Can Calisthenics Build Muscle? (17+ Realistic Body Transformation Examples)
Is bodybuilding with calisthenics possible? Yes! Calisthenics can build an awesome physique and great strength at the same time.
Exercises using bodyweight have been more of an underground workout style that is often used for people with injuries or to lose weight.
What most people don’t realize is, muscle building with calisthenics is highly effective and comes with various perks. Such as healthier joints and increased flexibility.
This article will showcase several bodyweight bodybuilder transformations who gain an awesome physique with calisthenics only.
- Calisthenics transformation before and after: Fitness celebrity
- Inspiring calisthenics body transformation of regular people
- Realistic Female Body Transformation with Calisthenics
- What is a calisthenics body?
- Can I get big from calisthenics?
- How long does it take to transform your body with calisthenics?
- Can you transform your body with calisthenics?
- Can females do calisthenics?
- Why should you add Calisthenics into your workout routine?
Calisthenics transformation before and after: Fitness celebrity
Let start with some famous calisthenics influencers. They have a couple of things in common:
- Awesome physique
- Superhuman strength
- Practicing bodyweight training most of the time
Chris Heria - A calisthenics master who inspired thousands
You probably heard of this man if you are into calisthenics.
Chris has used calisthenics to build up his physique and strength. He's a calisthenics trainer with decades of experience, so he knows what it takes!
He attributes calisthenic workouts as the foundation to transform himself from a skinny kid into a strong, confident man.
As a natty calisthenics bodybuilder, Chris is famous for his crazy strength and body coordination skills. He can do planche in various progression with ease. Full planche hold, planche push up on the floor, on bars, you name it.
He is also known to has crazy endurance. After an intense set in follow-through fitness video, he will often end the video clip with “Alright, 3 more sets to go.”
Chris is one of the biggest calisthenics figures (over 2m subs) on YouTube.
Frank Medrano - Vegan with superhuman strength
Known for his superhuman strength and One Punch Man outlook, Frank Medrano is 100% a calisthenics beast.
He is a calisthenics enthusiast and trainer from California, who has been practicing calisthenics for more than 15 years. He started doing calisthenic exercises when he was 12-years old in the park not far from his home. It all begins after his friend showed him a couple of moves and Frank got hooked.
His size might not be huge, but his super lean and shredded build is very appalling for those who are not going after sheer size. Very attainable body shape for everyone with a discipline training and diet habit.
The crazy part is, Frank achieve his amazing physique and insane strength as a vegan.
Gabo Saturno - The master of calisthenics and yoga
The ‘before’ image was taken from 2018 video of Gabo Saturno while he looks relatively small compared to the ‘after’ image.
To be frank, we can’t really find the ‘then’ picture of Gabo as he didn’t seem to share it on the web. But one thing is for sure, despite the wonderful physique he has now. Gabo was surely started from somewhere (skinny or fat).
Gabo Saturno is the first man who mixed calisthenics and yoga to perfection. He is a calisthenics master with crazy flexibility.
He could pull off the hardest calisthenic moves like nobody's business. And he can showcase the craziest yoga pose you've never seen before.
Gabo has a defined and very muscular physique.
Across his content on social media, you can tell he achieves an awesome body build with mostly calisthenics and yoga practice.
Sven Kohl - Founder of the famous Calisthenicmovement
Sven is one of the most down-to-earth calisthenics public figures.
It was the 18-year-old him on the left picture. You can tell he has a little bit of training under his belt by the shoulder muscles. He did sports like boxing and basic fitness training for some years.
Like most others, Sven has proved he is not blessed with good genetics when it comes to muscle building and getting an awesome physique.
What you see of the right picture, is the result of persistent training exclusively with calisthenics (combined with some weightlifting), and a strict discipline on dieting.
While other calisthenics gurus will tell you you can “get shredded in 4 weeks”, Sven downright tells the world “there is no shortcut”. It took him 15 years to get to where he is today.
