit of weighing myself. I don’t have a scale. Anyway I am pleased with the results.

    Now my ‘problem’ is progress in pullups and hand stand pushups is slow compared to the other exercises. Adding a single solid rep can take months. It’s very common I have to regress to slightly easier variations – particularly for HSPU. I’ve also noticed I don’t seem to be able to pack on strength/muscle on my upper back very quickly. I figure this is why progress is slow. Any advice (other than the obvious don’t do drugs and keep on grinding)?

    • Mattias! So you have reached a level where you blow away your friends, and have added 20 odd pounds onto that frame as a result too? Now THAT is what I call a success story–thanks so much for sharing it with us. You kick ass, dude.

      When you get to your level, sometimes it’s best not to “grind”, actually. Look at nature–progress is never even. When water freezes, it doesn’t just slowly get colder; it goes through sudden weird mathematic jumps, phase changes, where it changes radically and suddenly.

      Progress can be like this past a certain level. We can do better with brief, intense periods of specialization, 2-3 times per year, than with slow grinds.

      The method I advise is consolidation training. This often works best when you pick one movement family and take the peddle off the rest of the body, training everything else over 2-4 moderate exercises in one session per week. Pick an exercise–say HSPUs with a closer (if not totally together) grip–that you can barely do for even one rep. Then warm up, and do 5 singles over a session, with long breaks. Do this every other day for a week. The next week do 10 singles. The next week, attempt some doubles. If you burn out, take 3 days off and start again. This is the kind of training that can really help you break through plateaus.

      Another solution is to just spend 3 weeks doing something different. That can, surprisingly, reinvigorate old, stale exercises. What kind of “different”? This should give you some ideas: http://pccblog.dragondoor.com/calisthenics-2016-20-exercise-tactics-and-16-programming-approaches-to-keep-the-dream-alive-part-one/

      As for muscle on the upper back–that’s fairly easy to fix. My best muscle building advice is here for ya: http://pccblog.dragondoor.com/diesel-20-add-twenty-pounds-of-muscle-in-one-year-bodyweight-only/

      The PRINCIPLES apply well to all bodyparts. I hope this helps, stud!

      • Mattias Östergren

        Thannks! Very helpful!
        I am ready to shake things up a bit with consolidated training.

        • So welcome. Keep me posted on your ass kicking, my man! You got this!

  • Al Becker

    Really good article. And the photos make the main points so strongly.
    Guys like Clancy Ross looked great; strong and healthy in a normal way.
    The Mr. Olympias today look like freaks, cartoons, parodies (tragically)
    of what a strong, healthy man should look like.

    • Al! Bless you for reaching out and making this comment–these mean more to me than most people realize: yours in particular. I think because it gives me a little hope! Please stick around our community, I’d love to hear from you again my friend.

      • Al Becker

        Thanks for your kind words, Paul.

        I will be following your posts.

        Al

        • Thanks my man. So many cool athletes called “Al” around here…

  • Anonymous

    Hello Paul,

    I must share with you whether we meet in person or not, the honor is always going to be mine and I cannot thank you enough for creating something very noble and powerful in this world. since I was very young I’ve been at the receiving end of other males aggression and belligerence, I’ve done things I regret, but I’ve never really hurt others and since I’ve practiced convict conditioning I’ve experienced real peace in my life. I feel capable, grounded, safe, and strong, and so far I can really sense other men, whether their bullies, angry construction dudes, groups of male party animals on the public bus, big guys on roids, and other strong athletes can also sense it’s a bad idea to start or say something. I feel free and can go on about life.

    I also wanted to ask you that I noticed on forums some fellas say they bridge without resting between reps, especially on the first two steps, because it’s needed for angled bridges and more advanced steps, is this necessary?, the no rest method gives a good thrashing to the triceps, or should we save that energy for the push-up series?. My last question finally is that if I can do the horizontal pull-ups progression standard at hip height instead of sternum height, will that make a critical difference for the one arm pullup?

    Thank you again Paul
    Lights out!, stay frosty

    • Anonymous–if that IS your real name–I have to hand it to you, bro. I’ve had so many terrific messages on here that have lifted me up, but yours really made my whole damn week. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the kind words. They mean a lot to me. A LOT.

      So let me see if I can help you out here with those awesome questions, my friend. Breaks between reps on bridges? Sure, if you need a breath or two, go for it! If you don’t, don’t. Remember, the difficulty for will vary. Straight bridges may be easy for a 160 pound martial artist, and like hell for a 300 pound stiff-as-a-board couch potato. Either is fine, as long as you are improving.

      If you can do the horizontal pull standard at hip height, you are a badass. It won’t be “critical” for getting a one-arm pullup–you’ll need other exercises for that–but it sure as hell won’t hurt! I know guys in jail who did the exercise of a hip-height table and they were strong as mother***ers!

      Hope that helps? If not, shoot me another question–I’m here all week. (Twice on Saturdays.)

      Once again, a big thank you for sharing your story of growth. Keep feeling free and kicking ass, my friend. Stay frosty too, and please don’t be a stranger!

      • Anonymous

        I commend you Paul, no doubt my sentiment is shared amongst many here and abroad. Forgive me for the unknown identity, It’s up for unrelated reasons, nothing to do with you, hope you understand, I’ll drop by every now and then. You have my deepest gratitude for your wisdom and knowledge, perhaps I’ll ask for more advice before your articles become overwhelmed with many comments as many fans who are just as excited as I am will want to speak with you as well.

        I’m 175 lbs, I’m aiming to hit a solid 200-210 by a year or less. I’m eating clean half of the time, and rest 8 hours. No meat, but plenty of clarified butter, dairy products, organic pastries, and pasta. I asked about straight bridges no rest and horizontal rows at hip height because if I know they can help me fend off extremely powerful men and crush shelled fruits with my hand, and they won’t take necessary energy from other body weight steps, I’ll do it. It only takes me 3-4 days to recover from HRows progression standard, So I’m unsure if I should move on, though I’ll make a decision now as there is no time left to waste anymore.

        Can I still train for push-ups and squats in the hundreds or thousands for stamina and still train for pure strength or will 3 digit reps diminish strength, I think you spoke about it before on CC.
        I tend to try and reassure myself constantly by milking some of the earliest steps, but I don’t feel they’re doing anything significant anymore, my body feels soft even after the progressions, and I sense I’ve placed an unrealistic expectation upon them to get me strong.
        Once again, I really appreciate the time you have taken to willingly help Paul, and again, forgive me on my part to hide or if you feel a sense of urgency from me. The world is very weird and I’ve positively landed in the thick of this weirdness. I pray you intend to live a long life and take care of yourself my friend, grant me that, and I’ll thank you in person, now that’s one sentiment I’m sure everyone agrees with lol

        Lights out!

        • My man! You sound like a dude with a serious mission on his hands so let me be as focussed as I can with these answers–GREAT questions by the way:

          -Think of bridges for mobility, injury prevention, and general conditioning. They help, but for pure badassery we are looking at a diet of pushes, pulls and squats as your bread and butter. Focus on them.

          -Yep: the progression standard on horizontal pulls will clean the gas outta anyone’s tank. Once you have reached that level feel free to continue with the horizontal movement-family (who can’t spare the energy for a coupla sets, maybe after pullups?) but radically drop reps. You can do this by dropping the height (as you say) but also by using one leg, one arm, one-leg/one-arm, etc. Keep your reps below ten and recovery will be maximized.

          -Sorry bro but the super high reps will mitigate against size and strength goals if you really want to be successful with em. A nice middle ground is to finish with ONE max set of pullups (or whatever) after your regular training, once a week. You will progress slowly on these (than if you really devoted yourself to higher reps) but it’s better than nothing.

          -If steps are too easy, you cannot “milk” em, just as you can’t if they are too hard. Milking is just about finding a level you can improve form on while giving your muscles adequate stimulation. You should apply this to ALL steps, my man! Yep, beginners and newbies to bodyweight can gain a lot from plenty of work on the early steps, but if this isn’t you, stop trying and move on to the stuff you feel working.

          Yep, the world is weird. But from time to time, there is light–if you wait long enough. Hope to talk again and that this helped–and who knows? Maybe I can buy you a beer someday?

          • Anonymous

            Wonderful!, I was excited to hear your reply, I look forward to speaking with you again in time, I’m very excited to train. Yes things on my side can get serious but I enjoy a good laugh as well. I’ll stop by time to time with more questions, I’ll find you. Ah, although beer isn’t part of my lifestyle, I’ll get you beer, But feel free to buy me a canister of ghee 😉

          • Haha! Honestly, ghee is the better choice! Speak again my friend, and best of luck with your training.

  • last_of_them

    Hey coach.

    Another great article showing the superior standards of the old school. This resonates extremely deeply with me
    I’m a welder by trade and as an apprentice I dropped on the last of the old school engineers just before they retired. The stuff they showed me, I tried my best to remember it all but most of will be lost to the mists of time. I think of them when you mention your mentor Joe. Anyway been training following your methods for 4 years now won’t go back to anything else. I’m not very advanced but I’m so much stronger and my midsection has thickend up massively. Igor I get the small kid frustrations. Had a bad night and a bad training session this morning. Always next week.
    Keep it old school

    • Last of them! I loved your comment, because it is so damn true. It does indeed make you wonder how much raw knowledge is lost in the depth of time…I almost wonder if the internet helps this or hurts it? How much has been lost down the centuries?

      Damn, bro…I just realized…we are getting older! (That’s what makes us so cool!)

      Sorry to hear about your bad night screwing with your training. But when you are like us, training sessions are days. Some are good, some are bad, but chances are there will be another one tomorrow.

      I love your attitude my man, and am grateful (and honored) to have you on my team. Hope to speak again, and keep it old school!

  • Stonathan Jout

    Hey Coach,
    First time commenting and am a big fan of your work and it has inspired me to begin my weight loss journey. I am starting out at 6 ft and 260 pounds at a large percentage of body fat (somewhere over 30%). Will I be able to gain muscle and lose the fat at the same time, and that tactics do you suggest for quickly burning fat?

    • Dude! Welcome to the party–it is an honor to be an inspiration to a future great like you. Thank you, my friend.

      FORGET RIGHT AWAY this bulls*** myth about not being able to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. They are different biological aspects of the metabolism and both can easily occur during the same day. As a consequence, FORGET this “cutting” and “bulking” bulls***. It is a result of drugger culture.

      Eat three balanced meals a day (food, not supplements!)–maybe with a small snack or two–and go to bed hungry, sleeping for eight hours or more if you can. Do that, and you WILL lose weight. (Ignore measurements and bodyfat levels right now–just focus on the scale!) Train hard and rest plenty, and you WILL build strength and muscle.

      Not only are these two–losing fat and building muscle–not mutually exclusive, you will find that with bodyweight they work together like a wet dream. The better you get at the movements, the more muscle you will build…and the more weight you lose, the better you will get at the movements. (Imagine doing pullups at 260, compared to 190!) This is the opposite of in-gym strength training, where dieting brings your performance with the weights DOWN, makes you feel weak, and encourages you to overeat.

      You got this, big guy. It can be done, and I am here for ya if you need me. You are gonna be such a stud, you got no f***in idea.

  • Hombre Musculoso

    Another amazing article, few people can write about the older methods without trying to overcomplicate it with their newfangled methods and nonsense but you smash it out of the park every time and us trainees are lucky to have you coach! I was wondering if it would at all be possible to ask a few question (casual interview you could say) as I know more than a few people who have questions only you could answer. I’m tired of the current idiotic mundane answers and advice people give out and i’m trying to dispel this stuff and would love the chance to get you opinion on a few topics. But if you decline Then no problem, you’ve already given a lot.

    • Hombre Musculoso! Muy macho!!

      Dude, you give me way too much credit, but bless you for it. I really appreciate the sentiment you have laid out: thanks for the comment!

      You got questions? Bring ’em, bro. I’ll be checking this page until the next blog comes out–it’s unfair to steal the limelight of the other PCC contributors, most of who are smarter than yours truly–and I wlll be answering every damn comment. It’s an honor to have folks reach out to me, and wild horses couldn’t stop me from replying to you guys. I can’t promise to have all the answers, but I sure will try.

