How to Develop Big Arms with Calisthenics (According to Science)

To build big arms with calisthenics you must focus on triceps and biceps regular exercises, aim for constant progressive overload, proper rest and eat more calories than you burn every day.

Here’s exactly what to do in order to grow your arms based on science and my personal experience.

What you will learn

  • Best exercises and workout to grow your arms with calisthenics (Based on science)
  • How to progressive overload for muscle growth (and get bigger arms)
  • How often should you train arms every week? (Based on science) 
  • Why do you need to eat more food than you burn every day? (to see results)

Best exercises and workout to grow your arms with calisthenics (Based on science)

Because the triceps takes 2/3 of the size of your entire arm your calisthenics workouts must focus and isolate it as much as possible. [1]. So developing strong and often trained triceps will result in bigger arms.

Of course you also should train biceps and forearms as well so you can maximize your upper body muscle development. 

The forearms ,shoulders and chest are activated as well so you won’t have to do any specific exercises for them.

Best bodyweight exercises that include or use the triceps:

  • Dips (regular)
  • Dips (arms behind)
  • Close-grip push ups
  • Diamond push-ups
  • Tricep push-ups/extensions
  • Body Weight skull crusher
  • Pull-up bar push-ups (on top)

Best bodyweight exercises that include or use the biceps:

  • Reverse grip push-ups
  • Chin-ups (regular)
  • Chin-ups (arms together)
  • Bodyweight bicep curl (hold leg for resistance)
  • Horizontal body rows with reverse grip
  • Door frame rows (or anything you can hold)

Best bodyweight exercises for forearms/grip strength:

  • Hanging from pull-up bar
  • Doing all pull exercise that require you hanging your body
  • Towel pull-ups
  • Wrapping something around the pull-up bar (make it thicker)

Now let’s use some of those exercises and combine them in a great workout you can do straight away.

The complete bodyweight arms workout (for growth):

  • Dips (regular)
  • Diamond push-ups
  • Tricep push-ups/extensions
  • Chin-ups (arms together)
  • Reverse grip push-ups

How to do the exercises?: If you don’t know how to do any one of the exercises simply do a quick Youtube search and check a tutorial (there are videos for everything) or ask somebody more advanced than you to show you in person.

Number of exercises: Because the triceps makes 2/3 of the complete arm size there are 3 exercises for triceps compared to only 2 for biceps. If that’s too much or too little add or remove certain exercises.

Exercises: If you can’t do some exercise or don’t have the available equipment to do it, change it with another one from the list. Some of the exercises don’t require any equipment at all.

Number of reps: If your main focus is arm growth (muscle mass) you must do between 6 and 12 repetitions for every exercise and set based on science. [2] 

Number of sets: If you want a short and effective workout you should do between 3-4 supersets. (do a circle of all the exercises one after the other without any rest between, then rest and repeat)

How long to rest between sets: According to science you need to rest between 60-90 seconds between the supersets/exercises to maximize muscle hypertrophy [3].

How often should you train arms every week to maximize growth? (Based on science) 

According to a study done in 2018 you must recover for at least 48 hours (2 days) after you do an arms workout (or any other that focuses on one muscle group) so your body can have enough time to recover until you can train it again. [4]

That leaves you with 2-3 arm workouts per week for maximum growth.

Here’s an example calisthenics weekly workout plan that targets every muscle group in your body (including arms) which is based on this study.

I recommend combining it with the arms workout I gave you.

Calisthenics Full-Body Weekly Plan:

  • Monday: Chest and arms
  • Tuesday: Back
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Rest Day 
  • Friday:  Chest and arms
  • Saturday: Back
  • Sunday: Legs

Please note: In almost all the given exercises for arms that push the body against gravity the chest and shoulder is well activated and used so you won’t need to add anything extra in order to target them efficiently. 

If you want to see other great bodyweight exercises for your whole body please read this blog post

How to progressive overload for muscle growth (and get bigger arms)

Progressive overload is the process in which you become stronger and use one of the following methods to increase the intensity of your workouts which results in more muscle mass, strength and stamina development. [5]

  • Do one more repetition (in the final set)
  • Do a harder variation of the exercise
  • Lower the rest time between the sets (from 90 seconds to 75 seconds)
  • Do one more superset (from 3 increase it to 4)
  • Add extra resistance (weighted vest, resistance bands or backpack filled with heavy things)

Quick Tip: In order to successfully achieve progressive overload I highly recommend you to write somewhere (in a notebook or online) where you are currently at. After every workout write down how many reps, sets, weight, etc. you did and aim to always improve it in your next workout. By doing this you would know where you are and how to progress.

Why do you need to eat more food than you burn every day to build bigger arms? (what science says)

Yes, it is mandatory to eat 10 – 20% more calories daily than what your body burns in order to properly build more muscle mass and increase strength [6]

How to find how many calories you need?: Simply go to a calculator like this one, enter your personal details to get a number. Then simply increase it by 10% (multiply the result x 0.1 and add it to the result) and you have a great starting point. (Example: 2000 x 0.1 + 2000 = 200 + 2000 = 2200 calories)

Start counting down the calories and choose protein rich foods: Next, start thinking about what you enjoy eating (that is healthy) and write down how many calories each meal has. (use a similar tool to help). Use a piece of paper or write online how many calories each meal has, and the amount of protein, carbs and fats. Do this for every food you eat daily. (Also focus on foods that are rich in protein – meat, eggs, milk, fish, nuts, etc.)

Check for results and adapt: Once you have calculated all the calories and melts it’s time to start eating it every day. Don’t forget to replace certain meals so you don’t eat the same thing every day and do all your workouts. Once every week weigh yourself first time in the morning and track down if you have gained any weight and muscle. If you haven’t increased your calorie intake by 100 for the next week. If you have gained too much weight (including some fat) lower the intake by 100 calories. Adapt your calories and meals depending on your results and be patient.

Follow all those tips and your arms (and your whole body) will become bigger and stronger in a couple of weeks.

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