How to Get Muscular with Calisthenics: 6 Proven Strategies to Accelerate Your Gains

Download my free training eBook for skinny-fat guys “How to Create the Illusion of Wide Shoulders” (35-page PDF)

With my free training eBook you will learn how I built wide lats to create a V-tapered upper body, added 250 pounds to my deadlift, went from 0 to 20 chin ups and added over 10 inches to my shoulder measurement.

calisthenics bicepsWhen you start your fitness journey it’s easy to get the idea that you need weight training to build a muscular physique. But that is wrong.

Plenty of people have built muscular physiques with the use of basic calisthenics exercises such as chin ups and diamond push ups.

The main benefit of many calisthenics exercises is that similarly to the olympic lifts, they move your body through space.

By doing so consistently, you will not only signal to your body that is has to get lean and muscular but you will also improve your athleticism.

When you can knock out 20 clean chin ups with full range-of-motion and full control, you will be lean and muscular. There’s no way around it.

And if chin ups are too easy or too difficult for you, there are always ways to scale the exercise up and down.

For example, if you have high body-fat levels and you’re weak, you can start with inverted rows and negative pull ups to build up enough strength to do your first pull up.

The same goes for any other calisthenics exercises.

There are time-less, proven progressions that you can use to achieve your first rep on each of the calisthenics exercises and later move on to more advanced stuff such as handstand push ups, muscle up and front levers.

The #1 key to muscle gains is progressive overload.

When you progressively overload your muscles, they will get bigger – regardless of whether you do weight training or calisthenics exercises.

The issue with calisthenics is that once you can do your first 15-20 pull ups with ease, it becomes more complicated to progress.

With weight training you can just keep adding more weight, but with calisthenics you will have to use different strategies to keep building muscle.

In this article, I will teach you 6 proven strategies that you can use to make the basic calisthenics exercises harder and thereby keep building muscle mass for years to come.

Let’s get started:

1. Increase Time Under Tension and Work the Negative Phase Hard

calisthenics push ups

If you time yourself next time you do a set of 20 push ups you will most likely find yourself completing that set in less than 30 seconds. This means you’re missing out on gains.

The optimal time-under-tension for muscle growth is 40-60 seconds per set.

Why 40-60 seconds and not more or less?

When you use less than 40 seconds you’re working mostly strength, power and the Central Nervous System and when you use more than 60 seconds you’re moving into doing endurance work for the muscles.

With 40-60 seconds time-under-tension you have that sweet spot balance where you are using enough resistance to create overload on the muscles while also getting a good pump, burn and mind-muscle-connection.

Assuming that you do 10 chin ups, you want to spend about 4-6 seconds per rep to reach the target time-under-tension.

Now, we know that most of the muscle building happens during the negative phase of the rep. (When you lower yourself).

As a result, most of the time-under-tension should be during the negative phase of the rep.

A good rule of thumb is to spend 1-2 seconds on the positive phase and 3-4 seconds on the negative phase. 

A few seconds may not sound like much, but try recording a video of your usual set of push ups and you will see that most of your reps are done in less than 1 second.

With the optimal time-under-tension you will spend 5 seconds per set (5 times the amount you spent before)!

Now imagine how much difference that alone will make.

2. Focus On Developing A V-Tapered Upper Body With Powerful Arms

calisthenics v-taper

Most of us can gain about 20 pounds of muscle mass in the first year of training and 30-40 pounds over the first 3 years of training.

While this sounds like a lot, you need to keep in mind that a lot of guys make the mistake of adding muscle mass everywhere without any thought given to where the mass is added.

For example, I see a lot of guys doing endless sets for the upper abs, lower abs and obliques. There’s nothing wrong with working the abs, but you have to keep in mind that abs are muscles and muscles can grow.

When you overdevelop the abs, you thicken the waist and take away from building the V-taper.

The V-taper is important because it makes you look like you actually train when you wear clothes which most of us do the vast majority of the time.

When you combine it with big arms, you will appear powerful and proportional in a fitted shirt.

So how do we develop the V-taper and arms?

To develop the V-taper and arms, the most important muscle groups to bring up will be as follows:

  • Lower and upper lats. (#1 way to increase shoulder width when people see you from the back).
  • Upper chest.
  • Triceps. (Especially the lateral triceps for the V-taper).
  • Biceps.
  • Front Shoulders.
  • Medial shoulders.
  • Rear shoulders.

You can use variations of pull ups, chin ups and diamond push ups to sculpt most of these muscles:

  • Chin Ups to develop the lower lats: Use an underhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width to target the lower lats. When you pull yourself up, lean back a bit with your upper-body and contract your lats for more lat activation.
  • Wide Grip Pull ups to develop the upper lats: Use a wide overhand grip to target the upper lats. When you pull yourself up, lean back a bit with your upper-body and contract your lats for more lat activation.
  • Close Grip Chin Ups to develop the biceps peak: Use a narrow underhand grip to target the biceps. When you pull yourself up, focus on using the biceps as much as possible.
  • Close Grip Pull Ups to develop lower biceps mass: Use a narrow overhand grip to target the lower part of the biceps and build overall mass. When you pull yourself up, focus on using the biceps as much as possible.
  • Diamond Push Ups to develop the upper and inner chest and front shoulders: Place your hands slightly higher than usual so you are pushing from an incline angle. When you push your self up to the top position, push your elbows and chest muscles together then hold the peak contraction at the top for 2 seconds and repeat.
  • Diamond Push Ups to develop the lateral triceps: Place your hands lower than usual (around the top of your ab muscles). When you reach the top of the movement, rotate your elbows to the side until you feel a very good stretch in the lateral triceps then hold that for 2 seconds and repeat.

