The Muscle Building Advantages of Calisthenics

by Matt Schifferle on January 10, 2017

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Matt Shifferle Neutral Grip Pullup

I’ve been building muscle with bodyweight training ever since Convict Conditioning was first published. When I attended the first PCC, a few people told me they thought I still lifted weights because I had a decent amount of muscle. Not that I can blame anyone for their doubt. I was once one of those guys in the gym hogging up the preacher curl machine telling everyone that you needed to lift weights to build muscle. It’s funny how things change; now I believe calisthenics is one of the best muscle building methods, bar-none. Most of reasons for this belief are because of 5 massive muscle building advantages calisthenics offers you.

Matt Schifferle Neuro GripsAdvantage #1 Low maintenance training

Even die hard weightlifters admit that bodyweight training offers unmatched convenience and deficiency. You don’t need a gym or fancy equipment, nor do you need to wedge a long workout into a busy schedule. You just simply drop down to the floor or grab on to a bar and you’re in business.

While many admit to these advantages, others are unaware of just how convenience and efficiency are essential toward packing on muscle. This is due to the fact that building, and maintaining, a muscular physique requires months and even years of consistent training. The convenience and efficiency of calisthenics makes it easier to continue your training even as life becomes turbulent. This ensures your training stays consistent long enough to build the success you want.

Advantage #2 Technical progression

Building muscle through calisthenics isn’t really any different from building it with weights except for one thing: With weight lifting you keep your technique fairly consistent while adjusting the load you lift; with calisthenics, you use a consistent load while you modify your technique.

Progressing an exercise through technique requires you to develop more than just strength and muscle. You also need to develop the “softer” qualities like balance, stability, flexibility and muscle control.

When I first started training in progressive calisthenics I was humbled by how much I needed to work on these softer qualities. At first, it felt some of the exercises were not building strength or muscle because they were more about flexibility or stability. Eventually, I discovered that developing these softer qualities was the key to more muscle growth. The more I improved my softer qualities the more harder qualities like strength and power progressed as well.

Advantage #3 Emotional and mental focus

Effective training requires much more than tense muscle and proper technique. You need to put some heart into what you’re doing to reach beyond what you can currently do.

Which view would you prefer?

There’s just something about moving your body through space that requires more mental and emotional focus. Consider the difference between running on a treadmill versus hiking along in a path in the wilderness. These days, commercial gyms place televisions and similar electronic devices on their cardio equipment to stave off boredom and mental fatigue. Such distractions are not necessary and even unwelcome with bodyweight training. Through using exercises that require as much growth within your heart and mind you build the quality of your training and not just the intensity.

Advantage #4 Intellectual challenge and growth

Progressive calisthenics requires you to continuously analyze and improve how your body works. It strips away the false promise that your success depends on having the perfect routine or using the right equipment. This leaves you with little else to think about except to learn how to use your body better which is the true essence of effective training.

I wasn't able to do a pistol squat until I learned how to use my hips in a better way.

I wasn’t able to do a pistol squat until I learned how to use my hips in a better way.

Every workout is a lesson in how you are currently able to use your body and the weaknesses that you need to work on. Maybe you lack hip strength in your squats or perhaps your shoulders shrug from fatigue during push-ups. All of these little experiences invite you to explore how to adjust your technique and muscle control to improve how well you use your body.

Advantage #5 Workouts that are simple, disciplined and focused

I live by the 3 tenets of simplicity, discipline, and focus. Calisthenics embodies all three of these tenets perfectly because it requires mental and physical focus, continuous discipline and of course a simplistic approach to training.

It takes a lot of discipline to remain focused on simple workouts. The modern media constantly churns out advice that can quickly make training more complicated and fancy. Before you know it, you’re using a room full of gadgets to perform fancy exercises in a routine that’s based on rocket science. All of this fancy and complicated stuff might feel important, but it ultimately distracts you from what matters most.

Building muscle means focusing on just 3 things:

When your training involves little more than pushing yourself off the floor or lifting up your legs, there’s not a lot of clutter to distract you from working your muscles longer and harder. It may not be fancy, but that’s the point. The most exciting results are often produced from methods that appear boring at first glance.

 

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Matt Schifferle, PCC Team Leader a.k.a. The Fit Rebel made a switch to calisthenics training 5 years ago in an effort to rehab his weight lifting injuries. Since then he’s been on a personal quest to discover and teach the immense benefits of advanced body weight training. You can find some of his unique bodyweight training methods at RedDeltaProject.com and on his YouTube channel: RedDeltaProject.

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  • Looking good Matt, very well thought out – easy to see how you’re making such great progress with the mindset you have. Gadgets & technology are very seductive with fashions & trends powerfully marketed. Often the simple way of achieving something gets overlooked so it’s good to remember that things don’t have to be overcomplicated.

    • Matt Schifferle

      It’s Dan the man with the plan!

      Thank you for checking out my article. You hit the nail right on the head. Heaven knows I’ve been lured into the seduction of the fancy gadget ridden world of fitness. It’s not that stuff like that didn’t work, it did a little, it’s just it was too hard to maintain and focus on what was most important.

  • Great points, Matt – really like the focus on both tension but technique – its like a multi-dimensional approach to progression, not just linear like many people have taken in the past to mixed results with traditional gym workouts. Looking forward to catching up with you on your podcast soon!

