The Ten Commandments of Calisthenics Mass

by Paul "Coach" Wade on October 15, 2013

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How to build real muscle using bodyweight methods: Part I


Finally the tide is starting to turn.

Young and old athletes (and wannabe athletes) are switching over to calisthenics in their droves. There is a growing consensus that if you want a coordinated, supple, mobile, functional body, the best way to get it is using your body’s own weight. Rubber bands, plastic gadgets, cables, machines and infomercial ab gimmicks are out. The floor and the horizontal bar are in. We’re going old school, baby!

But what a lot of athletes (and coaches) still don’t realize is that bodyweight is also an awesome tool for packing on slabs of dense muscle mass.

Yes, you can see a lot of incredibly powerful bodyweight athletes with fairly low levels of muscle mass performing ridiculously impressive feats like muscle-ups, the human flag, one-arm handstands and whatnot. That doesn’t mean that bodyweight training doesn’t increase muscle mass—it can (and much more effectively than current bodybuilding methods).

Lionel Ng is built more like a karate master than a bodybuilder. But he has trained himself to perform impressive feats of total-body strength—like the one-arm elbow lever and the human flag—using calisthenics. (Many thanks to the awesome Basic Training Academy, Singapore for the use of the image.)

What it means is that there are a lot of athletes out there who use bodyweight in a specific way to develop movement strength, and skill, while deliberately maintaining their body mass at lean n’ mean levels to keep them lithe and sleek—after all, if performance is what you’re lookin’ for, the lighter you are, the easier bodyweight techniques will be, right? For these guys, extra pounds of muscle is nothing but drag, inertia. They don’t want it.

However…not everyone wants to be a clean-burnin’, high-voltage, low-weight, gazelle. Some of us want to be bulls. Big, beefy, scary-looking muthas with bulging arms, plate-armor pecs, thick, wide lats and dangerous delts. The good news is that bodyweight training can give this to you—and it can give it to you while keeping you mobile and supple, and protecting your joints.

But if extra inches of muscle are what you yearn for, you can’t train the way the gazelles train—inspiring as they are. If you want to bulk up to your maximum potential, you need to follow a different set of rules, stud. You need to religiously observe your own mass-building Commandments.

What Commandments, you ask..? Read on, future champ.

COMMANDMENT I: Embrace reps!

These days, low reps, high sets and low fatigue are the “in” methodology. Why low reps with low fatigue? Coz it’s great for building skill. If you want to get really good at a movement—be it a handstand or an elbow lever—the key is to train your nervous system. That means performing an exercise perfectly plenty of times, to beat the ideal movement pattern into your “neural map”. The best way to achieve this is to do a few low reps—not hard or long enough to burn out or get too tired—then rest for a bit and try again. Wash, rinse, repeat. This is typically how very lean, low-weight bodyweight guys train to get hugely strong but without adding too much muscle. It’s a phenomenal way to drill efficient motion-pathways into your nervous system, while keeping fresh. Like I say, it’s ideal for training a skill.

But for stacks of jacked up muscle? Sorry, this method just won’t cut it. Muscle isn’t built by training the nervous system. It’s built by training the MUSCLE! And for this, you need reps, kiddo. Lovely, lovely, reps.


To be big, you must first become weak—pay your dues with some serious reps.

To cut a long story short, you build big muscles by draining the chemical energy in your muscle cells. Over time, your body responds to this threat by accumulating greater and greater stores of chemical energy in the cells. This makes them swell, and voila—bigger muscles. But to trigger this extra storage, you gotta exhaust the chemical energy in those cells. This can only be done by hard, sustained work. Gentle work won’t do it—if the exercise is too low in intensity, the energy will come from fatty acids and other stores, rather than the precious muscle cells. Intermittent work—low reps, rest, repeat—won’t do it either, because the chemical energy in the cells rapidly regenerates when you rest, meaning stores never get dangerously low enough for the body to say “uh-oh—better stockpile bigger banks of this energy!”

The best way to exhaust the energy in your muscles is through tough, grit-yer-teeth, continuous reps. Learn to love ‘em. For huge gains, temporarily drop the single, double, and triple reps. Definitely start looking at reps over five. Six to eight is great. Double figures are even better. Twelve to fifteen is another muscle-building range. I’ve met very strong guys training with low reps for years who couldn’t build a quarter inch on their arms. They switched to performing horizontal pulls for sets of twenty reps, and gained two inches per arm in a single month! These kind of gains aren’t uncommon on Convict Conditioning, due to the insistence that you pay your dues with higher reps. They work!


This Commandment directly follows from the last one. Using low reps, keeping fresh, and taking lots of rest between sets is a fairly easy way to train. But pushing through continuous rep after rep on hard exercises is much, much tougher. The higher the reps, the harder it gets.

Your muscles will burn and scream at you to quit. (That “burning” is your chemical energy stores being incinerated for fuel, which is exactly what you want!) Your heart-rate will shoot through the roof; you will tremble, sweat, and feel systemic stress. You may even feel nauseous.

Good! You are doing something right!


Whatever modern coaches may say, don’t be afraid of pushing yourself.

Like I say, the current trend is towards easy sets, keeping fresh, working on skill. These days you don’t “work out”, you practice. “Working ” and “pushing yourself”….these are filthy terms in gyms today. They are considered old-fashioned, from outta the seventies and eighties. (Remember those decades? When drug-free dudes in the gym actually had some f***ing muscle?) I mean Christ, some coaches take this philosophy so far that you’d think if an athlete went to “failure”, their goddam balls would drop off. Jesus!

Sure, I don’t recommend going to complete failure on bodyweight exercise—at least, most of the time. I’d prefer it if you left a little energy in your body after a set to control your movements, and maybe defend yourself if you have to. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard. Damn hard.

Far from destroying you physically, brutal effort—when moderated by plenty of rest and sleep—causes the body to release testosterone, growth hormone, endorphins, and plenty of other goodies Mother Nature always intended to reward Her hunters and warriors with.

So accept the challenge. Balls, wall—together, okay? Don’t ever be afraid to push yourself into new zones of pain and effort if you want to get bigger. I have seen twigs turned into oaks this way, and you can do it too—I believe in you!

COMMANDMENT III: Use Simple, Compound Exercises!

Again, this Commandment is related to the two which have gone before. If you are going to push yourself hard on moderate-to-high reps, the exercises you are doing can’t be complex, high-skill exercises. If handstands and elbow levers cause you to concentrate to balance, you can’t overload using them—your form would collapse (and so would you) before you were pushing yourself hard enough to drain your muscles.

So if you want to work with high-skill exercises, use the low reps/keep fresh/high sets philosophy. But if you want to get swole, you need relatively low skill exercises—this is what I mean by “simple” exercises. “Simple” doesn’t mean “easy”. Doing twenty perfect one-arm pushups is “simple”—it ain’t easy!

Cal5“Simple” means relatively low-skill—it’s not the same as “easy”!

Stick to exercises you can pour a huge amount of muscular effort into, without wasting nervous energy on factors like balance, coordination, gravity, body placement, etc. Dynamic exercises—where you go up and down—are generally far better than static holds, because they typically require less concentration and they drain the muscle cells more rapidly.

The best dynamic exercises are compound exercises, which involve multiple muscle groups at once. Not only are these simpler—the body works as a whole, which is more natural—but you are getting a bigger bang for your buck by working different muscles at the same time. (No weak links for you, Daniel-san.) For example, focus on:

  • Pullups
  • Bodyweight squats, pistols and shrimp squats
  • Pushups
  • Australian pullup variations
  • Dips
  • Bridges
  • Handstand pushups (against a wall—lower skill, more effort)
  • Leg raises

All of these movements can be made increasingly difficult to suit your muscle-building rep range (see Commandment V). There are no excuses for not kicking your own ass, here.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that skill-based techniques—like elbow levers and handstands—don’t have a place in your program. They are valuable exercises and are taught extensively as part of the PCC curriculum. But using them exclusively for muscle gain is definitely a big mistake. Throw in simple, compound moves and watch those muscles sprout like never before!