The good thing is that focusing on the target muscles above and optimal time-under-tension are complimentary.

When you spend a lot of time-under-tension you will automatically have enough time on each rep to actually focus on the muscle you want to work.

On each of these exercises you want to use the optimal time-under-tension and slow, controlled negatives to properly work the muscle fibres.

But how about the rear and medial shoulders?

The rear and medial shoulders get worked indirectly with diamond push ups and pull ups and for guys with good shoulder genetics, that will be enough to build those round 3D-looking shoulders. But most of us don’t have good shoulder genetics.

We need to work the shoulders and all other slow-responding muscle groups from many different angles and resistance bands will help with that.

3. Get Resistance Bands To Work All Muscle Fibres

calisthenics resistance bands

When I got into training many years ago, there was this whole idea going around that you could do 3 weight training exercises for your whole body: Bench presses, squats and deadlifts. (I cover that in my post Why You Shouldn’t Do Starting Strength as a Beginner).

Now I see a similar thing in the calisthenics community where people believe they can build an amazing physique with variations of chin ups, pull ups, push ups, dips and squats.

As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Variations of the big compound exercises can help you build about 70-80% of the muscle mass you are able to build naturally.

However, it’s the last 20-30% that truly makes a difference in your physique.

To understand why the last 20-30% are important, you can simply take a look at the way your muscles are structured:

  • Triceps: You have 3 triceps heads and the triceps make up 2/3 of your arm size. To develop all 3 heads you will need to do a variety of pushdown movements. You can’t do that with calisthenics exercises alone.
  • Biceps: You have 2 biceps head and one of them responds best to an underhand grip while the other one responds best to a hammer and overhand grip. You can work all these grips with variations of pull ups and chin ups, but unless you are incredibly strong, you won’t be able to get in enough volume to grow them to their maximum size. I haven’t met a guy yet who can do 8 sets of 20 close grip pull ups with clean form and after 7 years of training, I can’t even do that myself.
  • Shoulders: You have 3 shoulder heads and to grow the medial and rear shoulders you will need some kind of lateral raise and reverse fly movements. You cannot replicate these with calisthenics exercises alone.
  • Upper chest: The upper chest only makes up a small part of the chest but it’s the most important part because it’s the part most of us are lacking to get that squared looking chest. Compared to the rest of the chest, the upper chest muscle fibres can be worked with a low fly movement and that can only be done with bands, cables or dumbbells.

So working on these last 20-30% is really worth it and all you need is 3-4 bands with different resistances.

Resistance bands are cheap, easy to bring with you anywhere you go and they can replicate nearly all dumbbell and cable exercises.

Furthermore, by changing up the placement of the resistance band and having 3-4 different resistance bands, you can progressively make each exercise harder just like you would if you had a set of adjustable dumbbells.

Here are some of my favorite exercises that you can do with resistance bands:

  • Lateral raises for lateral shoulders.
  • Reverse flyes for rear shoulders.
  • Face pulls for rear shoulders.
  • Front raises for front shoulders.
  • Triceps extensions.
  • Triceps pushdowns with regular and reverse grip.
  • Rows for the upper back.
  • Rows for the medial back.
  • Curls.
  • Hammer curls.
  • Flyes for inner chest.
  • Low flyes for upper and inner chest.
  • Presses for chest.

One big benefit of using bands is that you can train the smaller muscles at a much higher volume and volume is key to build muscle.

For example, if you use diamond push ups to work the triceps, you will become fatigued at some point and it will be hard for you to do sets with the optimal time-under-tension of 40-60 seconds.

This is where you can change to resistance bands and do easier exercises such as pushdowns and thereby continue working the muscles from different angles while still getting the optimal time-under-tension.

Alternatively, if you continued with the diamond push ups you would be forced to do a lot of unproductive sets where the time-under-tension is far below what you need.

By working your muscles from a variety of angles and having all this added volume in each training session, you will be able to trigger a lot more muscle growth compared to doing the calisthenics exercises alone.

4. Train Weak Muscle Groups 3-4 Times Per Week, Train Them First and Change up the Range of Motions

calisthenics training frequency

If you come from a bodybuilding background you most likely limit yourself to train each muscle group once or twice per week.

If you come from a calisthenics background you most likely have the complete opposite approach, pounding away at a full body routine 5 or 6 days per week because that’s the kind of message promoted in most calisthenics motivational videos: “All day everyday”, “work hard everyday” and so on…

So what’s best for muscle building? Again, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

Most studies (and my 7 years of experience) show that your muscles recover within ~48 hours of training given optimal recovery. 

