How To Progressive Overload In Calisthenics (The Ultimate Step By Step Guide)

Hey bro can you help me? – I asked

Yes, sure what do you want? – Ivan answered

Well, I’m not very proud to say it but I haven’t seen any serious results in the last couple of months from my body weight training…

Really? That’s strange… How is your eating? Are you eating enough food?

Yes, I believe I am. I’m counting my calories for the last couple of months and I try to eat a lot of protein.

Interesting, and what about your training? Can you give me some specifics of what exercises you do, how many repetitions, and other stuff, Bozhidar?

Oh yeah. I’m currently training 5 days per week for about 40-50 minutes. During this period I do all sorts of bodyweight exercises most of which everybody knows. You know things such as push-ups, pull-ups, dips, pistol squats, etc…. I really aim to do them using proper form and my main goal is to go for at least 20 reps because…

Wait, what! – he interrupted. How many reps did you say?

I said 20. Is there a problem…?

Ivan exhaled deeply, looked me directly in eyes and said more seriously…

Well, now I know why you are not seeing any results Bozhidar. You are doing everything wrong…

Listen closely because what I’m going to share with you is going to change your life

Hi there my name is Bozhidar, and by the end of this article, you will learn what thing Ivan told me that literally saved my ass.

In addition to that, I will share with you my complete process of what and how to do in order to keep your progression overload constant in calisthenics.

Don’t worry everything I will talk about is going to be separated into 5 easy steps to follow

So in order to get the max from this guide start from step 1, read and do everything until the end.

Do you see how I’ve added the words “and do”? 

They are there because I want to warn you that if you only read this guide and do absolutely nothing and start watching funny cat videos afterward you will not get anywhere.

Yes, everyone likes cat videos (especially my sweet granny) but they are not going to help you to build more muscle mass and strength consistently over time.

So take your time, follow all the steps and you will understand what is “the main secret” of solid progress, a lot more muscle mass, and strength. 

Here’s a quick preview of everything you are going to learn:

  • The Most Effective Way to Progressive Overload In Calisthenics
  • Step 1 – Understanding How Progressive Overload Works
  • Step 2 – Track Down Where You Currently Are
  • Step 3 – Increase the Difficulty Of Your Exercises
  • Step 4 – Incorporate The Equipment and Techniques In Your Training
  • Step 5 – Keep Tracking Down Your Progress

So without any further ado, grab your notebook with sweet kitties, clear your mind and take a deep breath because in the next couple of minutes you are going to learn exactly how to progressive overload in calisthenics…

Here we go…

How To Progressive Overload In Calisthenics (The Ultimate Step By Step Guide)

I looked at Ivan with curiosity because his last words really caught my attention

There are a lot of things you are probably doing wrong. – he continued talking slowly.

I could help you fix some of them but I’m almost certain that you will get stuck again… 

Please don’t look me like that. It’s nothing personal.

That’s why instead of trying to help you temporarily I would recommend you buy a whole calisthenics training program designed to help you with progression overload. – he finally stopped and waited for my answer.

To buy a program… I don’t understand?… – I said quietly

Yes, I recommend you to buy a bodyweight program instead of trying to fix everything on our own because it’s way faster and easier that way.

From what I know there is one very popular program that has 3 months of workouts that become harder and harder with each passed week. I believe it’s exactly what you need. Do you have $50 bucks? – he asked me.

Well, I don’t have $50 right now on me but I can get them once I’m home. Why do you ask? Is this the cost of the program you are talking about?

Excellent. Yes, I believe the price is a little less than that but don’t worry, you will not regret this investment. I’m telling you this is the best way to approach progressive overload. 

Here’s exactly what you have to do…

The Most Effective Way to Progressive Overload In Calisthenics

I took my chance and did what Ivan recommended me to do. I bought the course called Bar Brothers The System.

After all, I learned that this course seemed to be really famous calisthenics workout program followed by thousands of people worldwide.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Some of the people following this program

Once I bought it, I watched all the videos and started following the workouts. Surprisingly Ivan and my other friends who liked this program were right.

It wasn’t a waste of money and it really was entirely focused on progressive overload

And the best thing was that you didn’t have to lift a finger and think about anything else because everything is already done for you.

The only job you have is to follow the damn thing and not quit in the first 1-2 weeks

If you stick to it long enough you will eventually get increased strength, improved skills, and more muscle mass (if you eat the right things).

And that’s exactly why I’ve called this method “the most effective wayto progressive overload in calisthenics ”. 

Following a proven and tested workout program is an almost guaranteed way to keep your bodyweight progress keep coming for a long period of time.