This is another pretty controversial suggestion—but, as always, it flows from the previous Commandments perfectly. Why? Well, if you are hitting your body with hard exercises, and pouring that effort into enough reps to completely exhaust the muscles, why would you need to perform lots of sets?

Depleting your muscle cells beyond the point your body is comfortable with is what causes the biological “survival trigger” that tells your body to add more energy (i.e., extra muscle) for next time. That’s all you need to do. Once you have pulled that trigger and told your body to make more muscle…why keep pulling the trigger, again and again? It’s a waste of time and energy—worse in fact, because it damages the muscles further and eats into your recovery time. In the words of infamous exercise ideologist, Mike Mentzer:

“You can take a stick of dynamite and tap it with a pencil all day and it’s not going to go off. But hit it once with a hammer and ‘BANG’—it will go off!”

Many folks disagree with Mentzer’s training philosophy—I don’t agree with all of it—but he certainly nailed it when he said this. The biological switch for muscle growth needs to be triggered with a hammer, not a f***ing pencil. One hard, focused, exhausting set on a compound exercise is worth more than twenty, thirty half-hearted sets.

If you keep work sets low, you are much more likely to genuinely give your all when you train. Add sets and you subconsciously pace yourself.

I usually advise folks looking for maximum growth to perform two hard sets per exercise, following a proper warm-up. Growth will happen with one set, but two sets feels like a belt-and-braces approach. I sometimes advise more sets for beginners, but this not for growth—it’s to help them get more experience with a movement. It’s practice, basically. Once you know how to perform an exercise properly, two hard sets is all you need.

Many eager trainees ask me if they should perform more sets. The trouble is, adding sets does not encourage hard, high-performance training— just the opposite. Once you are doing five, six sets, one of two things happens; either you give your all and your last sets are pathetic compared to the first couple of sets, or you pace yourself, making all the sets weaker than they would be otherwise. Neither of these situations will promote extra growth. They just hinder recovery and increase the risk of injury.

Avoid “volume creep”. Training hard is very different from training long—in fact, the two are mutually exclusive. Keep workouts short and sharp and reap the rewards, kemosabe!

For Paul “Coach” Wade’s Bodyweight Muscle Commandments 5-10, tune in next week for part 2 of this article.

The models for most of these photos are the incredible Al Kavadlo and Danny Kavadlo! As ever, thanks you guys. The image of the one-arm elbow lever was provided by my buddy Jay Ding over at the Basic Training Academy. Check their site—they are doing some amazing bodyweight training, Singapore style!


Paul “Coach” Wade is the author of five Convict Conditioning DVD/manual programs. Click here for more information about Paul Wade, and here for more information on Convict Conditioning DVD’s and books available for purchase from the publisher.

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  • C


    I follow CC’s Veterano, with slight modifications (I grip folded towels instead of a bar whenever applicable and I do the leg raises with one hand only). I have had, in my view, tremendous success in terms of strength. I do three master steps already and I am only a few months away from two more (that one-arm handstand pushup seems hard though…). All this after short of a year of training where I typically break my personal bests in all movements every week. And I didn’t start out with an awesome body either, far from it! As far as muscle mass is concerned, I have deliberately been trying to hold back my growth slightly by progressing to harder variations of the big six at fewer reps than you suggest in the book, since I thought this would allow me to progress faster. To bridge the strength gap, I came up with my own “intermediate” progressions, which has worked fine I think. My question is the following; if I want to reach the master steps as fast as possible, would I have been better off (or more importantly; am I better off going forward) had I been using higher reps, given that I’m essentially indifferent to adding additional muscle mass? Further, I have been able to consistently drop fat during this year with no decrease in the pace of my strength growth. Would that still be possible if I increased the reps to the range 10-15 with the intention to build more muscle mass? (I know that in CC2 you say that you can when you are in the high rep range on some movements from time to time but you don’t say whether it is possible if you stay with high reps on all movements for longer periods of time).



    • C, great to hear your feedback my friend!

      Just to emphasize, this article is about building mass–not necessarily strength or technical proficiency. High reps will not get you to the Master Steps faster. They will only get you bigger, faster!

      Well done on losing fat while building strength. Building mass while losing fat is trickier, but you CAN do it! IF you need more tips, just contact Dragon Door support, and they will pass your email on to me. I’ll respond personally.

      Great to hear you are doing well–I’m proud of ya, kid!

      • BarHawks

        Hey Paul Wade, I just had a quick question for calisthenics. I did calisthenics for a good solid 4 1/2 months and stopped because I was brain washed by people saying that I will not make any progress doing calisthenics, although I made great progress. I am back at it again after reading convict conditioning and it has motivated me to get back into full time now 100% no weights! I am pretty much at intermediate level and I want to know what I can do to pack on more size! i want to bulk up just a little bit more and then just keep a nice physique like a gymnast! do you have any advice?? and also when i do you workouts stated in the book should i just pick a few and do it on that given day and switch it up with other work outs the next day or should I do them all? I need your help please I want to get to the advanced stage.

        Thanks again,

  • bob

    its low reps many sets or not?cause he ‘s saying both so it’s confusing:

    • To gain size, the first rule I give is to use moderate-to-high reps. The fourth rule is to limit sets to a minimum.

      I am not sure how this is confusing you.

      • Apologies to any blind folks reading this.

  • AH

    So what you are saying is, if I’m performing pull ups for example and I do 4 set of 10-12 reps I will get better results in term of building mass if I perform 2 set of 20-24 reps?

    • Short and sharp, AH–always. Two sets giving your all is better than four weaker sets where you hold back some. I would recommend two sets of 10-12, using whatever pullup progression keeps you in that range. Maybe 6-8 very strict reps, then knock out a few reps with a bit of a kip to take you beyond. That would put beef on a skin and bone back!

      • AH

        I’m doing strict form pull ups using a vest, I’m pushimg hard by the last rep but im going to this a try to see how I get on going to full failure on the 1 or 2 sets, I added more set as the general rule is more reps/sets = more work overall even with a short rest, this is why methods like German volume training works well, it may be broken down into 10 sets but it’s still 100 reps total, going to failure in 1 or 2 sets you might only reach 50-60 reps total which less volume, more sets has worked for me to increase total volume but I’m going to switch it up for a while and see how I get on.

        • Please keep us all posted on your results and any new ideas you develop from the process, my friend.

    • Blakthorn

      the usual way of thinking is “If you can do MANY set+reps, its not hard enough” so use a variation that exhaust you with 2 set of 10-12 reps. 🙂

  • Matt Schifferle

    I’ve always refered to myself as a body weight body builder. People always question if I can build as much muscle as I have through calisthenics but I really believe it much easier to pack on the muscle with BW training. These commandments will help even more. Thanks Paul!

    • With your pecs, nobody is gonna confuse you with a swimmer, kid. I even slipped in a reference to dips in honor of the Red Delta Project!

  • Max Kryk

    “That doesn’t mean that bodyweight training doesn’t increase muscle mass—it can (and much more effectively than current bodybuilding methods)” – so why don’t we see pro bodybuilders doing bodyweight squats instead of back/front squats or pushups instead of bench press?

    “Avoid “volume creep”. Training hard is very different from training long—in fact, the two are mutually exclusive. Keep workouts short and sharp and reap the rewards, kemosabe!”

    Look at Littlebeastm (you should watch him on youtube!), Adam Raw, Lord Vital or Lada Pridal – big guys who built their mass with training with high volume AND high intensity. I was working out according to Convict Conditioning – I saw gains in strenght, but not in mass – it has changed when I moved to high intensity+low reps+a lot of sets.

