Ever wondered why calisthenics athletes are all so ripped?
Then again, professional bodybuilders are just as ripped and twice, maybe three times as big! Which training style is going to be best for you, and can you really get ripped with only bodyweight exercises?
Keep reading to find out!
Table of Contents
Let’s Break Down Calisthenics and Bodyweight Exercises…
When it comes to resistance training, one thing remains true in all the different forms and variations. You have to apply load or resistance to give the body a reason to actually adapt by growing new muscle tissue.
This is most commonly found in the form of weight training, but that being said, most people are first exposed to bodyweight training.
Bodyweight training, as the name implies, refers to training you do with your own body weight.
Conjure images of Rocky doing pull-ups and you get the idea. Using your own mass as a means to provide resistance to certain muscles to force them to adapt.
This is how all training for muscle growth works, by the way, you have to give the muscle a reason to actually grow.
Bodyweight training can be extremely beneficial to people in the following situations:
- Beginners: Beginners might be afraid to step foot in the gym, or might not be sure how to use weights yet. Bodyweight training is perfect for such an individual
- Busy People: If you’re limited on time and just need to get a quick way to workout at home, a bodyweight training session might just be the thing you need
- Travelers: Because you have no equipment to use, it is the perfect training style for someone who is constantly traveling
Bodyweight training opens up a world of training opportunities to those that might never have been able to, which is excellent seeing as gyms can be intimidating to some. Bodyweight training can include the following exercises:
- Push-ups and Push-up Variations
- Pull-ups and Pull-up Variations
- Core Exercises
- Bicep and Tricep Exercises
- Cardiovascular Training (High and Low intensity)
It is important to remember that even though bodyweight training can provide a great stimulus for muscle growth, you do run into small problems. The stimulus becomes old rather quickly.
Essentially, you have a few ways to make training “harder” and therefore force more muscle growth:
- Increase in Load (weight)
- Increase in Volume (amount of reps/sets you do)
- Increase in Time Under Tension (performing the exercises slower)
- Decrease in Resting Time (less time between sets)
With bodyweight training, you’re eliminating the easiest of the bunch – adding load. So you’re going to have to be very tricky with your use of volume and resting periods.
If you manage your training and your diet you can make some serious gains with bodyweight training, just know you might have to get really good at changing the stimulus of the training to actually cause change.
That’s all fine and dandy, but what does it mean to be “ripped”?
To get ripped is a term often thrown around, and I think some people have lost the meaning of what it actually means. Most people are usually only ripped for a few weeks, be it for a competition or a photoshoot.
To be ripped you essentially only need two things:
- A decent amount of muscle mass
- Incredibly low body fat
This is no small task, as many have actually tried to get shredded, but most fail. In order to actually get exceptionally ripped with bodyweight training, you’re going to have to follow the following steps in order to reach it.
Step 1 – Train
This should not come as a surprise but to actually build lean muscle mass (and preserve it whilst cutting weight) you have to train!
There are studies showing that training with some sort of resistance is necessary to retain the most amount of muscle mass. Without doing so the body will actually burn both body fat and muscle in order to keep you alive, which is obviously not what we want.
Since we are talking about bodyweight training, let’s focus on how you should be training in order to get ripped.
There are a few characteristics of a good training program you can look out for:
- Sustainable: Often we’ll want to follow the training program of a professional athlete to the T – the problem is, they’re professional. They live, eat, sleep, and shower in the sport. They can afford recovery methods you cannot, and they have genetics you do not. Choose a training program that is applicable to you and your current level of fitness
- Fun: Chances are, if you enjoy doing something, you’re going to continue doing it. So choose a training style you actually find enjoyable
- Progressive: If you only do 10 pushups day after day after day, nothing will change. Your training needs to get harder as you get better in order for you to make actual progress.
Now that we have established what a good training program can look like, let’s look at what a bodyweight plan could look like. First, let’s look at some things you would want to do:
- Higher Frequency: Your muscle recovery rate is largely determined by sleep, diet, training stimulus, and genetics. If you’re going to be training with bodyweight only, you have the ability to hit a muscle multiple times per week because the actual trauma on the muscle isn’t going to be as much as regular weight training would be
- Shorter Rest: Because we are limited in the manner in which we can actually stimulate the muscle to adapt, you might benefit from keeping your rest periods shorter rather than later
- Higher Volume: Because the intensity of singular sets is going to be considerably lower compared to weight training, you have the opportunity to increase your volume a lot per session, and per week
- Training Methods: Using some intensity methods such as drop sets and supersets are going to open a world of opportunity for yourself
Now, let’s look at a mock program for someone looking to get shredded [if their diet and recovery is on point of course]:
|Monday||Push (Chest, Shoulders, Triceps)||High intensity sprinting|
|Thursday||Pull (Back, Biceps)||High intensity sprinting|
|Saturday||Upper (Chest, Back, Arms)||Low-Intensity Walking|
* This is just a demo program, you could use any other that suits your lifestyle.
But here are some tips to customize your own training program…
Essentially, you want to stimulate the muscle so the body feels like it cannot burn muscle as energy because well, it needs the muscle to do all this training tomorrow as well.
