With the newfound popularity of bodyweight training, many people are starting to look into different methods to improve strength and conditioning through only calisthenic exercises.
Calisthenics, for those that do not know if the act of training with movements that require your bodyweight-only, although this includes exercises that are traditional to strength like pull-ups, dips, lunges – etc.
In this way, bodyweight training could be classified as the most comprehensive style of fitness. Think about it; you have every gymnastic exercise, every pilates exercise, every yoga exercise – the list goes on.
Whether you are advanced or beginner – anyone can benefit from the versatility of calisthenic-based movements and workouts.
Why Bodyweight Training Is Good For All Skill Levels
That last statement may have you wondering how bodyweight training can be beneficial for those that are advanced. To be honest, I would say that calisthenics is great for any skill level, but especially advanced athletes.
Calisthenics requires a high level of strength, coordination, balance and body control. This means you need to be an all-around athlete and possess a perfect balance between strength and mobility.
On the other hand, beginners can use calisthenics to develop a very strong foundation of strength. Simple exercises like pushups and dips can be transferred to other, more complex movements like muscle ups and handstand pushups (we’ll get to that).
Now that we know that anyone can benefit from training with calisthenics let’s get into some of the best moves to target the chest and arms.
5 Bodyweight Moves To Target Chest and Arms
Hands down a personal favourite exercise for us. Dips are very simple, yet can be very versatile when it comes to developing strength in the chest, shoulder, and triceps.
The main cue when you are doing dips is to slightly lean forward and try to keep your forearm vertically straight – with no lateral movement (as this can lead to injury).
This is also an exercise where you may want to keep the volume low to start.
We’d recommend an 8×3 rep scheme until you get stronger. To make the exercise more difficult you can add in a pause at the end range of motion and slow down your eccentric contraction – but we wouldn’t recommend loading up with lots of weight with a belt.
Push-ups are a classic strength building exercise. Everyone from gymnasts to elite military trainers uses pushups to condition the body, strengthen the chest and provide stability in the core.
For this reason, pushups could be a more beneficial exercise than the bench press when it comes to developing a whole-body strength equation.
Deep push-ups allow for greater range of motion and a deeper stress on the pectoralis major muscle – which can lead to a thicker muscle belly and the chest of your dreams.
Use a moderate rep range – anywhere from 8-12, but do not be afraid to use a high volume with this exercise. You are relatively safe to load up on high reps, high tempo or high weight using parallettes to save your wrists.
This is one of the most unique exercises on our list. The sphynx press is not difficult but it does a great job of hitting all three heads of the triceps.
The basic idea with this exercise is to put stress on the long head of the triceps (the biggest one). This is done by extending your hands closer to your body. If you want to make the exercise very difficult you can put additional weight on your back or have a partner push down on you to create more stress on the muscle for a longer time.
You’ll do best to keep the reps higher and use volume training to stimulate growth in the triceps.
TOP TIP: the sphynx press is a great exercise to superset with close grip pushups – its a real triceps burner.
Inverted Press Up
Pike press ups or inverted press up is a very fundamental calisthenics exercise. Why? Because hitting the shoulders, primarily the middle deltoid is very difficult in most calisthenics exercises.
Additionally, as you grow stronger in an inverted press up you can transition into one-arm press-ups or even a handstand press up.
The main idea here to keep in mind is that you will be putting a lot of stress on the wrists – so keeping your volume in check is essential to avoiding injury and ensuring that you are growing stronger each workout.
In this way, I’d suggest keeping your press up volumes to similar ratios at traditional strength training – like 5×5, 6×3 or even 4x4s.
This will help you to develop strength and stability in the exercise as you will train for quality over quantity – all while saving your wrist from injury.
Muscle Ups On A Pull-up Bar
This exercise is probably the king of all bodyweight training. When you get strong enough to do a proper muscle up – you’re strong – period.
Muscle ups are a great way to dynamically train the back, chest, shoulders, arms – pretty much every muscle system in the upper body will be worked through this exercise.
The main clue here is to focus on pulling your hip to the bar explosively.
If you can do this, you simply rotate over the bar, complete the final dip and repeat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come that easy and the strength and coordination required to perfect the muscle-up are immense.
You would do best to start off with low volume and strictly focus on your pulling power. Once you have the explosive strength the rest is just ensuring your body is properly located on the bar for a straight bar dip.
Importance of Volume for Mass in Calisthenics
Calisthenics is a great way to develop strength, balance and power, but some athletes may find that it is difficult to put on mass without having heavy resistance (like most weightlifting requires).
To put it simply, if you want to develop mass in calisthenics it will come down to two main ideas; volume and diet.
Volume is the amount of time you have the muscle under tension. In calisthenics, this is the only way you will be able to increase strength and mass.
Using a high volume – or slower rep speeds will help to recruit more muscle and boost strength.
Diet is a tricky subject – and one we will not get into too much depth in this article. Generally, developing more mass using calisthenics will require you to eat more complex carbohydrates.
In this way, you will provide your body with complete sources of energy for your high-volume workouts. If you restrict your food intake you will struggle to put on mass.