    I have a lot of respect for you, Coach. I disagree with some statements from your great book and I don’t understand the PCC thing (you were critising personal trainers, who get some certifications in two days!), but I really enjoyed your books. Sorry for my bad English.

    • Max, a lot of people will disagree with my philosophy–you aint alone, bud! Yes, lots of strong guys have built mass with low reps, but–in my opinion–they would be bigger if they used my method. (Also, there’s more on this approach in part 2 of the article.) The vast majority of truly huge athletes use moderate-to-high reps, and this has always been the case–always.

      Glad CC got you strong, but I’ve had feedback from hundreds of folks who similarly had big jumps in muscle mass on the program. I would have to see exactly how you did it to be able to help locate the problem here.

      You are right–generally, I’m not a fan of personal trainers. That’s why I stepped in with Dragon Door and the Kavadlos to help set the situation RIGHT!

      • Max Kryk

        Thanks for your fast reply. And i don’t disagree with your philosophy – it was one of best parts of your books, especially in CC 2. I just don’t understand some things (proor example, you are against bench press, because 1) problems with rotator cuff 2) pressing with closed palms, without flat hands. But when the technique is right and the lower back doesn’t touch the bench, everything should be ok. And does the second point mean, that we should avoid handstand pushups on bars on dips?

        Again, I love this book. I did a program from it for about 7 months and than I was working out according to the “street workout/calisthenics methology” with more volume. I had more gains, but because of my diet, not of programming? (this is my progress from the past: ) Now I started lifting weights – your text about oldtime strongman and bodybuilders was really fantastic and I try to train like them (well, not exactly, because I want to find my own way, but look at experience of people, who are at this moment better then me) – only compoud movements, strenght first, no isolation and machines. Your book was my inspiration and the reason I started working out – and, in fact, I see weight training only as a supplement to bodyweight training (3 days in the gym and weighted calisthenics, 3 days of bodyweight training).

        Again, thanks a lot for your reply and books. It may be funny, but I would love to read more about Joe, your training philosophy and strongman&bodybuilders from the past. This part of CC1 and CC2 was a true inspiration!

        • Max, it was genuinely cool to get your feedback, brother. And as for those photos of you, a slap on the back is in order–you are doing incredible, kid!

          You are right–I am anti-weights–there’s no way around it. That said, at my age, I’m not about disrespecting other forms of training–seriously. I admire ANYONE who gets off their ass and puts forth effort, whatever they do.

          I’m more about saying, as clear as I can, “this is what we did–it worked for us”. Folks are then free to pick and choose what they like to try from my methods. Some will take it all. Others only need fragments.

          Hell, if I can be part of something that inspires guys like you in the younger generation to start a journey, then wow…I am a real proud man.


          • Max Kryk

            And you should be proud! The calisthenics community in Poland (I’m not a part of it, because I like to work out only for myself, but its great to see how they grow stronger) is really under influence of your books! Some people want truth – they don’t want “magic” which brings them results easily and without efford, but their goal is to put work into something and just be better with every day – thats why I like the “philosophy-part” of CC so much.

            And, to be honest, I started training with weights only to learn new exercises and see how my body will react. Now I’m doing it one month, gained more mass and strenght, but I wanted just to see how it works and to gain more experience – the wisdom and experience are really important to me, even if it takes time and patience to get them.

            Then,after 1-2 years I wil probably quit weights and move only to bodyweight training and handbalancing… and give this method (low sets/high reps) a try. Expect a feedback from me then! Really appreciated your answer, Coach.

          • Great to speak to you Max–good to know Poland is leading the way with great young athletes like you.

            Looking forwards to hearing more from ya in the future buddy!

  • Dan

    Love it.
    I assume the next post will cover training frquency, I’m still not sure about that. I cover everything about twice a week, although I want to start incorporating Dips and Aussi Pull-ups.
    I’ve alternated between the low rep/high set way and the CC method just to experiment. I really think that the CC way is better, even though it’s different from the conventional mainstream strength training methods everyone is pedaling.
    After a workout doing it the OTHER way, I didn’t feel satisfied. After a CC style workout, whew! Beat! But I’m always ready to come back for more! 🙂

  • taochi

    Yes, i can confirm. Low reps can build mass, but higher reps FOR SURE build more mass. One thing i have to “disagree”, point 2. One of the most incredible thing of Convict conditioning book 1 is when he talks about how to training hard but WITH ALWAYS LEAVE SOMETHING IN THE BANK. Hey gus, i’m an hardgainer, i tried for 20 year all methods, all (incluse HIT), and one thing i discovered now: the difference to make progress is to leave 1 or 2 reps in the bank. So is hard work, but believe me, not very hard….but your body always compensate and growth. If you do the last 1 or 2 reps, you are pushing the limit, it is very easy to ovrtraining and stall.
    Thanks coach, this part and the part about protein scam is another gem that change my life forever (i hurted my body with high protein diet men!! and no results)

    • Thanks for your feedback, taochi. You are right…leaving a rep or two in the bank is a great strategy–even if you are training real hard. Wise words!

      It’s great to hear from a die-hard CC athlete!

      • taochi

        Now i pay attention, and lots of great athletes don’t push the limits, for example:
        – Andy Bolton
        – Jim Wendler 5/3/1 method (westside powerlifting)
        – Russian weightlifintg (they works with more frequency, with complex periodization and cycles. But their typical training weight is around 80% for 2/3 reps, so lot of buffer)
        And so on (and they are genetically gifted and uses steroids….)

        • Paul John Wade

          This is totally on the money. I don’t think most athletes should perform VERY hard mass-building work all year round, for sure. Many other athletes don’t kill themselves. Bill Pearl always kept a rep or two in the bank; Clarence Bass spoke about “coaxing” strength…sensible workloads, gradual progression, etc…

  • Carlos Palacios

    Great Advice and article. I had hit a plateau in muscle growth (not in strength) and now I can see why. Thanks for this awesome information coach! and I will certainly spread the word south of the the border.

    • I’m counting on you, Carlos buddy!

      Use these principles for a few months and fill us in on your great gains my man.

  • Leo

    Dear Paul Wade,
    maybe you answered this one but can you name the exercises that belong into an abbreviated routine for a total beginner?
    Which are the most essential without leaving gaps in my ability?

    • Yo Leo! Good to hear from Germany again.

      For a rank beginner? A pullup, a pushup, a squat, a leg raise. As you gain strength, add inverse positions and bridges. When you feel comfortable again, you can add more; maybe another pull…

  • The Tattooed Monk

    Thanks for sharing all your knowledge on calisthenics with all of us tiny fellows! (No offense 🙂
    I simply wonder where to include the dips with the Big 6? Should they be done during the same session as the push ups or is it better to have them done on another day after a non push movement? Furthermore, will we see a progression for the dips on this website anytime soon? I know you mentioned it in an earlier post-comment and said that there will be a progression on the dips coming in one way or the other in the future (outside of the PCC Manual). Is that future here?

    One more thing. I always liked how you started your story in CC1 with the Tibetan Buddhist monks lecturing. I have been a buddhist monk myself in the Tibetan tradition for about 5 years now and received so much wisdom from my teachers regarding life and how to relate to what goes on in the mind. This has been, and is, an interesting and wonderful journey, but during this time I can see (and feel) that I have forgot a little about and not really taken care of my body. The body-mind connection is an important one, and sadly, all too often one of them is being ignored. In fitness circles, the focus on the body can become so strong that we forget the mind. And all too often amongst meditators and intellectuals, all the focus is put on the mind and we forget about the body. Therefore I am very happy that I have found your community of inspiring people, sharing all your knowledge and wisdom on how to take care and work with this body that we all possess. I am looking forward to continue to be a part of this great community and Thanks again for all the great stuff that You & all your fellow trainers share on this blog!

