Calisthenics and Muscle Gain – part II

muscle gain

Is is hard to gain weight with calisthenics? Can you achieve muscle gains with only bodyweight exercises? What is the best way to do it? In part one of this series of articles, we provided some insights on how to gain muscle mass (MM) with only bodyweight exercises. In this second part, we discuss the best calisthenics exercises for gaining muscle mass quickly. Gaining weight mostly comes from your legs, back and chest since they contain most of your body weight. So let’s focus on those muscles.

Compound Exercises for Muscle Gain

Compound exercises are the way to for muscle gain. They are exercises in which several muscles joints work at the same time. For example, squat exercises. In those, you use your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, stabilizing foot muscles and your abdomen. Not every muscle is trained equally, of course. In squat exercises you do not train your abdomen as much as your quadriceps. But compound movements let you target more muscles in a shorter amount of time. Knowing how to emphasise during exercises is key here.

Make Things Harder for More Muscle Gain

In calisthenics, you usually do not use dumbells or barbells. But a weighted vest or resistance band is great to increase the level of resistance that your bodyweight offers. Another way to increase resistance is to increase the difficulty of the exercise itself. For example, you could a jumping squat (explosive) or single leg squat (increased weight) instead of a regular squat.

muscle gain through leg exercises

Leg Exercises for Musle Gain 

In calisthenics and the gym, many leg exercises are compound movements. You need to train your glutes which are divided in maximus, medius and minimus. Or simply upper and lower glutes. But you also have quadriceps, adductors, hamstrings and calves. We have many articles on our site about leg exerises. Click here to read why you should never skip leg day. And check out part one and part two on leg exercises for beginners in calisthenics. Here is another list of great leg exercises for muscle gain.

  • Squats: main focus on quadriceps and lower glutes. But almost all leg muscles are activated.
  • Single leg deadlift: main focus on hamstrings and glutes. Also great for core stability.
  • Lunges: main focus on quadriceps and glutes. Leaning forward emphasises quadriceps. Leaning backward emphasises glutes. 
  • Single leg hip trusts: main focus on upper glutes, glutes maximum and hamstrings. For more resistance you can put a heavy bag on your hips. Also great for core stability.
  • Side plank with side leg raises: main focus on obliques and glutes medius/minimus.
  • Single leg calf raises: main focus on calves. More challenging on an elevated plateau like stairs.
Pull-up for musle gain

Back Exercises for Musle Gain 

Your back consists of a lot of small muscles that are almost always working together. Your lower back and upper back are divided into two groups.

The upper back muscles are mostly located around your shoulder blade and are also active in shoulder movements. The biggest ones are trapezius (traps) upper, middle and lower, rhomboideus (rhombs) major and minor and the teres major and minor.

Your lower back consists of your latissimus dorsi (lats) and erector trunci. These insert on the upper back. With a pull-up bar and rings you can train your back perfectly!

Here is our list of useful back exercises that train your biceps too and all help your muscle gain. 

  • Pull-up: main focus on lats, teres major and lower traps. Wide grip emphasises your lats more. Small grip emphasises your lower traps/rhombs more. 
  • Australian Pull-up: main focus on rhombs, middle traps. Supinated grip emphasises your middle trap and biceps more. Pronated grip focuses more on your rhombs.
  • Back lever / skin the cat for beginners: main focus on erector trunci. Trains almost the entire back and rear delts. Skin the cat is a great way to train for the back lever.
  • Ring external face pulls: main focus on teres minor and rear delts. Can also be done with a resistance band.
  • Handstand push-up: main focus on upper back and shoulders. Can also be done against a wall if it is too difficult. Back faces the wall.
  • Chin-ups: main focus on traps, rhobms and biceps.

Chest and Triceps Exercises for Musle Gain

Your chest does not contain as many muscles as your back and legs. All chest exercises are compound. But if you want bigger muscle gain you need to emphasise all parts of your chest.

Your chest consists of the pectoralis major and minor (pecs). The major one consists of an upper, middle and lower part. In our series of articles about chest exercises series you will also find this article for beginners. The pectoralis minor is mostly there to assist your pec major. Your triceps work together with your chest in compound movements. 

With calisthenics you can do dips, push-ups or ring fly’s for your chest. Some of them also work on the shoulder muslces. Here is a list of great chest exercises.

  • (Super) push-up: main focus on chest. The lower you place your hands the more bodyweight your chest has to push. Daimond push-ups focus more on your triceps.
  • Straight bar dip: main focus on lower chest and deltoideus. The lower your dip is, the more you work your lower chest.
  • Decline push-up: main focus on upper chest and front deltoideus. Around a 45-degree angle.
  • Parallel dip: entire chest and triceps. Lean more forward to focus on the chest and not triceps. Stay up straight to focus more on triceps.
  • Wall handstand push-up: main focus on front shoulders and upper chest. The other way around from the handstand push-up, belly facing the wall.
  • Ring chest fly: main focus on middle chest.
  • Skull crushers: main focus on triceps.


These are all great compound exercises to gain muscle with calisthenics. As you notice progress you can make it more difficult for yourself by increasing resistance. Gaining muscle mass takes time, especially to see a noticeable difference in the way you look. Therefore, expect to be training for at least 12 weeks to achieve great and visible results. And do not give up. To read more about the best calisthenics exercises check out our blog right here.

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