      • Hombre Musculoso

        Much appreciated! (and you’re right that everyone who posts here knows their stuff!) well first question was about building the torso muscles like chest, back etc. Are 2 arm moves enough to add tons of beef to the pecs and lats? (things like, straight bar dips, archer pull ups) one arm work is awesome but requires you to bring your limbs towards the centreline to balance and this takes stress off the torso and puts it on the arms right? (think close grip pull ups, close push ups etc) In bodybuilding context it would be best to start with tough one arm stuff then do the 2 arm torso stuff right?

        second question, I notice a big that the older guys like Clancy ross had huge chest! ribcage included. I know they promote heavy breathing squats and pull overs for rib expansion, think one leg squats for high reps (10-15) followed by ring flies would work in a similar way?

        third question, (and something so many new trainees ask haha) whats a good average time frame for putting on 20-30lb’s with good hard training (full body 3 times a week for example) 3-5 years?

        Last question Coach. A lot of people are saying the legit feet together one arm push up is impossible, I think this is because the form is off, seems like the only way to balance would be to do it with your hands in the close push up position, thoughts? I know a few guys who are religious about their pressing and have it as their goal. This particular guy is crazy about one arm pressing and is convinced he’ll get it in 3 years or so, here’s a clip of his from a year ago. https://youtu.be/49g41QjcZzc (also chatted to him a few weeks back and he’s put a inch on his arms with pressing, so more proof calisthenics kicks
        ass!)
        Thanks for taking the time to read my long post coach!

        • Home boy, those are some badass questions right there–I love it! Let me see what I can do to answer em best I can, eh?

          1. This is a great question. You’re right that one arm work is mechanically different from the two arm stuff; it works arms and shoulders more than the torso. Even so, one arm work is still superior to two arm work for torso-building, because if you stick to two arms before long your reps will be too high to build mass.

          2. Not in my opinion. Old timers did the pullovers because they activate the pec minor and really open the rib box. Ring flyes stretch the PECS, not the rib cage. If you want a replacement for opening your rib cage up, use deep breathing in a bridge hold–similar to the pullovers but 100x superior.

          3. If you train correctly, you’ll build about 2/3rds of your mass in year one–or at least half. After another two years–if you are trainjng correctly–size increases will be minor.

          4. Jesus Christ, that kid is a BEAST–he makes that move look easy!! If you speak to him again, please pass on my respect.

          Hope that helps, my hombre?! Love your questions!!

  • Matthew

    I forgot to say thanks for the PCC. I went to the Sydney PCC the other month. Awesome job putting it together and the manual is amazing. Al, Grace and John represented you well. I was still hoping there might be this hooded man lurking at the back looking on. Thanks man!

    • Ha ha! I won’t lie, I have considered it!

      Yep, the entire PCC team are the world’s finest, and it is an HONOR to have you now as part of that team, Matthew. Thanks for reaching out!

  • Swiss_Olympic

    Finally, the granddaddy of it all has once more graced us with his presence and insights. Welcome back, Coach. You were eagerly awaited.

    I agree that people’s expectations of the amount of muscle that they can gain are completely out of touch with what is realistic, especially in a short time. And as the saying goes, conversely, they underestimate what they can achieve with consistent hard work over months and even years.

    On that note, I would like to recount a story you’ll probably love. Last year, I embarked on an experiment. I wanted to bulk up, and and I wanted to try weight training. During that bulking phase,I started eating more than usual. I gained some weight with about three weeks of bodyweight training first, and then some more with weight training. The rate of increase in weight was pretty much exactly the same with both. After 10 or so weeks of weight training, my weight increase stalled. I stopped going to the gym, and coincidentally got sick for week. Within a week, I had lost ALL of the bulk I’d gained, dropping down to the EXACT weight I had before starting my weight training phase. I basically sweated out a bunch of water, and that was it.

    While weight training was fun, being in the gym environment was nasty. The only fun part was guys looking down on me getting while I was getting into the squat rack and then being amazed that I was pushing more weight than them. At first this, escaped my notice. It was my best friend who made me aware of the other guys. I was strong long before I hit the weights, hehe.

    On the subject of gaining muscle mass with calis, as well as getting as strong as humanely possible, I wrote/am writing a couple articles, I’d be honored if you’d take a look at them and told me what you think.

    • My man! Damn, such a pleasure to hear from you–this week is turning out so great, I gotta write for the blog more often! (Although if I did, probably less folks would reply!)

      I love that story and I am so down with your views in general. It’s funny; whenever you tell folks that average height athletes can typically only get as big as Clancy Ross, you usually get loads of folks writing in saying “no way–I’m much bigger than him!” and you see the photo and they are fat sacks of s**t. Rule of thumb; if someone doesn’t look as good as Clancy topless, they are not as muscular! But most athletes on here seem to be nodding along with me so I guess what I always say is true…the PCC community are smart as hell!

      Love to read your articles, my friend! Are you kidding?! Write Dennis at Dragon Door support…he will email me and I promise to get back to you. I got a big backlog at the moment but if anyone writes me I always get back to em. Eventually!

  • Sheath

    Greetings Coach,

    Seems like this was an addendum to the article “The “Diesel 20”: Add Twenty Pounds of Muscle in One Year —Using Only Bodyweight”, which really put things into perspective. Makes goals much more realistic, and honestly more inspiring. Coming from the martial arts perspective, the old school natural looks are more functional than the current trend of making the incredible hulk look like pee wee herman.

    Your perspectives on training are very practical and accessible. I have all of your works, and reference them in crafting my personalized routine. I really did appreciate the DVDs with the “10 commandments” for each of the Big Six, I just wish even if there is no DVD for the handstand pushups, you would do your students a favor and write those out to make sure we stay on the straight and narrow.

    One other things that I’d be really eager to get your take on, is a manual for deep breathing. It has been mentioned a number of times with various tips, but to bring it all together in one place would be very helpful. What might be even better is to include it in the last and final volume of the Convict Conditioning Series “Survival Calisthenics”. Any word on a release date?

    Sheath

    • My main man, Sheath! Hey–thank you for your comment, bro. It was one of those ones that really lifted my day, and I appreciate you reaching out. Thanks!

      You know, it’s funny–one of the things I could not have predicted before writing CC was just how easily martial artists would “get” what I was saying. I expected a lot of criticism from the book, and I got it, but never really from martial artists. So you aint alone.

      Hm–your “Ten Commandments” request is a real interesting one. I wrote them and sent them to Dragon Door (I wrote the entire script and the DVD was in fact filmed), but certainly don’t have a copy now. This was about 6 or 7 years back. (You are a long-time true believer!!!) I wonder if I could find a copy. Might make a good blog post or free gift on here. I’ll check my files.

      I am often asked for more info on deep breathing by advanced students; I am not sure I have enough for a book, but I often point folks to Hoffman’s Big Chest Book…most of it is weightlifting info but there are some great nuggets in there. I really do need to write an article on deep breathing though at some point as it is part of the system I never wrote down. Thanks for the reminder, Sheath–hey, you know more about s**t I wrote than I do. Wow!

      Similar goes for the Survival Athletics book. Dragon Door charges a good price for my books, so I would never ask John to print something that–in my mind–wasn’t absolutely new, or very informative, or that I just couldn’t justify. I think, if I do write it, it will be a free gift for the PCC community like C-MASS originally was.

      That doesn’t mean I don’t have another book inside me Sheath, old buddy, old pal…

      …Watch this space…

      Thanks again for the kind words my friend. You made my day!

  • Hombre Musculoso

    (reposted since something messed up on my computer and wasn’t sure if it posted)
    Much appreciated! (and you’re right that everyone who posts here knows their stuff!) well first question was about building the torso muscles like chest, back etc. Are 2 arm moves enough to add tons of beef to the pecs and lats? (things like, straight bar dips, archer pull ups) one arm work is awesome but requires you to bring your limbs towards the centreline to balance and this takes stress off the torso and puts it on the arms right? (think close grip pull ups, close push ups etc) In bodybuilding context it would be best to start with tough one arm stuff then do the 2 arm torso stuff right?

    second question, I notice a big that the older guys like Clancy ross had huge chest! ribcage included. I know they promote heavy breathing squats and pull overs for rib expansion, think one leg squats for high reps (10-15) followed by ring flies would work in a similar way?

    third question, (and something so many new trainees ask haha) whats a good average time frame for putting on 20-30lb’s with good hard training (full body 3 times a week for example) 3-5 years?

    Last question Coach. A lot of people are saying the legit feet together one arm push up is impossible, I think this is because the form is off, seems like the only way to balance would be to do it with your hands in the close push up position, thoughts?

    • Muscle Man! Our bad–Disqus sucks and so often chews up comments. It may be because of the link? But your comment below is resurrected and I have answered all your questions. And they were awesome as hell so shoot me any more if you want!

      • Hombre Musculoso

        Thanks so much coach! just thought of one last question I could ask. When training for bodybuilding is the 2 second down 1 at the bottom and 2 down the best tempo to use?

        • I definitely advise that for at least 3/4 of your training for mass and strength. However, the numbers are not nearly so important as the total elimination of momentum. If momentum is doing the work, your muscles aint!!

          • Hombre Musculoso

            gotcha! I assume the other quarter should be explosive stuff and maybe adding one or two body English reps at the end of a set? by the by do you have any thoughts on exercise order for say a full body session? I do squats, pull ups, horizontal pull ups, leg raises, handstand push ups, push ups, bridges in that order (for a max of 2 sets of 10) but have trouble increasing leg raise reps because by the time I do them my grip is thrashed. should I swap horizontal pull ups around with handstand push ups?

          • You got it–I’m a big believer that if most of your training is slow and controlled, you should always include some explosive work from time to time. I’m convinced this increases strength. And there are SO MANY terrific bodyweight variants to choose from.

            On the other side of the fence, don’t forget the odd super slow or static movement!

            As for the full body sessions–nice work. There are no set laws here but two good rules of thumb are to work the larger muscles first (you are already making a good job of this) and to alternate antagonistic muscles for maximal recovery during the session.

            With this in mind, I would recommend:

            1. Squats
            2. Pullups
            3. Handstand pushups
            4. Horizontal pullups
            5. Pushups
            6. Bridges
            7. Leg raises

            That should give your grip a nice bit of recovery. If you are doing this 3x per week, a nice alternative is:

            DAY 1: Squats, pullups, pushups
            DAY 2: Bridges, horizontal pulls, HSPUs, leg raises.
            DAY 3: Off
            REPEAT

            Just an idea of where to go if the total body workout become a drag.

            Just some options but I hope it helps, my man!

          • Hombre Musculoso

            very much appreciated coach! I will absolutely take your advice and switch to the 2 way split when I progress a little more, I’m writing this stuff down in my training journal, it’s gold!

          • Awesome news and I’m honored when any athlete finds my old thoughts useful. Please keep me posted on those gains!

  • HITTer

    Hey Paul, great article as always!!

    A little question, i train in a very brief and infrequently style and found your idea of Heavy Dute in the calisthenics 20/16 article fit like a glove.

    I have been doing two fullbody workouts a week of 15 minutes each, consisting of one set to failure on Pull Ups, Dips and Squats but the progress on Dips is very limited without use of external weights.

    The “logical Way” is replace Dips with Push Ups progressions but considering the chest as my weak point i don’t want throw off dips.

    Any sugesstion?

    Thanks!

    • Hey, we’ve got a Heavy Duty brother in the house! HEAVEE DUTYYYY! I have a great love in my heart for heavy duty principles, I always apply them to my lovemaking: get in quick, grit your teeth for one short burst, then recover for a week or two. Or six months.

      There are two ways to eke out your dip progressions. The PCC Manual recommends moving to straight bar dips, via angled dips (ie, a right-angled bar, like the corner of a safety railing).

      After that, Steve Low recommends one-arm dips, done against a wall. There are progressions in his awesome book.

      You could also take the route in Mike Gilette’s book and start dipping on rings, which is BRUTAL for the pectorals in a way bar dips just never can be.

      Hope that gives you some food for thought, my HIT buddy! Thanks for the question and please keep me posted on what you do!

