Calisthenics For Skinny Guys: FULL GUIDE

By Ire | Lifting Tips

Feb 21

When I was a skinny teenager, I decided I will put on some serious muscle and eventually change my life. However, idea of being around bunch of meatheads in the gym wasn’t the most appealing to me. I was too afraid that I will somehow embarrass myself. I started looking for other options. I discovered that I can do workouts at home. At that time, it was a perfect fit. For the first few months of my fitness journey, I would use every possible furniture piece in order to complete my workouts.

It was going well, I have added some strength and mass to my body. However, thinking back on how I trained, my face is starting to cringe. Would I train smarter, I could have progressed waaaay quicker. I remember that I was doing sets of 80 repetition of sit ups. What is even worse, I was doing it on my bed, leaving the mentum of the mattress doing most of the work. I had the determination to get better, however I was lacking knowledge.

Therefore, article: “Calisthenics for Skinny Guys” will talk about how to approach bodyweight training with little bit more intelligence.

Muscular guy flexing muscles on his body

BENEFITS OF CALISTHENICS

1. Inexpensive

Big factor why I did not join the gym at first. My parents would think it is stupid to pay for gym membership. They said: “if you want to lift weights, grab a shovel and do some work in the garden”. Being 14 without any income at all, I had to come up with another option. Calisthenics was a perfect option at that point. If you do not have any trees around you, the only two things you need to invest in are:

  • pullup bar
  • Different strengths resistance bands

2. Can do it anywhere

Bodyweight training eliminates most common excuse, which is time. Many of my costumers are frequent travelers, therefore I hear “I didn’t have enough time to go to the gym” constantly. To those clients, I always emphasize the luxury of body weight exercises.

3. Can always modify exercises

Most of skinny guys can’t even perform a single pullup. In fact, I was one of them. However, there is a way to build pullup strength without doing proper pullups. Just like weightlifting exercises, calisthenics also have many modifications you can do. I remember working on pullup deficits for a month before I could finally do my first pullup.

4. Builds Strength and Muscles

For some reason, some people believe that you cannot build muscle with calisthenics. Maybe due to watching many parkour videos of young skinny white kids are breaking their arms. Parkour is a sport which requires tremendous amount of agility, athleticism and strength. Movements are quick and explosive, which means that it helps if you are strong and light. Goal of parkour is not muscle size, but rather the movement itself.
BUT, there is another breed out there. Calisthenics bodybuilders; athletes like Lazar Novovic or Frank Medrano. Instead of performing tricks, their goal is muscle size and strength. size and strength.

Skinny guy performing a calisthenic exercise called handstand

DOWNSIDE OF CALISTHENICS

1. If injuried

Bad news is, you will run out of options quickly in case you are injured. Working around injuries is more possible with weightlifting.

2. Too big of a jump between modifications

Even though we talked about many modification options available, you will be more limited when comparing calisthenics to weightlifting. Sometimes all you need is 3 pounds heavier weight, however, with bodyweight exercises it is harder to modify that.

3. Does not maximize muscle growth

While I do think you can build tremendous strength and size with calisthenics, you can do always do it quicker with weightlifting. Maximizing muscle growth equals to maximizing muscular tension through a large range of motion (ROM). (study, study)

You maximize tension through going heavier. With calisthenics, you are always going to be way more limited on how heavy you can train. Therefore, calisthenics is a perfect fit for beginners. That is because skinny guys be able to create enough tension with bodyweight exercises, due to being physically weak.

However, at one point there is only so far you can still push it. In order to maximize muscle growth, I would recommend body weight training only to newbies until they get strong enough/ confident enough to join the gym.

4. Legs are too strong

There is simply not enough progression for leg strength. Since legs are way stronger than your upper body, your progression will stop quicker. Once you advance to single leg pistol squats you will need more weight than just your bodyweight.

guy performing yoga exercise

CALISTHENICS WORKOUT STRUCTURE:

I divide my client’s calisthenics workout into 6 categories. Beginners only perform two exercises per category.

  • VERTICAL PUSH
  • HORIZONTAL PUSH
  • VERTICAL PULL
  • HORIZONTAL PULL
  • LEGS
  • ABDOMINALS

GOAL EXERCISES:

In order to know where you are in the process, you should have an end goal. Therefore, for each 6 categories that I presented above, there is a goal exercise you should strive towards. Once you can do a single rep of each of the below, your bodyweight progression will slow down tremendously. At that point, it is time to start weightlifting.