    The Tattooed Monk

    Ps. I’ll send a picture to You &Al when I can pull off the one arm pull up in the vajra posture (cross legged posture) just as Al does.
    I got the vajra posture down, still a little to go on the one arm pull up though 🙂

    • Yo Tattooed Monk! It is awesome to hear from you man–I am always very intrigued by folks who are able to blend the physical and spiritual like you seem to be doing. I look forwards greatly to the vajra one-arm pullup photo. You can do it!

      Regarding dips, yes, there is a full set of progressions in the PCC manual. There will also be different progressions in CC3, to help folks with the muscle-ups. Until then if you are looking for dipping wisdom, you could do a lot worse than visiting Matt Schifferle’s Red Delta Project:

      Matt doesn’t try to squeeze them into the Big Six though. One great method is to alternate dips and pushups over two workouts. Many possibilities!

      I also loved the Tibetan Monk story in CC, but sadly I can’t take credit for it…it was written by John Du Cane. John has always been very interested in training where the spiritual and physical elements overlap, and has been a chi kung expert for many years.

      I’m also happy to have found such a community of inspiring men and women–and I count you as one of ’em, my friend. Please keep in touch with us!

  • joe

    My question Mr.Wade is i am 49y/o and about to start a fitness program my weightlifting days are gone i prefer doing calisthenics to enhance my martial arts training but man at 6’2 283lbs i can’t even do 1 pullup maybe a 1/2 chinup but i do have assitance bands of different strength levels to help me until i can do pullups on my own how do you feel about them good idea yes or no and how should i advance using em

    • Hey there Joe! Calisthenics and martial arts? Killer combo my man…can’t go wrong!

      Honestly I have no experience with those bands. You are a big man, and I have no doubt you can build to full pullups but until that time, why not work with horizontal pulls? Check out this unbeatable video from our dynamite Lead Instructor:

      You can make these harder and harder over time, as Al shows in the vid. If you are nearly ready for true pullups, howabout jackknife pullups? Here’s a cool video from a bodyweight hero, Francesco Vaccaro:

      With moves like these, who needs bands…? Keep workin hard, Big Joe!

      • BodyweightReallyIsBetter

        Wow, those Jack knife pull ups are a great idea!! I just worked my way up from 0 chin ups to 3 chin ups. Can barely do 1 pull up. Been doing pull up rows with rings (attached to my chin-up bar). Works good, but I will these jack knife pull ups using a chair. Definitely incorporating that into my bodyweight training. Thanks!

  • Ben

    How about if you want to be in between the Bull and Gazelle

    • kettlebellking

      Would that be a Buzelle or a a Gall? 🙂

      • Damn it king, Dragon Door are bringing out “Buzelle Conditioning” next Spring! Spoiler alert next time, son.

    • Blending both methods of training works–I’ll touch on that in Part 2, just fro you dude. Until then, read any of Al Kavadlo’s stuff…that kid is a perfect example of a buzelle!

  • jpujjayi

    ‘build real muscle’… a catchy phrase these days… i’m not
    a ‘trainer’.. yet i am an

    enthusiastic proponent/advocate of bodyweight methods..
    specifically the CC system.

    CC is a powerful catalyst for change in my
    life. Got the CC1 book in Oct/12 and

    signed up for the PCC in St. Paul.

    I had been practicing yoga for many years, and switching to P90X and
    similar workout routines in 2009 (as I thought I needed to be ‘stronger’ moving
    thru the 60’s).

    I dont even remember how I found Dragon Door, yet somehow the CC1 book
    was just ‘there’. Bought it, read it.. true true. Trained and passed the PCC… which was
    very exciting for me.

    I think ‘building ‘real muscle’ is the strength we create in our hearts and minds
    to do the workouts, training, etc. The concentration, desire, and will power is
    the root of it all.

    As we all age.. I’m finding for myself that movement,flexibility/mobility, and
    stability are the important benefits of bodyweight training.
    I have a deeper respect and gratitude for the simple, daily functional movements than the physical appearance.
    I’ve brought yoga back into the activities that I practice.
    I see an efficient use for the various progressions to assist people to develop the stability and strength enabling them to move forward with the various asanas/poses in yoga.

    I’m very grateful I crossed paths with your writing.. both ‘style’ and content !!..
    I have the CC2, and look forward to CC 3 !!!

    Wishing you ..and all.. the best of health in the coming years of our lives.

    Great Job Paul Wade.. you’ve set the table well.. Jim Perry

    • What this man said!!

      “I think ‘building ‘real muscle’ is the strength we create in our hearts and minds to do the workouts, training, etc. The concentration, desire, and will power is the root of it all.”

      Someone gets it. Always inspirational posts from you, Jim–love to hear from you. Thanks, man.

      • jpujjayi

        best to you paul… without question you are the inspiring one !!!
        so positive and to the point.. jp

        • Shucks, buddy! What would we do without ya here, Jim?!

  • William

    Hey Coach, I just got into calisthenics recently thanks to Convict Conditioning.

    Have you heard from people who have gained mass from just following the New Blood routine in the book?

    • Yes sir! I have had some feedback on mass gains on New Blood that would blow your mind, man. Just remember, any program is only as good as the athlete who uses it. Put in TOTAL focus, TOTAL effort, and TOTAL consistency and I promise you will build muscle, William!

      You can do it man, I believe in ya!

  • kettlebellking

    This is FANTASTIC! I’ve been focusing on my handstands for the past few months and they are making my upper body HUGE!

    • We’re gonna hafta change your screen name to “kingofdelts”! Great work, dude.

  • Great post Coach. I think Convict Conditioning has just the right balance when it comes to the number of sets and reps. I look forward to part 2.

    • My great Aussie student, Dave Mace! That means a lot to me, my man–big respect going out to Australia!

      You don’t want to become too much of a “bull”, Dave…gotta keep sleek to maintain your running excellence. CC is perfect for you, my man.

      • Thanks Coach, yeah CC suits me perfectly. A couple of the guys who I train with have been asking me how they can bulk up with calisthenics though so this should be useful for them

        • Awesome stuff! Spread the word! I appreciate it my friend.

  • Coach Paul, As always, love reading your stuff and look forward to part 2. Nothing more to say at this time other than- Thanks and Keep it coming.

    • That means a lot coming from the calisthenics man himself!

      I read your story some time back, man–completely inspirational body transformation! I advise folks to check it:

      I appreciate your ongoing support more than you know. Keep up the phenomenal job, Jamie.

  • If enough people want it, I’ll write it brother!

    If you really want a true master-text on getting powerful and efficient with bodyweight, focusing on strength rather than mass gain, no book has ever been written better than Pavel’s The Naked Warrior. A masterpiece:

    • Aleks Salkin

      ^^^ True words here. In my humble opinion the Naked Warrior is one of the most important books written on the principles of building brute strength written in my lifetime.

  • When the hell you gonna get on board with PCC, son?! This is phenomenal!

    • taochi

      God!!! It’s not me ahhahahaha
      He is an italian climber, world record man……..

      • Still need you in the PCC taochi!!!

  • grimmjow jaggerjaques

    hi thanks for the article. your book is pretty sick. i only just turned 17 and i can feel a lot of progress with the big 6.

    • You cannot go wrong with the Big Six, my brother! Awesome to have you feedback man, welcome to the PCC community!

  • Yeah I’d also be very interested in this, I love surprising people with my strength. Can also testify for Naked Warrior, that’s an excellent book, I use the muscle tension stuff with all my calisthenics work though find the breathing techniques quite difficult to master

    • I had a chat with PCC Lead Instructor Al Kavadlo earlier today on this issue, and not to give anything away, you may be in for a real treat soon….

