Can Calisthenics Build and Increase Strength? [Full Guide]

Before we start I want to be completely clear that this article is going to provide you with all your answers and give you everything you need and even beyond.

That’s why I highly recommend you to read the entire thing.

Ready? Let’s go!

Do Calisthenics Build and Increase Strength?

The short and simple answer to this question is yes, calisthenics can surely help you build strength only if you know what you are doing.

Yes, I know this doesn’t give an exact answer so that’s why I have decided to split the entire article into 3 separate stages of strength building with the help of calisthenics.

You are going to learn what are the things that can make the difference of you are building strength or not.

To get there I’m going to explain in-depth each phase and try to provide you with everything you need in order to get big and strong as fast as possible.

Here we go!

About the 3 stages of Strength Building with Calisthenics

The 3 stages I’m going to share with you next are entirely focused on strength, technique, endurance, and size. 

Please know that what I’m going to show you may be a lot different from the way you are training. 

Depending on your needs and wants it is possible this is not the most suitable way to train for you.

Still, there are some gold nuggets you can find so I still recommend you to give it a read. 

The stages I’m going to show you are the way I used to train and even now I’m still using them in order to become bigger, stronger and more endurable. 

I’m doing all of this to share my experience and knowledge with you so it can help you. If you like it please give it a try and let me know what you think.

I’m going to start with the easiest type of training and finish with the more advanced so depending on what your current condition is and where you currently are you can find your place within.

And the 3 stages of strength are:

  • Stage 1 – Using Bodyweight to Build Strength
  • Stage 2 – Adding Additional Resistance aka Weighted Calisthenics
  • Stage 3 – Combining Weight Training and Calisthenics

In order to provide you with the best possible information, I have included these 6 important things in every stage.

Every one of them contains a brief description so you can understand what it does and how it’s going to help you.

What should be your physical condition – In here you are going to find a brief overview of how capable should you be in order to fit into the specific stage. 

What equipment would you need – Inside this part you are going to see what vital equipment it is recommended for you to use, what’s really required and what not and what are your options.

How much is going to cost you – I know we all have different budgets to play around with so this is the place to give you an estimated price and explain to you what should you expect to pay.

How to train – A brief overview of the type of exercises you are going to do and some details explaining why you should do them.

What should be your goal – I strongly believe we all should have goals and this is where I will share with you what should you aim for in order to be able to go to the next stage, etc.

Example Workout Routine – This is where we will get in even more dept and I will give you a great workout routine to follow and all the important details about it. Of course, if it doesn’t suit your needs you are completely free to change it to whatever you like.

After all of that is explained I have another bonus for you.

Let’s hop right into the first stage.

Stage 1 – Using Bodyweight to Build Strength

Good old pull-ups! Best way to build your back.

What should be your physical condition:

This stage is suitable for total beginners who are just starting out or for people who already have some strength and endurance. 

This is the place where most people quit because they find out that it’s not as easy as they thought it was going to be. 

Even with that I still believe anybody can start here no matter how bad their current shape and knowledge are.

What equipment would you need

The best thing about this particular type of training is that you can use only your body weight as resistance so you may not need any additional equipment if you have access to a nearby pull-up bar, dip station or even better – a public calisthenic station filled with everything you need.

Depending on where you live, you may not have free access to those things. That’s when it’s good to invest in a home pull-up bar you can place on your wall or ceiling and a dip station that you can place on your wall. 

Some companies sell a combination of both which is the more affordable option. An alternative option for people who don’t want to drill their walls is to buy a simple power tower that can do the same job if enough free space is available.

Additional equipment that may be useful to have for a lot of bodyweight calisthenics exercises are parallettes and gymnastic rings. They are quite portable giving you the option to carry them around with you wherever you go.

Of course, if you are on a very tight budget and have all the available tools and materials you can build yourself a simple pull-up bar and a dip station at home.

Check out this video for inspiration:

Quick Tip:

If you are a total beginner and it is very difficult for you to do only a couple of dips, pull-ups or push-ups you can invest into a good set of resistance bands and use them for extra assistance

Here is another short video showing you some great ways you can use them:

How much is going to cost you

Depending on what is available to you the total cost can vary from totally free to around $50 up to $200 depending on how much are you willing to invest. 