  • David

    Hey Coach!
    Awesome article, so needed, I’m just so fed up with all these roided up freaks everywhere! (youtube, Magazines, even the CC fb-group).
    I even came to realize my own mind was getting effed and thinking that ‘maybe some might be natty after all?’. Your article gives clarity to all this fake bs, I appreciate the comparisson between old school realness and the Frankensteins of today. Sadening that it’s so common though.
    In your last post 20/16 (was it your last? if so, been too long man 😉 ) we discussed my troublesome knee for a bit and back then I was worried that I’d never be able to full squat again. Just wanna say I’m coming back from that. I actually discussed the problem with a friend experienced in yoga and her take was that I was too stiff in the knee joint (despite being pretty good at deep squats). After working seriously on mobility by doing some yoga postures and actually staying on the floor instead of a chair when seated I’ve seen dramatic change for the better. I’m happy dude, I’ll get that one legged squat one day! 🙂
    Thanks for all the inspiration Coach! Stay safe!
    Peace

    • David!!

      Thank you so much for the comment my friend–what you say is so true…I am glad I am not trying to make my way in bodybuilding in todays generation…mind you my generation was all on drugs too! It’s honestly one of the reasons I’m so proud of the PCC…I always look at photos of the courses and all the athletes just look in great shape; fit, strong, muscles, but also healthy and positive too. It gives me hope, I guess.

      I remember talking to you about your trick knee all too well! I am friggin overjoyed that it is on the mend…which is testament to you never giving up, continuing to train, research and improve. GREAT WORK, DAVID! Coach is proud as hell.

      Yep, you will get that one leg squat. A really cool idea–which I have never tried–that I learned from Dan Earthquake: try doing your one-leg squats in the shallow end of a pool. How cool is that?!

      Just as cool as you bro. Stay safe, stay in touch, and keep getting better!!

      • Thanks for the mention Coach! I’m still doing those 1 leg squats in the pool – 2 sets each leg as slow as I can without overbalancing. Great for knee rehab which is what started me doing them 5 or 6 years ago. I like them so didn’t stop.

        Coach, all these great interactions you’ve had with everyone has bought the programming squares idea to my mind again from your year start article. It’s useful every so often to do some thinking about what it is you want to achieve & how you should go about it. Have a look at the program square & ask yourself if what you’ve settled into doing lately is going to get you there. Likely the shape drawn is very unique to personal circumstances & preferences, but could it be improved? I’m more experienced since I last looked at it in detail – I’ve done more reps & sets, made some small improvements & had some change in motivations. Armed with all this & some new ideas from this forum how should training continue? That’s my job for today between domestic utility, & I suggest that at the end of each of these week long interactions with you Coach, we should think these things & make a plan.

        Thanks Coach!

        • Hell, thank YOU for the mentions in your writing my friend–I am more honored than you know. Your writing style reminds me a lot of Harvey Day’s who was one of my favorite calisthenics authors back in the sixties: pure knowledge from experience, no bulls**t! An interesting way to use the SOP, too–you are just one different kind of cat, and that’s what we love about you. Always thinking outside the damn box, never stop.

          PS. Caught this classic pic of an awesome calisthenics team on Facebook recently…I’m sure I recognize that mighty Viking beard…

          https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153366296171364&set=a.10153366294406364.1073741944.667836363&type=3&theater

  • Alex Haines

    Thanks coach I really appreciate you giving me a new routine to try which i am going to be starting very soon one question though you say do a three day split with 5 sets how many reps on each set do you recommend..thanks again coach

    • My main man, Alex!!

      Now you really asked a great question there, my friend. There are many ways to slice and dice this, but I like:

      SET 1: 20 reps – easy as hell. Just blowing the cobwebs
      SET 2: 15 reps – bit of a pump/burn here; all warmed up
      SET 3: 10-12 reps
      SET 4: 8-10 reps
      SET 5: 6-8 reps

      This is actually known by the cumbersome name of the “reverse half pyramid” system, and it’s as old as the hills. You can usually use the same exercise on the last three sets.

      Sure–I typically advise more reps than this, certainly for newbs (although higher reps can work great for anyone). But if you are doing 3 work sets (set 3-5) you are going to be doing more total volume anyway, so in many cases it makes sense to lower your reps on the individual sets.

      Hope this gives you an idea for your training, old buddy. Let me know how those gains look on ya!

  • Jake

    Yo, I had a question about your diesel 20 article! when you wrote the push ups in that article you talked about extending the set by changing hand placement, half repping and body English etc. So my session would look like this, after warm up 1 set of 10 push ups, then 1 set of 8 push ups followed immediately by 4 additional half rep, followed imedietely by 2 quarter reps. My question was do I keep trying to add full reps and only count these for my progression standard but still always do the half reps to failure? So if I eventually got to 2 sets of 15 I would still be doing the extra half reps. (sorry if its confusing)

    • Jake! Now there’s a MAN’S name, goddamit! Let’s see if we can help this cool dude with his great question, eh?

      The answer is: only count full, FAIRLY strict reps for your progression standard. Intensity techniques that prolong the set are friggin great for building muscle, but when you really try counting them, it all begins to get sloppy. This is true of quarter reps, hand placement changes, “cheat” reps, etc. My advice is to vaguely log these if possible but don’t worry about counting them. A quarter rep or half rep is not an equivalent of a full rep in terms of determining your progress.

      There’s another reason not to get too hung up on counting these extra reps–mental stress. If 8 strict reps is murder and you are doing 4 half reps and 2 quarter reps, then by the time you have reached your sixth strict rep, in your mind you are only half way thru the set! Much better to only count the strict stuff and then just go for it on the intensity techniques, with not much of a plan or set of goals. You will actually push harder thru the pain that way, because your mind isn’t freaking out about what it has to push the body to do.

      So keep doing the partial reps but don’t get hung up on the numbers–just go as hard as you can on any given day.

      Also, if you are into intensity stuff, you might want to try “pulse reps” after your quarters. Just try to rock up and down an inch or so, the top two inches, inch or half inch of a pushup. See if you can do another ten. It’s a killer!

      Hope this helps my man! Awesome comment!

      • Jake

        Awesome thanks! I’m on board with this, anything that helps me to get to my goal of 16″ arms! (side note, yesterday I went to the gym with a friend and you are right about people spinning there wheels! he proceeded to do 3 sets of 12 reps for a bunch of isolation exercises and other nonsense! not one person there believed I built my arms with push ups and pull ups and they all thought I was lying about only doing 2 sets per exercise, this whole current fitness trend makes me want to vomit)

        • Jake

          Sorry my bad I did have one last question about these cheat reps! if I really go all out and do the extra half reps with my push ups do you think this will severely limit my bridge reps? I like to train full body 2-3 times a week like the old school guys but don’t want certain things to progress faster than others (and it works awesome so far, you actually got me onto it when I read C-Mass!)

          • Yep, really destroying your arms on your pushups will mitigate your bridging if you do it on the same session. BUT…if mass is your goal, remember bridges will not build huge mass. Just mobility and supple strength. So I say, give the pushups your all, and just focus on a few strict, high quality reps on the bridges. Quality over quantity, short and sweet. You can always focus on your bridges when your mass comes up a little.

            Hope that helps, Jake! Don’t be a stranger!

          • jake

            That was one of the things about bridges is that the stand to stands seem easier strength wise, I really like doing the first part of a stand to stand then lowering my back to the floor and pressing up like in the full bridge then standing up. Basically a combination of the full bridge and the master step, I’ll take your advice as my spinal muscles are already thick as hell from bridges!

          • Jake has got them spinal pythons!!!

        • 16 inch lean arms are actually very big arms for a dude of normal height. They are actually big for a six foot guy, if he’s not fat.

          Remember, Arthur Jones, the world’s biggest fitness manufacturer said the biggest arms he ever saw were built by a guy who did nothing but dips and one-arm pullups. You don’t need weight for loaded guns!

  • Pushers

    Hi Coach,

    Another great article. Thank you. Like most people I guess I definitely fall into the trap of wanting to be bigger and bigger based on what I see in the media. It is hard not to want to look like the chaps you see on tv and magazines – even when in reality you KNOW they are on juice. There have been times in my life when I have been sorely tempted to try some but I am glad to say that I never gave in to the temptation and it always then passed.

    I am still keeping things purely calisthenics like last time I wrote (I think it was back on C-Mass – I was asking for moves for the traps. I have a “thing” for big traps I think they look friggin’ great – better than big arms for me!). However, I did want to ask you about your thoughts on weighted carries (you know, Farmer’s Walks and the like). A number of sites (like t-nation and bodybuilding.com) really recommend them. I know they are not pure bodyweight but I wanted to ask if you see any value in them or can you get something similar effect wise without them?

    Many thanks in advance and I hope we see a new book from you soon – I love your take on things.

    Ed

    • Ed, my man! Sure I remember your question! I also love traps, big traps are a sign of a big athlete. Interesting sidebar: somebody told me once that the traps have the largely level of androgen receptors in the whole body–which is why when gear users start shooting, their traps blow up first. (At least, while they are on the drugs!)

      You are gonna get me some serious f***ing hate mail here, Ed. A lot of really, really respected strength coaches speak super highly of weighted carries–Dan John immediately springs to mind. And who is more loved by the community than Dan? And rightly so. But you asked my opinion so yer gonna get it.

      I am not against traditional two-man calisthenics exercises like “firefighter lifts” and sprints, etc. But with progressively heavier loads than this, like deadlift-type weights, no way. Aside from the fact that you are standing up with a bone crushing weight–which has its own negative effects–you are then pacing with it, meaning that with every step and impact, all that weight is running up through one leg. That has huge potential to damage the hips and discs, not to mention the risk of turning an ankle under all that weight, possibly doing permanent damage. There is also the very real risk of a trapezius sprain.

      Many athletes have been injured by weighted carries. Most famously, Arnold’s training partner, Mr Olympia, dislocated his knee horribly during a weighted carry in a strongman competition. (I think the video is probably still out there, but it must make for nasty watching.) He later claimed the injury cut his career short by years.

      I don’t ever really tell folks NOT to do anything. Hell, it’s your life and I have made plenty of mistakes in my own. But if you keep doing bodyweight squats, bridges, jumping training, sprinting, as well as upper body work, then if you ever need to carry a load in a survival situation, you’ll be plenty capable, in my opinion.

      Hope that helps, Traps!

      • Pushers

        Great. Thanks for that insight Coach. Much appreciated. Don’t worry – we all still love Mr John, he is also a great coach. I’m sure no hate mail will come your way. Well… maybe just from him! 😉

        • It’s cool. I am sure even the hate mail from Dan John is better written and more informative that the s*** I put out, Pushers!

  • Pushers

    Sorry, one other thing I meant to ask (I hope you don’t mind!). Do you have any recommendations for making one’s ankles more mobile? I do fine on the squat series until I get to close squats. Then, no matter what my heels come off the ground. It means that whilst I have the strength to do a pistol I cannot either: get all the way down if I keep my heel on the floor, or I can go fully down but not without going onto the balls of my feet. It is driving me nuts! Is it simply spending more time in the bottom of a squat?

    Thanks again!

    Ed

    • Traps!!

      I think you answered your own question, bro. One of the flaws with close (or regular) deep squatting for reps, is you don’t actually spend too much time in the hole. If you spend a second there each rep, for twenty reps twice a week, that’s only 40 seconds per week in that position. It’s jack s**t, right?

      It’s often not an issue because most folks pick up the deep position fast. But if you have tight Achilles’ tendons–all that running away from your girlfriends, Ed?–you might have problem.

      You’re right. More time in the hole is the answer. Find a full squat you can handle and build up to a minute every other day. (Every day if you can take it without undue stiffness.) From there, inch your feet together every week or so. A month of this and you’ll wonder what the problem was, homeboy. You got this!

      • Pushers

        I don’t run away from my wife that often! She… she… only hits because she loves! (sob, sniffle) (HELP ME!!) lol

        • Brother, I feel your pain…a police vehicle has been dispatched.

  • VR147

    Hi! What about a new book based on stuff “missing” from the legendary, first CC/Super FAQ/C MASS:

    – I’m sure all the bodyweight bodybuilders here would love an additional progression to engage the chest beyond the stretch pushups, build the leg biceps beyond one leg straight bridges and build bigger spinal muscles, beyond full bridges.

    – Most of us do want even stronger and bigger legs, so give us something more on pure strength and muscle than pistols and explosive pistols.

    – Explain the controversial stuff like the uneven squats and provide workarounds and alternative paths, ideally returning to the uneven squat.

    – Explain how to use the spinal muscles on bridges beyond the step 6, maybe provide an alternative progression.