      • Ava Avane Dawn

        Hehe, thanks man. Al Kavadlo is for sure the one to be talking – in the first Q&A he did on youtube he got asked how come he’s so strong when he isn’t “ripped”! His answer – told with a smile -, was – “you have high standards”! 🙂

        • There is no calisthenics trainer on earth with higher standards than that guy–he’s the master!

        • Glad you like the “Ask Al” segments! Like Coach said, I’m working on a post to answer your anti-bulking question. Look for it in a couple weeks.

  • Vjeran

    1. Some guys gain more mass with 5×5 then 2×8-12. Some may need different moves to rapidly gain mass for some muscle groups.
    2. Great way to not gain mass is 3×3 all moves almost every day, high load – also great way to ruin your joints for almost everybody because of the lack of patience.
    3. The things I LOVE about CC: safe movements, no or minimal equipment (unlike BtGB = gym work), ingenious progression from 2 limb work to 1 limb by de-loading one limb (uneven & lever moves), great way to prepare your joints with half ROM moves, deeply integrated flexibility work. Great book, thanks!
    4. Man, how did you come up with the prison pushup? The move is so incredibly simple but at the same time incredibly hard when done right.
    5. There is about CC related 20 questions I’d love to ask you one day.

    • Yo Vjeran my man! Thanks for your great feedback–interesting. Everyone has their opinion on what builds mass, and I’m up for the debate anytime, brother!

      1. 5×5 is tricky to implement with bodyweight. As a mass builder it works, but even with weights its inferior to the traditional method I’ve laid out. A lighter warmup, then giving your all over just two sets always results in a higher performance than 5×5. Always. A higher performance = superior mass gains.
      2. Agreed. True words.
      3. Bless you buddy!
      4. I didn’t come up with it. It’s ancient!
      5. Stick around the blog, my friend. The fitness world needs enquiring minds more than it needs anything else today….

  • Carter Doud

    Great article as always. My training often involves lots of different exercises, but nothing can beat the pure essentials of convict conditioning. The convict conditioning system will develop balanced strength and ensure you don’t have any weak links in the future.

    A few weeks ago I injured both of my wrists (I assume it was caused by excessive V sits and other similar exercises). Do you have any wrist exercises which can help prevent injury in the future?

    • Hey carter, great to hear from you man! Thanks for the nice comment, I appreciate it.

      Wrists can be problematic–they are tough to strengthen because the kind of exercises that will jack them up–like V-sits (great job, by the way) also irritate them with overuse. The best path is just to avoid flat hand work while they hurt. In the mean time focus on pulls, leg and hanging ab work, and when you go back to the flat hand stuff, use the fists (where you can) until soreness clears up.

      Every injury increases body wisdom, Carter…they are just part of the game. You’ll heal and come back stronger!

  • Snafu

    This was a great post! I’ve gotten my toes wet with CC, but I’ve always gone back to weightlifting because I want to gain size (I’ve always been a gazelle, but wanted to be the bull). This article was what I needed to read in order to finally jump ship. I can’t wait to read the next installment. Thank Paul!

    • Thanks for comment my friend. I’ll show you path, dude–stick with proven bodyweight moves the way I’ll show ya, and you can’t fail!

  • Leo

    Dear Paul,
    is it beneficial to build towards dragon flags?
    I tried them and a lot of my weight was on my neck, so it hurted.
    So is it a safe and worthwile exercise, maybe before learning the levers or can you just go without the dragon flag?

    • If you build up to them–and if you do them RIGHT–flags can be a valuable exercise, especially prior to tacking front levers. But always protect you neck! Al Kavadlo discussed neck protection in his brilliant article on the flag:

      You might not need the flag yet though, Leo–if you can’t do 20 strict full bridges and 20 strict hanging straight leg raises, don’t meddle with the dragon flag–focus on those first.

  • Pushers

    Hi Paul,

    Great article. I have two questions on this (that the answers to may well be addressed in Part 2, so ignore this if they are).

    1. Is it ok in your opinion to work out for growth every day (just say different target muscles) or should you give you body more rest than that?
    2. When does doing more reps of any given exercise become sub-optimal and you should move on to a harder variation? Say I can do 30 or 40 reps of bodyweight squats (both legs), should I then move onto single leg training even if it drops my reps back to say 5?

    Oh and one other thing – I really love the power look people get with having massive traps (usually from deadlifts and power cleans, etc). Is there bodyweight move you’d recommend to really hit the traps for growth?

    Many thanks,


    • Hey Ed,

      great to hear from you my man–and some excellent questions!

      1. You CAN grow every day with planned overtraining…but you need to know what you’re doing, and the period must be pretty brief. Usually it’s wiser to rest more–much more! And I will be discussing this in the next post. Just for you, bro.

      2. This varies slightly per person, and per bodypart…even over your career. What I would say though is, why drop your reps down so drastically? If you are gaining nicely from 30+ reps, just pick a slightly harder progression to get there. (Or make one-leg work easier.)

      I also admire bulldog traps. It’s a myth that you need to pick up heavy weights to get amazing traps. Some of the finest drug-free traps in the world belong on gymnasts. Take a cue from this–lots of inverse floor work; handstands, handstand pushups, jackknife pushups, bridges, even explosive work like handsprings and back handsprings. For dynamite traps, follow your handstand pushups with two strict, slow sets of handstand shrugs…get into a handstand against a wall and lower your body (keeping your arms straight), like the opposite of a shrug. Tricky at first, you’ll build mobility over time. Two vicious burnout sets of this exercise twice a week, and your traps will be bustin outta your collar in a couple months!

      Hope that helps Ed!

      • Pushers

        Thanks a lot Paul. I appreciate it. I guess on the second point I should have been slightly more clear.

        What I was trying to say is when you get stronger at any given BW exercise and can crank out a good number of reps – when does it become futile (for mass purposes) to keep on adding (eg. moving from 50 squats to 70 squats)? Surely at some point in that example you move from training for mass to training for endurance right? That’s my assumption anyway, please correct me if I’m wrong.

        So my question really is: at what point do you think someone should change to a slightly harder variation of an exercise? In the similar way you would add more weight with a bar/dumb bell. Surely adding reps after a certain point simply won’t get you any bigger?

        • Sorry I misunderstood your question my friend. You are totally right–past a certain point, things get useless. At WHICH point seems to vary–some guys swear by 20 reps for arms, others say 10, etc. Also, different muscles seem to respond differently. If a muscle evolved to pump out high reps–like the calves, say–they generally need more punishment (more reps) to make them grow.

          As a rule of thumb, beginners should always err on the side of higher reps rather than lower–20 is a friendly number. The higher reps keep them safer, help build coordination and conditioning, and give practice in the technique. Once you get more intermediate, 10 is better for upper body, with 20 for lower body.

          Advanced bodyweight bodybuilders can still do 10+ reps, but they would do them differently; say, 3 very strict reps, 2-3 strict reps, 2-3 reps with a little body English, and 2-3 with some controlled cheating.

          Again, just rules of thumb but I hope this answers your question better, dude!

          • Pushers

            Brilliant – thanks a lot Paul, that totally answers my question and sorry I wasn’t clear enough the first time round. Again, I appreciate the time you’ve taken to respond and for your knowledge and insight.

            I loved CC and CC2 and I’m eagerly awaiting number 3!

            All the best.

  • Aleks Salkin

    Another great post from the man himself, Paul Wade! This post almost exceeded the legal limit of kick-ass information allowed per article! 😀 This couldn’t have come at a better time, either. I recently attempted a high-rep program and, sure enough, crapped out in about a week. From what I’ve read here, it makes perfect sense why: too many sets, too many half-hearted reps, too many times per week etc. etc. I’m not a high-rep guy, so I obviously need some guidance, and this post was just what I needed.