If you are serious about calisthenics and are looking at it as a long term commitment I highly recommend you to buy some useful equipment. 

You can still use it even if you are very advanced in the future.

How to train

For this phase, you are going to focus mainly on basic exercises such as pull-ups, chin-ups, dips, push-ups, sit-ups, hanging leg raises, regular squats, pistol squats, inverted rolls, plank, etc.

Don’t forget that there are countless variations on how you can do every exercise so if you are just starting out begin with the most basic version and progress to a more difficult variation when the time is right. 

Focus on improving your form and doing the exercises correctly as possible. Watch youtube videos, read blogs, ask somebody who is better than you to teach you, etc. 

Using proper technique and correct form is going to not only protect your joints but is also going to speed up your progress and results.

After you have built some strength and size and you have mastered the basics it’s time for you to learn some more advanced exercises. 

I’m talking about muscle-ups, dragon flag, front and back lever, clapping push-ups and pull-ups, planche, typewriter pull-ups, handstand pushups, one-handed pull up and push up, etc.

As you can guess they are not easy and require a lot of previous effort and physical strength to learn and master so that’s why I emphasized the basics first.

What should be your goal

The goal for this phase should be for you to master the basic exercises at the point that you can easily do about 20 repetitions for the majority of them with ease. 

Once you can that then you should start gradually to add and learn some of the more advanced moves and continue to build up your strength, stamina, and technique. 

After a while, you should have enough strength to do the basic exercises and have decent progress with the more advanced ones. 

When that time comes you should be ready to go to the next stage which is to start using additional resistance.

Example Workout Routine

Because there is a very big difference in basic and more advanced exercises I will give you 2 simple routines you can follow for both situations. 

As always, feel free to change them if needed for what you feel comfortable with.

All the exercises below no matter the routine are done one after the other with no rest in between in order to complete 1 round. 

Aim to do about 3 or 4 rounds (I usually do 4) for your workout. 

If you are a beginner start with the basic workout and do it 5 times per week (Monday to Friday) until you have built the required strength, size and stamina so you can easily do 20 reps during all 4 rounds. 

After that, you can continue to the more advanced version. 

Replace 1 or 2 workout days with it and you are ready. That way you are going to master everything at once.

Basic Whole Body Strength Building Routine (1 round)

  • Wide Grip Pull-ups: 10-15 reps 
  • Push-ups: 10 – 15 reps
  • Dips: 10 – 15 reps
  • Hanging leg raises: 10 – 15 reps
  • Squats: 20 reps

Advanced Calisthenics Body Weight Routine (1 round)

  • Clapping pull-ups: 10 reps
  • Muscle-ups:
  • Front Lever Hold: As long as you can
  • Clapping push-ups: 10 reps
  • Handstand push-ups: 10 reps

I know that this may seem too much for some of you so feel free to lower the number of reps or total rounds, change the exercises and do whatever you feel pleased until you make it manageable for your capabilities.

Stage 2 – Adding Additional Resistance aka Weighted Calisthenics

What should be your physical condition

In order to fit this phase, it is highly recommended that you should have some previous experience, good strength, stamina and form in order to be able to do at least 20 reps of all the basic bodyweight exercises at once.

It is also preferred that you have the capability and technique to do some of the more advanced calisthenic moves I have listed in Stage 1.

If you fit both those requirements that means you are ready for this level of strength.

What equipment would you need

The best way to progress in this stage is to use some type of additional resistance with your current exercises. That resistance could be provided in a few ways. 

The main exercise equipment that can help you with that is a weighted vest, resistance bands, chains and a more creative option I will talk about later. 

These are the 4 main things I have used during this phase and I believe they are the best way you can use to give yourself a bigger challenge.

Speaking of the more creative option I was referring that you can use a backpack filled with heavy objects as extra resistance if you don’t have the budget to invest in equipment.

You can use many things to fill it up with (just use your imagination). 