Sure it’s not free but I would rather spend $50 than waste months of training, eating and have broken goals and dreams and feel like a complete loser. 

That’s why I highly recommend you to read my Bar Brothers The System program review by clicking here <<

My review

Inside my review, I share very important details about this workout program, why and how it helped me and why you should get it.

In addition to that, you could also use the discount link I’ve included inside and save a couple of bucks.

But let’s say you are currently broke and don’t have around $50 to spend on a program.

Or you simply don’t like buying online programs (which I can’t find any logical reason for but who am I to judge).

If this is the case please continue reading because in the following 5 steps I will share with you all the things I have learned from my years of bodyweight training that got me this awesome physique:

Here we go…

Step 1 – Understanding How Progressive Overload Work

The first and most important thing you have to do is to learn how this whole process works.

Is it smart to jump in the middle of the lake without knowing how to swim?

That’s the point!

So in short progressive overload is a nice way to say “make things harder and more difficult”.

The main goal of progressive overload is to keep your body constantly progressing in order to become bigger, stronger and more ripped. [1]

Skip, fail or ignore this process and you are doomed to fail. Say bye-bye to all your gains, improved strength and dreams to look like Arnold…

Nice joke bro!

You probably won’t look like Arnold but you will never reach your goals if you ignore the power of progressive overload in your workouts. 

So in order for you to keep all your hard work in the mirror, digital scale and t-shirt size make sure that all your workouts are specifically designed to make you bigger, stronger, and more durable. [2]

Let’s see how you are going to do that!

Step 2 – Track Down Where You Currently Are

Before you jump in and start doing weighted calisthenics using as much weight as you can hold it’s probably best to read this…

Do you really need to make your exercises more difficult and what is your goal?

Depending on the exercises you do and your goal there is a big possibility that you won’t need to do anything in regards to making them more difficult.

But that’s not always the case…

If your main goal is to build a ton of strength you should aim to do between 1 and 5 repetitions [3] per set.

If your main aim is to build a lot of muscle and some strength you should aim for 6 to 12 repetitions [4] per set.

Everything above 12 repetitions is mainly used for stamina and conditioning. [5] You won’t get big or extremely strong by doing high reps.

If you are doing explosive training and your main goal is to build explosive power there isn’t a limit of how many reps you should do but I personally would not aim for more than 15 repetitions without increasing the level of difficulty.

If you are doing static holds (plank, handstand, planche, front and back lever) the static seconds are highly dependant on your current condition and abilities. The general rule is that if you can hold it for more than 1 minute it’s probably time to get some resistance.

Useful information right?

Good! Now let’s see how you are going to use it…

How to use all of that information to my advantage?

After you know the basics about rep ranges and progressive overload it’s time to use them.

Write down on a piece of paper (or an empty Notepad file or Google Docs document) every single exercise you do, how much weight or resistance you use (if any) and how many repetitions you usually do with proper form until you reach your breaking point.

Write down my maximum repetitions… Oh crap, I don’t have a clue….

If that’s the case don’t worry, bookmark this blog post, write exercises in a list and do a little test to see your strength.

Remember to do every single exercise you usually do in your training routine and see how many repetitions can you handle before failure.

Once everything is tested and written down go back here and continue to the next step.

Here’s how some of my exercises would look like:

As you can I’ve listed only a small fraction of my exercises to show you how it’s done.

When you write down yours please include every single exercise you do (if you don’t know its name google it).

Really, please don’t skip this step, because it’s important.

What’s the main reason behind this step?

The reason why I’m making you create this list is because it could really help you see exactly which exercises you need to fix in order to keep getting progress.

If you keep doing too high reps or don’t use any of the tips I will share with you are probably not going to build any new strength or muscle.

Here’s a quick example so you could more easily understand everything:

Let’s say you tried a dozen different exercises but learned that you have the power to do 34 sit-ups and 46 push-ups at once.

Those numbers are great and you should be proud but sadly they won’t help you build more muscle mass or strength.

So in order to get in the hypertrophy zone [6], you should be able to do only 6 to 12 repetitions at max.

And to do so you would need to make things a lot more difficult…

After you have completed your list locate your dream destroyers (all the exercises in which you could do more than 12 repetitions), write down at the end “Need Resistance” or highlight them in any way that will make them easy to spot.

Example:

  • Push-ups: 46 reps. (Needs Resistance)
  • Sit-ups: 34 reps. (Need Resistance)

Now you know which things you need to fix.

Let’s see how exactly to do that…

Step 3 – Increase the Difficulty Of Your Exercises

There are many different ways to make your exercises harder in order to do progressive overload effectively.