But which exercises are actually going to be best? Let’s break that down as well:
- Chest: Pushups, Wide Grip Pushups, Incline Pushups, Dips, Weighted Dips
- Shoulders: Pike Pushups, Handstand Pushups, Lateral Raises, Rear Delt Raises
- Triceps: Close Grip Pushups, Diamond Pushups
- Biceps: Chinups, Pullups, Inverted Curls
- Back: Chinups, Pullups, Inverted Rows, One Arm Inverted Rows
- Legs: Squats, Split Squats, Lunges, Jumping Squats
- Abs: Plank, Leg Raises, Hanging Leg Raises, Situps
Using combinations of these exercises will allow you the best chance to stimulate the entire muscle as the muscle has different parts that get hit by these exercises. You could also look at using “intensifiers” as a means to make training sessions a bit harder! These include:
- Drop sets: going to fail on one exercise, and switching to an easier version, and going to fail once again
- Pulsation reps: not fully locking out on reps to get a deeper “burn” effect
- Supersets: once you stop one exercise you immediately switch to another to make it infinitely harder
Also, you’ll want to stay consistent when you consider how long it’ll take to improve your body with calisthenics. The entire process can take 12 weeks or more!
Now you have all the tools to construct your plan with! One final thing to consider is the amount of volume you are going to be doing.
When you’re new to training the amount of volume you need to do might be a lot less compared to someone who is more advanced – whether it be per session or per week. You will need to keep this in mind if you aren’t getting stronger week by week, or if you’re suffering from extreme pain and sleep discomfort, your volume might be too high.
Step 2 – Diet
If you are somehow unaware, you need to be in a caloric deficit to lose body mass. This means you need to be eating less than your body needs in order to create that deficit – as the laws of thermodynamics state.
You need to be eating less than maintenance calories, which you can track with an app like MyFitnessPall, and you can also record the way in which your macros are split. For the general public engaging in some form of training, your macros can be split as follows:
- Protein: 1 – 1.3g per lbs of Bodyweight
- Fats: 0.6g per lbs of Bodyweight
- Carbohydrates: Remainder of Calories
The reason you would want to opt for a diet high in protein and carbohydrates is that those two have been linked to the greatest amount of performance and muscle retention. You still need fat in the diet, however, for cellular and hormonal health.
It might also be a good idea to choose foods that are healthier and more whole, as hyper-palatable foods can make dieting quite hard.
Lastly, don’t diet for too long. Dieting for too long has been linked to lower production of Testosterone, and can increase the risk of injury while you train.
You also have to think about food choices! There is some evidence that eating fast food will yield subpar results compared to eating a diet that is richer in micronutrients.
Plus, eating calorie-dense foods all day would make the amount of food you can eat very little. You can fill your diet with foods like these:
- Protein Rich Food (Good to stimulate muscle growth): Meats, Chicken, Whey Protein, Seitan, Tofu, and Dairy
- High Fiber Carbs (Can make dieting a lot easier): Whole Grains, Oats, Bulgar Wheat
- Fruits (High in Micronutrients): Bananas, Watermelon, Apples
- Healthy Fats (Good to manage health markers): Oily Fish, Avocados, Chia Seeds
- Vegetables (Cornerstone of a Healthy Diet): Leafy Greens, Carrots
By filling your diet with nutrient-rich food, and sticking to a caloric deficit, you’re on your way to making significant progress.
Step 3 – Recovery
The part of training that is often neglected is recovery! Recovery is everything that happens between sessions that will help your muscles, psyche, and central nervous systems.
This includes sleeping, soft tissue massage, or just taking it easy between sessions. Shy away from stressful environments and people that spike your cortisol. Ways to improve your recovery are:
- Sleeping 8 hours
- Stretching/Mobility work
- Soft Tissue Massage
- Following a high protein and carb diet
Getting Ripped with Bodyweight Exercises Conclusion
Getting Ripped with a Bodyweight Training plan is 100% achievable and actually might have its benefits as you are running a much lower risk of actually getting injured.
That being said, you are still going to have to work your butt off to see results. To summarize, you’re going to have to do the following:
- Get your diet in check: That means following a diet high in protein, but lower in overall calories. The protein ensures most of the weight lost is fat mass, while the deficit ensures you actually lose weight
- Train really hard: As laid out before, you’re gonna have to train really hard and make sure you get better with time to ensure you retain as much muscle mass as you possibly can
- Be consistent: A change can take some time, so set yourself a realistic goal of 12 – 16 weeks and make sure your efforts are consistent – consistency > perfection
- Manage training volume: Training volume is sometimes sky-high when it comes to bodyweight training, and while you might need a bit more volume than the average Joe, it doesn’t have to be 40 sets every workout. 18 – 22 sets are way more than enough for someone looking to get shredded
- Recover: Lastly, you have to make sure you actually give the body time to recover. This means sleeping enough but also making sure your training sessions aren’t too high in volume
If you execute these steps to the best of your ability for a good amount of time, you will, without doubt, see results. One last thing to remember is that staying ripped year-long is not sustainable for 95% of the population. Most people simply don’t have the genetics for it, or just don’t have time to train that much. Keep your head up, your efforts high, and stay consistent!