I’m talking about things such as bottles filled with sand or water, rocks, books or anything relatively heavy that is not bulky or dangerous. 

One big downside to this method compared to the other ones is that the weight of the backpack is usually not distributed equally. That means the whole thing moves around your back every rep you do or decide to move around a little. 

Trust me, that can be very annoying and even dangerous in some situations. 

A somewhat fix to that is to simply use a smaller backpack which has an additional waist strap that it’s going to help you keep the weight in one place as much as possible.

How much is going to cost you

I have mentioned a couple of ways you can use to help you get the required resistance and the good news is that they are quite affordable

Buying bands, a weight vest or a chain can get anywhere from about $30 to about $150 depending on the type of the product, included weight, resistance, etc. 

Of course, you can always choose the totally free option that is going to literally cost you nothing if you already have a good backpack and things to use it with. 

But if you have some budget to spare I would recommend you invest in one of the products above because of the convenience and additional benefits they provide.

How to train 

When you have additional resistance available at your disposal it’s good to use it on some of the basic bodyweight movements such as pull-ups, chin-ups, dips, push-ups, squats, etc.

Be sure not to allow your ego to take control and always use the right amount of added resistance and keep your form on the point no matter what. 

Using too much weight than you can handle may cause you to injure yourself and stop you for further progress. 

Quick Tip:

A good way to determine if you are using enough resistance is to see how difficult are your last 1 or 2 reps. If you can barely do them without sacrificing your form then you have found the right resistance. Depending on how you feel you can always increase or reduce it. 

You can also implement additional weight to some of the more advanced calisthenics moves to make them more difficult and challenging. You can use Youtube in order to find out how exactly to do that.

Quick Tip:

If you really like to train outside in the sun but you have to walk a while to get there I recommend you to do like me and bring yourself a couple of bands with different levels of resistance in a small backpack.

What should be your goal

Your goal should be to keep training and building the needed strength, size and endurance until you can use a moderate type of resistance for all the basic exercises.

You want to be comfortable by doing around 10-15 reps with good form continuously for all rounds.

Example Workout Routine 

Depending on your choice or resistance – bands or physical weight, you can do all the following exercises for a goal of about 10-15 reps. 

I have called all the exercises “Advanced” because they may use 2 different types of resistance so you can rename them to “weighted” or “with bands” as you feel pleased depending on what you are going to use.

Try to complete 3 or 4 rounds of this routine for about 2-3 times per week while using the rest 2-3 training days to focus on static holds and similar more advanced moves. 

That way you are going to build strength for all calisthenic exercises at the same time.

Workout with Added Resistance (1 Round)

  • Advanced Pull-ups: 10-15 reps
  • Advanced Push-ups: 10-15 reps
  • Advanced Dips: 10-15 reps
  • Advanced Squats: 20 reps
  • Advanced Leg Raises/Sit-ups: 10-15 reps

Again as previously said feel free to edit the workout if needed.

Stage 3 – Combining Weight training and Calisthenics

What should be your physical condition

In order to reach this phase, you should have enough strength to do about 10-15 repetitions for all the basic movements using moderate resistance.

It’s also good if you have a lot of experience followed by great explosive power, stamina, and technique. 

That way you could improve and should be able to do some of the more advanced exercises and holds for a long time or more reps. 

Once you have all those things you should be ready to continue improving by adding weight training into your workout routine.

What equipment you would need

For this phase of your calisthenics strength journey, you are going to need to have different equipment required for both types of training.

For calisthenics, you need to have some of the previous equipment I have already mentioned in the previous 2 stages.

With weight training, you have 2 options – build a home gym or buy a monthly gym membership and go and train in the local public gym. 

Let’s find out what might be the best option for you.

If you decide to go and train in a local commercial gym you won’t need to buy any additional equipment.

Everything is provided inside but it’s going to cost you additional time and money and you won’t have the complete freedom do to whatever you like and will have to follow their rules.

If on the other hand, you decide that you want to train at home then you are going to need some basic exercise equipment to start.