With his perfect calisthenics body, Sven is proving that anyone can attain it with a good diet and hard work.
Inspiring calisthenics body transformation of regular people
You might be thinking that fitness celebrities are doing fitness for a living. They have all the time in the world to workout out.
They also have the highest motivation to stay in shape, no matter what it takes. Even if taking a lot of supplements. Which makes them not natural, by the definition.
Those are valid points.
That’s why we’ve collected a list of regular people who exclusively train for calisthenics. They are not as famous, they do not have a team of personal trainers and nutritionists.
Let’s see if they can achieve amazing body transformation by just doing bodyweight workouts.
DweezilFappa - Gained over 18kg (40lbs) of muscles in a year
From 50kg(110lbs) to 69kg(152lbs), DweezilFappa has changed his physique tremendously in just a year.
He was a skinny kid with Crohn’s disease, which makes bulking extra difficult due to its nutritional deficiencies.
Inspired by his street workout enthusiast, he started doing push-ups and notice some results, and felt way more confident. This is how he gets things started.
Meanwhile, he tweaked his diet and take care of his nutrition intake (tahini was his biggest secret).
To many’s surprises, he only does almost exclusively with bodyweight exercises only. His routine is essentially a split between push and pull.
For example, he would start the week with a push day, followed by a pull day, and go with push on the next. Sunday is the only rest day in the week.
One little tip on how to build muscle with calisthenics: ultra focus on the mind-to-muscle connection on every workout session.
SnakerSW - Skinny fat to 6-packs in 8 months
SnakerSW (19 years old) comes from Germany and he practices calisthenics most of the time.
Lose fat muscle, was his sole mission over the last 8 months of training. He has put some cool skills in his bag such as straddle planche, back lever, human flag, muscle-ups, handstand, pistol squats.
He didn't hire any personal trainer nor purchasing any online course to learn calisthenics. His main source of education is Reddit, tons of youtube videos, and the bible of a bodyweight workout, the Overcoming Gravity book.
Now ShakerSW is not an absolute first-time beginner in fitness. He already had some strength to start with (6 pull-ups and 15 diamond push-ups)
Some stats of his wonderful fitness journey:
- Started on 76kg, ended up 74kg
- Used 4 months until he could finally hold the handstand properly
- Took him 6 months to unlock muscle-ups
- 10 seconds of front lever one leg hold
- 5 seconds of human flag hold
- 30kg Weighted Pullups 5×5
Anthony Arvanitakis - Become a bodyweight superhero after losing his leg
Are you ready for the incoming inspiring story?
Anthony comes from the Netherlands and he started calisthenics 8 years ago after losing his left leg. Did he give up on life after that?
No. He started working out to become the better version of himself.
He gets enthusiastic about bodyweight exercises and never looks back. He has becoming a bodyweight training coach with a combination of self-learn, experimenting, put in the actual workout, and training others.
He mainly splits his routine into push, pull, squat, and core. If you are interested in his training program, check out his website.
This man lost a leg, build an amazing body shape, learned crazy calisthenics skills.
“Making calisthenics part of your lifestyle can trigger a domino effect of positive change that can spread to every area of your life.” quoted by him.
Marko - Stunning calisthenics result with just calisthenics in 1 year
At 16 years old, Marko is our youngest inspiration in this article. His transformation of merely 1 year is jaw-dropping for many.
How did he achieve this stunning physique? Doing only calisthenics. He also does weighted calisthenics with just a backpack with some books in it.
He found the routine is to split the training into upper body and lower body days in the beginning. Later, he switched to muscles split.
Let take a glance at his routine now:
- 3 x 8 Assisted Handstand Pushups
- 3 x 15 Gymnastic Ring Grip Pushups
- 3 x 15 Tricep Extensions on rings
- 3 x 20 Hanging Knee Raises
- 3 x 10 Hanging Leg Raises
- 3 x 5 Pistol Squats- 5x3 (each leg)
- 3 x 10 Bulgarian Split Squats
He like to train with gymnastic rings as it is very versatile for all fitness level, and is very friendly for beginners.