This means that you can hit a weak muscle group 3-4 times per week (every 2 days).

Now I’m not saying that you should train everything 3-4 times per week, but definitely prioritise the weak muscle groups and hit them as hard and often as possible.

So here are some practical tips to set that up:

Let’s say your arms don’t respond well to training.

If you want to make them grow, you have 3-4 opportunities each week to make them grow, so use them!

Go in and do them first thing in your training 3-4 days per week, then do the less important muscles after.

When you train a muscle group often, you will have a lot of time to play around with different ranges of motion.

If you look at how professional bodybuilders train chest, they often do half reps on bench presses because the first half of the rep activates the chest.

Once the bar passes the second half of the bench press, the triceps take over and the triceps already have a separate training day in their split so they don’t wanna activate the triceps more than necessary on their bench press.

In addition to using limited range-of-motion to work target muscles, it can also make the exercise a lot harder (as long as you keep the tension on that one target muscle you’re working rather than using momentum and swinging).

The exercise becomes harder because you place constant tension on just one muscle so each rep essentially bleeds into the next. (Quote: Amir Siddiqui from Symmetry Gym).

The same principle can be applied to calisthenics.

For example, when you do chin ups, don’t rest at the bottom before each rep.

Instead, go as far down as you can without locking out your elbows, then immediately pull yourself up again.

The reason to why you don’t want to (always) lock out is because it takes some of the tension off the muscles and puts it on the joints.

By keeping continuous tension on the muscles, you will generally get more work done in a single set.

With that said, you don’t want to go to the extreme and now become the guy who never locks out on any exercises.

There are benefits of locking out as well.

For example, when you lock out on a chin up and hang in the dead hang, you stretch and work the long head of the triceps which a lot of people lack development in.

Furthermore, by locking out on some of your sets, you prevent losing mobility in case you don’t stretch a lot post training or do yoga on the side.

So when someone tells you there’s just one way you should do an exercise it’s wrong. By doing an exercise in just one way, you limit yourself a lot.

You can experiment with different range-of-motions on each exercise, then make a note file on your phone where you note down how to best work each body-part with a given exercise.

There’s a lot of individual variation here so there’s no one way to do this. This is why taking written notes of how YOU respond is so important.

5. Combine Calisthenics Exercises Into Circuits to Speed Up Metabolism and Muscle Building

calisthenics metabolism

You can train calisthenics all day but if you don’t have low body-fat levels the muscles you build won’t show.

To lower your body-fat levels through calisthenics training, you want to do the opposite of everyone else:

Everyone else is either running outdoor or doing boring cardio in the gym such as walking on the treadmill for 45 minutes while reading a book. And everyone else isn’t really getting the results they want.

Both are inefficient ways to cut up your physique because they don’t have a lasting effect on your metabolism.

The key to burn fat through training and reveal muscle cuts is to train in a way that speeds up your metabolism so you keep burning more body-fat – even when you’re at rest.

The way to do that is to put your calisthenics exercises into circuits.

Here’s an example of an effective calisthenics circuit:

  1. Chin Ups.
  2. Diamond Push Ups.
  3. Hanging Leg Raises.
  4. Lunges.
  5. Plank.

Do one circuit like this with 40-60 seconds time-under-tension on each exercise and you’re looking at each circuit taking between 3-5 minutes.

This means you will effectively work your muscles while simultaneously getting a high intensity cardio training in.

If you do 4 proper circuits in a training session, you have 12-20 minutes of time-under-tension for your muscles and a high quality cardio training at the same time!

Over time this kind of training will have a lasting metabolic effect so you will burn more body-fat while at rest.

Traditional cardio such as walking on the treadmill or running doesn’t have that lasting metabolic effect.

In fact, if you’re a skinny-fat guy who doesn’t carry a lot of muscle mass naturally, doing traditional cardio can make you lose some of that hard-earned muscle because you signal “weight loss” to your body rather than “fat loss”. (This is what kept happening to me until I finally got my training dialled in).

The circuit training prevents that muscle loss so it’s not only a little bit better than traditional cardio. It’s WAY better.

6. High Quality Nutrition (Should Be #1)

calisthenics nutrition

I’ve now equipped you with a lot of proven training principles to build a V-tapered upper body with big arms.

But how about nutrition? Can training make up for a bad diet?

The answer is a big NO.

As long as your calisthenics program is well-structured, nutrition will be the deciding factor in regards to whether you gain muscle mass or not.

Your body needs building blocks to build muscle mass and tone.

These building blocks come from your diet in the form of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and overall Calories.

The biggest problem right now is that a lot of guys follow generic fad diets that don’t produce any lasting results and violate the proven principles of modern nutrition.

I’m talking about fad diets such as “intermittent fasting”, “low carb”, “paleo” and “IIFYM”.