    – Explain how to avoid the handbalancing problems in HSPU beyond the step 8. Maybe some additional handbalancing practice against the wall.

    – Maybe something more on stretching in the trifecta style, for example for the shoulders and in the squat position.

    If this is explained in detail it should provide enough material for a book. I’m sure every single CC fan would love this.material for a book. I’m sure every single CC fan would love this.

    • Hoyos

      Plus there was going to be something on prison boxing a while ago, dying to learn about boxing training with next to nothing.

      • Wow, that was a project we planned years back–you sure have a better memory than me, bro! I don’t know if a book is on the cards, but maybe this would be a good article? Thanks for the idea, Hoyos–much appreciated fella!

        • Hoyos

          Awesome! Looking forward to it!

    • Dude! Where the f*** were you when I wrote the first book?! If I’d had you in my corner, I could’ve made the book ten times better!! S**t, you know the system better than me.

      Great to have such fantastic criticism from someone who is obviously smart as all hell–thank you. All amazing advice, and I will genuinely consider it carefully…

      • VR147

        🙂 Thanks Paul, it is an honor!

        Your CC is a great book with clear progressions that are about putting more and more of one’s bodyweight through the parts of the body that are being trained, rather than focusing on skills, while using the minimum equipment (this is what bodyweight training is about) and covering the whole body. It’s an interesting and fun read and it has a “soul”.
        If you and Dragon Door ever decide that to produce something on the topics from above and you want me to explain in more detail what I meant by some of the stuff I wrote above, please email me, I would be glad to explain.

        … and I got another idea for you: cardio for every practitioner of CC, not just the ones that can combine stand to stand bridges with full squats. Short, fun and brutal.

  • Dan Söderberg

    Hi Coach what is your opinion of combining what red delta projects Matt Shifferles calls chain training #proactive tension with your outlines in Cmass and Diesel 20 how would you approach that

    • Dan! Finally, someone asks me about Red Delta!! What an awesome question, I love ya as usual, Dan–great to hear from you again.

      Honestly–I wouldn’t mix a thing. The Red Delta approach is so refined, such a fantastic approach to bodyweight bodybuilding, that there is no need to hybridize that s**t. Just look at the dude–that’s drug-free and with decades of martial arts training on top.

      More people in the community need to be absorbing Matt’s writings–I applaud you Dan!

      • Dan Söderberg

        Thanx a milion that was a clarifying answer You know i came to calisthenics from a swedish guy Paolp Roberto loved some moves than Mark Lauren Still love many of his moves but i needed a different approach than through your writings but now it seems like the river runs out in the Red Delta

        • “The river runs out in the Red Delta…”

          Dan Soderberg…athlete, poet, all-round God-type dude! I love it!

          • Dan Söderberg

            5 reasons i think bodyweight bodybuildning beats traditional 1 doesnt fk up but build joints and ligaments along with muscle 2 make tensionbased holistic manymuslesatthesametime approach possible 3 cant beat consistency when you can workout anywhere 4 you have to earn you resistance by leveling up yourtequnique 5 much easier to vary and to go directly from one excersize to the other (without wasting time on changing weights waiting 4 your turn and so on ) which creates an opportunity for more “pressure cooker style” workouts you cant create that type of intensity with free weights

          • We are 100% on the same page. Made me think and I would add another two, Dan:

            6. Development occurs by increasing and expanding movement skills (balance, proprioception, etc.) rather than just adding load to the same movements;

            7. Is more conducive to fat loss because a lower bodyweight increases exercise performance, rather than decreases it (as in lifting external weights).

            I would sign up to your newsletter anyday bro, we think alike…

          • Dan Söderberg

            if you like you can steal my refections for a future article i would feel honored maybe youll find 3 more for another 10 commandment coachstyle classic that would make gymowners worldwide sue you cause you put them out of buisness

          • Dan, you know me SO well…haha!

            As for the gym comment, my favorite catchphrase is: “…and so the gyms became empty at last the Wade wind swept them away.”

            Written by a great philosopher of our time…

          • Dan Söderberg

            yes let anybody dare use the excuse “but mummy i cant train today i cant find my body”

          • Calisthenos ergo sum

            I train bodyweight, therefore I am

          • John Campbell

            Hi Paul, how are you? I’m new to Disqus and in a bit of a hurry now but this is the only place I could find to contact you. So I apologise in advance if my message is abrupt and off-topic! First of all Congrats on the books. I absolutely love CC1 & 2. To cut to the chase, I have two questions. First one, what are your views on Boxing? (Just regular gloved boxing, not kickboxing or bare-fisted boxing.) Second, how do you recommend progression in Cardio? I think CC and all your articles are great works but unless I’ve missed an article, I think Cardio is one area you fall short on explaining. Please don’t take that the wrong way, it’s just my opinion. 🙂 I suppose just Cardio is important for Boxing. Write as long or short of a response to my message as you please!

          • John! The Great Man! Bless you for your message brother, and the kind words. I’d be honored to answer your questions!

            Boxing? I’m no expert on combat but I will give you my asshole opinion, since you asked. Without question, boxing is the greatest unarmed combat form on the planet. Now, a lot of guys will flat out laugh at that–and remember, this is coming from a guy who lived thru the seventies kung fu craze. Many folks think boxing is lacking as a combat sport–lacking grappling, kicking, or sophisticated techniques like many so-called martial arts. Honestly grappling is amazing, and a genuine fighting form, but you can’t grapple if you are f***ing knocked out. Secondly, far from adding to combat skills, a focus on kicking actually dilutes them. Thirdly, when you are getting punched in the head, sophisticated sh** is right out the window anyway.

            The reality is that boxing trains athletes to stand opposite someone who is trying to punch them in the head, and how to avoid being knocked out and actually return fire. This alone means that one boxing class is worth a hundred flowery martial arts classes. Sure, many people will disagree on all that–and if you disagree, cool. Please don’t think I’m dissing any style or opinion, I’m just giving mine.

            Now, on to cardio. I DO encourage cardio, John! “Cardio” just means “heart”…and every time you perform a rep of calisthenics, your heart rate speeds up, so you are training your heart!

            More seriously, when people say “cardio” what they actually mean is what we used to call “wind”, or properly (more terms from the seventies!) “aerobics”. I don’t really believe in a generalized “aerobics” regimen–jogging, cycling, rowing, etc–outside of a sport.

            I believe what the Victorian physical culturalists believed: If you want endurance for your sport, do the sport!

            Yep, you need endurance for boxing, but what do you think the best way to get it is…by running 15 miles, rowing for half and hour then doing circuits, or by hitting the heavy bag? By hitting the bag! If the opposite was true, then runners would easily be able to transition into boxing, but they struggle because the energy demands and bodyparts used are not the same.

            Anyway dude–thanks for reaching out, and hope this helped!

          • John Campbell

            Hi Paul, many thanks for the swift and detailed reply! It answered everything I asked for. And don’t worry, I know you are only expressing your opinions so I won’t hold anything against you and after all anyway I asked you for your opinion anyway! Without going off on a tangent too much I once heard the phrase “When you are talking, you are just repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you might learn something new!” So I’m always interested in somebody else’s opinion even if I’m might not like it!

            I wouldn’t call myself an expert on Boxing either but I’m really interested in it and have done a small bit of sparring (but I’ve never fought anyone.) That doesn’t mean I’m a tough guy (I DEFINITELY am not!) and I don’t like seeing people being hurt despite liking Boxing. But I thought I’d ask you because I really admire your training philosophies, with one key idea being back to basics. I’m all for that too and that’s what I like about Boxing, it’s so basic and simple. But as you once stated in an article, don’t confuse ‘simple’ with ‘easy’. Boxing may not look as glamorous or sophisticated as other combat sports; in fact it looks very simple and crude. The objective is simply; “hit your opponent, don’t let him hit you back.” It’s a simple objective and to a lay person it just looks like two people aimlessly throwing punches at each other. Without a doubt, it is not easy and is very technical and dignified! I have nothing against other combat sports (I don’t think Boxing is superior or inferior to them) and I respect such athletes in those fields but I ultimately am not interested in UFC, Judo, Kung Fu etc. and I really don’t think anything compares with Boxing. I hear loads of people today talk about Martial Arts but is Boxing really a Martial Art? It’s very much Western Civilisations only original combat sport! I’ll stop there! haha But yeah, I totally agree on what you say! Most people think that just simply using your hands demands a lower skill level but if anything it opens up a whole new spectrum of skill which has to be mastered. What’s also deceptive about Boxing is that the hands merely deliver the shots but the technique, speed and power all come from the body as one functional unit!
            Thank you so much for giving me your views on Cardio too Coach. I’ll be honest, I hate the word ‘Cardio’ too! I usually call it endurance or fitness but it’s just Cardio is the one word that everyone (unfortunately) understands! Most Boxing trainers recommend jogging and sprints for cardio but I hate it. Most people call me lazy but it’s just I hate having to leave my apartment and come back all sweaty. On top of this I just hate working out in public and then there’s the interruptions of pedestrians, traffic,rain and the danger of tripping etc. Going for a jog for a once off occasion is fairly tough when you think of all these things to come, let alone having to keep the effort up! So I’m really glad you told me that hitting the bag is the best thing for Cardio! It’s one activity that I really enjoy. I agree with the fact that calisthenics works the heart but sometimes I feel when you’re training for strength following CC you don’t get the same heart workout as a run. As silly as this sounds, sometimes I feel I have to get myself feeling a little bit exhausted to get good Cardio but I’m not sure.
            Anyway, many thanks once again Paul! I’m so glad I contacted you. I remember when I first got CC1 in July 2013 and never imagined the prospect of exchanging words with you. I really enjoy reading about your training philosophies with the key ideas of building progress slowly and not overcomplicating things (plus I personally hate the gym and weightlifting too! haha) But seriously I even apply the same ideas to studying and academia, and without flattering myself I always do well in those fields. I see many people who think that studying just involves going full steam ahead, taking no breaks and sitting at a desk for painstaking hours each day. Yet I do a lot more relaxed and shorter study sessions with plenty of breaks and always do better than most people! (Apologies if that sounds arrogant, it’s not intended at all and I’m not perfect and still have a lot to learn!)

          • John Campbell

            Hi again Paul, just thought I’d add on to my last message. Firstly apologies for rambling on so much about Boxing. I actually should have mentioned all the praises I had thought of after reading your two books CC1 & 2. (But you probably get a lot of that so I had I thought I’d keep my mouth shut and wouldn’t sweet-talk too much! haha) But seriously like Paul, your books are amazing. Well written and highly motivating. I’d even buy a book on just the mind & training philosphies and analogies if you wrote it! haha I actually watched the battle scene from the movie 300 after reading what you wrote about the Spartans (I’m actually reading CC1 a second time!) I just thought I’d ask you four more questions while I am here (don’t worry if you don’t get time to reply to them.)

            1. What other works have you written besides CC1, CC2, CC3, CC- the Super FAQ, C-Mass, CC Log Book and the CC DVD’s? I’d love to own the complete collection if you know what I mean! I’ve also read that article you wrote called ‘The Dirty Dozen’ so if you have any other interesting articles I missed, you can let me know.

            2. I was working on Leg Raises and completed Step 5. From Step 6 onwards, the use of an object to hang from is required. I know I’m probably making excuses but I’m doing an MSc programme at the moment and with busy traffic and the gym (with pull-up bars) being located at the other side of town, I realistically won’t be able to keep up a consistent effort for leg raises for a while. Steps 1-5 were fine as I could just do them in my apartment. I’d definitely be able to make a commitment of once a week of making it to a pull-up bar to progress with leg raises (but maybe one week would be too long of a ‘lucid’ interval between workouts?)

            But I suppose my main question is, if I do no leg raises work outs for lets just say a year, will my muscles waste away back to what they previously were and how would I ‘jump back’ into the programme? I understand what you mean by the term ‘putting strength in the Bank’, as in if you want to perform harder feats of strength you have to ‘bank’ the tendon, joint and muscle strength first by gradually working your way up with less difficult exercises. But let’s just say that I stop training on a particular step for a whole month or a year, will that strength still be in the bank if ya know what I mean? I’m working with Pushups anyway for the time being as they require absolutely no equipment so I still have loads to entertain me! And plus, working with Step 5 to leg raises really did give me a great six-pack! 🙂

            3. I noticed in the CC Log Book that you say that unfortunately most people today train their shoulders to just move in straight lines. But is that not what you do in Pullups, Pushups and Handstand Pushups? Maybe I’m just over-analysing things.
            4. What would you recommend for training grip strength if you have hypermobility problems? I’m double-jointed in both my thumbs. I have no problem generating power in my fingers but I sometimes feel that my thumb will slip out of place. I never feel any pain when it does so however but I can’t effectively generate power when it’s in that position.