Mikper - Calishenics only body by doing chin-up and pull-up for 8 years
What kind of physique gain are you going to get just by doing pull-ups and chin-ups for years? Mikper is the living answer.
He started his calisthenics journey with not-so-typical reasons. Wanted to workout, Mikper doesn’t like the social element of a gym. He also has no room for gym equipment at home. So bodyweight exercises are his only choice.
In the first couple of years, he was going casual with his training. Just simple chin-up and pull-up, typical 5 sets with 8 reps, three times a week. Nothing crazing. But he managed to add 4kg of muscle mass
The real change start to happen when he decided to do weighted pull/chin-up and taking a protein supplement.
Nowadays, he can do 8 sets with 5 reps of 47kg weighted pulls.
Some stats of his gain:
- Male, 181 cm (5'11)
- Before: 23 years old, 61-62kg.
- After: 31 years old, 76-77kg.
Duke - From better to great physique with calisthenics
Let’s be honest here, Duke already had some athletic build in the before picture, 4 years ago. He was pretty decent with push-ups.
One day, he was inspired by a calisthenics YouTube video and decided to try some pull ups at local parks. Thought he would pull it off easily, turned our he could only did 3 reps with bad forms.
Duke was humbled and decided to take his bodyweight exercises seriously. He was practicing every day since then mainly with pull-ups, push-ups, and dips. And he adds some static skills and weighed calisthenics as he got stronger.
Duke is a perfect example that no matter how strong your are now, you can always improve, on strength or physique, with just calisthenics.
RazUsoff - 3 years transformation with calisthenics
RazUsoff was a skinny guy before he dive deep into calisthenics. He does not take supplements instead he takes in a lot of food for growth and recovery.
With hard progressive training with calisthenics, he manage to completely transform his body into a defined build after 3 years.
Realistic Female Body Transformation with Calisthenics
Calisthenics is especially suitable for women, why?
“I don’t want to get too muscular”. You’ve heard all your female friends said this when you ask them to get trained.
While it is a myth to get the hulk-like body that easily. Training with bodyweight is proven to attain well balanced, lean, and athletic physique.
We’ve collected a series of before-after female body transformations.
Summerfunfitness - Self-taught calisthenics women
Summerfunfitness dreamt of being a gymnast her whole childhood, but that wasn't an option in the secluded Canadian town she grew up in. As an adult, she got fed up with dreaming and decided to get to work. Over the years, she's taught herself how to do handstand push-ups, human flag, muscle-ups and even the middle splits, all while gaining impressive muscle size.
Summer is now on a mission to help other adults learn how to start calisthenics so they can be fit and mobile regardless of their ability to access a gym through her website and YouTube channel.
With calisthenics training and a vegan diet, she has transformed from a small skinny girl to a strong muscular woman, having gained 15lbs since the start of her journey.
Anne Rose - Post-baby body to spice girl with calisthenics only
You wouldn’t believe Anne is a mother of 2 girls by looking at her current picture.
Her passion for fitness started 5 years ago after her first child. She was struggling to lose the post-pregnancy weight and get back to her normal shape.
She started exploring and doing a lot of home workouts by herself. Most of her workouts are bodyweight based such as calisthenics and yoga.
Anne quickly realized the profound benefits the process had to her health and well-being. She was happier, more energetic, improved focus, clear-minded on daily life. That’s been transferred to her whole family.
She’s definitely the best role model to her two little girls as an inspiration to live a healthy lifestyle and to keep active.
Kejt Najman - World champion weighted pull-up
Kejt is a female calisthenics expert from Poland.
Like many others, Kejt had a humble start from 8 years ago. You can definitely tell how 100000 pull-ups can change a person. She has put up 12kg pure muscles and won several champions from World Weighted Pull Up.