Here are the problems with the diets mentioned above:

  • Intermittent fasting: Going for long periods of time without food so your blood sugar get’s low. When your blood sugar is low you will find it very hard to pack on muscle mass. There’s a reason to why bodybuilders (the most muscular individuals on earth) eat every 2-3 hours: It works.
  • If It Fits Your Macros: According to IIFYM you can eat what you want as long as you hit your daily target protein, carb and fat intake. This is again wrong because the micronutrients of your nutrition matter a lot. Your muscles don’t just grow from protein, carbs and fats. They need vitamins, amino acids and minerals for optimal growth.
  • Low carb and paleo: The main fuel for your muscles and brain is carbs. Eating low carb and using fats as fuel can work for a small minority of the population but for most of us it won’t produce any lasting results.

These fad diets only produce lasting results for a small minority of the population so you will always be able to find some guys who get results with these approaches but these guys get results in spite of their nutrition rather than because of it.

The key to set up a good diet that works for you is to look out for your BioFeedback.

Here’s how you should feel on an effective long-term diet strategy that produces long-term results:

  • Stable blood-sugar, focus and energy levels: You maintain high and steady energy levels throughout the day.
  • Great digestion: You have little or no gassiness and bloating after eating meals. You have regular bowel movements and find it easy to get business done at the toilet.
  • Good skin, blood flow and body-temperature: Your skin looks vibrant, there’s no major acne, you have good blood flow and a healthy body-temperature.
  • No intolerable hunger: You have times of the day where you have a slight level of tolerable hunger but you never feel intolerable levels of hunger. Tolerable hunger is good for fat loss. Intolerable hunger sets you up for massive binges that will make you re-gain body-fat.

The key to get long-term results from your diet is to balance these basic BioFeedback requirements with a diet that is just aggressive enough to produce results in your physique.

When you combine proper nutrition with proper training, you will get MUCH better results compared to focusing on training alone.

The Art of Making Each Rep Harder

Here are the 2 most important things you want to take away from this article:

  1. Increase Time-Under-Tension to 40-60 seconds per set.
  2. Focus on working the negative phase of each rep hard because that’s where most of the muscle building happens.

When you follow the 2 tips above your reps will be cut in half and some guys can’t take that because their ego is too fragile.

But trust me when I say that’s the way to go if you are training to develop your physique while staying injury free.

Be proud but stay hungry!

Oskar Faarkrog

Download my free training eBook for skinny-fat guys “How to Create the Illusion of Wide Shoulders” (35-page PDF)

With my free training eBook you will learn how I built wide lats to create a V-tapered upper body, added 250 pounds to my deadlift, went from 0 to 20 chin ups and added over 10 inches to my shoulder measurement.

ONLINE COACHING

Comments

  1. https://youtu.be/kIaqbrWBexY
    What are your opinion about this video and similar videos like it? I want to mix up my routine a bit.

  2. That’s a great post Oscar! I am gonna share this with my husband so as to help him with his fitness goals.

  3. Matthew says:

    Will there be no new articles!!!!!

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      I don’t plan on publishing new articles anytime soon, however I’m updating my old articles.

  4. Daniel says:

    Hi Oskar,Im doing you program sft phase 1.Should I do the exercises of program and after add strategy 5 or should do the exercise of phase 1 in circuit.I lost fat and I gain muscle following you ebook.Thanks

  5. Dear oskar,

    As u said in this article, basically i can replace dumbbell with resistance bands to do bicep curls. Can i combine my workout with calisthenics like supersetting bicep curls and diamond push ups? And one more question, how come i can do 30 diamond push ups but i only can do 5 chin ups and can barely do 1 pull up?

  6. Great article as usual. I’ve been listening and following your instructions since years ago and trust me, it works well for me. Oskar is the true virtuoso in body building world. Salute…..

  7. Great Article

  8. sir I am a skinny 17 years old guy . I want to be shredded without using any special powder or supplement and diet . Tell me what should I do

  9. Hey Oskar, this is a great article but I have a quick question. Do you think that I should still lean down even though I have a body fat percentage of 9-10% and a bmi of 19.9 or should I just eat at my caloric maintenance level and get stronger and then bulk? Thanks!

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      Keep a caloric maintenance, get to 15 pull ups, then switch to training bodybuilding style (1 min rest between sets, 10 slow reps per set and a lot of sets for the body-parts you want to grow) while eating a caloric surplus.

  10. Tell me only one thing!
    Is it good to do 4 week bulking and 1 week cuting?
    I play football and i want to start calisthenics! Im 15 years old , my weight is 70 kg and my height is 184 cm
    Sorry for my bad english!

  11. I agree, slow down those reps and focus on perfect form. Use no momentum when executing a lift, squeeze those muscles as hard as you can, and keep all tension on the muscle being worked.

    Building muscle is all about contracting your muscles. I see guys at the gym who are always there when I am, yet my body is much better looking than theirs. I wondered how that could be until I watched them ‘train’.

    Their form was sloppy, they had no rhythm, and it seemed as though they were just going through the motions. They are wasting their precious time in the gym and making minimal, if any, gains.

    The solution here is to commit to perfect form, workout with laser focus and make each rep count! Treat each rep like it’s your last. Go SLOW to GROW and train with a purpose! Keep that vision of yourself with a jacked body with a nice 6 pack in your mind at all times for motivate you through every rep.