    • Matt Schifferle

      For sure, I like the idea that there are many roads you can take to make progress. There’s so much more than just reps and weight to progress. There’s always an open door of opportunity.

  • Dan Söderberg

    Finally the best calisthenics bodybuilding blog since diesel 20 you have done a great job packing a ton of reliable info into one short text Great job

    • Matt Schifferle

      Thanks much Dan, just wait until my next post where I share some of my own ideas on building muscle in general. This one is kid of the primer.

      • Dan Söderberg

        looking forward to it you should come to Sweden in summer to try the (mostly calisthenics) outside gyms we have in nature here

  • Dan Söderberg

    dragon door should make a pcc blog pdf yearly all those concentrated info in all blogs would make a great book

  • Jack Arnow

    This is a great article that explains clearly many important concepts. Reading it, even many times, is not enough. You must start to apply the ideas to your training, consistently, for each and every rep that you do. Start today. You’ll see some gains soon, but It is a life long learning process. The ideas may be simple as Matt states, but we all make mistakes along the way. Be easy on yourself then. Hi Matt. Reading this article gave me great joy, and will help me to keep doing and improving my training. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Matt Schifferle

      Yo Jack, thank you very much for reading my thought man, it means a lot. You’re so right about being easy on yourself. There are plenty of times I’m so hard on myself and it doesn’t help anything. I hope it’s a lesson I’ll learn some day.

      • Dan Söderberg

        iyour approach almost like yoga/mindfullness integrated into strenghttraining

        • Matt Schifferle

          Sort of, only I look at it more like really focusing like crazy on the exercise and how it feels. It’s nothing that’s esoteric or anything. Just getting super focused and dialed in.

          • Dan Söderberg

            i was thinking about the focus bodycontrol and concentrated effort the esoteric was not really the issue just that those diciplines requre that type of intensive focus

          • Matt Schifferle

            Ah yes, then definitely along those lines yes. I’ve learned that mental focus an be the deal maker or deal breaker in most workouts.

          • Dan Söderberg

            actually i considered zenmeditation and breathcontrol and visualization before my workoutsto improve the quality

  • Haydn Edwards

    Yeah man, all that and then some – Great post Matt – thank you : ) “Simplicity is the key to brilliance” – Bruce Lee

    • Matt Schifferle

      haha I love the ideas from Bruce Lee. btw, there’s a great Bruce Lee podcast out that’s produced by his Daughter Shannon Lee. It’s well worth checking out.

  • Marcin

    Good article – there is a typo right at the beginning:
    advantage 1 – second line – it reads deficiency, whereas it should read efficiency.

    • Matt Schifferle

      Ooops, thanks for catching that Marcin.

      • Marcin

        pleasure!

  • Danny Kavadlo

    This a great piece, Matt. Very simple and clear. I dig the load/technique chart! Another classic!
    -DK

    • Matt Schifferle

      Much thanks Coach! Thank you for checking it out!

  • Matthew

    Cool article Matt, getting more excited about your next book coming out! One question my reps for hspu and pull ups are going up and down from work out to workout, this may be obvious but would my weight effect the reps. I don’t take much notice of my diet but have notice my weight changing a few kilos from week to week . Any thoughts cheers!

    • Matt Schifferle

      A change in weight can make a difference. Just think how an extra 5 pounds can effect someone’s bench press or dead lift once they get into heavy weight. Other factors include stress, sleep, diet, and other factors that can influence your energy level as a whole. Plus there’s mindset to consider in each workout too.

      The only way you’ll end up with totally consistent performance from one workout to the next is if you end up like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. So take your differences in stride and enjoy the journey.

      • Matthew

        As you’ve said before it’s not just sets and reps. Sometimes i get caught up on sets and reps, many other factors and ways to progress. Yes poor Phil!

      • Dan Söderberg

        i tend to agree from expeience abot the weight i used to be stuck in a certan reprange when i comes to pullups but when i lost a couple of kgs suddenly the things i used to struggle with became easy as pie even my onearmpushups repranfge went up

    • Dan Söderberg

      im not matt but as far as i can tell you cant expect linear progressions fatigue focus and so on and everyday life influence workouts keep track on your progress and expect “one step back 2 step forward progression just keep at it with resolve focus proactive tension concentration the days of flow and overall progression in the long run will cme but you got to keep track to let your mind progressand though that your body will follow

      • Matthew

        Thanks Dan, I forget sometimes that working in the yard for 5 hours straight in 38 degrees Celsius will affect my strength the next day! I guess it might be wise to track others factors in a training journal not just sets and reps? Thanks for the words of wisdom.

  • Clancy Ross

    What a great article Matt, who says you can’t build a impressive physique without weights!

  • Tim

    Matt,

    Great article! Like you I come from a weightlifting background and found calisthenics after suffering with a shoulder injury. What I really like is how you mentioned building muscle with calisthenics isn’t much different than building muscle with weights, except that with calisthenics it’s all about decreased leverage. I think a lot of trainees miss this idea and think that continuing to pump out more and more reps will make them stronger and bigger.

    I have personally settled on a hybrid of calisthenics and weightlifting, with more of an emphasis on calisthenics (especially when I travel). I often use weights to do my squats and deads, and sometimes will throw in the occasional shoulder press or bench press. But more often than not I’m hanging from my rings working on my front lever progression or doing handstand pushups.

    Thanks for the great article!

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