But one of the easiest and most efficient ways is to simply include additional equipment.

Let’s see what is the best equipment for calisthenics you could use to progress…

Top 4 Recommended Calisthenics Equipment for Progressive Overload

Here is my favorite bodyweight equipment and how it could help you to keep getting those gains. 

I really hope you own at least one of them.

Here we go…

1. Use Resistance Bands

I believe that one of the best ways to increase the difficulty of almost every exercise imaginable is to use resistance bands.

Bands are lightweight, versatile and come in different levels of resistance so you can easily switch them depending on the exercise you are doing.

They are an excellent weapon you can use for your progressive overload journey that won’t take any space or weight.

And the best thing is that bands are very affordable. 

For a small amount of money, you can get a big set of many different bands which whose help you can train your whole body and make everything you do more difficult.

My resistance bands

If you don’t have any bands available I highly recommend you to check mine.

They come in different levels, won’t snap and are very affordable.

Click here if you want to check them on Amazon.

2. Wear a Weighted Vest

Another very good way to increase the level of difficultyto the majority of the bodyweight movements is to wear a heavy enough weighted vest.

The difference between a vest and bands is that the weighted vest doesn’t require any anchor points and can be worn for many different activities.

It works really well with bodyweight exercises and the price is very reasonable.

This is my weighted vest

If you are curious and want to learn more great information about weighted vests I highly recommend you to click this link and check my vest on Amazon.

I really like it because it’s adjustable, doesn’t take too much space and allows fairly good freedom of movement while you are wearing it.

Even if it’s a little more expensive than resistance bands I still recommend you to get one.

3. Switch to Gymnastic Rings

I don’t know if you are familiar with this but gymnastic rings are a lot tougher and more difficult to use than pull-up bars or parallel bars. 

They are so more demanding than you will feel like a complete beginner once you do your first workout even if you have previous experience.

If you could easily do 20 dips on normal dip bars please try them on gymnastic rings. You are going to be surprised by how little you can do … 

And let’s not forget that you could combine rings with resistance bands and a weighted vest.

And oh boy the exercises… with gymnastic rings, you can do many different exercising requiring different height and strength.

They are so effective in progressive overload that I can personally say that rings are my favorite and best equipment I own.

These are my gymnastic rings

With these bad boys, I managed to build a lot of muscle mass and strength inside the near park when I like to train when the weather is good.

And if I could do it so can you.

If you want to check mine rings (from the picture above) please use this link to see their latest price on Amazon.

Don’t worry they are still very affordable!

4. Include Adjustable Dumbbells To Your Training

Yes, I know that this article is focused on calisthenics but I still decided to add adjustable weights because I have tried both (gym and bodyweight training) and can tell that weight training is one of the best things you can do if you aim for progressive overload.

Don’t worry you won’t need to pay for a gym membership or own expensive and huge equipment at your home in order to achieve that.

Everything you need to have is a heavy enough pair of adjustable dumbbells that are going to provide you with enough resistance for all of the main exercises.

Some of my different adjustable dumbbells

The beauty of dumbbells is that you can easily change the weight and use them to isolate certain lacking muscle groups. That feature makes them an excellent option for progression.

Here is my pair which can go up to 40 kgs (88 lbs) per dumbbell!

My heavy adjustable dumbbells

If you want to get very similar adjustable dumbbells like mine I would recommend you check out these. They are very similar to mine and offer many different options you may like.

As you can see buying and using useful calisthenics equipment isn’t expensive or difficult and can really help you keep your progress going.

But even if it’s the most effective and fast solution it isn’t the only way to make things harder.

Here are 4 more things you can do…

4 More Ways to Make Your Workouts Harder

Even if those 4 methods aren’t as effective as including extra resistance with the form of exercise equipment they could still help in certain areas.

Especially if you combine them with the 4 things I talked about earlier.

Method 1 – Add more new exercises

When you repeat the same workout and exercises again and again and change nothing your body will slowly get used to the stress and you will reach a plateau and get stuck.

Which really sucks and you don’t want to ever endure…

That’s why it’s good practice to include, change and rotate new movements inside your training. 

These new changes will shock your nervous system [6] making sure your muscles and strength have no other option than to adapt to the new movements.

And that adaptation is the key to getting good results.

Example:

Let’s say I always trained my biceps using chin-ups with slow negatives and I could currently do around 15-16 at a time.

That’s a nice amount but won’t help me grow my arms for 2 reasons:

1) I’m doing more than 12 reps
2) My body got used to this exercise.