We are talking about basic things such as a squat rack, a set of adjustable dumbbells, straight bar, EZ-curl bar and eventually some type of a cable machine

A basic yet effective equipment.

Of course, you don’t need to have everything at once and you can simply start only with a pair of good adjustable dumbbells that come with enough weight on them (That’s exactly how I started). 

I want to add up that you are going to need to have some available space if you want to expand by investing in a squat rack or a cable machine because they usually require some space.

How much is going to cost you

So if you are checking this stage then you should probably already have some calisthenics equipment at your disposal. If that’s true then you won’t have to pay anything more for that. 

Unfortunately, the case with the weight type of training is not the same.

If you decide to go for a home gym then you will have to pay a somewhat big sum upfront but once you get all the equipment you need that’s really it and you are ready for life. 

The average initial investment for a home gym starts from about $100 and can go up to $1000 and above depending on how much equipment you want to have. 

From my own experience, I can tell that for only about $100 up to $300 you can get enough things in order for you to be able to do the basic compound lifts in combination with some great isolation exercises.

If you prefer going to a public gym the monthly price really varies but the average cost is between $40 and $50 per month. If we multiply that by 12 we get a yearly cost of around $480 to $600. 

As you can see investing in a home gym will pay for itself in one year or less.

How to train

In this phase of training, you are going to focus to combine calisthenics and weight training in order to become efficient in both and get all the benefits they bring. 

If you want to learn more details on what those benefits are check out our article about calisthenics vs gym.

With calisthenics, you are going to usually do the same type of training as in stage 2 and you will keep trying to get stronger and improve everything you can.

When speaking about weight training you are going to focus on the basic compound movements such as deadlift, squat, military press, rows, bench press, etc.

Squats – the king of exercises!

You can also include some isolation exercises for all the muscle groups that are underdeveloped by your calisthenics training. 

I can’t really tell you what to focus on because these types of muscle groups are different for everybody. Find out what yours are and focus on them.

What should be your goal

Because this is the last phase of this program there isn’t a specific goal to follow but what you should do is to become as big, strong and endurable as you can. 

With the combination of both types of training, you are going to achieve that a lot faster and easier. 

If you put the effort in there isn’t a limit of what you can achieve. In order to help you get there, I’m going to show you how to set yourself good goals later in this article.

If you are consistent with your training, eating and sleeping you will start seeing amazing results and are going to feel and look great at the same time.

Example Workout Routine

In order to get the maximum out of both calisthenics and weight training, it’s best for you to combine them in your weekly workout routine. 

That can be done easily by following my simple training schedule I have prepared for you below.

Inside the training schedule, you can see how both types of training are combined in a week and what is the specific type of workout you would have to do each day. 

Of course, feel free to change this training schedule and make it compatible with your daily life. Do the same thing with all the exercises, reps and sets if needed.

Week Training Schedule 

  • Monday: Weight Training (Push)
  • Tuesday: Calisthenics
  • Wednesday: Weight Training (Pull)
  • Thursday: Calisthenics
  • Friday: Weight Training (Legs)
  • Saturday: Calisthenics
  • Sunday: Rest

Weight Training Day (3 types of workouts)

Push Routine Workout

  • Military Press: 10-12 reps (3 sets)
  • Bench Press: 10-12 reps (3 sets)
  • Dips: 10-12 reps (3 sets)

Pull Routine Workout

  • Deadlift: 10-12 reps (3 sets)
  • Pull-ups: 10-12 reps (3 sets)
  • Rows: 10-12 reps (3 sets)

Legs Routine Workout

  • Squats: 10-12 reps (3 sets)
  • Hip thrust: 10-12 reps (3 sets)
  • Lunges: 10-12 reps a leg (3 sets)

Calisthenic Day

  • Muscle-ups: 5 reps.
  • Planche: as long as you can hold
  • Front Lever: as long as you can hold
  • Handstand: as long as you can hold
  • Human Flag: as long as you can hold

4 Additional Things You Can Do Today to Help You Build Strength in Calisthenics

Even with all the information provided during the 3 phases I still want to help you succeed so that’s why I’m going to share with you my top 4 things that helped me the most during my own journey.