    When I finish the program I’m on now, I’m gonna have to go back and hammer some high reps the RIGHT way. Thanks again for the pointers; I’m looking forward to part II, Coach. Greetings from Jerusalem.

    • It’s awesome to hear from my good buddy in Jerusalem! It’s true man–you can balance both types of training (nervous system and muscular), but blending them is a bitch. Better to cycle them through the year.

      Email me when you’ve got through your high reps program. It would be great to hear how you’re doing out there, too. We need that Israel-based PCC to happen. Man…muscle-ups and one-arm pullups in the Holy Land would be like a dream come true!

      • Aleks Salkin

        I’ll definitely shoot you an email when I get through it – maybe even before I do!

  • Parker

    Hi Paul,

    Great to have the opportunity to ask a few questions! My questions are pretty basic:

    1. Can you confirm for those of us who are just breaking into CC, beginner or experienced trainer, we should only do one exercise per week for optimal progression? For example, push ups and abs on Monday and that is it?
    2. Would you advise someone training 3x per week, even when starting out? For example, push ups & abs on Monday, pull ups & legs on Wednesday, etc.? I’m sure you’ve heard this question before, but, starting out twice per week leaves me feeling a bit lacking. 😉
    3. How about training between the CC days…any issues with pushups & abs Monday, KB work on Tuesday, etc.?
    4. Any thoughts or recommendations on “aerobics”? I’ve been running or walking 2 – 3 miles 5 – 7 days per week, not pushing things.

    Your book has been a wonderful find and like other former ironheads, the publication came along at just the right time in my training.

    Thank you again!

    • Parker my dude! I will answer all questions if I can. Great questions here, let’s see what we can do…

      1. For beginners or deconditioned folks, working an exercise once per week is just fine, Parker. (I talk about frequency in the next post, out tomorrow.)

      2. Three times per sounds good! Go for it and fill me in on your progress. (Which will be awesome, I know.)

      3. I am not an expert on k-bells, or on combining them with CC. I know a lot of the athletes (all smart men and women) who post on the Dragon Door forum often post about this. You could do worse than signing up there and speaking to the experts on this kinda hybrid work:

      4. I love stamina work that is just another form of functional bodyweight–no machines or gimmicks, just running, walking, swimming, etc. I love it, go for it Parker!

      I’m real glad my book has helped you, my friend. That was why it was written and the positive feedback means a lot to me. Keep doin those pushups, Parker!


  • Azhan

    Great article as always, Paul

    In this article, you talked about training for skill (gazelle) and training for muscle mass(bull). But what if I just wanted to train for strength? If I want to have a high strength to bodyweight ratio, what would you recommend?

    Many thanks!

    • I am glad as hell you asked this question, my friend–you are not alone!

      My buddy and captain, PCC Lead Instructor Al Kavadlo has written that article! It hits this spot in 8 days. I’ve read it and trust me, it KICKS ASS…nobody should miss it!

  • Matt Schifferle

    I’m not joking when I tell folks that ice cream and peanut butter are dietary staples of mine. I even found an old school strong-man manual recommending vanilla ice cream. Then they are shocked that I don’t do any of the supplements. I just tell them I don’t need them…..I’ve got a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the fridge!

    Seriously though, great stuff as always Paul. Once again I’ve got to get that whole “sleep is important” thing drilled through my thick skull. That’s my drawback now. Always has been I guess, but that’s no excuse.

    btw I’ve been doing a lot more on the topic of self reliance and training on your own. You’ve covered that well in both CC1 and CC2 but are there any other resources you would recommend?

    • Paul John Wade

      Kind words mean a lot coming from you, Matt. Thank you.

      It’s interesting that you eat “junk” because you were one of the biggest, most muscular athletes in the inaugural PCC. You “look” more like a bodybuilder than many (very powerful) calisthenics men. Coincidence? Your love of ice cream is of interest to me. Into the modern era, Mike Mentzer was a huge advocate of ice cream during training. The first perfect score in a Mr Universe.

      As for resources, I’m more like you. It’s all about the vintage books, the old manuals. That said, Ayn Rand’s hit a spot with me. Not everyone’s taste, I know. Redbeard’s Might is Right is also something I read in jail which glavanized me. (But don’t quote me on that.)

  • Lyndon Green

    Awesome job as usual Paul. I was always the tall and slender weakling in high school, but been using CC for 2 whole years now and it’s totally changing my life. I’ve arrived at a point in my training where I know in my heart that I’m gonna be doing strength cals the rest of my days. For that I thank you!

    Commandment I was of particular interest to me. I’ve been working assisted (lateral support) Uneven Squats for the past year or so. Just a few months ago, I discovered that removal of the basketball and allowing the ball-leg to slide on the floor instantly makes the exercise MUCH more manageable. So far been making decent progress on my dominant leg — I can perform an unassisted negative. The other leg however is less coordinated and necessitates lateral support. I’m doing 2×10-15 assisted S7 squats (per side) no more than once a week. So in theory both legs are getting equal work and yet one leg still drags. After reading this article, I wonder if i should reduce reps and add more sets like you suggest, as this is a SKILL that my weaker leg is still learning…I’m 6ft 2 with really long legs so adjusting to unilateral squats has been a real bitch haha.

    What would you recommend?
    Love from Down Under.

    • Lyndon–the Thunder from Down Under!!

      Thanks for your comment my friend, sorry it took me so long to find it. It really made my day when you wrote that you will be doing strength calisthenics for the rest of your days. You know, folks ask me; “when should I stop doing calisthenics?” And I always reply the same–on the day you don’t want to move any more.

      If you really want to learn a SKILL (like nailing uneven squats)–as opposed to building your MUSCLES–your hypothesis is on the money, dude. Do the skill more often, stay fresh and add frequency. Al Kavadlo has written a BRILLIANT post on how to do this kind of training. Please check it out next week!

      • Shaw

        Hello Paul,

        Still me, your Chinese Buddy,when you say two sets of high reps to exhaust cell energy of compound workouts, which one’s better ?

        Set 1: workout 1 workout 2 workout 3 …..
        Set 2: workout 1 workout 2 workout 3 …..
        Set 1: workout 1
        Set 2: workout 1
        Set 1: workout 2
        Set 2: workout 2
        Set 3………

        And could I get some rest between 2 set ? If so, how much rest ? enough rest ?

  • Joe

    Hi Paul,

    First time reader. Found your site from MarksDailyApple. I’ve always been a barbell guy but I hate having to use gas to get to a gym and don’t feel all that comfortable with the safety of many of the lifts. Bodyweight calisthenics have always appealed to me as well as other functional, natural movements.

    My question is, you used 12-15 reps in your example as a good rep range, I shouldn’t be taking that literally for every movement, right? Would it be good for me to start with this plan in mind: 2 Sets of all out reps ALMOST to failure? Saying ‘almost to failure’ is a little flaky and might be hard to track precisely, but lets say I go until the point where my mind thinks I probably won’t complete the next 1 or 2 reps. Is that reasonable?

    Also, is it reasonable to stick precisely with the 10 or so movements you listed in this article? I’m sure eventually I would add things, or would I? It always seems complicated when you look too far ahead.


    • Joe, bless you for writing in! Welcome to the PCC community.

      You are right son–screw the gym. It’s a con, it’s shit!

      As to what “almost failure” is–great question with a somewhat complex answer. I would say it differs as you get more advanced.

      -If you are a beginner, when your perfect form starts to break down and you lose control, that’s “almost” failure.
      -With an intermediate athlete, when your form breaks down and you tack on a few more reps using body English, that’s “almost” failure.
      -An advanced bodyweight bodybuilder can push beyond strict work, add some looser form for a few reps, then add a couple of “cheats” and still quit the set with some energy left in their limbs–and for them, that’s “almost” failure!