After all, that’s all I’m doing for the past 3 months. But I’m smart and decide and buy a couple of resistance bands and changed the chin-ups to bicep curls (using bands).

During my first new workout, I got insane pump and my biceps feel very sore the next day.

And the best part is that I managed to do only 9 repetitions before my arms couldn’t continue anymore.

With my new exercise, I did 2 things – shocked my muscles and placed my rep range right in the muscle-building range.

Method 2 – Slow down your movement

It’s true: 

The slower and more controlled you make the whole movement, the harder and tougher it is going to be.

After all, you are fighting against gravity.

And the best thing is that slowing down your repetition speed has its perks. 

With a slower rep speed, your muscles will have a longer time under tension which will lead to better hypertrophy and muscle development.

You should aim to control every part of your movement so each rep takes you about 3 seconds to complete. [7]

Doing between 6 to 12 reps with 3-second rep speed is going to lead you with 18 to 36 seconds of time under tension which is going to be enough to stimulate muscle growth.

So not only slowing down your movements is an easy way to increase the level of difficulty but it is also going to help you build more muscle mass and strength.

How cool is that!

Example:

I can easily do 20+ dips without any problems.

I’ve never thought about slowing down the movement and till this moment my main focus was to go up and down as fast as I can.

After reading this article I tried to test the new strategy and during my next workout, I slowed down everything and gave my best to complete every rep for about 3 seconds.

– 1.5 seconds down, a slow pause at the bottom and 1 second up.

OMG! This time I barely did 10… How is this possible? 

Well, it surely isn’t magic but simple physics. 

Check out the tempo of your exercises and slow it down when necessary. 

Important Tip: Once you have the strength to do more than 12 reps with a slow and nice tempo it’s time to add additional resistance.

Method 3 – Lower the rest time between sets

Another easy but very efficient way to increase the intensity of your exercises and workouts is to simply lower the number of seconds you rest between your sets.

If you usually take 1 minute and 30 seconds to rest change it to 1 minute and 15 seconds or to 1 minute and see how you will feel.

Me after lowering my rest time to 1 minute

Remember that you shouldn’t make them super short because that way your physical performance may suffer and you will do way more harm than good. 

Quick Fact:

Another great thing about using shorter rest periods is that you will also make your workouts more time-efficient.

Let’s say that you currently do 5 different exercises with 4 sets per exercise.

When you do the maths that’s 20 rest times combined.

20 x 90 seconds (the time you usually rest between each set) = 1800 seconds or 30 minutes.

If you lower those 90 seconds to 60 you will get 1200 seconds (20 x 60) or 20 minutes of rest time.

That’s a whole 10 minutes less time for your workouts.

Multiply it by five (the number of workouts per week) and you are close to an hour per week. 

So not only are you saving time but you are also making your workouts more productive and intensive.

Method 4 – Make exercises more difficult

Even if this is highly dependable on the type of exercises you do certain moves do have harder variations you can try without the need of using extra resistance.

For example, doing squats with only 1 leg (pistol squat) is going to be way more difficult than doing normal squats using both your legs. 

Or doing decline push-ups instead of normal

As you can see with some creative thinking and the right knowledge you can turn some exercises to become much more difficult only by doing these little tweaks.

If you are having difficulties finding a harder variation of an exercise Google search can show you the way…

I know that all the things from step 3 combined may be a little overwhelming but don’t worry – you won’t need to do everything at once.

Simply choose a method and a piece of equipment and go to the next step when I will explain to you how you are going to use them for your advantage…

Step 4 – Incorporate The Equipment and Techniques In Your Training

I hope you have not skipped step 2 (track where you currently are) because now it’s time to really use all that information.

To begin with pick only one piece of equipment and one method of the shared ones.

Now write down how exactly you aim to use them for your next workout.

Here is an example of how to do this:

Exercises Before The Change (Example):

  • push-ups – 26 reps
  • pull-ups 15 reps
  • dips – 19 reps
  • squats – 35 reps
  • plank – 1 minute and 32 seconds

Exercises After The Change (Example):

In order to make things harder, I’ve decided to buy this resistance band set and lower my rest time from 1 minute and 30 seconds to 1 minute. (I’ve chosen resistance bands and method 3)

  • push-ups (medium resistance band) – new goal 6 to 12 reps
  • pull-ups (light resistance band) – new goal 6 to 12 reps
  • dips (light resistance band) – new goal 6 to 12 reps
  • squats (hard resistance band) – new goal 6 to 12 reps
  • plank (light resistance band) new goal 1-minute hold

Yes, you can include resistance bands to all those movements if you know how to use them. Don’t worry it’s pretty simple once you use little creativity and watch a couple of youtube videos.

