Can Calisthenic Exercises Build Lots of Muscle?

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With all the different kinds of resistance training regimens to choose from, it can be difficult to know which is right for you. While many weight lifters agree that performing low repetitions of exercises with heavy weights is optimal for building muscle, you might also build some muscle with calisthenic routines, under certain conditions.


Calisthenic exercises consist of simple exercises performed quickly with high repetitions. People typically use their body weight or light dumbbells for calisthenics. Calisthenic routines usually involves many different exercises that work out your whole body in a single session. Common exercises in calisthenic workouts include pushups, situps and lunges.


The rule of thumb for building muscle vs. improving endurance: Low repetitions of exercises with high weight gives you strength and muscle mass, whereas high repetitions of exercises with light weight improves your endurance. In a November 2002 study in the "European Journal of Applied Physiology," G.E. Campos and colleagues examined people who followed an eight-week strength training routine in which people either did three to five repetitions of exercises with heavier weights, or 20 to 28 repetitions with lighter weights. Campos and colleagues reported that the people who did three to five repetitions with high weight gained more strength after the eight-week program. Therefore, performing many repetitions of exercises with lighter weights through a calisthenic routine might not be optimal for gaining muscle mass.


While a calisthenic workout might not allow you to optimally stimulate muscle growth, you might still be able to add some muscle mass with a calisthenic routine. Jessica Matthews from the American Council on Exercise says you can use low-weight/high-repetition exercises to stimulate muscle growth similar to high-weight/low-repetition exercises as long as you fatigue your muscles within 90 seconds. Thus, performing 50 pushups in just over a minute might stimulate muscle growth in your chest and triceps, for example.


You can work out any muscle group with calisthenic exercises, but calisthenic routines also have an aerobic effect because quickly performing many repetitions of exercises gets your heart and breathing rate up. The aerobic aspect of calisthenics might hinder any muscle gains as you burn off calories. Many of the calories that you might burn with a calisthenic routine could be used to build more muscle if you performed exercises more slowly with higher weight and lower repetitions. Consider upping your intake of carbohydrates and protein if you feel you burn off too many calories with your calisthenic routine.