    Thanks for another great post Oskar.

    -Hoz

  12. I’m looking on thoughts on this program:

    Day 1: Pull ups 3 sets, push ups 3 sets, squats 2 sets. All movements performed in three giant sets to muscular failure, 2 minutes rest between sets.

    Day 2: Pull up progression, 3 sets. Right now I’m working on uneven pulls. Rest up to 5 minutes between sets. Bridge progression, 3 sets. Right now I’m working full bridge push ups. Again, up to 5 minutes rest between sets. Squat progression, 3 sets. Right now I’m working .5 ROM pistols. Again, all sets taken to muscular failure (not able to complete another clean rep.)

    Day 3: Day one repeated. Since the movements are easier movements than my progressions, reps are much higher, but the giant sets make these 20 minute sessions pretty tough. I always aim for one rep more than the previous session.

    Day4: Straight hanging leg raise progression, 3 sets. I’m currently working on straight hanging leg raises. Currently I’m at 15 reps with strict form, and a goal of 30 before advancing to a more difficult technique. Up to 5 minutes rest between sets. HSPU progression, 3 sets. I’m currently working on full ROM HSPU. Again, up to 5 minutes rest between sets. Push up progression, 3 sets. I’m currently working on uneven push ups. Again, up to 5 minutes rest between sets.

    Day 5: Repeat of day 1 and 3
    Day 6: Rest
    Day 7: Rest

  13. Ashish lal says:

    Hey.. I want to clear my confusion between getting lean and building muscles. If i will do training for getting lean and take diet according to your plan.. So will i be lean and build muscle. Though.. Doing such hard core exercises.. Reducing rest time periods between sets.
    My weight is =70kgs
    Height=168 cm. Please comment below

  14. Hello oskar, im chris i was thin but genetically my family is a little bit “chubby and big stomach” and now thats what happening to me, im 21,… im a big fan of calisthenics , but cant even pull myself using pull up bars,. what supplement should i used, or you used? like whey protein?

  15. King Tomato says:

    This bs has to stop man, you will never get muscular with calisthenics. All the noobs fall in this trap because they see all these big guys who are on steroids and have been doing body building for years. Yeah you will build strength and some hard muscles but you cannot get big. Truth is if you’re short on time, free weights are the best for size, period.

    • Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer says:

      So when an 80-90 KG guy does muscle ups, pull ups, pistol squats and handstand push ups with high volume he won’t get big, but when he uses external resistance to perform similar movements he will get big? You’re extremely narrow minded in thinking that every guy who got big with bw training uses steroids, yet the guys who use free weights (and are in the gym culture with easier access to juice, don’t use them).

  16. Hi, Oskar, love your blog. I just had a question about the weight gainer shake that you mentioned, is it just peanut butter with strawberries and bananas? And if its can you suggest other al natural weight gainer shakes.
    Thank you

  17. Hello Oskar, I’ve just found your blog through B&D. I see that you are doing calisthenics(like me) and I see that you have a great transformation with it. Keep it up man.

    I’ve been going to gym for 1.5 year and after that I started do to calishtenics. I’ve been doing calisthenics for almost 2 years. All I can say is that I’ve never had better physique. My bf is around 1o% and you can drop your bf with calisthenics like crazy.

    I really like that I find someone who is doing calisthenics and has a blog. It is my pleasure to read it and I would be really happy to connect with you. Hit me up.

    Regards.

  18. Mayukh Sen says:

    Could not help sharing this kickass videos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHvMDlQ8Zyk and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Qwqqyj4jkk ,a dude gained insane amount of muscle in 3 years following these programs and does 300 full rom HSPUs,200 full BW tricep extensions on bars,300 feet elevated one arm one leg push ups and 400 pull ups(100 of which are one arm pull ups) a day all within 1 hour right after he wakes up.He has a double bodyweight bench and 50 inch chest an 18 inch arms at 7-8 percent bodyfat.He just did this videos progressive workouts for a year.

  19. Hi Oskar,

    I’m currently thinking about starting a bodyweight routine. The thing is that I’m a bit overweight (not much, maybe 16% body fat), and I read in your blog that it would be better to get lean first and then bulk. This is an advice I´ve heard in other places too, so thats what I want to do.

    I’m planning to start with the most basic form of each exercise, lets say, doing wall push ups (instead of full push ups in the floor). Then I will start moving to more challenging exercises (from wall push ups to kneeling push ups, to full push ups, to diamond push ups, and why not, maybe even one handed push ups)

    In the first stages I would eat in a caloric deficit and, once I get lean, I will start with the most difficult form of the exercise and eat in caloric surplus.

    Do you think this is a good idea if I want to get lean and gain some muscle mass?

  20. hey oskar nice read there. i have a question i have very tiny chest and i am very athletic. i am chest is just 36 inches. any suggestions? i am 23 year old with 59 kg of weight and 8% of fat. i think my metabolism is very high. your take?