  • Dan Söderberg

    thanx 4 everything

    • And thanks for your comment and always being such an ice cold brother from another mother!! It’s appreciated, Dan!

      • Dan Söderberg

        was wondering what you thought about Ashley Kamlyns book Complete calisthenics (though thats more in the skill/strenght cathegory)

        • I actually picked up that book pretty recently, expecting it to be s***. You know what, it’s a real fantastic manual! Like you say it veers off into more a gymnastics philosophy than old school calisthenics, but god damn, that kid has achieved wonders with it. Deserves the credit it’s getting. Honestly belongs on the shelf of all bodyweight athletes.

          • Dan Söderberg

            yea i like his progressions feels like an approach somewhere between cc1 and steven lows overcoming gravity

          • That is actually a great analogy–I might steal it from ya, Dan. By the way, if you’re a fan, I recently heard Steve Low has a new copy of OG coming out soon, new diagrams and everything. Looking forward to that f***er.

      • Dan Söderberg

        im cool as ice of course being scandinavian

        • All true Scandinavians are ice cold Vikings!

  • Leo

    Dear Coach,

    Dragon Door didn´t send me your email yet, so I ask you a couple of questions here.

    1. If you do dips with the hands flat on two tables, than they are not more dangerous for the forearm muscle balance than push ups right? Maybe the shoulders bend much more than in a push up, also in a back lever or skin the cat. Is this bad or can I work on them after uneven push ups? I also wanna get that slow muscle up someday.

    2. Are dips functional? Because if you pull yourself onto a tree branch or onto a wall, you gotta press up?

    3. My wrists are pretty stiff, a ninety degree angle is sometimes painful. How much do my wrists need to bend on push ups? How about Handstand and bridges? They have the wrist stretched beyond ninety degrees.

    4. Should the shoulder angle during pull ups, HS and bridges be perfectly overhead or a bit less, or more?

    5. Do the shoulders have to be elevated (shrugged) during a handstand?

    6. Does the scapula need to be protracted during push ups (keeping the shoulder blades apart as much as possible)? I find it works the pecs better.

    7. Do I need to have a hollow body during my exercises? I find it engages the abs MUCH more during Push ups, Pull ups and Handstands. It also looks much “cleaner” in my opinion. Especially during leg raises, I think it trains the abs much better and prevents back problems.

    8. When can I begin tiger bend push ups/ triceps extensions, after close push ups? Because I had problems with my triceps tendon during this isolation exercise.

    9. The same thing with sissy squats. Are they necessary, cause they are hard on the knee tendons.

    10. I´m 18 years old and pretty skinny, certainly more skinny than my brother who also trains calisthenics, who is four years younger and weighs MORE than me (muscle!). It´s pretty hard for me to gain mass, but my muscles certainly get more toned through training. Any tips? Eating a lot, even unhealthy food – will it compromise my health in the long run?
    Should I focus on strength and train for muscle once I´m thirty?

    11. Do women have the SAME potential for STRENGTH as men? Because men can build much more muscle and can then control more muscle cells, right? A strong, muscular human is always stronger than a strong, slim one?

    12. What were the most impressive guys in jail and what kind of PR´s did they have? Were they students of you?

    13. Do you have any role models today?

    Ah that got post pretty long, sorry.

    P.S. Really looking forward to your book on the great mentor, if I got that right 😀

    Greetings from Germany
    Leo

    • Leo! My man man–it is so good to hear from you. I am proud that you aint quit on your training, well done! Now, onto these killer questions:

      1. You’re right! Great spot! Flat hands for dips ARE much better for the forearms and elbows than bar dips, in my ancient opinion.

      2. Yep, if it mimics a real-life bodyweight application, then it’s functional. Imagine pushing up and over a wall to escape or gain access.

      3. Keep working on those wrists–they WILL adapt. But if push comes to shove, you don’t need to bend them, you can use the closed fist option. If your fingers get strong enough, you can also use the fingertip-style. Kung fu power, baby!

      4. On pullups, there is some wiggle room; on handstands, yes; on bridges, maybe even more than overhead!

      5. “Shrugged” is the wrong word for the shoulders during handstands as it evokes a kind of artificial trap pull…”braced” or “tight” might sum it up better, bro.

      6. This is a crucial subject. Scapulae should move and flex naturally during the pushup–that’s one of the factors that makes the exercise so damn healthy for the shoulders, compared to say, a bench press. Be aware of this movement and encourage it in your training, but don’t try to artificially hold ANY position, protracted or otherwise. Help your body do what it wants to do.

      7. The hollow body is a gymnastics concept. Many bodyweight guys swear by it. I was never taught it, and don’t teach it–I only encourage a “braced” midsection. But I’m not dissing it. If it works for you, use it!

      8. I wouldn’t mess with tiger bends until you are much stronger in the pushup. Basics first–not to hold you back, but to get the best results. Focus on moving to transitional, asymmetrical pushup exercises–and dominating them–before you mess with tigers, particularly if forearms and wrists have had weakness issues.

      9. Sissy squats are a fun addition to a bodyweight bodybuilding program. They are not necessary at all. Stick with squatting movements and variants, bridging movements, jumps and sprints and maybe calf raises.

      10. A little junk food at your age–if it is ADDED to a balanced diet–will do you no harm at all, long term. My advice to you is to forget about the dichotomy between “strength” and “muscle”. Just give yourself a few years focussing on getting as ferociously capable as possible in the basics. Muscle will begin to come naturally, and you can always specialize when you are a bit older. And remember–being sleek, you are better off than so many teenagers, who are obese and wish they were slim like you. And lighter bodyweight is better for your calisthenics in the long run. You are exactly where you need to be to become a success, Leo!

      11. Nope. Women neither have the same potential for strength nor muscle gain. Females can become incredible athletes, but compared to males in the same percentile, they are always much weaker.

      12. You would not believe the s**t I saw in jail, man. bars bent, billy clubs snapped with bare hands, guards thrown across the hall–all incredible, but never anything you could put in the record books.

      13. Today? No. I am at the age where all my heroes are long dead.

      As for the book–you are paying attention, ten points my friend!

      Awesome to hear from you again. I can tell from your questions over time that your knowledge is improving greatly for someone so young, and this is such a great thing. Please keep training and keep me posted, Leo!

  • Mohammed

    Hello, my dearest teacher. Nice to read something from you after so long- very thoughtful article. How are you? How come you’ve been away so long? I hope all is well.

    • Mohammed, my dearest student! It is awesome to hear from you my friend! Bless you for reaching out to say hi. I’m doing great–loving my life more than ever, and still loving training. How are you my man? How is your training going?

      • Mohammed

        Excellent! Happy to hear you are well, and your training is going well!

        I cannot complain, by the Grace of God; not everyone has the gift of a fully functional mind and body, so I must be grateful.

        My training took a big stumble the past coupla months- missed many sessions; bad sleeping habits mostly to blame. Motivation was lacking, too. This sorta thing is not normal for me when it comes to training.

        However, I got back on it this week. Just before the bad spell, I’d pared down my training to the basics: hz-pulls, pushups, bent knee raises, bridges, squats and deadlifts (I know, I know but forgive me, Coach; I feel that lifting heavy objects (and farmer’s walks!) is an important skill for real life; don’t worry, I lift very light and don’t aim to go extremely heavy); other than the deadlift, calisthenics cover all my strength needs.

        This is the routine I aim to follow for a while.

        What is your routine now?

        • Mohammed! So glad you are back on the straight and narrow, and hitting those calisthenics basics!

          Last year or so I built a lot of my training around hand balancing and old school grip work…but for the last couple months I’ve been back on bridges and twists, and doing some higher reps, in the hundreds, of squats, pushups and pullups (not in a single set, but in some sessions). Mind you, I’m feeling the need to go a bit heavier again.

          Basic are where it’s at!

          You are a good man, Mohammed. Take care of yourself and don’t get snapped up on the deadlifts!

          • Mohammed

            Nice to know what the master does! It’s interesting how you take a couple of movements and mainly focus on them whilst maintaining the other movements on the side.

            I hope to start hand-balancing one day, though most likely not in the next half a year or more.

            Don’t worry, Coach- deadlifts are simply a small part of my training- once every week- maximum. Embarrassingly light weights (no barbells at home; I use a kettlebell + some old dumbbell discs on ropes!). Mainly to train myself to safely lift objects in everyday life (lifting a sack of rice or heavy boxes, for example), and to become stronger in doing so. I (most likely) won’t be using a barbell as I progress; I intend to get a couple of sand-bags (they’re very cheap) and lift and walk around with them in my garden (kinda like what you mentioned in CC- the fireman carry, where you carry a friend over your shoulder and run with him). Old-school stuff, basically.

            To tell the truth, my years of calisthenics training is key in lifting safely; I am able to tense my body as a whole to protect myself- I could not do so before CC. Furthermore, my aim is to make every single muscle (even the smallest stabiliser) in my body very strong, and calisthenics movements trump so many barbell ones- e.g., I believe push-ups beat bench press, since smaller muscles are worked; not to mention, the scapula get to move, too. Pull-ups have no alternative. Bridges can be supplemented (deadlift) but never replaced.

            So, the calisthenics movements will never be replaceable for me- they can be supplemented but never replaced. Calisthenics always the mainstay.

            Sorry to ramble.

            Thanks for the nice words, and I will try take care of myself. Please take care of yourself, too!

  • HEY JOE!!!

    It’s my buddy. Great to hear from you bro! I think I owe you an email, am I right my friend?

    As for anabolic supplements, there is actually a suspicion that Bruce Lee did take steroids. His wife’s ex-husband (after Bruce) said as much in his tell-all book. But it could well be sour grapes, who knows?

    More importantly, your music selection skills seem to improve over time like a fine wine…I’ll see your track and raise you:

    Get the funk, Joe.

  • Ashish Shukla

    Hey Coach,
    I have got a weird question here.
    I am 5’10” and 145 lbs, 25 years old. My goal is building mass as I am SKINNY-fat. Now for that I need to eat more.
    So with the help of a very famous app I calaculated my calorie requirement around 2800 cal, to gain 0.5 kg weight/week. I usually eat around 4000 cal daily (according to the same app). Although I never use any app to quantify my calorie but used this once just to get some idea.
    But my weight remains almost stable and the body measurements also dont change. So where the hell the food is going??
    And if I try to eat more, I feel bloated and gassy.
    Any advice or suggestions??
    About training, I train 4 times a week with 2-day split repeated twice.
    Thank You!

    • Ashish, this aint a weird question bro–it’s an age old question of how to gain weight…and every coach you ask will answer it differently!

      My advice? The training sounds good–so long as you are progressing in reps and difficulty, even slowly.

      Guess what–you have a metabolism like an atom bomb! I know it’s old fashioned but I am suspicious of the whole calorie counting bullsh**, I always have been, whether it’s to gain weight or lose it. My advice to you is to eat three large balanced meals a day; balanced meaning some protein/fat source and some carbs preferably coming from vegetables, starchy or otherwise. The protein can be meat, dairy or eggs. Throw in greens or fruit for at least couple of the meals. Supplement this with two snacks. Plenty of fluids. Avoid supplements, they are toxic bullsh**.

      You don’t mention the content of your food. At your age, it’s also okay to eat junk–candy, pizza, burgers, etc–as long as the bulk of your diet is balanced, go for it.

      Don’t worry about measurements or weight at first. F*** em. Just train hard as hell, eat whatever you can manage. In six months, you WILL have changed. I’d also add that as you get older your metabolism will slow down, so you can gain more muscle. Hell, you might not hit your natural peak until you are 40, but who cares–you will be awesome, when everyone else your age is flabby and weak!

      I hope this helps, my friend.