      Ultimately, this advice will always sound flaky I guess coz I can’t give numbers…getting it right doesn’t depend on a forumula, but the gradual cultivation of “body wisdom”…one of the great benefits of calisthenics training!

      As for adding stuff, hell, if you are progressing with the basics, why screw it up by adding shit? Simple is usually better and athletes should add work because they have to, not coz they can.

      Hope that answers your questions, Joe!

  • Abhi

    HI all, i wanted to know how much time one must take to perform these workouts everyday to get a fine modified body????!!!! that is in everyday curriculum??

    • sgttom

      It depends man. You can get a pretty good full body workout in 30 mins to an hour.

      • Abhi

        thanks man!!

  • Markus

    So, you should keep your reps to about 8-15 right? But then again you should limit your sets. Lets say im doing pushups..I can do about 50 normal pushups now (I’ve recently started working on more advanced variations). So should i keep it to max 15 reps per set and do as many sets as necessary before I can’t do them anymore? Or should I keep to less sets but more reps per set? Which one is better for muscle gain?

    • sgttom

      I’d say do a max of 20 reps usually. Try to keep it to 3 sets by doing harder push up variations.

  • Jarod Smith

    Hi, Paul. I will start by saying that this site is great, as is your advice and guidance. Extremely informative!
    I am honestly just getting into fitness and working out. I’ve never been an athletic or active person, but I have decided to change that and live a healthier life – and I honestly feel very enthusiastic and excited. I understand the superiority of calisthenics over weight-training.
    Since I am a new-comer to all of this, can you please help me with a weekly calisthenics routine? Like what specific exercises to do on Monday, and then Tuesday, etc.
    I understand that working out the same muscles, and doing the same exercises every day, will actually be counter-productive.
    I am so excited and eager to charge head on into this… but I need guidance, please. So, can you please give your recommendations on a daily calisthenics routine to do throughout the week?
    Thank you very much!

    • Jamie

      Check out Al Kavadlo’s 5×5 programs on youtube. There is a beginner, intermediate and advanced version. Great full body work out with a push, pull, abs and legs exercise all completely calisthenics.

  • Trololo

    Man, ur blog is awesome. Thanks for the tips!

  • pixelzombie

    Limiting sets is very sound advice. I once did 4 sets of uneven pushup as i was feeling very good but i sure paid for it. I was still sore 2 days later when it was time to do pull-ups and it affected that workout in a bad way.

  • Mike

    Hey Coach, greetings from Ireland, just thought I’d let you know I love everything your doing. Convict Conditioning completely changed the way I train and is by far the best and most rewarding. Just signed up to get c-mass, Thanks for writing the best books and giving the best training information. Keep up the good work. Mike

  • Trouble Tom

    What about them legs baby!? How many reps and sets for building huge wheels?? Im more interested in building big legs than a big upper body, because i allready have a big upper body due to manual labour on a concrete factory. What about wrestlers using hundreds or thousands of hindu squats every day, what do you guys think about this ?? Any thoughts for building massive wheels, thanks .

  • Andrew

    Is there a limit to how far the “add reps to near failure goes,” before it’s worthless? For instance, I can do a 100 bodyweight squats and not hit failure. Am I still gaining mass at that point?

    Should I switch to a harder varient?

    • Vasily

      Yo Andrew, you should definitely change the type of *in your example* squats. At this point you will only gain endurance *which not so bad, but it depends on what you expect from exercising*. Reps, like Coach somewhere said should be: “from 5-6 and bigger, two figures in reps is better”. But, in my opinion you shoudn’t go further 25-30 reps *maybe even 15-20*. Hope this will help you.

    • jad

      you definitely need to switch to harder versions ( pistol squats , shrimp squats ) for hypertrophy keep you reps between 6 – 12 , even if you r looking to master a skill adding weight sometimes would give you the torque and the force to control you own body weight in an awesome way – try to think of what muscles you r moving while doing the exercise and how you r moving it ( pulling or pushing without muscle mind connection is like sprinting in a dark valley )

  • Edema

    So I should do just push-ups all out to gain muscle, right? As long as the posture is good? Does it matter how long it takes? I hear workouts are only effective if they are lover than 20 minutes, is this true? I’m also confused by the terms reps and sets, can someone fill me in, I’m a newbies thanks 🙂

    • jad

      here is a humble reply : keep you reps between 8 and 12 , perform an easier version if you feel you can’t hit 8 pull ups ( per example ) or add weight if 12 is so easy for you . keep you sets between 2 – 3 sets if you r going really hard and training for hypertrophy ( bigger muscles ) /// if your goal is strength divide your max pulls ups per example into 1/2 and do more sets between 4-6 per exercises ((( check greasing the groove method for strength . i hope i answered your question ..

    • Ash

      Muscle is built on TUT (Time Under Tension). The longer a muscle is under work (tension), the more stimulus it has to build itself bigger and stronger next time. Which is why athletes in sports like Dragon-Boating, which require vigorous rowing for an hour or more at a time, develop muscular upper bodies. If you want to do pushups or any bodyweight exercise (or even weights), to increase TUT you have to slow down the movement.

  • Edema

    Also with regards to rest, should I do this every day of take a day off ?

    • Ash

      If I told my Sergeant Major I wanted to rest the next day after training a full day on dozens of dips, pullups and pushups, he would give me an SOL for the weekend.

  • albert jewijati

    i have been lifting weights for 6 months now and made some relevantly good gains. i got bored tho. weights didnt excite me anymore so i switched to calisthenics… i have to admit i dont think i ever felt this way after a workout before. it feels really good to walk out of a calisthenic workout. like you have hit every single muscle in your body to the fullest ( even if im only targeting arms or any muscle group). the only problem is that im losing weight/muscle mass. whatever it is that i eat i dont seem to compensate what i lost in the workout. please i need help. i don’t want to go back to lifting. 🙁

    • jim

      Hey Albert. If you are loosing mass and are worried about that you can add some weighted exercises to your routine. My routine is structured around weighted dips and weighted pullups and weighted one leg squats. The dip/pullup target almost all of the upper body . You can add hand stand press with the hands more forward of the body and the back arched for delts and upper chest. Even these can be weighted with a vest but aren’t as much fun with a vest on.

  • Sempai Campbell

    Hey coach not sure if you’re still keeping an eye on these comments or not but had a question for you. I’ve been working with both convict conditioning and c-mass for the last few months and just wanted to know about mixing muscle building and high rep programs for instance if i were to do a convict conditioning style pushups slow and without momentum on Monday then on Tuesday do a different workout that involved doing high rep and using momentum would that be too much for the muscles to recover and grow or would it be okay to do that if you have the time to answer i would appreciate it
    Sempai Campbell

  • Joe

    High rep single or double sets will build sarcoplasm. What you want for mass is volume, baby. Its silly to imply someone who does 1000 pushups a day isn’t working hard, even if its split up into low rep sets. Hard work is not always momentary muscular exertion. That is simply stressing your cardiovascular system since you are low on ATP.

    Lets not forget Isometrics. This perhaps more than any aspect of bodyweight training builds mass and strength. it is the most effective strength builder known to man, and higher strength leads to higher volume of difficult exercises which leads to hypertrophy. Embrace it baby!

    • Jake Gyllenhaal

      Whats isometrics? You mean if I am doing pullups and I hold my position at the top?

  • Ash

    A good way to build strong and muscular legs is to do sprinting wearing a heavy weight vest.