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      At 59 kg a 36 inch chest measurement doesn’t sound out of proportion. Your biggest problem is a fast metabolism. Find ways to get in more calories, so your whole body can grow from training. A good way is to eat a lot of natural peanut butter or make weight gainer shakes with it. Also, keep cardio to a minimum.

  21. I cant balance my body while doing pistol squats and i cant fold leg properly.i can do 100 bodyweight squats in 1 set

  22. Hey Oskar. About 3 months ago I start doing your program. Before I just wanted to gain muscle but during the process just trainning with calisthenics I fell in love with them. I have reached the point where I can do about 12 chin ups and 20 perfect form diamond push ups. My main goal is to get the muscle up and mastering the basics of calisthenics (push ups/pull ups/handstand/dips/etc.) So I would like to know how I train for this goal, and how I have to modificate your routine. Thanks you so much!

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      Hey Joan, great job!!

      To get a muscle up, you simply want to continue getting better at chin ups, pull ups, diamonds and dips. When you can do 15-20 good pull ups, start doing high pull ups, where you pull yourself up all the way to the chest.

      After a while of doing high pull ups, you’ll be able to do your first muscle up.

      About handstand push ups, read my article about that.

      • So basically I have to combine the exercises for example one day I have to do chin ups and diamonds, the other day pull ups and dips the same way I’m doing with chin and diamonds right now (supersets and trying to bet myself in every session). Is that correct?

        • Oskar Faarkrog says:

          That’s a great way to do it yes. You’re at the point now where you can play around with more exercises, since you’ve already become good at the basics.

  23. If oskar goes to gym this means his muscle mass is not the results of calisthenics exclusively.i dont have money to go to gym.can anyone give me routine of barstarzz.

    • My suggestion would be to ask barstarzz.

    • Just an opinion as well, just because you do the same routine as someone.. ie. barstarzz, does not mean that you will look just like them or have the same build as them.

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      You’re right, my muscle mass is the result of many different types of training, but calisthenics was definitely my ticket to a better body. Take a look at the 4 transformation pics here: http://skinnyfattransformation.com/my-transformation/

      I went from picture 3 to 4 by doing mostly bodyweight training and sports. Since then, I’ve rarely lifted heavy weights.

      You can go a very long way by using just your bodyweight.

      Barstarzz don’t have just 1 routine. They have over 400,000 likes on facebook and members all over the world. I doubt they all follow the same routine. Also, I know that some of the guys in barstarzz lifted weights prior to doing calisthenics, so I guess you can’t use their routines either.

  24. I strongly apreciate your website, it has cleared lots of doubts ive had previously, like wether or not you should build your strenght in calisthenics first in order to use an hyperthrophy/bodybuilding parameter later, im not sure if i fit in the “skinny-fat” type but previously ive been very light weight, about 63-64kg max but about 18% bodyfat! i looked extremely flat on chest and kinda fat belly. Currently im working to increase my chin-ups while im struggling with 1rep yet.

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      I’m glad you find it useful. Calisthenics is a GREAT way to get in shape, and it’s a lot of fun when it’s good weather outside.

      • indeed, originally i was 100% into it but i got strayed by those (mostly from bodybuilding.com) who claimed them to be useless to develop a lean “ripped” look so i spent about a month going to the gym but i didnt rly feel it, cause its like a competition with others, when i practice calisthenics i feel im competing with myself of yesterday, with all the facilities and everything i felt i was losing the advances i made previously so now im regaining it, there is nothing like the freedom and the endless challenge of calisthenics, now i see the gym more like a tool to “define” the lacking areas, which is fine if there are no longer gains through calisthenics. 5 stars i give you

        • Oskar Faarkrog says:

          Thanks Pedro,

          That’s also what I really like about calisthenics; competing against myself and challenging myself to do new things such as muscle ups.

          Today, I train mostly at the gym because of 2 reasons: 1) it rains a lot here and 2) I want to refine certain parts of my body, and that is best done at the gym.

  25. Why dont u join gym now..u will look much more big and muscular..your strength will go through roof when u will do heavy deadlifts,squats.

    • If you are talking to Oskar, then you must not have read very many of his articles, he trains in a gym with weights now as well as doing calistenics. He is a big purponant of bodyweight exercises especially for skinny fat beginner/ intermediate trainees.

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      I do train in a gym right now. I currently train because I enjoy it. I don’t have any goals of getting bigger now, although I don’t mind whatever gains that come my way :)

  26. Hi.can i become big and bulky from calisthenics.like guys of barstarzz..

  27. Wow, this is a great website Oskar! Just lost weight(24 lbs) in just 3 or 5 months by doing intermittent fasting, pushups, chinups, planks, diamond pushups.

  28. Hi Oskar, when you were losing the 60 lbs did you include vegetables to your diet?

  29. Awesome article. I started applying these techniques and I’m noticing some strength gains. When you mentioned about cutting earlier in the arctile, what did you mean by low intensity? I’ve always thought it should be high since you’re focusing on losing fat. Or maybe I just don’t fully understand the meaning of intensity.

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      Thanks Nayan.

      You’re right, you usually want to keep intensity high when doing a regular cut. However, since I’m only cutting for around two weeks at a time, I can lower my intensity without losing my gains.