      • Ashish Shukla

        Right on target again, boss.
        I am progressing in reps as well as difficulty gradually but definitely.
        Being a lacto-vegetarian I depend largely on vegetables as well as milk and 100% with you on NO SUPPLEMENTS.
        Eating 3 squares a day with 1-2 snacks and may be some junk food once or twice a week.
        One thing I forgot to mention that gradually I am getting leaner too.
        Will tracking weight and tape measurements help ?
        Thanks a lot. It helped a lot.

        • Glad it helped bro. With your diet, you do need to focus special attention on quality fats, too–muscle is built by testosterone, which is made out of cholesterol, remember. So you may well need what others consider “junk”. Don’t shy away from whole milk shakes, butter and ghee, heavy whipping cream, vegetable fats, etc.

          I think it helps to have starting measurements–as long as you then put them in a drawer and forget em for six months–but if you are carrying a little fat, measurements can be misleading. A guy who loses ten pounds of fat and replaces it with ten pounds of muscle weighs the same but looks radically different, just like a guy who loses two inches of fat on his arms and puts two inches of muscle on them. The measurement is the same.

          It’s better to try and keep a track of how your midsection LOOKS–how close are your abs to coming thru?–plus a reliable waist measurement, when it comes to tracking fat levels. But at your weight I wouldn’t worry too much. Just eat well, sleep deep and train hard, Ashish!

          • Ashish Shukla

            I am glad you mentioned ghee. We Indians love it more than other things mentioned 😉 and waist is looking good, on exhaling definition of upper 2 abs is faintly seen. Sleep.. Ah!!! I am famous in my group for over sleeping. I can sleep for 16 hours straight.
            Thanks a lot. Will keep you posted on progress.

          • Many Western athletes are picking up on ghee, too–very, very beneficial food. Thanks for replying, looking forward to hearing about your progress!

  • Great work on the bridge!! It will take time but the bridge will keep you young and mobile while the rest of your generation gets old and immobile.

    Oh man, this track is jumping!! Haha, where do you FIND all this awesomeness at your age?! Wish I could like it twice.

    You and me buddy, cruising route 66, listening to Asian and lookin for poon!

    • Joe

      Thanks coach,

      A top tune that, an all time classic. I’ve done 2 months of Brazilian jiu jitsu (about 4 months ago) and the bridge exercise helped allot. YouTube is where I get all these gems from what an age we live in where amazing tunes of the past and present are so easily accessible. Here’s another notable benefit I found through bridging the body feels and works as a whole unit (obvious I know) but really highlighted through the bridging exercise.

      Your student
      Joe

      • Martial arts and bodyweight go together like an underwear model and strawberry jelly, brother!

        • Joe

          Tasty goddam,California here I come.

          Blazing saddles:

          Bart: So, what’s your name?
          Jim the Waco Kid: My name is Jim. But most people call me……Jim.

          I thank you–the don’t make ’em like that anymore pure classic!

          • “Steady as a rock!”

            “Yeah, but I shoot with this hand.”

          • Joe

            Haha top scene that remember the film stir crazy:

            Skip Donahue: What are you doing?
            Harry Monroe: I’m gettin bad. You better get bad, Jack cause if you ain’t bad you’re gonna get fucked.

          • Joe

            Hi coach,

            I got to make a move, its been awesome communicating with you on this top blog thank you sir.

            Your student
            Joe

          • Speak soon buddy–we will be swapping comedies next! thanks for the smiles and happy memories.

  • Mark

    Dear Coach,

    I recently read an article basically saying that bench pressing on an incline bench would shift focus on the upper part of the pecs, while pressing on a flat or decline bench may build mostly the lower part.
    What d’ya say? Does that translate in any form to pushups? If i’d like to prioritize my upper pecs, would including decline pushups be a good idea?

    Thanks so much for your time and stuff! BTW, great to see CC being published in german language also, I really hope you get the benefits from it you damn deserve. Cheers and thanks again!

    • Mark, my dude! Bless you for reaching out and thanks so much for the kind words…it’s awesome to reach out to my Teutonic brothers!

      A lot of coaches over the years have denied that angle has any effect on muscle fiber area recruitment–it’s a principle called “non-contiguous innervation” mainly mean that when a muscle head–say, the pecs–contract, it contracts all over, not just in one area. I think some of it is genetic. Some guys get amazing, full pecs just from pushups or dips. Others need to work certain areas.

      I have always believed that handstand pushups and handstand variations are best for the upper chest, just below the collarbone. Try it for yourself–stick your fingers just below a collarbone and hold your arm up over your head, where it would be in a HSPU. You’ll see.

      Again, great to hear from you my man, and I hope to speak again. Keep me posted on those shirt bustin’ pecs!!

      • Dan Söderberg

        remember that handstand pushups against the wall can be done in different levels the legs on floorlevel halfway up and the ordinary all the wayup and everything in between should target upper chest and shoulders in diffrent levels logically

        • Old school bodybuilding! Good point Dan. Arnold and many others used to use multiple levels on the inline press, from nearly flat to nearly vertical. In Marion they did the same thing, by wedging the feet up the wall at different heights, up to a handstand pushup.

  • Saitama

    I had a question about bodybuilding Mr wade, I read your diesel 20 article and it makes sense that the half reps and pulse reps build big arms I just wanted to know if I do that and say I build 15 inch arms with it, if I then level it off and just do the standard 2 sets of strict reps will I lose a lot of size? I ask because after I build my arms I want to focus on other areas. Thank you!

    • Saitama–what an awesome question, and it’s something I really should talk about more.

      The answer is a DEFINITE no. You will NOT lose the size gained by specializing on a muscle, just by returning to normal, baseline training.

      The reason is that the body maintains muscle mass far, far FAR more easily than it builds it. The body works by a kind of biological inertia principle called homeostasis: in simple language (I’m simple!) the body doesn’t want to change if it can help it. This is bad news when you wanna BUILD but ideal when you wanna MAINTAIN! This is a truth that will be easily verified by many lifters over many generations.

      So don’t worry–work hard as hell on those guns, and when they reach their max size, you can cut back and enjoy other things. But remember, training is very addictive…after a while you will be wondering…can I maybe get 15 and a half…?!

      Hope this answers your question Saitama: thanks so much for the comment!

      • Saitama

        Man that’s a relief! 15 and a half inch arms?! do I dare dream? HELL YES!!!

        • If not you brother–then who? You got this, Saitama–I’m here for ya!

          • Saitama

            Also someone called Hombre mentioned you said something about a older video of mine, I think it was from my one arm push up training. (I know it’s not a legit prison push up yet but I’ll het there!)

          • Dude, that wuz you?! You’re a beast!!!

          • Saitama

            Nah, I’ve heard you could do over 3 of the legit prison push ups! that’s way more impressive. (side note is I used to have 13 and a half inch arms while doing one arm push ups for low reps, then I switched to 2 arm progressions for 2 sets and my arms are now a little over 14 inches)

          • Amazing achievement my man–what do I always say? Higher reps for muscle-building! You are living proof.

  • Ordinary person

    Would you consider posting a picture? You could crop the head off or something. We would just like to see the type of build your training can give someone over the age of say 50-60 Pretty please!

    • I’ve been asked before bro, but the ink makes it an issue.

      • Ordinary person

        Dang.

  • Alex H

    Hey coach have a couple more questions for ya.. how do you feel about working out when sick? Should you take off and let your body rest or try and work threw it.. also say if you get the flu and can’t work out for a week or two would you have to worry about loosing any strength from that?? Thanks again coach

    • Mohammed

      I’m not Coach (nor am I a doctor) but permit to comment.

      From my experience, I would say never train while sick. Definitely let the body rest. When you train, the body needs to repair itself. Now, when you are sick, the body needs to fight the illness and repair itself at that time, too. If you train and are ill, the body has too much to take care of and you will take longer to recover from the illness- in fact, it can (and does) get worse. Even when the illness goes, wait a few days extra before training again. Whenever I trained too soon after illness, the illness came back.

      Depending on how ill you are, stay in bed, sleep plenty, and have lots of lemon and water (especially with flu). When you can manage to get out of bed, the most activity you should do is go for a very short walk. If your illness is light, then going for a RELAXED walk can even help.

      Don’t worry about losing strength. If you do lose, it’ll be a little and you can get it back quickly. I can tell you this: if you train while ill, you might become even more ill and have to take more time off, and you WILL lose a MORE strength.

      MOST IMPORTANT: listen to your body. If it says to you “No, I won’t train,” then don’t, otherwise, you could have done with a couple of weeks off but you may end up having to take a month off, which is worse!

      Sorry for the long answer.

      • Alex H

        No need to say sorry very good job explaining yourself.. I defiantly appreciated it Mohammed I’ll take your advice and go ahead and wait a couple more days to go back to training thanks again

        • Mohammed

          Best to take as long as you need until you feel 100% good again- could be a few days, or a week or two. To reiterate: when I sleep a lot, drink a lot of lemon-water and piss a lot, the illness goes quickly.

          Get well soon, brother.

    • Hey Alex! Great question–my bad for the late reply, I get there in the end…but wow, top answer from Mohammed! See, Alex? The PCC boys goy your back!

      All I would add is–it depends what you mean by “sick.” If you just got a sniffle or a runny nose, you can work out as usual–it can actually stimulate your body to heal. Any illness that makes you feel flat or weak however, requires a layoff to preserve your energy so you can get better faster. And you have real flu you aint working out even if you want to! (There used to be a flu test called the fifty buck test…if you are in bed ill and you see fifty bucks on the floor outside your window, you don’t have the flu. If you have the flu, you CAN’T get it!)

      Yep, any time you are off due to illness you will lose conditioning. It’s good to take this into account and try to build back, so as not to lose any training “momentum” you have built up. As a good old school rule of thumb, you should take as long to get back to your previous best as you took off. So if you had a week off, take a week to get back to where you were previously, before trying to progress. If you took a month off with an illness (or just life circumstances) take a month to get back. Make sense?

      Hope that helps stud, and hope if you’re ill you get well real soon!

  • DC

    Hey Coach!
    1. Do you have plans to make a regular website with an email address or an “ask coach” section? You can still remain anonymous and we will have access to you.

    2. Do you offer online consulting/coaching? Again, you can still retain anonymity, but maybe to a live call or charge people for 30 minutes of your time.

    Thanks for all the articles. I’m sure I speak for a lot of people that we appreciate everything you do, but are always wanting more!

    • DC–bless you for reaching out with such a sweet comment! It made my day buddy, so thank you for that. To answer:

      1. Nah!

      2. Why pay? Just email Dragon Door support to pass on your email to me and I’ll answer your questions for free. It might take a while–but I’ll get there, I promise.

      Thanks for the appreciation: I appreciate you just as much my friend, trust me!

      • DC

        Thanks for the reply coach! I will definitely pursue that. I have 20+ years of various training behind me, and have now committed to body weight training. No noob questions from me! I’ve read all your stuff and met both Kavadlo brothers, trained only with Danny so far though. I look forward to our correspondence.

        • Me too bro!

          • DC

            Hey Coach! Just left my contact info with dragon door! Thanks!

  • Adolf

    Hey Coach, Adolf here from Asia. I’m a 17 year old, height 5 ft 4 inches, 125 pounds. Is there any way that I can grow taller and heavier? Any help would be much appreciated.

    • Adolf! Great to hear from a bro from Asia. The first thing I would say is boy–do I get asked that question a lot! So you are not alone. The smaller guys mostly feel short, and the taller guys all feel skinny. I can give you some advice here I copied from a different post by me.

      The best advice I can possibly give you Adolf is to seek out the wonderful book by Harvey Day; Yoga for the Athlete–if you can find a copy. It’s an old school yoga manual with an amazing chapter on calisthenics for height. I’m convinced that significant height can be added using Day’s methods. If you can’t find the book, I can give you some pointers here.

      Wall walking is a great start, to keep your spine healthy, nourished and growing. But for every backwards rep you do, you should also perform a FORWARD bend, to stretch your spine. Never push too hard–injury causes the tissues to contract, always. Perform spinal twists also (as in CC2). Hanging is always valuable–learn to relax your spine when you hang, to decompress the discs–this definitely increases height. Finally, focus on postural, standing exercises which will teach you to elongate your spine, hip and leg joints. Most folks lose inches just by standing like slobs!