Hope they help you too. 

Let’s check them out!

[#1] – Following a meal plan

To be honest with you building strength and size is far more dependant on what you eat every day from how hard you train. 

Even if your training isn’t on point but you follow a good meal plan and have an excellent food intake daily you are going to have far better results than doing the exact opposite thing.

I won’t explain to you how to create a meal plan from start to finish because this article is going to get over 10000+ words and I still may miss a couple of things. 

Instead, I’m going to give you a few things you can do today that can help with your eating habits and boost your results.

#1 – Make sure that you are on a calorie surplus. 

If you don’t have a clue how much calories should you be eating daily you can easily find that number with the help of one of the free online calculators.

You can use the one from here

Only if it was that easy…

Once you have the number it gives you add somewhere of about 10 to 20% on top of it in order to get into a calorie surplus

Example:

The calculator told me that I should eat 2500 calories to maintain my weight. In order to bulk up a little, I’m going to increase that number with 10% to be safe.

The math I’m going to follow is this:
2500 + (2500 x 0.1) = 2500 + 250 = 2750

My new goal is to eat around 2750 calories each day.

As you have seen from the example I have to eat approximately 2750 calories in order to increase my strength and see more results.

Even if you have calculated your number take it with a grain of salt. 

It’s not that easy to find out specifically how much you should eat but these calculators do give you a pretty decent starting point. 

So to see if you are going in the right direction track your progress on a weekly basis. 

If you don’t see any you can increase the calories by about 10% more and try again.

Repeat all those steps until you start seeing positive results from your diet.

#2 – Pick what are you going to eat

I can almost taste them…

The next thing you have to do is to pick some great, tasty and healthy meals that are going to provide you with enough calories and macronutrients for your daily meal plan. 

It should be something you would enjoy eating regularly and it’s not too difficult to cook and prepare.

Here’s a great video showing you some good examples to start with

#3 – Do a meal prep

In order to make things easier for you to success, you can do a simple trick that is going to help you win the food war even before it is started. 

You can easily achieve that by using meal prep to cook and prepare everything you have selected in the previous step. 

It’s not as hard as you think…

The main benefits of doing so are that it’s going to take you only a few hours to buy, prepare and cook everything so that way is ready with most of your week’s meals in a very short period of time.

I know this probably sounds way too difficult but actually it isn’t. Once you get the hang of it you will see how easier your life will become.

If you don’t how to do a meal prep here’s a quick video showing you everything:

[#2] – Having a specific goal

There isn’t anything worse than simply to want something and not having a specific goal and a path on how to achieve it. 

In order to help you with that, I’m going to show you a simple example of how you can set yourself a good goal and a way to achieve it.

Example:

Let’s say that your goal is something like:

I want to use calisthenics to increase my strength.

I don’t want to sound mean but if that’s the case then you are probably going to fail because there isn’t anything specific about it.

A good goal should be very specific. 

Here’s an updated version of it:

I want to have the strength to do 20 pull-ups in a row. 

See, this is a lot better and now you have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve. 

Side Note:

Doing only this little step puts you ahead of a lot of people. Yes, it’s actually proven that 92% of people fail to achieve their goals.

The main reason is that either hasn’t set up a proper goal or simply doesn’t know how to achieve it.

Let’s not be like them!

The next thing a good goal has is a time frame.

You should be thinking of when do you want your goal to be achieved.

And please be realistic.

Two weeks, three months, one year? 

Make sure to use a reasonable and realistic time frame (and of course do the same with the goal) with your current knowledge and abilities. 

Something of the lines of …

I want to be strong to do 20 pull-ups after 60 days.

… is going to do the job right.

Okay, so now you have a specific and reasonable goal which is realistic and has a time frame but something is still missing… 

I’ll give you a minute to try to figure it out… 

Ready?

No worries if you failed.

The last piece of the puzzle is maybe the most important – how are you going to get there

If for example, you can do only 5 pull-ups at this moment how the hell are you going to learn to do 15 more

This is where you have to use your brain and really think of what things you have to do to get there and use them to build yourself a path that is going to get you there.