  30. very nice article brother ! great going

  31. Great article Oskar!!!!
    Golden!!!!

  32. Hi Oskar. I have been following your routine for 2 weeks. Right now I have acces to a gym and I have some dumbbells. Can you tell me how I can modified your minimalistic routine to introduce dumbbell some dumbbell exercises to help my skinny fat physique? Thanks

  33. Hi Oskar,
    can show you your new transformation

  34. Oskar, I’m a skinny-fat 5’9″ and 166 lbs 20 year old guy
    But I don’t understand why I’m skinny-fat.
    I can do 20 diamond push-ups with perfect form, 15 incline push-ups, 10 wide grip pull-ups, I can shoulder press 100 lbs per 10 reps, deadlift 220 lbs per 10 reps and squat 200 lbs per 10 reps.
    I still don’t understand why my body isn’t improving even though I’m flexible, well-trained, strong enough… I’m not saying I’m extremely strong and my lifts are impressive, but I should definitely look better since I know skinny-fat people who can’t do 1 pullups and can’t squat with 20lb dbells. This is a pic of me
    http://imgur.com/mP0aZso

    • Not sure what you looked like before but you actually look pretty good, you have some muscle and some definition in your chest. The one thing that you did not mention in your post is what your nutrition looks like. I have had tremendous success using intermittent fasting, I think Oskar has a blog post about using it on this site.

      • I have a pic of me 7 months ago:
        http://imgur.com/YKpDVR7

        My nutrition is around 130g protein 80-90g of fat and the rest is carbs.
        I have been eating a lot more since that picture and gained 28 lbs or more.
        I eat chicken, 90/10 ground beef, salad, avocado, rice, yogurt daily, it’s my staple nutrition but I on smaller amount I also have cookies, candy bars (rarely) hamburger, fries, cheesecake and ice cream.

        Thanks for replying J.C.

        • Oskar Faarkrog says:

          How has your training progressed while gaining 28 lbs?

          • Hey Oskar, thanks for replying
            I went from being totally sedentary and never training to my current level of strength where I can squat 200 lbs for 10 reps and do 20 diamond pushups.

            • Oskar Faarkrog says:

              Sounds like those 28 lbs had a solid amount of muscle, since you remained fairly lean. Whether you should lose weight or not depends entirely on YOUR goals. How would you like to look in the next 1-2 months? Would you rather be slightly more fat, but with more muscle or would you rather be leaner, but look a bit smaller?

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      Hey Jared,

      I wouldn’t describe your body as skinny-fat anymore. It can take time to adjust to a new body if you have been skinny-fat your whole life, so perhaps you have to work on that. Even when I was a lean 177 lbs I still thought I was skinny-fat, which I obviously wasn’t (look at pic 3 in the my transformation page).

  35. Do you have any tips to learning how to do a muscle up?

    • I’m not an expert in the subject but I have heard that if you master the pull up and straight bar dips the muscle up will come for his own.
      Other people say that you should learn and practice a lot of chest to bar pull ups and one day you will be in the top of the bar.
      Another way is working in the progression. In this video they show you a great way to do it:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozSt3VtE2mk

      I hope it can help you.

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      Doing a muscle up should come “naturally” once you can do 20 good pull ups and +30 good dips. Most people I know that can do muscle ups including myself, just got it “all of a sudden” without specifically training for it. It’s all a result of the 1000s of reps you have done on the basic bodyweight exercises prior to that first muscle up.

      However, if you can do 20 good pull ups and 30 good dips, then you’re most likely lacking explosiveness and technique. To fix that, start doing high pull ups, where you go all the way up to your chest and explosive dips. Also, since you’re probably used to training with slow, controlled movements, you need to know that the first muscle up is never clean, slow or controlled. Instead, it requires you to go all in and be as explosive as you can be to get over the bar at all costs.

      I’ll probably write an article on the muscle-up in the future.

      • “Also, since you’re probably used to training with slow, controlled movements, you need to know that the first muscle up is never clean, slow or controlled. Instead, it requires you to go all in and be as explosive as you can be to get over the bar at all costs.”

        Good one.

  36. thanks, OsKar. I blame the spell check. Yes 5:2 diets are all the rage in UK/US. You basically eat normally 5 days then 2 days just 600kcals..say on a Tuesday and Thursday. As well as weight loss fasting seems to encourage cell renewal. As you say, it helps stabilize blood sugar.

    I really appreciate all your help and advice. Tak!