      As for weight–your weight is determined primarily by your diet. My advice to you is to train hard (not long or often–HARD), get plenty of rest and sleep, and make the most of home cooking. Don’t be afraid of the odd bit of junk food, either–it will help you grow!

      Hope that helps Adolf and big love to you and all the Asian calisthenics athletes!

      • Adolf

        Thanks a bunch for the reply Coach!

  • Ben

    I took your advice and started doing ring flyes coach and what the hell!? I have literally only done them like 7 times (after my 2 push up sets) since then and my shirts are tight against my chest. People even said my chest looks bigger, what’s up with the crazy fast response?

    • Stronger dudes will generally respond faster when they hit the right growth exercise. Stress is what builds muscle and more strength–from your previous training–results in you being able to generate more stress. Looks like you also have all the sweet genetics.

      Great work, Ben. Enjoy your huge pecs, my man!

  • Wade Race

    I’m a big fan, Coach, I’ve read Convict Conditioning front and back, but your generalizations regarding steroids are way off base and inaccurate.

    1.If hard training on steroids wasn’t required to get big, then there would be a lot more successful bodybuilders. I am in no way condoning steroid use, I am 100% natural, I don’t even use protein powders, but I am learned enough to know that if I inject PED’s in my body and sit and netflix binge, I won’t be any Arnold Schwarzenegger, more like Tom Arnold. But throw some hard training and lots of calories, I might come close to Ahnuld. You only get what you put in.
    2. While meat quality is questionable regarding hormones (despite the fact that growth hormones have been illegal in livestock for years now) some cattle, like the blue bell bulls, are mutations that lack the myostation muscle inhibitor gene, which can cause incredible muscle growth in said animals.
    3. Utimately, steroids aid in recovery most of all, calories are the biggest determining factor in determining body composition. Beyond that, whether you train for train for size or strength is another factor, which is why powerlifters don’t have wheels or chests of bodybuilders despite outlifting them, and powerbuilders like Ronnie Coleman and Dorian Yates train for both, which, along with their steroid use, contributed to their domination on the stage.I train for maximum size and strength and so I eat and recover for maximum size and strength, and while I am not superlean, my legs measure 28 inches, naturally.
    4. I’m sure those measurements taken from one of my faves Clancy Ross were competion measurements, not offseason, which means his legs probably measured more before his diet, just like if I were to diet my 28 inchers would probably go to 27 or 26 inches, still more than 24 inches!

    Again, Convict Conditioning takes top billing side by side with Cycling for Pennies by Dante “Doggcrapp” Trudel (and of course anything by the Kavadlos) as the only fitness texts worth reading. But please, Coach, get your facts straight on steroids and stop parroting what the so called “experts” say about them and listen to actual athletes who are open about their steroid use and experiences.

    • Wade my man–great name! Thanks so much for your email, I appreciate the feedback.

      I have thought about your points and contemplated your comment but I gotta say I stand by what I said, bro. Kinda. In fact, reading your comment again I aint even 100% sure we disagree. We might just be arguing about different s**t–see what you think:

      1. I never said you can take gear and not train and look like the Oak. All I said was that steroids–even without training–will add more muscle than training alone. This isn’t bro science, either–several studies reveal this to be reality. The most famous one shows that normal guys given testosterone over ten weeks with NO training gained on average nearly 7lbs of muscle: the guys who trained but took no test gained only 4lbs. You can find discussions of this study all over the joint, but here’s the original: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8637535

      I can list more studies like this if you want.

      The interesting thing is that this study involved very, very light doses of test–many times less than bodybuilders usually take. If the average guy took what heavy users do, the difference would be much, much greater, proving, yeah–steroids will build muscle whether you train or not.

      If you got any studies that prove the opposite, throw em up and I’m happy to add an addendum to the article.

      2. Yeah , hands up, you are right on this. Maybe the photo is a bit misleading. I get cocky sometimes.

      3. Not sure what we are disagreeing about here?

      4. The measurements I use in the article are drawn from the official 1956 Mr USA program list. I don’t believe Clancy was radically smaller prior to competition, otherwise his arms would not have measured so large (17 inches) on the same program. Clancy didn’t have small legs, either–the stats show that from 1939 to 1954, no winner of the Mr America had thighs over 25.5 inches. The differential you mention may well be real but due to a difference in measurement protocols, however–these days lifters often measure thighs nearer the groin, whereas the old-timers measured nearer the knee.

      So whaddya say, Wade? Are we still disagreeing? Either way, thanks for the interesting comment and bless ya for the nice words about CC, I appreciate it my man!

      • Wade Race

        Hey, thank you, it’s such an honor to hear a reply from you, I am not kidding when I say that I have read all your books front to back and while I still train with weights, I still keep the Big Six in rotation at all times because I realize the importance of them. I just have done a lot of research on steroids because, at one time, I am ashamed to say, I have considered taking them, but ultimately chose not to. But I will say this, steroids are far more demonized than they should be, watch the documentary “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” by Chris Bell for the basis of my beliefs regarding that. I have read up on Dorian Yates’ experiences with steroids, as well as powerlifter Louie Simmons’ 30-plus year experiences on them, and the way I see it, steroids are not the devil, it’s just that I won’t take them because 1., I am Straight Edge, and 2. I am not a pro bodybuilder or powerlifter, I am just a physical culture enthusiast, from Sandow, to old school calisthenics, to modern bodybuilding.
        Keep being awesome, Coach!

        • Wade, it’s an honor to speak with you and have ya read my s**t–the compliment means a lot to me, thanks man!

          I actually agree with you 100%. Yeah, health-wise, steroids do have negative stuff going for em (cholesterol, organ damage, blood pressure, etc), but you know what? It’s fairly acceptable, and really not so different from something legal and socially accepted, say booze. In terms of acute health risks–serious damage or death–steroids are pretty low risk. Certainly compared to most other rec drugs.

          That said, I absolutely APPLAUD your decision to stay natural. For me, the issue with young guys today is the hormonal suppression caused by steroids. Even after just one or two cycles, natural test is suppressed, leading to low libido, anxiety, low energy and athleticism, etc. And s**t, this can be (and in some cases is) permanent. This is why so many ex-users are on trt now. Can you imagine getting shot with a needle every month or two, NOT to get big and swole, but just to feel normal, like you did before the juice?! No f***ing thanks.

          Anyhow bro, thanks for the cool comment and the reply, and I’ll keep being awesome if you do. Hope to speak to you again, Wade my man!

  • Hasan

    Hey coach…How to start survival calisthenics?
    When injury is healed how to progress to your previous routine ?
    How to kick into handstand? Any alternatives?

    • Hasan! Great questions!

      -Start survival calisthenics with some burpees after each training session. Just one set, but try and build reps whenever you can.

      -Depends how long you took off, injured. If you took two months off, take two months to build back to where you were. This will lessen the chance of reinjury and help your joints build strength in time with the muscles.

      -Before you start, ensure you are comfortable kicking up into a HEADstand–at least ten times in a row. If kicking freestyle is difficult, kick against a wall. If this is impossible, use a partner to guide your legs. If a partner is unavailable–and if balance rather than strength is your issue–try FACING a wall and slowly walking your legs up it.

      Hope this helps, my friend!

      • Hasan

        I have not days off during injury but regressed my exercises now will I have to hit cc progression standard or progress by doing low reps say 15 reps instead of 20

        • If in doubt, do your best to aim for higher reps. These will help you milk your strength, build your joints and accelerate any nagging tissue issues. You can always drop to lower reps in six months, Hasan. Good luck, bro!

          • Hasan

            Thanks coach for your kind reply…

          • Thanks for your awesome question–please keep me posted on your progress, bro

  • Clancy Ross

    I wonder how these old timers built that impressive blend between their shoulders and chests, its like its a single muscle! their stomachs also look great, not super defined and kind of like a slight vacuum effect. Any idea how they achieved this look? Also great article! I agree Clancy was one of the best if not the best! I came across this funny old video of Clancy you might find amusing https://youtu.be/mx0qCSTNFcE This type of physique is my goal!

    • Brother, this is an AMAZING find, and I’m so grateful for you sharing!

      It’s astonishing to see the video footage of old Clancy, and actually pretty surprising how great his physique holds up, particularly the upper-body mass he has…if folks were seeing him today, most would probably shout “steroids”…

      …and I’d probably be one of ’em! Thanks again my man, this was a BLAST!

      • Clancy Ross

        Have you ever seen a calisthenics trainee who was comparable to Clancy?

        • Sorry bro, I was enjoying the video so much I forgot to answer the questions!

          I’m convinced that “look” of a streamlined waist is just the result of natural muscular development–with an emphasis on training the transversus muscle properly, just by sucking the gut in, keeping it braced. This look was common. It looks almost unusual compared to modern bodybuilders, because modern guys use drugs which cause the entire to grow–even the intestines. The truly streamlined waist has pretty much vanished in contemporary bodybuilding.

          I have never seen a natural bodyweight guy comparable to Clancy. His huge pecs–and the “blend” with the front delts you notice–was due to his obsession with bench pressing. He was one of the first lifters who truly built his workouts around the exercise. If I remember correctly, he began doing the exercise obsessively when he was in the Navy…his training space was cramped, so he could not perform overhead presses, so did set after set after set of benches instead, and as you can see his pectorals and front delts became gigantic as a result. In fact, from a pure bodybuilding point of view, they totally overshadow his entire physique. It did look awesome though, huh?

          Calisthenics athletes tend to focus on herder presses like one-arm pushups and dips, and other movements which tend to overload the shoulders and arms more than the pectorals. That’s why a bodyweight guy is unlikely to look the same, in my opinion.

          • Clancy Ross

            Thanks a bunch! well i’m really specialising on my chest at the moment with tough exercises like strict ring flyes and straight bar dips, I guess if I get as obsessed with the chest as Clancy was i’ll at least get some of his results! I agree with your thoughts on the stomach and waist as well, I always do stomach vacuums after a tough set of hanging leg raises. One last question if I could, have any advice on building a big bicep peak? is that just something some people have and others don’t or can anyone build that beefy arm look? (If you like I can keep you posted on the results of your advice, been using C mass and CC1-3 and have had some great results!)

          • Dude! Of COURSE I want you to keep me posted, bro–goes without saying!!

            As for pecs, probably straight bar dips and Gironda-style dips will come the closest match to the bench press, but if you are already doing ring flyes, you already know how to blast your pecs. (As a side note, in his book Loaded Guns, Larry Scott said the bench press was s*** and never worked for him, and that he got all his mass from ring flyes,…so different strokes, eh?)

            As for biceps peak, it’s largely genetic, yeah. But a point to remember is that the acme of the peak is on the OUTER head of the biceps: http://seannal.com/images/huge-biceps.jpg
            This head is worked best with the hands in a neutral, or facing, grip. So for a max peak, supplement your pullups with some hammer pullups!

            There’s a secret tip for ya! Look forward to speaking again soon!

          • Clancy Ross

            This is great advice! written gold! I will use these supplemental exercises for sure, I normally do 2 sets but I might switch the second set to a different variation so for example instead of 2 sets of underhand pull ups I’ll do one set then one set of neutral pull ups, and instead of 2 sets of straight bar dips I’ll do one set of straight bar dips and one set of gironda dips. Sound like a decent plan?

          • GREAT plan! Keep me informed bro!

          • Against Gravity

            Hey Clancy Ross, I’d like to ask you something about those ‘strict ring flies’. When you say ‘strict’, you mean that your elbows are fully straight?

            I’ve a similar problem with chest. Currently doing one arm one leg push-ups, but I feel the tension only in triceps and shoulders. I’m a light athlete, so ring dips feel too easy, even bulgarian ones. Also, I’ve tried harder dip variations like the leaned-forward RTO dips that are recommended by Steven Low in the book ‘Overcoming Gravity’, but I feel again the shoulders take the majority of the load, pretty much like what happens when doing gymnastics planche variations.

            I’ve also tried weighted ring dips. They feel decently okay in the chest, but again, triceps and shoulders take a lot of the load, so I’m not sure how much the chest is really working.

            So I decided to try ring flies. The bent-elbow variation, not the straight arm one. I’ve elevated my feet higher than my shoulders. And yes, I feel a decent tension in my chest, but the exercise doesn’t seem that hard. Currently doing 10 reps. I wonder what to do to keep making it harder, because I don’t want to add reps and reps over time, since as you know, that’s not optimal for muscle mass, but endurance.