Once my newly fixed exercises list is finished I will try it out as soon as I can. 

Beware that nobody can really know how will those changes affect him so be prepared for future changes until you have found the exact resistance in which you can do between 6 to 12 repetitions with good form and rep speed. 

If you feel like the added resistance is too much for you lower it and if you still can do more than 12 increase it.

Yes, it may take some trial and error for each exercise but it’s all going to be worth it once you get jacked and look like Superman’s lost baby brother …

Who would guess…

Once you have found the perfect resistance for every one of the exercises you usually do (yes EVERY one – no exceptions) write everything down and keep your new list safe like it’s your magical ring…

You said what?

Here’s how your complete fixed workout should look like once you have found the perfect resistance for all your exercises and split them in good workouts:

My Test Workout (After Everything Is Ready)

Rest time between sets – 1 minute.

Total sets per exercise – 4

Repetitions – between 6 and 12

Day 1:

  • Wide grip pull-ups (no weight)
  • Incline push-ups (35 lbs resistance band)
  • Bodyweight rolls (no weight)
  • Normal Ring Dips (no weight)

Day 2:

  • Leg raises (rings) (no weight)
  • High crunch (abs) (35 lbs band)
  • Chin-ups (5 kg or 10 lbs)
  • Handstand push-ups (no weight)

Day 3:

  • Wall-sit – 1-minute hold (no weight)
  • Explosive squat (medium band)
  • Walking lunges (5 kg or 10 lbs)
  • Crab walk (no weight)

Please Note: This workout is created just for the purpose of showing you how everything should look and I’m not using it. If you want to try it please feel so and let me know if it’s good or not.

And remember that the main goal of this guide is to teach you how to progressive overload in calisthenics so please don’t be lazy and create your routine.

Seriously do it!

With that being said it’s time for the last step…

… which is really important if you don’t want to get stuck ever again.

Here’s what you need to do…

Step 5 – Keep Tracking Down Your Progress

Yep, it’s really I mean REALLY important not to skip or ignore this step.

Why?

Because in time (if you do everything correctly) you will eventually become bigger, stronger and faster and your current resistance (if any) will not be enough.

And can you guess what will happen if you continue to train with the exact same resistance?

Nothing.

Yes, you will get zero results. And the cycle of failure will start all over.

That’s why you must keep track of your progress so you know where you currently are and if you need to increase the difficulty of a certain exercise or change things up.

And that’s exactly when all the previous steps come in handy. 

If you have done everything (as expected) by now you should have a tested and fixed training bodyweight program designed for progressive overload and results.

If you haven’t done so please go to step 1, read everything and once it’s ready come back here!

I highly recommend you save it somewhere safe and keep track of all your workouts and once you get the feeling like you are getting stronger in a certain movement and you can do more than 12-13 repetitions simply edit the weight/resistance and try again.

Example:

Before: Diamond push-ups (light resistance band 15 lbs) – During my last two workouts I managed to squeeze 13-14 reps

After: Diamond push-ups (medium resistance band 25 lbs) – After I tried this more thick band I could barely do 7 reps. It’s excellent for my situation.

And don’t forget to keep doing this step if you want to have consistent long-lasting results.

Conclusion

Hey, you’ve made it to the end! Congratulations!

I really hope you haven’t just scrolled down to see my pretty face…

Hi there!

… but because you have followed all 5 steps and are working towards your goals and dreams.

If you have followed everything from this guide now you should really know and understand how to progressive overload in calisthenics training and what are you going to need and do.

Here are some of the highly recommended things you can do right now:

  1. Invest in this pre-made calisthenics program entirely designed for progressive overload called Bar Brothers The System (click here to read my review)
  2. Fix your eating habits (click here to read my complete guide)
  3. Use resistance bands in your workouts (click here to check mine)
  4. Wear an adjustable weighted vest (see my vest from here)
  5. Switch to wooden gymnastic rings (click here to learn which ones I use)
  6. Include adjustable dumbbells to your training (these ones are my favorite ones)
  7. Take massive amounts of action (Yes, I’m very serious!)

And that’s really it! I hope you enjoyed this guide and learned something useful and most importantly – you tried it!

If you are really into bodyweight training I would recommend you to take some time and read some of my other long and useful guides:

And please leave a comment below. I would really appreciate that.

And like always,

May the bars be with you… always…,

Bozhidar

P.S. I don’t have time to think what to say because I really have to pee (I’m holding since chapter 5…) so here is a lame joke:

What does an orange sweat? Orange Juice!

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