  37. Hey Oskar,
    Thanks for the refresher course, lately I have been having a hard time deciding which direction I should go with my training and this article is just what I needed to hear. I was doing great for a long time, seeing increases in reps, adding weight to my vest ect but the past couple weeks I have been having lots of pains hear and there, especially in my elbow, forearm area. I believe this was due to bad form and not having any rest days. I was doing 7 days a week with one day being a half workout, I actually adapted pretty well but eventually it caught up with me while trying to add reps on chin ups and squats. So this week I listened to my body and am actually taking a full week off and am hoping it will help me heal up and give me a new vigor for my training. I want to train for life so I need to be a bit smarter about how I do things, next week I am going to start training 5 days a week and will continue yoga on one of my days off. I cant wait to refocus my workout utilizing many of the points brought up in this article. On a side note, My wife and I recently had a dexa scan done at a local college and the results were pretty insane. My body fat level was 4.4% so the question on whether I was lean enough or not was definitely unwarranted. It actually kinda freaked me out when the scan operator said that she had never seen a lower level so I am now eating a lot more but am continuing with intermittent fasting more out of convenience. Overall, I have seen great progress for how long I have been training and I attribute a lot of that to your site. Thanks a bunch Os”K”ar ;)

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      Hi Joshua, you made some tremendous progress. 7 days a week might be slightly too much. I found the sweet spot for me to be 4-6 days a week.

      Yoga is great. I did it over the summer and felt a great boost in my training. Joints felt better, I improved flexibility and I gained strength in areas I had never trained.

      And wow, 4.4% bodyfat! I have probably never been below 10.

      You’re welcome!

  38. Awesome article Oskar!

    In my experience I’ve noticed that my bulks tend to be too short so I’m constantly zig-zagging in the “no gains” zone. I gain some strength and size and then lose it when I go on a cut.

    But now, I’m testing out a different bulking approach, which is:
    – stay on a bulk until your waist circumference is less than half of your height (e.g. my height is 185 cm, so I stay on my bulk until my waist reaches 93 cm)
    – while bulking, train like a mofo (atm I’m benching and doing barbell rows every day for an hour)
    – once I reach that threshold, I start cutting (I eat one big meal per day and I lower my training intensity)
    – once I lose a couple of inches, it’s bulking time again

    As far as the diet goes while bulking, like you said, I eat a ton of foods. My staples are fatty cuts of meats and white rice and for dessert, I always eat Milka’s oat cookies.

    The results have been amazing so far … people complementing me on looking more buff, I broke all of my PR for every lift like it was nothing and my life is so much more enjoyable, because I’m eating the foods I love.

    Just my two cents :)

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      Thanks for the insightful comment Dejan. Wow training rows and benching for an hour a day while bulking must have resulted in some great gains. Let me know how the bulking works out.

  39. Hey Oskar. Some days ago I realized that I’m a skinny-fat. During my childhood I was a fat boy, well I was the typical skinny-fat. Now I’m a skinny skinny-fat hahaha. Well after reading your blog I have learned a lot about your training methods for skinny fat and I’m going to try them. Actually my program is based in just on diamond push-ups, chin ups, leg raises and dips. (I don’t train my legs because they are too big compared with my upper-body but I will train them in the future, of course.) I’m actually doing 4 to 5 sets until failure in every exercises. Is this a good idea or I should stop some reps before failure? Thanks

  40. Hey Oskar,
    im glad to say i have the strength requirements to do this.Also,what you said is right on the money doing fast pushups and pull ups wont get you size but slow concentrated reps will and low ass rest.Right now im working on calisthenics tricks i have achieved the muscle up now im going to work on the one arm chin up, hopefully i can get down quickly.I better start bulking though Ramadan is just around the corner xD

  41. Great work Oscar. Can I ask what you think of the 5:2 fasting diets that are the rage as a way of leaning down?

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      Thank you (by the way, my name’s Oskar).

      I haven’t read about it before, but I assume that it is 5 days of eating and 2 days of fasting? In that case, I think it’s good as a short-term tool to learn to control your appetite and lose fat, but I would never do that in the long term.

  42. Hey Oskar!
    This is one of those articles I would automatically think “aw, bullshit”, but knowing you I know it’s NOT. I am big on the heavy lifting and compound exercises. But ultimately, I think it all comes down to having control over your body and becoming good at flexing the right muscles.

    And also, thanks for inspiring me to being eating peanut butter. It’s delicious to everything – haha.

    I’d also like to tell anyone reading this that COCONUT FAT is probably more healthy than peanut butter if you can eat it, and it’s incredibly good for your digestion and stomach health.

    • Oskar Faarkrog says:

      Hey Ludvig,

      It’s funny you say that, because I would have thought that too a few years ago.

      And yes, peanut butter is great! Just finished a jar today.

    • I agree, the benefits to coconut fats along with all essential fatty acids or omegas is critical. I eat coconut a few times a week. I think people never really consider adding extra good fats to their diet to aid in calorie bulking increases. Fats have one the highest energy mass and calorific value than other foods!

      @Oskar – One of the best articles I’ve read on the net mate; and I’ve read a lot. True and straight to the point. 5 great fundamentals. Time under tension, great sets or super sets, isolation of muscle when working that muscle group by concentrating and emphasising it, and perfect form and control. Those four go hand in hand. Reducing rest is great for aiding in both stamina and endurance (and cardio to some degree) but is a great way to get muscle failure. Increasing the difficulty of (basic compound) exercises is the other I suppose too. And lastly diet & rest being the two non training related critical aspects often forgotten…..Love the way you write and what you say Oskar.

  43. Bro right on the money.thanks for the great article.

  44. Great article as always Oskar- you’re very knowledgeable.

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