  • Max

    So I have a question. For a chest workout I typically do about 3 sets of standard pushups, then a set of archer pushups, two sets of diamonds, and two sets of incline pushups, followed by three sets of dips. My rep ranges are typically in between 15-20. I usually rest for about 75 seconds in between sets. I don’t work the same muscle groups within 24-48 hours either to ensure the muscles worked get proper rest. I suppose my question is, is this too much?

    • Ben

      depending on what your goals are, if you want to get stronger. yes this is too much. if you want bigger muscles, yes this is too much. but if you want to improve endurance, and get overall fitter. no this isnt too much.

      back to my original point. if you want to train strength then use a weighted vest, or like me use a backpack with plates in it. and try to do 5 sets of 5 reps and increase the rest time by a lot to make sure youre giving it all you got. and for muscle size, do the same but more along the lines of 4 sets of 8-12. and remember that on these you need to be aiming to be failing on that 25th rep (5×5)

  • Nicorivas2

    Hey, I’ve been working out for a while now. Rcently I discovered and switched to calisthenic training. I can do a solid amount of pull ups, psh ups, chin ups etc. How should I be doing my workouts? Currently I do Chest/back one day, arms another and legs another. Should I be doing full body everyday? Or is what im doing now ok?

  • Frankinsensed

    Neither of the gentleman in this article appear to have big honking large muscles – which is fine by me. The Latin term hypertrophy means “abnormal growth” by the way. Of course they have some but you are not going to get huoooge doing bodyweight exercises, mainly because it’s counter-productive to – you are trying to just move your weight and your body will reach the point it can do that most efficiently. Not make it more difficult for itself.

    Adding weights in a vest or other ways- well that’s not bodyweight really but changes the equation. Using less advantageous leverage is, and eventually will cause more growth because it is needed to handle the load. but it takes time as tendons and connective tissue adapt more slowly – hence injury is more likely – impacting progress.

    So my point is that yes, you can get strong, developed and ripped but typically in a normal appearing way – which is great. But it will be difficult to get bigger (which isn’t necessarily better) without employing techniques that increase load beyond your body’s weight, one way or the other.

    • Hunter

      Really? That’s funny, because when I turn on the Olympics and see gymnasts with bigger muscles and better physiques than bodybuilders, I’m pretty sure it is from body weight exercises

      • Frankinsensed

        True if you train 30 hours a week for years bodyweight will have that effect.
        In actuality the additional stresses that gymnasts put on their body through expolosive movements which ordinary practitioners do not perform amount to many times bodyweight.

        • Spandan Adhikari

          You’re rather ill-informed mate. Weights heavier than bodyweight aren’t required to gain muscle- I’ve seen physique class bodybuilders at my gym train their chest with a mere 110lbs on the incline bench press but they do it for high reps with great focus on working the chest muscle more than anything else. Yes, they’re on steroids but the fact that their livelihood depends on building muscle should tell us enough about their level of experience and knowledge in the field, “broscience as it may be”. Your own bodyweight is more than enough to reach genetic potential although it may be harder with some bodyparts like lower back than others like the lats and chest.

          • Frankinsensed

            ‘Yes they are in steroids’ not just coincidental.

            Bodyweight is great. Actually it’s all great but steroids aren’t worth the results. If that’s the only way they can make a living on the stage they should change careers.

          • Spandan Adhikari

            Steroid usage is paramount to bodybuilders who wish to pursue bodybuilding as a career. Everyone uses it so it’d be impossible to get anywhere without it.

          • Frankinsensed

            I hear you but it’s a grotesque result imo. And what’s worse is that kids think they have to look that way which creates insecurity, which leads to more abuse. It’s the same thing with skinny female models and bolemima but because it’s guys it’s not treated as a serious concern. It is.

          • Spandan Adhikari

            It’s a shame that that’s just how pretty much every single field in the world works. The minority inspire the masses to become slaves for their own benefit. The world we live in really is a rotten place.

  • Mr1987Joe

    Bodyweight workouts simply do not have the same effect on the body that lifting weights does. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with bodyweight workouts, but they’re not going to pack a significant amount of muscle onto your body unless you increase the resistance by using something like a weight vest and, even then, some of you may not be happy with the results.

    I don’t lift weights, and I do all of my calisthenics with a 100lb weight vest. I also eat very healthy and consume my base calories, and a caloric surplus of about 500 calories, everyday. I continuously get stronger, but I don’t get any bigger. As a matter of fact, I feel that I am even smaller than the guys in the pictures, in the article. Some of you may say “I’m doing something wrong,” or “it’s just you,” but I can’t say I’ve ever seen a significantly built guy that just does calisthenics. Have you? Honestly?

    • Eoin Kenny

      What about…

      Bobby Pandour

      Hannibal for King
      Lazar Novovic
      Paul Wade

      • Hades Son of Cronus

        Bobby Pandour- fake.
        Hannibal for King- dbol.
        Lazar Novovic- never heard.
        Paul Wade – NOBODY has EVER seen him.

        • Eoin Kenny

          Hey man, all you have to do is add some weight lifting to your routine if you are hell bent on gaining some muscle?

    • Andrew

      Brendan Meyers trains mainly in calisthenics and he makes all kinds of gains. The thing is he eats about 6000 calories a day when he is bulking. He does this because he started off with 3500cal , which was 500cal on top of his base cal. This did NOT work. He was maintaining his weight. Thats why you have to eat a lot more when bulking with calisthenics, I think it may be because calisthenics does not put as much stress into your muscles as weight training. But it doesnt mean its impossible!

    • Trevor S

      brooklyn tank he is a shredz athlete and is 208 lbs

  • mike

    Hey coach what do you say about masturbation?

  • Helen Costa

    I include both weights and callisthenics in my routine, both have a lot to offer in terms of muscle building, strength and conditioning. The only things I stay away from are treadmills, stationary bikes and zumba.

    • Scott Maclean

      Hi helen how come you avoid treadmills?

      • Helen Costa

        Because my goal is to build/maintain muscle and strength, as we age, especially women, we lose muscle/strength and gain fat and frailty. I am not into the skinny/fat look that so many women strive for. As there are limited hours in the day, I would rather spend my time doing weights and bodyweight exercises.

        • I’m right there with you on that! No treadmills for me either… it’s boring… PLUS the only running I like is short, ALL OUT sprints and there’s no way I’d take that kind of safety risk on a treadmill! Glad to hear you’re after building up some muscle too! High Fives all around!!

        • Sujit Sharma

          you like riding in other ways, don’t you?

  • Bill Wilson

    Very difficult exercises here! Yet I’m sure they are quite effective. Thanks for sharing!

  • Zombification?

    writing here is kind of silly tbh.

  • Will

    Thanks for this i have been watching my sets increase along with the length of training time and not knowing what to do. This has been really helpful! Cheers!

  • Mark Davis

    you first say low reps and high sets and then you say limit your sets. I’m confused.

    • Clancy Ross

      Sheesh, no one can think for themselves these days. Look, he advises low sets and medium reps for muscle building, but every so often you will have to switch to low rep and high sets for pure strength simply because eventually your current strength isn’t going to allow you to use a progression that is hard enough, you literally run out of strength.

  • Mark Davis

    so how often would you exercise a body part.

    • Clancy Ross

      once a week will work, though once every 4-5 days would be better for most. Don’t overdo it. remember that pull ups, chin ups, rows etc all work the back, biceps etc. you shouldn’t be doing a pulling exercise anymore than 3 times a week for example.

  • Mark

    you say do low reps but hight sets and then you say keep the sets low. I am confused.

  • Mark

    also how often do you work on a body part. weekly that is

  • Casey

    I do calisthenics, and am increasing the number of sets every week or two. Will that build muscle? Also, what kind of protein/high calorie diet plan should I be on, if any? This the same requirements as a weight lifting high protein intake diet?

  • Dan Söderberg

    ok back to the holy grail nice revisiting the classic time to grow amigos

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