Calisthenics is a great workout because you can do it anywhere and it’s easy on your joints. As you start to advance and want to step it up a notch you should start to consider weighted calisthenics.
What is weighted calisthenics?
For those who are new to calisthenics be sure to check out our past blog post on Calisthenics for a quick introduction.
Weighted calisthenics is calisthenics with some form of external weight to add more resistance to your body weight workout. Weighted calisthenics is great for people of all fitness levels.
Dumbbells and weighted vests are the most common types of external weight you can use. You can use a vest for almost all the exercises such as push ups, pull ups, squats etc. You can use dumbbells for pretty much all the lower body exercises.
You might be thinking “I thought calisthenics was all body weight exercises”.
Now you’re wondering why should you do weighted calisthenics? Here are a few reasons
Peak Progression - Once you get strong enough using only your body weight will start to get too easy. Our bodies adapt quickly so you’ll need to add some form of resistance to make the exercise harder. Sure, you can continually add on more reps but do you want to be doing 50 squats, then 51 squats, then 52 squats? How long would those workouts take?
Added Resistance - The strength of our body parts aren’t evenly distributed. For example: How many push ups can you do in a row? 10? 15? 20? How many squats can you do in a row? 20? 50? 100? Our lower body can handle a lot more weight than our upper body can. So, for certain body parts to get a quality workout added resistance is necessary.
Targeted Muscles for Balance - Certain body parts aren’t able to get targeted as well with calisthenics alone. The back is the best example. Calisthenics is great for the chest because of all the variations of push ups you can do. But there aren't as many good exercises to work the back.
Balancing our bodies is important otherwise we’ll become very tight. If we’re getting really good workouts for the chest and only okay workouts for the back we become front dominant. With dumbbells we can do a variety of rows targeting our backs.
Off Season Indoor Strength Building - For those cold winter months or if you don’t have access to some type of playground to do pull ups, dips etc., using external weight can solve that problem. For pull ups you can do pullovers with a dumbbell and for dips you can put a weight on your lap as you do dips on a chair or table.
Its a Cheaper Option to a Gym - It’s a great way to get an intense workout in without spending a lot of money. With just a weighted vest and a few dumbbells you can get a great workout in without paying for an expensive gym membership or buying a lot of dumbbells. Having an additional 50 lbs of external weight is all you’ll need to really get those results you’re looking for.
Keys To Getting Stronger With Weighted Workouts
The best weighted calisthenics workout routines involve using your full body especially compound movements.
With the added resistance you can fatigue the muscles you weren’t able to fatigue by only doing bodyweight movement i.e. your legs. A focus on your lower body exercises when you have your vest on will be most beneficial. So, any type of squats, lunges, and step ups are great.
How about your upper body? If you can do over 15 push ups in good form, then a vest will give you that extra resistance to make your muscles work harder. Same thing with pull ups, can you do at least 15 in good form?
If you can do 15 reps of anything it’s time to change it up and make it harder.
Gaining muscle and getting stronger is all about progressive overload. Every workout you either have to increase the reps or increase the weight from your previous workout.
If you’re not familiar with weighted vests check out our blog Top 5 Best Weight Vest For CrossFit in 2020. The features and benefits of those vests still relate to weighted calisthenics.
Most weighted vests allow you to add 20-45 lbs which is more than enough added resistance to get you to that next level when body weight exercises are too easy.
Going from 15 push ups to 16 push ups isn’t going to provide as much benefit as adding a weighted vest and doing 8 push ups.
Weighted Calisthenics Workout Example
Even if you do a weighted vest calisthenics workout it’s still hard to exhaust the legs so having more reps for your lower body is a smart way to get full use of your weighted calisthenics routine. Here’s a sample weighted calisthenics routine you can try out with some photos on how to perform every exercise.
Reps: 12-15 weighted squats
Directions: Have your feet shoulder width apart. Imagine there’s a chair behind you and you’re going to sit down on the chair. Then stand up. If you need help with balance you can put your hands out in front of you.
Weighted Push Ups
Reps: 8-12 weighted push ups
Directions: Face down on the ground, place hands shoulder-width apart just below armpits. While keeping your stomach and glutes tight push the floor away from you as you go up. Then lower yourself back towards the ground while keeping your core and glutes tight.
Reps: 12-15 weighted lunges
Directions: Take a big step forward. Lower your back knee towards the ground. Ideally the back knee should go as close to the ground as possible without touching the ground. Then push off on your front leg to get up. Then repeat for the other side.