The best way to go forward – Goal Setting

After a long thinking process and a piece of paper, I come to the conclusion that in order to build more strength for my new goal of 20 pull-ups I would have to:

  • Workout 5 times per week consistently
  • Do 4 sets of pullups in every 3 of those workouts. 
  • Try to add 1 additional pull-up every week
  • Start following a proper nutrition plan
  • I will have to find out the number of calories I need
  • number of meals I have to eat
  • How are my macronutrients going to look
  • From where I’m going to buy all the foods
  • How am I going to cook it
  • I am going to meal prep them
  • etc. 

Also, I will start getting to bed at a specific time every day and give myself an hour to do the workout. 

Yes, these are a ton of things to do but in order to make things simpler I’m going to write them in a big column and stick the piece of paper somewhere I’m going to see daily. 

After that, I’ll give my best to find the answers to all those questions and see them done one by one.

I can guarantee you that if you follow this method consistently and cross out all the things you have written one by one you are going to get closer and closer to your goal until you eventually reach it. 

I know this is not a fast and easy process and it takes a ton of effort and patience but that is how real progress is made and how goals are being accomplished. 

[#3] – Tracking down your progress

How are you going to find out if you are becoming stronger if you don’t know how strong were you yesterday?

Always track down your progress!

In order to see if you are getting closer to your goal or not, you have to somehow track your strength and all the things you are currently doing. 

Doing that will tell you if you are getting closer and doing the right things.

You can easily do that with the help of a simple notebook or a free online document writing program such as google docs or sheets.

Write down where you start and keep track of everything important for you to see if you are getting closer or not.

Those are things like the number of reps, sets, how much resistance or weight you used, did you managed to sleep well, eat right, etc.

If you see that the path you currently follow isn’t leading you to where you want to get change some things and try again until you see the progress you are looking for.

[#4] – Being consistent

I know this sounds like a cliche you have probably heard millions of times already but there isn’t a shortcut to success

You will have to understand that you are going to have to put in huge amount of hard work day in and day out for a very long period of time to get the needle moved. 

That’s why it may take sometimes many months until you see significant results in your body and strength.

The real process takes time…

Thrust me, I personally know how bad is the feeling when you are really trying your best and doing something on a regular basis and nothing is happening. 

That’s the real process many people ignore. 

What separates the people who succeed from those you do not is how persistent they actually are, how well they deal with all those negative thoughts and self-doubt you are constantly going to get. 

If you can keep grinding and push forward you will eventually see the bright at the end of the tunnel.

The only real advice I can give you is to keep working out 5 or 6 times per day, strive to become better, follow everything correctly. 

If you do everything correctly and put in the right amount of work there isn’t any way you won’t see progress.

Keep doing it for a couple of months and see where it’s going to take you.

You are going to be amazed at what can you achieve only with the help of consistency and hard work.

Final Thoughts

I’m pretty aware that this is not a short article but I’ve done my best to answer your questions and provide you with as much actionable information as I can. 

Even if you have read everything it wouldn’t mean a thing if you don’t use and apply it in your life and training. 

It’s proven again and again that the people who make it are usually the ones who take action. 

Yep, it’s so easy but so hard…

I know that you are probably trying to figure out how long is it actually going to take you to go from one stage to the other or simply increase your strength using calisthenics but I can’t really answer you this because I truly don’t know. 

The amount of time it takes is different for everybody and it may take only 1-2 months for some and 5-6 months for others. 

If you had found this blog post helpful please leave a comment below and share it around. I want to know if it helped you.

Thank you for reading this article. If you are passionate about calisthenics or working out in general, feel free to scroll around the site and see our other great articles that can help you a lot. 

You can find them inside our category pages – Useful Guides and Best Equipment.

Hope to see you again,

– Bozhidar

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Bozhidar Karailiev
Bozhidar Karailiev
Hey there, my name is Bozhidar and I have created this site to share with you my experiences and knowledge from over 7 years of training using my home gym, public gym and calisthenics. I have some experience into gymnastics too. Hope my articles are useful to you!

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