High Volume Calisthenics
High volume calisthenics is the most popular way to train with your bodyweight.
In fact, it is rare to see bodyweight calisthenics athletes perform low repetition workouts.
So the question then becomes, is high volume training optimal for calisthenics?
And how do we use it to get bigger and stronger?
Let’s find out.
What is high volume calisthenics training?
In calisthenics, volume is calculated using sets and reps.
Volume per Workout = Sets x Repetitions per muscle group.
The more sets and reps you do, per muscle group per workout, the higher the volume.
Why Use High Volume Calisthenics
Pure bodyweight calisthenics uses high volume training for the simple fact that you can’t add weights.
Adding weight to your calisthenics exercises makes building muscle and strength easier.
This is because adding weight makes it easy to track the amount of stress being placed on the muscles.
If you want to grow bigger and stronger, you must increase the amount of stress on the muscle. This is known as progressive overload.
But a lot of calisthenics athletes pride themselves in being able to build muscle and strength using just their bodyweight!
How do they do it you ask?
Well, there are several different ways to increase stress on the muscles.
One of the best ways to do so is by increasing the Volume (number of reps and sets performed) for each muscle group.
If you want to use high volume calisthenics to build muscle and strength, you must learn how in increase stress in the muscles aka “Progressive Overload”.
There are several other methods to add progressive overload to a muscle or movement pattern other than just adding weight or increasing volume.
But these other methods are harder to track and aren’t as accurate as adding weight or volume!
Tracking the amount of stress you place on the muscle is very important. If the stress is not constantly increasing, there is no progressive overload and thus no growth!
How To Use High Volume Calisthenics
Progressing with high volume bodyweight movements is not as easy as increasing your reps and sets.
You cannot keep increasing volume, in hopes of increasing muscular stress.
This is because you need to work in a particular rep range in order to build muscle.
If you continue adding reps to a set, you start training for endurance rather than hypertrophy. And if you just keep increasing sets, your workout will eventually end up taking the entire day (or a couple of hours at the least)!
Thus, training at the right rep range is extremely important.
The following rep ranges indicate the different anatomical and physiological adaptions being worked:
Once a particular rep range has been achieved and exhausted, simply move on to the next one.
If you’re a beginner and want to experiment with high volume calisthenics, then simply pick a movement that you can properly perform about 8 to 20 repetitions for 4-5 sets.
Then once you’re able to perform 5 sets of 20 repetitions (100 total reps) for that movement, move to harder version of the movement where you can only perform only about 8 repetitions with.
Of course, there will be times when you cannot get even 5 reps with the harder version of the exercise, but that’s okay.
All you have to do is get as many reps and sets with good form of that harder version as possible. Then move onto the easier version and try to complete 4-5 sets of 20 reps.
*Remember, this is just a simple template to understand the idea of volume training*
High volume training cannot be used only by itself.
Other forms of progressive overload must be employed to make the exercise harder.
These other forms of progressive overload can be used to manipulate the intensity of the exercise (how hard the exercise is to perform).
Let’s look at the other methods of progressive overload in bodyweight calisthenics and how to use them with high volume claisthenics.
Types of progressive overload in calisthenics:
- Time Under Tension
- Unilateral Training
- Changing Leverages (aka Progressive Calisthenics)
- Increasing Weight/Resistance
- Increasing time under tension – Increasing time under tension is a useful method to increase the repetition of a repetition. This is done by increasing the amount of time taken to complete a single repetition. But, this method of progressive overload can be inaccurate because it is hard to track whether each rep is being done for the same amount of time or not. This is especially true when using longer tempos (increased time under tension), which you will inevitably have to endure to make progress when using this method. This type of training also makes your workouts longer. Use it sparingly.
- Unilateral training – Unilateral training is a big part of elite level calisthenics, especially when it comes to the upper body. Taking unilaterla tarining to high reps can be quite challenging and it is a relatively effective way to progress with pure bodyweight calisthenics. But this form of training also makes workouts much longer, because you need to perform more sets to work both limbs equally. Also, after the initial adjustment phase, other forms of progressive overload will have to be used anyway, because unilateral training cannot be progressed any further by itself. This makes unilateral training unsustainable beyond the initial adjustment phase, unless other forms of progressive overload are added to it.
- Changing leverages – Changing leverages is one of the other main methods of progressive overload for calisthenics. It preceeds unilateral training (it is a regression of unilateral training).This form of progression is painfully slow because every time the leverage is changed in an exercise, the movement becomes different. Thus there is a learning curve involved with changing leverages that slows down muscle growth and strength gains. But, it is a useful tool in the bodyweight calisthenics practitioner’s tool box.
- Adding Resistance/Weight – By far, the easiest method of progressive overload is the addition of weight. It is simple and effective, every time you have mastered a particular resistance, you can either increase volume or increase the weight again. This is the beauty of weighted calisthenics. It is by far the most effective way to build size and strength.
Which bring me to the disadvantages of high volume calisthenics.
Disadvantages Of High Volume Training
The biggest disadvantage of high volume calisthenics is that it takes a lot of time.
This is because higher sets and reps require more time to complete than lower volume training.
It is not uncommon for calisthenics athletes to spend several hours at a time working out and this is not the most optimal way to train.
As the famous saying goes “Ain’t nobody got time for dat!”
The other problem is that High Volume Calisthenics by itself does not make you strong .
High volume by definition means that you cannot lift maximal weights.
Think about it, one hand pull ups are an extremely intense exercise to perform.
This is because the intensity of the exercise is extremely high.
If a calisthenics athlete can perform one arm pull ups and another calsithenics athlete can perform several high repetition two handed pull ups, which athlete do you think is stronger?
The answer is obvious.
How many one arm pull ups can you do?
This is because the body is a lot heavier for one hand to carry than it is when you use both!
Which stimulus do you think would make you stronger faster?
Again the answer is quite obvious.
This is why adding weight to your calisthenics movements is the most functional and efficient way to work out!
High volume bodyweight calisthenics works well for a while, but the effects quickly fade. It starts to take longer and longer to induce enough overload in the muscle for it to grow.
This takes a lot of time and is an inefficient way of trying to build muscle and strength. This type of high volume training doesn’t end up building strength, unless other forms of progressive overload are brought into the picture.
Adding different forms of progressive overload on top of high volume training is the most effective form of bodyweight calisthenics.
But the fact remains that the most efficient way to train for size and strength is weighted calsithenics. Read more about it on my article about Calisthenics Vs Weights.
That is why adding weight to your calisthenics movements is the most functional and efficient way to work out!