VERTICAL PUSH: 90-degree Push-Up

HORIZONTAL PUSH: Spiderman Push-Up

VERTICAL PULL: Single-Arm Pullup

HORIZONTAL PULL: Front Level Pullups

LEGS: Pistol Squat

ABDOMINALS: Human Flag

calisthenics for skinny guys. Guy doing pushups with his bodyweight

ESTABLISHING A BASELINE:

If you read everything above, I suppose you identify as a skinny guy who is unable to perform any “goal exercise”. You are not quite comfortable going to the gym, or just prefer exercising at home. If you are serious enough and are going to start this journey, you need a baseline from which to measure your future progress. With all my calisthenics clients, I do same four tests every single month in order to track progress.

STOP READING THIS NOW and go get your workout clothes. This won’t take more than 15 minutes. Warm up and start blasting heavy metal music. We will take off in 5 minutes!

We will perform four different tests, for four different purposes (PUSH,PULL, ABS, LEGS). So, now that you are warm and hyped, lets go straight into first one.

TEST 1: Pushup test

TASK: You will perform as many pushups possible in 30 seconds. If pushups are challenging, you can always do pushups on the knees. Just make sure to note it down, so next time you test it will be the same.

TECHNIQUE: In order for repetition to count, your elbows have to come to a complete extension at the top of the pushup AND your hand have to leave the floor for a split second when you are in the bottom part of the pushup (yes, that way you will be completely lying on the floor).
Set up a timer for 30 seconds and complete as many repetitions possible. The number is your push baseline.

TEST 2: Pullup test

TASK: Next test is to see the maximal numbers of pullups you can do. If you cannot do a single pullup, you can test it by having your feet on a chair in front of you.

TECHIQUE: For repetition to count, you have to be in complete extension in the bottom and your chin needs to come over the bar on the top of the lift.
This one is not timed, just start whenever ready and do as many as possible with correct form.

TEST 3: Plank Test

TASK: In order to test core strength/stability, we will see to which level you get in a plank challenge. You go through each phase without having any rest in between.

LEVEL 1: plank 20 seconds
LEVEL 2: plank with left leg up 20 seconds
LEVEL 3: plank with right leg up 20 seconds
LEVEL 4: plank with left arm up 20 seconds
LEVEL 5: plank with right arm up 20 seconds
LEVEL 6: plank with right leg and left arm up 20 seconds
LEVEL 7: plank with left leg and right leg up 20 seconds

TECHNIQUE: If possible, have somebody observe your technique, just so your hips do not come to high. Common mistake is also that individuals twist their hips out when reaching up with the arm.

So, go through the test without any pause. Have a timer ready so you can see at which point you should switch position.
Go for as long as possible, if you pass level 7, go back to level 1 without any stop. In that case you can rename level 1 to level 8.

TEST 4: Squat Test

I know you are tired at this point but bear with me, this is the last one.

TASK: In order to test your leg strength, we will perform a simple squat test for 30 seconds. You will be squatting on a chair (chair height should be below the knees when you stand next to it). Goal is to do as many repetition in 30 seconds.

TECHNIQUE: For repetition to count, you need to touch the chair with your bottom and fully extend your knees on the top phase. If you believe this will be too easy, you can test one legged squat with both legs separately.

Once you are done, note down all your test results from today.

guy without a shirt pointing at the you. Are you ready to start your own calisthenic training?

COMMITMENT TO CALISTHENICS WORKOUTS:

From this point, you need to commit to exercise for full 4 weeks before you retest those numbers. So go ahead and schedule your workouts for next 3x week for the next weeks in your calendar. It will not happen if it isn’t in your calendar.

In total it should take around 60 minutes per workout. Going from zero to exercising 3x per week will do wonders in the beginning. Study compared training effects of 1x week versus 3x week.(https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2000/08000/Comparison_of_1_Day_and_3_Days_Per_Week_of.6.aspx) Even though the total volume was the same, a group that exercised more regularly showed faster progression.

Due to something called “newbie gains” progress will be obvious when the time for second testing comes. You should know that progress will slow down eventually, and you need to act when that happens. Do not keep doing the same things expecting different results. Change is needed!

