In popular calisthenic training philosophies it is a trend to train progressively by increasing difficulty level of an exercise while keeping the volume to a bare minimum and resting for long intervals to allow better performance and maximized results. People believe that this will increase their inherent strength to its maximum potential.
It is a partially true belief and I have seen only a few calisthenic athletes getting real results with this approach. I see this as a fruitless method and it is my belief that results are related to the amount of work put in, over a long period of dedicated training regimen.
I chose to train myself with the exact opposite philosophy which included doing hundreds of reps in every training session and thereby forcing the body to adapt and grow by continuous stress until failure. This method is often called High-Volume Workouts.
While for many this approach is known to increase only endurance, for athletes like us and Lazar Novovic, Lord Vital, Zef Zakaveli, Hannibal for King, Matthew Schifferle etc. it has been a great technique to develop a ripped and strong physique that is muscular and athletic as well. Interesting, right?
But how does a method based upon high sets & reps, considered useless for building strength and muscle, utilizing only basic bodyweight exercises can increase the potential of an individual by so much? The answer is right here in this article…
What is the Principle behind the High Volume Workouts?
There are multiple ways to achieve the same results (if you know the saying “All roads lead to Rome”.). Our system, the High Volume Calisthenics method is but one of these and yet has proved its efficiency over other methods.
I think that for us it is partly psychological because we consider a training session successful only after our body gets exhausted and our nervous system collapses. We achieve self-accomplishment by doing so. Otherwise, we might think that our goals will be compromised as we are slacking and thus, we choose to work more.
The principle is basically very simple:
Training with Basic Calisthenics exercises, but choosing the High-Volume method means training with only compound exercises like dips, pushups, pull-ups, wall assisted handstand push-ups, squats, leg raises and some other full body movements such as burpees, jumps, skipping rope, sprints with all their basic variations, working up to muscular failure. To exhaust your muscles, you need to put in a high amount of sets and repetitions while resting for as minimum as possible. By doing this, all the routines would automatically become very intense.
Nothing new under the sun so far. However, the beautiful thing lies in how you choose to approach the workouts because you can’t replace basic variation exercises such as the wide grip pull-ups with type-writer pull-ups for instance because it is not basic anymore, although the last variation is way more difficult. But then, you may ask yourself:
How do I increase difficulty to make it more intense and still fulfill my fitness goals?
The beautiful part is that you will never need to add any more exercises for improving performance or aesthetics besides what is already under your nose. And trust me when I say that complicated does not mean advanced nor does simple mean easy. Truth is that after several years of training in this style I can say that it never gets easier no matter how advanced I am and thus, I stick to what is simple and try to progress or just to maintain what I’ve built upon the same strategies.
Let’s suppose you are already somewhat experienced with bodyweight training and these basic exercises feel pretty easy hence to make it more difficult for a more intense workout you need to change a few things in your training log:
- Add more volume for each training session;
- Train with a higher frequency;
- Rest for shorter intervals between sets and exercises.
The total volume is given by the quantity of:
- Training sessions per week. We recommend 5 with 2 days of total rest.
- Exercises that emphasize the same muscles. Choose at least 4 basic variations for a compound movement (pull-ups, push-ups, squats for instance).
- Sets & reps, choose at least 4 sets and up to 7. The rep range should be high enough, about 7-10 for pullups and wall-handstand pushups, about 15-30 for pushup variations and even more for regular squats.
We always put our max efforts and energy into each and every workout. And we finish our training when our muscles are completely exhausted and our body starts to bring up repercussions such as clogged ears, yawns, muscle spasms, trembles, calloused palms or glycemia breakdown.
If you do not know when it’s enough volume then the signs stated above should clear this up for you by facilitating you to know when to make the decision to stop training.
To clarify things, I thought I should give you a practical example of how a high volume workout looks like for us:
Just add from 4 sets and up to 7 for at least 4 basic variations, like this:
- wide pull-ups – 5 sets
- regular pull-ups – 5 sets
- close grip chin-ups – 5 sets
- chin-ups – 5 sets
- horizontal pull-ups – 4 sets
- handstand push-ups – 4 sets
- diamond push-ups – 5 sets
- dips – 5 sets
- push-ups – 5 sets
How many repetitions you should do is up to your own fitness level. However, I recommend going from 6 to 10 for every pull movement and from 15 to 30 for each push movement excluding handstand push-ups where 5-10 reps should be more than enough.
Train as often as your personal time allows you to do. I used to coach a friend of mine in the recent past, Andrei Pop, who is a manager at a big aerospace company. He is extremely busy with his full time job and a family with two lovely kids. I needed to bring him from an out of shape condition to real results by training 3 times a week, utilizing the high-volume workout principles. This was a very challenging task for the both of us. In the end, we succeeded and you can read his full story here.
So, while in few cases 3 training sessions could be enough. However, I strongly suggest you to train up to 5 times a week. That is the way we did it.
3. Pause and Recovery:
Do not believe the myth that over training will compromise your final fitness goals. It is true however that from time to time your body will collapse and hence you will need to do two things: sleep & eat for more results and better gains.
You will often feel muscular soreness associated with some tendon pain no matter how good your recovery is.
This happens in the beginning because your physique is still under adaptation. It took me more than 2 years to adapt and overcome pain to finally be successful.