She has a muscular build with defined detail, especially with a really strong back. That's what a consistent pull-up can contribute to your body, sexy v-shape lat!
Aramis Andreatas - Sunshine girl who loves calisthenics
Aramis exclusively training calisthenics and you will likely find her happily practicing her moves on the bar in Venice Beach. Her build was nothing short of amazing. Well-balanced and lean enough to pop some veins when she is heated up.
Nina Strojnik - Get strong and flexible with bodyweight exercises
Born in Slovenia, Nina began rhythmic gymnastics training when she was a child. Flexibility has been an important part of her life since then. As a bodyweight trainer, she has tried many stretching methods and eventually found her way to teaching others and being more flexible.
Antonella - Female bodyweight bodybuilding veteran with solid skills
You don't see many women doing Planche, because that's simply too hard for them from a gender perspective.
Antonella is the rare exception here. Coming from Italy, she was obviously being an athlete her whole life (even her 'before' photo was a dream for many). But you still can tell the difference despite her already being so fit to begin with.
Antonella managed to get leaner and put on some lean muscles over 2 years.
Kirsty Grosart - Returned to gymnastic at age 35
She was a national gymnastics champion as a kid in Scotland. After a big fall from the bar, she messed up her elbow and the doctor told her she would never do handstand again.
She had stayed away from her passion for some time, only to rediscovered the joy of hand-balancing again at age 35. And this time, she never look back.
As a professional gymnast, Kirsty has a strong and flexible body. And that allows her to perform all kinds of difficult moves with ease.
Monique König - From zero pull-up to calisthenics athlete
Monique was a sporty girl from a young age. Like most females, she was passionate about endurance sport like triathlon. That somehow explains her then very skinny build. She couldn't even do a pull-up despite being relatively active.
After learning calisthenics, she knew that is exactly the sport she was up for -- getting strong.
Nowadays, she can perform skills most men can't even dream of, without breaking a sweat. She also has a very balanced and lean build. Wide shoulders allow her to nails any outfit with utmost confidence.
What is a calisthenics body?
Calisthenics body is a physique built by using bodyweight only. Some call this kind of build “street workout physique” as well.
Work out without weights (dumbbells, barbells) gives you a lean, functional, and muscular body. You will look strong and actually being strong.
Calisthenics trains your body’s coordination and engages most of your muscles at the time. So you can function better in getting through spaces. Walking, running, jumping, balancing, and more.
Can you get a good body with calisthenics?
Absolutely yes. You can get a great build with calisthenics only. Resistance is all the same, whether you get it from lifting weights or leveraging bodyweight training.
If the long list of real-life examples above is not enough. Let’s look at another one.
Maecenas has been training calisthenics for years. And he has never touched weights his whole life. So we can safely call his body the "pure calisthenics body".
His training regime is simple, mainly consists of pull up and dips only.
Let’s take a look of his routine.
- 100-150 pull ups and 200-250 dips per training session.
- 15-20+ pull ups in a set, 20-30+ dips in a set.
- 2-3 sessions a week, every other day.
- Running for leg workout (never skip leg day!)
To give you a picture of how strong he gets. Maecenas can do
- 6 x 64kg weighted pull-up
- 12 x 48kg weighted pull-up
- 23 x 20kg weighted pull-up
He also never followed a strict diet. He whatever he likes, sometimes up to 4000kcal a day. Maecenas said he wasn’t even aiming for the physique. He could have to build a better shape if he were to control the diet and all. But that's too bothersome for him.
Let’s be honest for a second here, many gym-goers can’t even achieve Maecenas’s physique or strength after hitting the gym for years. So yes, calisthenics can definitely get you a good body while being functionally strong.
What type of body will calisthenics give you?
