Many people are sceptical about bodyweight workouts being effective to build muscle and strength. Al Kavadlo, world’s leading expert in bodyweight strength training and callisthenics, answers with a resounding “Yes!”. To many of us, getting in shape without joining a gym or lifting weights sounds way too simple to work. But Kavadlo believes that fitness doesn’t have to be complicated. All you need to get in shape is the will to train and the discipline and dedication to do it consistently.

Though bodyweight training can make you strong and muscular, it isn’t as simple or glamorous as Kavadlo or any of the callisthenics’ experts might make it seem like on YouTube. You need to master the basics before you start trying anything fancy. Start simple and be ready to push and pull yourself.

Get down to the basics

If you find it difficult to maintain a standard push up, use your knees for support

The three key movements for building strength and muscle with bodyweight training are push-ups, pull-ups, and squats. These three moves and their progressive variations are enough to keep your muscles growing for years. For any workout to show effect, the muscles need to be challenged from time to time. Unlike your regular gym session, where you can push your muscles by increasing the weight, but when it comes to bodyweight workouts you need to continually challenge yourself to increase your reps so you can progress to harder exercise variations once you can handle them. The only way that you can grow stronger is to start off learning a movement pattern with a relatively low amount of resistance. Gradually add more reps as the body adapts to this progressive overload.

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In weight training, exercises can be learned with an empty bar to improve your technique before progressing to heavier poundage. This allows the lifter to excel the form without having to overcome much resistance. However, due to the nature of bodyweight training progress is approached differently.

Leverage Overload

Kavadlo says that the key principle of progressive callisthenics training is manipulating leverage to vary the intensity of the exercises. Instead of directly jumping into a one-arm push-up, pistol squat, or one-arm pull-up without a significant amount of resistance, what you must do is build up to these advanced moves. Begin by practising variations of the basics ( push-ups, pull-ups, and squats) in which the body is positioned in such a way as to create less resistance. As you notice your body growing stronger, you can gradually introduce tougher variations.

You can even pick a corner of a park for a quick bodyweight exercise routine
Get your form right with a regular squat and only then progress towards pistol squats

If you face difficulty in doing full push-ups, ten start with incline push-ups. Once you build enough forearm strength, you can gradually progress to the full push-up. Conversely, if you can do 30-40 consecutive push-ups, you’re ready to move to a harder variant, like close push-ups. When you get your numbers up on those, you can progress towards archer push-ups, then self-assisted one-arm push-ups before working your way to full one-arm push-ups.

This process can take a while but with commitment and discipline, a beginner can go from incline push-ups to one-arm push-ups over the course of several months or years. These same types of progressions can be applied to squats and pull-ups as well.

Sets And Reps

If your primary goal from bodyweight training is to build muscle, you can easily do so by setting up a template structured around basic callisthenics, says Kalvadlo. When you make progress from the basics, find variations that will cause you to fatigue at around 10-15 reps and perform 3 or 4 sets of each exercise. Aim to perform two pushing movements, two pulling movements, and two squatting movements in each full-body workout. If you stick to your program, get enough sleep and eat enough, you will definitely see an improvement in both your strength and mass.


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