Weighted Pull Ups
Reps: 8-12 weighted pull ups
Directions: Hanging from a pull bar keep your shoulder blades squeezed. Pull yourself up focusing on pulling your elbows towards your sides. Cross your chin pass the bar and then slowly lower yourself back to the bottom.
Weighted Step Ups
Reps: 12-15 weighed step ups
Directions: 1 foot on the step, 1 foot off the step. Push off on the leg that’s on the step. This will result in the foot on the ground to go up to the step. Repeat the process for the other leg.
Duration: 60 second weighted plank.
Directions: Elbows under your shoulders and feet side by side. Focus on keeping both your core and glutes tight for the entire 60 seconds.
Break: 1-5 minute water break
Reps: Do it for 3-5 rounds.
Points to consider when making a routine
Alternate Your Muscle Groups - This weighted calisthenics routine is alternating lower body and upper body exercises to give your muscle groups proper rest without having to stop the workout between exercises. When you’re doing push ups your legs get to rest, when you do lunges your upper body gets to rest. But the entire time your body is working.
Add Variations Of Exercise To Make It Harder - When you feel you’re able to do more than 15 reps for any of these exercises, look for variations to make it even harder. Instead of a regular squat you can do sumo squats, instead of push ups you can do diamond push ups, instead of lunges you can do jumping lunges.
Progressive Overload - Always remember how important progressive overload is. Every workout you need to add more reps, or more weight. When you max these out, then use a harder version of the exercise.
Add In Cardio - Some might wonder… how about cardio? Speed up all the lower body movements and shorten your water break, and that should get your heart rate up pretty quickly. A resistance workout out with cardio already built in!
A quick note about running. Many people use a weighted vest for running. If you have good knees then go for it. However, I would highly suggest you run up a hill or flat surface and to avoid any types running going down a hill.
But for anyone with knee problems or anyone who has sore knees while running stay away from the running. There are so many other ways to get your heart rate up without killing your knees.
Is weighted calisthenics right for you?
Weighted calisthenics is a great way for your body to build muscle and strength.
Aside from the convenience of being able to do weighted calisthenics anywhere, it’s great for your joints compared to lifting weights. While lifting weights is great it does take a toll on your body, specifically your joints as you lift heavier weight.
Weighted calisthenics gives you a good workout without taking too much of a toll on your joints. Which might be the case for most people over a certain age but still looking to gain muscle.
Read Also: How to gain muscle as a man over 60
You might not be able to build muscle as fast performing weighted calisthenics, but you’ll be doing it a lot safer. Calisthenics is also good for your core because of all the balancing required for your upper body. Your core has to work a lot harder than weight lifting. For example, any type of handstand requires an enormous amount of core strength to balance your whole body.
Related Read: Best calisthenics core and abs workouts
If you think about it, a push up is a moving plank. You’re in a plank position then you have to lower yourself and push yourself up while maintaining the plank position. A strong core doesn’t only look good but it’s crucial for any type of athletic performance, or lifting any heavy objects during everyday life. Your core is what stabilizes your entire body.
Calisthenics is also good for stamina and endurance. Because you’re mostly using your body weight you need to do high reps to fatigue the muscle. If you go to the gym and squat 100 lbs maybe you can fatigue your body after only 5 reps. In calisthenics you could do 15 squats and still not fatigue. So, you’re really building your muscle endurance and stamina.
If you do any weighted calisthenics routine and focus on doing it for speed and shorten your rest period, you’ll get your heart rate up without even having to do any cardio.
Weighted Calisthenics for Muscle Gains?
There has been a lot of debate: does weighted calisthenics build muscle?
If all a person did was the basic exercise of each routine, then they’ll eventually reach a plateau where they won’t build any more muscle or get any stronger. But the great thing about calisthenics is the variety of exercises you can do when you master the basic exercises. There are so many push up variations, pull up variations, squat variations etc.
So let’s say you can do 15 push ups, and you can do it with a weighted vest also. Can you also do diamond push ups, how about tricep push ups, how about planche push ups, how about superman push ups? The list goes on. And think about how much stronger your core gets doing these different push ups compared to just doing a regular bench press?
Related Read: Body weight chest exercises you can do at home
Want to see 5 great exercises you can try out which will be sure to kick your butt? Check out these 5 Killer Bodyweight Exercises For Strength [No Equipment Needed]. When these exercises get easy you can always add some weight and make your own weighted calisthenics routine.
Weighted calisthenics is a safe and effective way to take your training to the next level. When you combine the different variations of calisthenics exercises with added resistance you’ll never run out of exercises to do.