LIST OF BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES FOR SKINNY BEGINNERS:

  1. VERTICAL PUSH: Dips, Handstand Pushup, Decline Pike Pushup
  2. HORIZONTAL PUSH: Pushup, Knee pushup, Decline Pushup, Diamond Pushups, Wide grip Pushup
  3. VERTICAL PULL: Chinups, Pullups, Behind The Neck Pullup, Hanging
  4. HORIZONTAL PULL: Top of Back Lever Pullup, Australian Pullup
  5. LEGS: air squat, walking lunges, backward lunges, single leg bridge, Bulgarian split squat, Calf raises
  6. ABDOMINALS: mountain climbers, Russian twist, bicycle crunch, windscreen wipers, Knees to elbows

CALISTHENICS FOR SKINNY GUYS EXAMPLE:

  1. VERTICAL PUSH: Dips 3×15, Decline Pike Pushup 3×10
  2. HORIZONTAL PUSH: Diamond Pushup 3×8, Wide grip Pushup 4×10
  3. VERTICAL PULL: Chinups 5×5, Behind the Neck Pullup 3×8
  4. HORIZONTAL PULL: Australian Pullup 4×12
  5. LEGS: Bulgarian Split Squat 3×10, Single Leg Bridge 3×10, Walking Lunges 3×16
  6. ABDOMINALS: Windscreen wipers 3×8, Bicycle crunch 3×1

guy working out with his body weight outside by the pool

MODIFICATIONS

1. Grip

Switching grips from underhand and overhand will not only change the difficulty of exercises, but it will also target different muscles. Therefore, you should always mix different grips through your workout.

2. Gravity

Using gravity to make an exercise either easier or harder. For example, there is a big change by doing a pushup on the wall versus on the floor. Therefore, put your body in different positions in order to change intensity.

3. Tempo

Talking specifically for maximal muscle hypertrophy (mass), you should always focus on slow concentric movements. I am talking slow three seconds on the negative part of the movement. You can also vary tempo by pausing during different parts of the movements. Tempo present a huge modality change and you should always be aware of it.

4. Single limb

When you are getting too strong you can make the exercise twice as hard by eliminating one of the limb working. That is often too big of a challenge, so you will also have to modify it in a way to make it easier through either grip, gravity or tempo manipulation.

5. Weight

Wearing a backpack full of books in order to add some weight to your pushups can always be an option. Even though you don’t have access to fancy equipment, you can always use things around you as a weight. Get creative!

DIET

Alright, now that you have your tests numbers and you scheduled 3x week for 4 weeks, you should also understand that your diet needs to act accordingly. Only way to gain muscle mass is to be in CALORIC SURPLUS. Read more about what/how you should eat HERE.

man working on his massive triceps by performing dips with his own weight

“WHEN AM I READY TO PROGRESS TO WEIGHTLIFTING?”

I advise you that after you are able to do “goal exercises” for at least 1 repetition you should start with weight training. At that point your strength/size will not improve much more, if you do not change to weightlifting.


Need help designing your own gym workout?

Once you are ready to finally hit the gym, it could be a very confusing journey. In fact, risking of doing the wrong thing could lead to slow progress and injuries.

If you need help receiving a workout perfect for your body type, check out of online coaching opportunities here!

Coach Ire will be able to help you to structure your workouts and diet for your own body type. Get an online coach in order to stop wasting time in the gym and finally put some flesh on those bones.


CALISTHENICS FOR SKINNY GUYS: SUMMARY

Working out at home is a fantastic way to get skinny guys into fitness waters. It is great for beginners since it will be challenging enough, plus you do not need to spend money on a gym membership.
However, calisthenics is limited. After you are strong enough, it will be difficult to create enough tension to maximize muscle growth. Therefore, once you can perform “goal exercises”, you should start looking into joining a gym. Now, if you haven’t done your test exercises yet, get off you ass and do that. Your better, more confident lifestyle is waiting on the other side.

Peace out, LIFT, EAT, SLEEP, REPEAT.

About the Author

Hey, my name is Ire.I am a Personal Trainer/ Strength Coach based in Stockholm, Sweden.When you don't find me in the gym, I will most likely be on a Track and Field stadium throwing around a discus.

  • Skinnytiny says:

    Been doing this for about a month now. So happy to progress to pistol squat already!!

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