As you progress with calisthenics and gets stronger, here is what will happen to your body:
- Strong defined core: You will get solid abdominal muscles and lower back. Most calisthenics exercises are compound exercises where your full-body engagement is required. It means even you did not exclusively train your core, your core will be trained in every session.
- V-shaped back: You train your latissimus dorsi muscles, known as the lats, every time you train with bars and gymnastic rings. Pull-up and chin-up are fundamental calisthenics workout that is going to develop a wide and thick back.
- Bigger forearms: Almost all the dream calisthenics skills need a strong grip to perform. Human flag, muscle-up, explosive pull-up, front lever. Consistent high-intensity gripping gives you a big and strong forearm for sure.
- Powerful legs: Your overall balancing ability and agility to move through spaces will be elevated. Calisthenics leg exercises like pistol squat trains your single-leg power and balance at the same time. You will get a well-defined and muscular leg development.
- Less body fat more lean muscle mass: When you are working with own body weight. The motivation to optimize your body composition for an easier leveraging is very natural and inevitable. To seek for stronger performance, you will program yourself to lose body fat. And as you manage to pull out stronger training, you get to build more lean muscle as a result. The cycle repeats.
What does a calisthenics body look like?
You will get a lean, shredded, proportionately balanced, athletic, and muscular body from calisthenics because it target multiple muscle groups at the same time.
Calisthenics workout is all about leveraging just your bodyweight and perform different (dynamic or static) skills. The nature of this exercise approach incentivizes you to get as lean as possible. The leaner you get, the easier you can manipulate your body, thus you can perform the harder skills.
Muscle development in calisthenics is effective due to the unique muscle movement and muscles involved, which is lack in regular weight training.
Calisthenics bodybuilding is wonderful for all fitness levels. We’ve provided plenty of real-life examples in this article.
Can I get big from calisthenics?
Yes, especially if you are a beginner.
Study shows fitness beginner averagely gain 3kg (6lbs) of lean muscle in their first 3 months of training.
Assuming the beginner can maintain the same muscle growth rate in the first year, it is about 12kg muscle gain in a year.
Train importance movement patterns such as pull (pull-up) and push (push-up) is definitely helpful in getting bigger upper body. Progressive overload by adding one reps session by session or week by week. And you should build muscle mass in no time, given you have rest and eat well.
Is calisthenics good for skinny guys?
Indeed. Compare to overweight guys, skinny people see gains easier. As they don’t have much fat to lose, thus any gain of muscles would be more obvious.
A wonderful real-life example is Dweezil in this article, who was a skinny 50kg guy and gained 18kg of muscle in a year. Special note, he was having a tougher start than most because he had a disease to absorb nutrition efficiently.
With proper training volume and enough calories, the skinny guy will gain strength and muscle at a rapid rate.
How much muscle can I build with bodyweight training?
It depends on where you begin. With our examples above, you can safely expect 5kg to 10kg (11lbs to 22lbs) of lean muscles in a year, with bodyweight training.
If you are a beginner, you are like to gain more muscles than a seasoned veteran.
Calisthenics bodybuilding tips for bigger muscle size
- Pick the difficulty where your maximum repetition is around 8 to 10.
- Perform every rep with perfect form and technique: Explosion when contracting target muscle, slow down when extending target muscle.
- Do at least 3 sets of exercises for a certain workout. This is to ensure training volume is enough.
- Don't rest for too long between sets. Ideally 30s to 90s is good.
- Do weighed calisthenics with weighted vest. Effective way to build muscle!
- Use drop set at the end of the session. Do the easier progression when you can no longer perform the movement with perfect form.
Use push-up as example, do 3 sets of push-up with 8 reps.
The triceps and chest are the main target muscle here.
Explode to the top and hold for 1s. Slowly go down to the bottom position (count to 3).
That's one rep. Rest 30 seconds between sets.
When you can no longer perform a push-up with perfect form, drop to knees or do incline push-ups for drop set.
How long does it take to transform your body with calisthenics?