            So I wonder if the straight-elbow variation would be even harder for the chest, after a proper conditioning time. I know the straight arm put a lot stress in the elbow joint, like for example the iron cross, but I guess through high amounts of patience over time the elbow would be conditioned enough to perform them safely with the elevated-feet variation. But maybe it’s not worthwhile, I mean: maybe there’s not that much difference for the chest to do them with elbows straight.

            Anyway, a second question. In case you are doing them with elbows slightly bent, how are you going to keep making ring flies harder once your feet are higher than your shoulders, and your reps per set pretty high (20+) as well?

          • Against Gravity

            By ring flies I actually meant ‘ring flyes’, sorry. English aint my native language.

            Also, when I said that my feet are elevated higher than my shoulders, I meant they’re higher in the top position, not just in the bottom position. The horizontal adduction is actually an inclined horizontal adduction.

          • Clancy Ross

            Awesome question and I’m sorry for not being clearer in my answer. By strict I mean slow cadence, Something I’ve found that works great for chest development is very slow moves, 2-3 seconds going down and a good 1-2 second pause at the bottom. As for push ups for me they will always be king for Triceps development, dips are way better for pecs in my opinion. If you can’t really get our chest to feel it don’t worry too much, I only feel it slightly in my chest but still have no problem building it, one method I can recommend though is trying straight bar dips but as you press up really try to bring your hands together to create inward tension, for ring flyes I always recommend a decent bend in the arm, this loads the chest much better and prevents common shoulder and elbow injuries (I want you to be strong for ever my man) A plan I’d give ( remember as a natural trainee it can take 6 months or more to see decent development but who cares!) is work on dipping progression 2-3 times a week with 2 nice hard sets building to 2 sets of 10 reps (aim for the straight bar dip as a goal) followed by 2 hard sets of ring flyes (you won’t need much of a warm up after dips so if your up for it get straight to them) After a few months as you gain strength you can experiment with the gironda dip, be warned though this one is rough on the shoulders and elbows if you aren’t ready for it. Hope this helps my man, Paul probably could have answered better but that’s my take on it.

          • Against Gravity

            Okay, thanks a lot for your reply!

      • John Campbell

        Hi Paul, How are you? Hope things are going well. Just wanted to ask you some questions:

        1. Who’s Melanie Shoshana Ault?
        2. How sore is to get your nose broken in a fight? + What’s the prognosis like?
        3. I did Boxing Sparring last week. Was really fun. As silly as this sounds, I don’t mind getting hit but I don’t like hurting anyone (even if I don’t like them.) Any tips to get over this?

        4. I was doing legs raises and got myself to the progression standard of step 5. All subsequent steps require a pull-up bar. My life got busy and there’s no safe pull-up bar substitutes near my house so I stopped doing leg raises completely for 3 weeks. How should I go about getting back to where I was again? At the moment I’m just trying the progression standard of step 5 leg raises every second day. They seem fine, I just find the breathing a bit difficult.

        5. I’m thinking of going to the gym to get to the pull up bars so I can progress with leg raises indefinitely. (I hate the gym but it’s the only place I know that has proper pull up bars.) If I can make it out to the gym Mondays & Friday and add 2 reps every leg raises workout, is that OK?

      • Bobbington Mc’Westerner

        Yo Paul man, can you really do one arm handstand pushups on your fingertips like in your book? That s!t is crazy man.
        Also have you seen the kung fu master on youtube who can hold a handstand on a single index finger? that’s like 150+ lbs on one finger. Bruce Lee could even press up his 145lb frame supporting the weight on just 2 fingers. That’s the 2 finger pushup.
        So what’s the most impressive feat of strength you have ever witnessed?

  • Iúri Lage

    Hello Coach, greeting from Portugal!

    First of all I just wanted to thank you for all the great knowledge and information that you have been providing for the calisthenics community over the past years (much more to come I hope!) Also I have read every single one of your books and you Sir are indeed a great motivation and role model for all of us natural athletes who aspire to achieve the strongest body we possibly can with only calisthenics training.
    I have been training with calisthenics for the past 2/3 years and recently I started following the CC Veterano Routine (with some adjustements and with the added exercices from “Shotgun Muscle” from CC2.)
    I have been experiencing some great strenght results by following religiously step by step the Big Six Movements and your advices from the book. However I have had trouble putting on muscle size since I started training and now that I am currently following a ketogenic diet (3 meals a day just like you reccomend), gaining muscle mass has become even harder for me

    Following this ketogenic nutritional approach has made me feel better than ever before and I have also lost a significant amount of body fat. However I would like to gain more muscle and adding more calories just seems to have no effect really. I have also lost almost all of the vascularity I had in my arms (which I would really like to gain back)
    Coach, do you have any advice for me to build more muscle with only calisthenics and following a keto diet? I have been concerned lately because everyone says it is almost impossible to gain muscle following these 2 methods together, however it is just what makes me feel happy and healthy.

    I would really appreciate if you had the time to read this message and give me some tips or advices.
    Once again thank you for everything (reading your books and doing calisthenics on a daily basis are two things that literally changed my life, for the better).
    All the best,
    Iúri Lage.

    • Iuri! Great to hear from you–I appreciate the thoughtful comment more than you know. Thank you!

      I will hold my hands up and say that I am not an expert on nutrition, and I never claimed to be. My approach is old school, simple and scientific, that’s all. But it works!

      While I would never tell any folks what they should do (or not do) if you read my books, you know I advocate a three-squares-a-day balanced diet. “Balanced”, in part, means a balance of macronutrients. I don’t believe in special diets where one (or more!) of the macronutrients is severely restricted. I didn’t believe the high-carb bulls*** in the eighties, and I don’t buy the low-carb stuff that’s so trendy these days, either.

      Please don’t get me wrong, Iuri old buddy. If you are enjoying your diet and you feel great, please don’t think I’m telling you to come off it. I’m not. More power to you, man! But if you are telling me that you are restricting carbs and not growing; that you are restricting carbs and your pumps have gone; then the answer, in my opinion, is to stop restricting carbs.

      Thank you so much for your kind words about my books. If it has changed your life for the better, even a little bit, it was worth it for me…big love to all the bodyweight brothers and sisters in Portugal!!

      • Iúri Lage

        Coach, once again thank you so much for the repply. The fact that you spent your time reading and anwering my comment means more to me than you could imagine…
        I will (like always) take your advice in consideration. I will probably try to add some calories and slowly reintroduce some carbs to see how it goes. If after a while I do not overcome this problem, than probably like you said I will have to think in changing my nutritional approach.
        Once again I wish you all the best, and please keep posting more contente like these whenever you can!

        • You are the man! Bless you bro and keep me posted please!

          • Iúri Lage

            Hello once again Coach! It’s me the Keto guy…
            So after almost a month of thinking and researching after your reply I decided that maybe to gain more muslce mass, more strenght and improve my trainings it might be a good idea to change my nutritional approach and add some of the carbs back into my diet again.
            However, I would like to know your opinion about the macros ratio before I make these changes. Maybe something like 25% protein and 35%-40% carbs and fat might be a good idea, however I don’t know if I should increase the carbs and reduce the fat gradually or just get back to a balanced macros ratio from one day to the other.
            Also do you still reccomend 3 square meals per day on this kind of diet?
            Once again thank you for your time and for your patience with me. I believe that in order to be the best version of ourselves we need to experience different things and keep learning new stuff. That’s why I believe that these change might put me in a better position and improve myself.
            I would love to hear your opinion!
            Also Merry Christmas Coach! I wish you all the best,
            Iúri Lage

  • John Campbell

    Hey Paul. How are you? Hope things are going well. I posted this message earlier but it got deleted for some reason?! Don’t know why but here it is again anyway. Just wanted to ask you some questions:

    1. Who’s Melanie Shoshana Ault?
    2. How sore is to get your nose broken in a fight? + What’s the prognosis like?
    3. I did Boxing Sparring last week. Was really fun. As silly as this sounds, I don’t mind getting hit but I don’t like hurting anyone (even if I don’t like them.) Any tips to get over this?

    4. I was doing legs raises and got myself to the progression standard of step 5. All subsequent steps require a pull-up bar. My life got busy and there’s no safe pull-up bar substitutes near my house so I stopped doing leg raises completely for 3 weeks. How should I go about getting back to where I was again? At the moment I’m just trying the progression standard of step 5 leg raises every second day. They seem fine, I just find the breathing a bit difficult.

    5. I’m thinking of going to the gym to get to the pull up bars so I can progress with leg raises indefinitely. (I hate the gym but it’s the only place I know that has proper pull up bars.) If I can make it out to the gym Mondays & Friday and add 2 reps every leg raises workout, is that OK?

  • John Campbell

    Hi guys, I’m new to Disqus. My comments keep on getting deleted here for some reason but I don’t know why. I haven’t been posting anything inappropriate in them any way, they were just some questions for Coach Wade. Any one have any idea? 🙂

  • Zell Dincht

    Howdy! bitching article MR Wade! First up I wanted to say thanks for CC3, thanks to your book I finally learnt how to do the backflip! secondly, I know you’ve probably been asked this a billion times but I gotta ask! How come you refuse to put up a picture and stay incognito? If your dead set on not showing us your results from training can you at least give me a black and white concrete answer to this question? here it is, could you please describe the biggest bodyweight guy (muscular development rather than height) in some detail? arm measurments, weight, most impressive bodyparts etc? I just want a idea how far some people get with bodyweight only training.

  • Zell Dincht

    Zell Dincht • 2 days ago (sorry my comment disappeared for a while so I reposted it)

    Howdy! bitching article MR Wade! First up I wanted to say thanks for CC3, thanks to your book I finally learnt how to do the backflip! secondly, I know you’ve probably been asked this a billion times but I gotta ask! How come you refuse to put up a picture and stay incognito? If your dead set on not showing us your results from training can you at least give me a black and white concrete answer to this question? here it is, could you please describe the biggest bodyweight guy (muscular development rather than height) in some detail? arm measurments, weight, most impressive bodyparts etc? I just want a idea how far some people get with bodyweight only training.

  • Kyle

    When’s the last part of the convict conditioning program coming out?

  • Aaron

    Hey Coach! I loved this article! I just started getting into convict conditioning and calisthenics in general. I was wondering, in convict conditioning you listed stretch pushups in the variants section, but you recommended against using it, as it doesn’t aid in chest hypertrophy. But in “The Diesel 20” (a fantastic article by the way) you listed in under pushup day as a chest exercise. Can you explain this (seeming) contradiction?

    • Clancy Ross

      I can help my man, in diesel twenty its used as a finisher, moves like that only have value when doing them while already fatigued since you cant really be progressive with it. useless for the majority of training but valuable as a add on if that makes sense.

      • Aaron

        Thanks for the clarification!

  • Mike

    Hi coach yet another great article. Some advice please if you wouldn’t mind. I can do 2 sets of 20 close squats easily for a while now, but still have a lot of trouble with uneven squats or any type of unilateral squat, I know my hips are tight so I do a lot of l sit, leg raise and bridge progeasing but still have the most trouble keeping the straight leg controlled. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Mike

    • Clancy Ross

      I had a similar problem, a progression that made a huge difference was doing assisted single leg squats. just grab a door frame or sign post and use some hand assistance to take balance out of the equation, after a few weeks your legs will loosen up and you’ll do fine.

      • Mike

        Much appreciated clancy

  • Matk Skyer

    I recall that Bruce Randall, after training while getting as big, (&fat), as he possibly could, (to maximize his strength), & then leaned-out to win Mr America, actually weighed a bit LESS as Mr America than he had as a lean, athletic Marine who hadn’t yet lifted!

  • Dan Söderberg

    a short question for the grand puba don gorgan a k a first citizen Paul Wade himself ive seen the bodyweight biceps excersize called # headbangers on youtube but im lost when it comes how to progress up to that particular level any ideas??

    • Clancy Ross

      ignore em, truth be told most of these newer exercises are utter garbage. a better alternative would be underhand Australian pull ups or underhand ring curls, these are simple to progress. just be sure most of your efforts are going towards the major dogs like underhand pull ups, dips and push ups, save isolation stuff till later and only use them as add ons my man.

  • Thanks for a great article! I definitely agree that with a healthy diet and sound strength training program you can get REALLY big… Even without banned substances.

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