I told you already that to make it more difficult you should add more sets & reps, train more often and to top it all you should rest:
- 45 seconds to 90 seconds between sets
- 1-2 minutes between exercises
- 2 days recovery per week
- 1-week recovery at any 2-3 months
This is only the way I do it. For each individual it may be slightly different hence you should adapt this to suit your goals and capabilities.
Why should you train using High Volume Workouts?
Well, do you think it is a coincidence that all the famous calisthenics athletes mentioned at the beginning train using High-Volume Workouts? And I don’t mean that we are all doing the exact same workouts. Not at all, but we all have been putting our max efforts into training with high frequency and consistentcy for more than 5 years or even 10 or more in some cases.
Look at the guys shown below and then ask yourself if the volume does not influence aesthetics. Many of you may still be confused if it’s okay to overload with sets & reps or not. Fear not, because endurance is not the only thing you will train. The hypertrophy rep range (muscle building rep range) in calisthenics is a lot higher than in weighted calisthenics or when lifting weights.
For most of us our childhood was mostly physically inactive and therefore you have more reasons to start working out than the forever fit and active guys. Besides all that, I think that building muscles has mostly to do with the calorific intake from food and hence paying attention to your macros: carbohydrates, proteins and fats is very important.
The way High Volume Workouts affects our behavior is interesting because our reaction to severe training is to sleep and eat more, meaning more intake of calories, nutrients and as a result the body will start to re-adapt in order to be able to keep up the pace with what you are giving to it in each training session. Re-adaptation means gaining more strength and creating more powerful muscular connections. In the end your ability to train more will bring you to a higher rep range where the hypertrophy response will be triggered, so you can ultimately gain muscle mass.
After you have put a decent amount of beef on your frame then your strength will reach new heights, like what happened to me, and it will surprise you completely.
Are you still concerned if this method does build strength?
No worries, have a look at us, I think we are all extremely strong and ripped as hell and we have only trained using this method ever since we came to realize its potential. The majority of us can perform advanced feats such us muscle-ups, levers, one-arm chin-ups etc. without specific training for these skills.
These advanced feats came only as a consequence of our basic training. I agree that we could attain them faster by doing specific workouts. But our goals are to get stronger and look better, not to hold a static position against gravity.
Believe me when I say that if you want more pull and push strength or if you desire a better body-look then doing levers and freestyle/street workout will never get you there.
In terms of strength, I can say from experience that basic bodyweight training gave me the skill to pull myself from a hanging-bar with an additional weight of 71 kg., which represents 81% of my own bodyweight (video here).
The method is proven and unquestionable by anyone and anywhere! Do I think it is tough? Yes, it is rough and painful, but in the end, it is worth it.
You may find it hard to progress when all you do is the same exercises over and over again. But that’s only your mind playing with you because it’s not only about physical progress.
To resist to such a type of training requires mental toughness and ambition. It changes you on a personal level and brings to the surface the best of you. You will build a stress-resistant mind by continuously stressing your body to train at high intensity. This is very interesting and you will agree with me when the moment will be right and realization hits you.
Personal development does not always mean reading psychological books and experiencing different dynamics of life. In my case doing calisthenics is also about building a better character, working on the best version of myself physically, mentally and spiritually.
In terms of physical progression, I think it is enough to change the training for a while from High Volume Workouts to some functional and conditioning training such as: running, sprinting, doing lots of burpees or even skipping the rope. I also integrate some weighted calisthenics and a lot of running on stairs. In this way, I can eliminate boredom and I can give my muscles a good period to aid in recovery.
I can and will keep up with these kinds of routines for my entire life because now I have achieved a great level of physical conditioning and ability to train at high intensity for 30 minutes or so, which is more than enough to maintain my current fitness level and muscle mass. The first 3-4 years were harder because that was the construction period. Maintenance is always easier and more enjoyable.
At some point, you will most likely reach a plateau and the repetitions will not raise your abilities anymore and your maximal strength will continue to be the same. But hey, the genetic potential has a max point after all. If you are able to achieve that level then it doesn’t mean you have to go any further than this, but you can enjoy life and prioritize some other aspects of your life as well.
However, let’s say you have reached that plateau and you do not want to maintain. You can progress by being consistent and disciplined. This way you will progress but over a longer period than ever before. You will only improve a rep here and there or maybe some very small changes in your aesthetics. To reach that point is difficult and I am talking here about a work of at least 2-4 years for small improvements.
Benefits that High Volume Workouts method brings:
- Improves your physical capabilities and raises your fitness level faster than you can imagine;
- Creates solid muscle definition associated with great muscular mass if the calorific intake from food is high enough;
- Speeds up the recovery and adaptability when sleep and nutrition is on point;
- Increases by consequence the ability of doing muscle-ups and other advanced moves if done religiously over the course of several years;
- Helps you stay lean over the entire year due to the high amount of reps and high intensity;
- It improves vascularity and cardio;
- Increases the maximal strength as consequence of attaining a muscular physique. Because they are related!
To conclude my article, I would state that I believe that this technique fits well with any individual regardless of their fitness level. Hard work has always paid off in the end!
From yours truly, Adorian!
If you are interested into our calisthenics High-Volume Program then read more information here: I Want Details