On average, muscle hypertrophy is induced after 10 sessions of training.
Say if we train every other day continuously in train one day, rest one day fashion, we get to train 3 times a week. Within 3 weeks we can complete 10 training sessions with ample rest days in between to promote muscle recovery and growth.
In other words, we need only about 21 days to transform our body with calisthenics.
Are 6 months enough to transform the body?
6 months are more than enough to transform the body by gaining strength and muscle.
As seen above, we get to gain muscles within 3 weeks. To lose fat with a calorie deficit, we can expect to lose 0.5-1kg(1-2 lbs) in a week.
Although measuring body weight is not the best way to measure progress, as we tend to build muscles and losing fat at the same time. As a result, your body weight might be the same but you can tell your physique is getting better over time.
Can you transform your body with calisthenics?
Muscle building with calisthenics is absolutely possible. Many have gained astonishing calisthenics result in term of physique, strength, and endurance.
In fact, most of them are training for strength to unlock cool skills such as the front lever. And great body shape comes as a by-product.
How does calisthenics change your body?
These are the indicators you will see by working out without weights:
- Better posture. Calisthenics works your whole body. The neural adaption recruits most part of our muscles to perform certain task. And to do the task effectively, you are forced to do it with the correct posture.
- Explodes relative strength. When using just your bodyweight as resistance, you are going to master how to manipulate your body position, especially when you are in the mid-air (pull-up).
- Improved flexibility. Most calisthenics workouts require some degree of flexibility. The more flexible you are, the better you can execute a movement.
Is it possible to build muscle with calisthenics alone?
You can absolutely build a handsome amount of muscle with just calisthenics. The answer should be quite obvious with all the real-life examples listed above.
The logic is simple:
The more strength you've got, the more muscle you are going to build.
It is impossible to gain an insane amount of strength without getting a killer-looking physique.
That said, if you are solely training for strength with calisthenics, you can almost take muscle gain as a “by-product".
If building muscle is your main goal, lifting weights is more efficient at gaining muscle mass (especially for beginners). But you are losing the calisthenics benefits of having agile coordination and functional strength.
To get the best of both worlds, mix-up free weights lifting and calisthenics are going to offer the best result.
Can females do calisthenics?
Calisthenics is unisex and for all fitness levels. That’s the beauty of it. Check out the examples of female calisthenics body above, and those are just tips of ice berg.
There are many reasons calisthenics might suits the ladies more than going to gym:
- Train with the comfort in home. Gym typically are dominated by males. Sometimes the enviroment can be not so welcoming for females.
- Balanced physique because calisthenics works multiple muscles gorup most of the times. With weights, the isolated resistance training might disturb the balance physique development.
- Less intimidating to begin with. Female generally takes some time to get comfortable with weightlifting.
Can women build muscle with calisthenics?
Absolutely yes. These are some of the greatest female body transformations with just calisthenics.
They have different backgrounds and genetics. But they all achieve amazing calisthenics bodies with persistent resistance training and a healthy diet.
Is it harder for women to do calisthenics?
Compared to men, it is harder for women to master upper body skills like the front lever and planche. But women have their own edges in calisthenics training:
- Women have stronger lower body strength compared to men. So they are progressing faster with leg exercises like bodyweight squat, lunges, pistol squat, sissy squat, and all.
- Females genetically also have a more flexible body than males. Higher flexibility helps a ton in learning new skills, such as L-sit. Flexible joints can prevent injuries from hyperextension.
- Females have higher muscle endurance than males. This is an advantage to put up more resistance training volume.
Why should you add Calisthenics into your workout routine?
- You're looking for a balanced and lean, muscular physique.
- You want the superhuman skills to control your own bodyweight at free will.
- You want to achieve crazy strength at the same time.
- You don't want to spend hours in a gym (or the travelling).
- You want to work out for the best result while spending the least.
- You're looking for a safer way to get strong (compared to weight lifting).