Can You REALLY Build Muscle with Calisthenics?

Is there a way that you can bulk up and get the body that you’ve always dreamed of without having to invest in a gym membership or expensive equipment?

There is. How?

With calisthenics.

What is calisthenics?

It’s a form of exercise that involves using your own body weight through a variety of different movements with very little or no equipment at all.

This exercise routine focuses on the use of gross motor skills and various types of relatively simple movements, such as pushing, pulling, bending, jumping, and swinging – much like you did when you were a child playing on the playground – to transform your body.

Not having to rely on anything but your own bodyweight means that you can practice calisthenics virtually anywhere, which is certainly appealing; plus, you don’t have to invest in pricey gym memberships or equipment.

So, can you build muscle with calisthenics?

While the above-mentioned benefits are great, if you’re goal is to become stronger and more defined, you’re probably wondering, “Is building muscle with calisthenics possible?”

It is. But before we explain how to build muscle with calisthenics, let’s take a look at what the process of building muscle involves.

How are muscles formed?

To understand how building muscles with calisthenics works, you first need to have a basic understanding of human anatomy; namely, the muscles within the body.

The human body is comprised of three types of muscle tissue:

  1. Cardiac
  2. Smooth
  3. Skeletal

For the purpose of building strength and definition, we’re focusing on the third group of muscle – skeletal muscles.

These muscles are attached to bones and respond to voluntary messages sent out from the nervous system. There are more than 600 skeletal muscles within the body; examples include the triceps, biceps, and quads.

How stronger muscles are built

How does the body build stronger muscles?

Essentially, they’re built when small muscles fibers are damaged, and in response to the damage, the immune system rebuilds them so that they’re stronger.

In a nut shell, skeletal muscles are built when you exert a lot of pressure on the muscle, which breaks the tissue down; the body then rebuilds those muscle tissues so that they’re stronger than they were before.

This process is referred to as muscular hypertrophy, or the growth and size increase of muscle cells.

Hypertrophy is a physiologic process that results in an increase in the amount of contractile proteins in each of the fibers of the skeletal muscles.

How calisthenics builds muscles

In order to achieve hypertrophy, you might assume – like many other people – that lifting weights is the only effective way to achieve hypertrophy.

While it is true that weight lifting can certainly result in bigger, stronger, more defined muscles, it isn’t the only way; calisthenics has also been proven to be a highly effective way to build muscles.


Because your own body provides more than enough weight to achieve hypertrophy, and in turn, build, strengthen, and define your skeletal muscles.

In other words, your body doesn’t distinguish between the kinds of weight you’re lifting, but instead, it responds to how you’re working with the weight you’re applying to your muscles to break them down and rebuild them.

To build muscle using your own bodyweight you need to engage in physical activities that put tension and resistance on the muscles.

If the amount of resistance you’re placing on your muscles is low, then the amount of stress you’re placing on the muscles is also going to be too low and you aren’t going to achieve that hypertrophy response. As such, it’s imperative that you are applying high levels of resistance – and thus, stress – on your muscles.

How do you do that?

By listening to your body.

When you feel like you’re exercises are getting too easy, switch things up; for example, if your pushup routine is getting too easy, switch things up, adjust the angle of your body.

The more resistance you’re placing on your muscles, the more you need to use your muscles to support your bodyweight, and thus, you’ll reach hypertrophy.

Is Calisthenics Better Than Lifting Weights?

Whether bodyweight lifting is better than weight training really depends on your goal.

If you’re looking to increase your muscle mass and achieve more definition while also improving your mobility and your overall health, calisthenics is the better option.


Because you’re focusing on building relative strength; in other words, your strength in relation to the total weight of your body.

While weight training can certainly help you achieve bigger muscles, it focuses on increasing your maximum strength; the amount of weight you can lift, no matter how much you weigh.

In addition to building your relative strength, calisthenics offers the following benefits over weight lifting:

  • You’ll have the ability to access and build muscles that you wouldn’t be able to with weight training.
  • You can get in workouts pretty much anywhere.
  • You’ll develop skills that you could never achieve with weightlifting.

Does Weighted Calisthenics Build Muscles?

Weight calisthenics, as the name suggests, involves adding weights into your bodyweight lifting workout.

Doing so adds more load to your workout routine, thus increasing the amount of resistance and stress on your muscles so you can reach hypertrophy.

When should you consider adding weights to calisthenics workouts?

When you’ve mastered basic bodyweight lifting routines and want to establish a more progressive overload; for instance, when pushups have become too easy, adding a weighted dip belt can help you get more out of the routine.

Bodyweight Muscle Building Exercises

Examples of some of basic calisthenics to get you started include:

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Chin-ups
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Planks
  • Dips
  • Step-ups
  • Calf-raises

Remember, as you master these exercises and they become easier, switch things up.

For example, try different variations, such as close-grip and wide-grip push-ups when basic push-ups become too easy, and walking lunges when basic lunges aren’t giving you that burning sensation anymore.


So, can you build muscle with calisthenics?

Absolutely. By modifying your routines, adding in weights to your workouts, and of course, with dedication, you can certainly achieve a bigger, stronger, and more defined muscles through bodyweight lifting.