Calisthenics For Strength: Learn To Program Your Workouts & 2 Workout Routines

If you want to learn how to do calisthenics for strength, you are in the right place.

To optimize strength gains with calisthenics you need to work with difficult progressions in the 1-6 rep range and train specifically towards the movement you want to get stronger in.

This may be hard to understand now but by the end of the article it will all make sense.

In the following sections we will cover:

  • A calisthenics strength workout
  • Explaining what strength is and how to build it
  • How to build strength with calisthenics specifically

And more.

If you are ready, let's get started.

Calisthenics strength workout

Athlete ready to do a pull-up for his calisthenics for strength workout

In this workout we will not give you particular progressions to work with.

Instead, we will write the exercises as "Exercise variation". For instance, "Pull-up variation".

When you see "Exercise variation", choose a variation that allows you to do the intended sets and repetitions. You will want to work with progressions that are easy enough to hit all the sets and reps, but difficult enough that at the end of the last repetition of the last set you are close to failure.

As you will see in subsequent sections, working for low repetitions and close to failure is necessary if you want to build strength with calisthenics.

RELATED: A calisthenics strength workout can be paired with cardio. Check our article about calisthenics cardio workout.

Calisthenics strength push workout





Handstand push-up variation

3 - 5

4 - 6


Push-up variation

3 - 5

4 - 6



3 - 4

6 - 10


Ring chest flys


8 - 12


Bw. triceps extensions


8 - 12


We recommend you to do this workout 2x a week, with at least a day of rest in between sessions.

In this workout, the handstand push-up and the push-up are geared towards strength.

Some of the handstand push-up variations you could use are:

  • Pike push-up
  • Elevated pike push-up
  • Back to wall handstand push-up
  • Face to wall handstand push-up
  • Deficit handstand push-up

Whereas, some of the push-up variations you could use are:

  • Diamond push-up
  • Pseudo planche push-up
  • Weighted push-up

For each of the exercises, choose a progression that will allow you to do 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps. The last repetition of the last set should be pretty close to failure, where you could do one more repetition if you wanted.

What about the other exercises?

Those were selected to help you build muscle mass too.

Calisthenics strength pull workout





Pull-up variation

3 - 5

4 - 6


Row variation

3 - 5

4 - 6


Pull-up variation

3 - 4

6 - 10


Inverted row


8 - 12


Ring face pulls


8 - 15


Bodyweight curls


8 - 12


We recommend you to do this workout 2x a week, with at least a day of rest in between sessions.

In this workout, the first pull-up variation and the row variation are geared towards strength.

Some of the pull-up variations that can be included are:

  • Wide grip pull-up
  • Archer pull-up
  • Mantle pull-up
  • Assisted one arm pull-up

And some of the rowing variations that can be used are:

  • One arm inverted row
  • L-row
  • Front lever row variation

This is what calisthenics for strength looks like. Not all the exercises are geared towards strength but only a couple of them. These will create overall strength adaptations in the body, while the other exercises act as supplemental work for hypertrophy and muscular balance.

How do you build strength?

Man doing dips for strength on parallel bars

There are three factors that influence strength building:

  • Muscle mass and other structural adaptations
  • Neuromuscular adaptations
  • Motor patterns

These apply to calisthenics for strength in equal measure as for other sports.

Muscle mass and other structural adaptations. The bigger a muscle is, the more force it will be able to exert. Therefore, part of being strong boils down to having big enough muscles to support that strength.

However, strength is also influenced by the condition of your connective tissue.

This is why we recommend you to progress patiently, so that your connective tissue has time to adapt.

It is well known that joints and ligaments adapt slower than muscle does.

Neuromuscular adaptations. Getting our neurological system used to heavier loads will allow our contractions to be more forceful and efficient.

Therefore, we are able to use more of the potential of our muscle mass.

Motor patterns. Strength is a skill, not only a quality of your body. If you want to get stronger at a particular movement, you have to build the motor patterns by doing that exercise over and over again.

In the context of calisthenics for strength, how strong you are with the planche is specific to the planche only. By training the planche specifically your body can recruit your muscles better, improve the form, and so on.

With these in mind, let's get to more practical advice.

How to program your training for strength

Man doing weighted dips in his calisthenics for strength workout

Now that you know the main concepts of training for strength, it's time to get to the real business. That means talking about sets, reps, intensity, frequency, and all that good stuff that will make our calisthenics for strength workout worthwhile.

To be more specific, we will be talking about:

  • Volume
  • Intensity

Another part of training is also frequency, or how often you do an exercise/workout.

If you want to get stronger, we suggest you do that particular exercise 2 - 3 times per week.

Moving on.

Volume for strength

There are multiple ways to measure strength.

However, the most reliable in our experience, as well as the one that we will be using for calisthenics for strength, is counting the weekly number of sets per movement we want to get stronger at.

For example, we will be counting the weekly number of sets for pull-ups, push-ups, etc.

A meta-analysis (which is a study of all available studies on a given topic) was conducted in 2017, with the intent of finding what is the "sweet spot" for strength gains, as far as volume is concerned. It was found that 5-12+ sets per movement per week is an optimum way to train to gain strength. (1)

There is quite a bit of a difference between 5 and 12+, so how do we go about that?

Unfortunately, there is not enough data to show the limits of volume, where too much is already harmful. However, there are some studies showing that going past the 20-set mark, you will start seeing less results, and even harmful results in terms of strength and muscle mass.

Therefore, our recommendation for you in terms of volume for strength is:

  • 10-20 sets per week per movement and accessory exercises
  • Depending on your level, lean closer to the lower or upper range of the spectrum

Intensity for strength

There are different ways to gauge how intense an exercise is.

However, knowing that this is an article dedicated to calisthenics for strength, we are only going to use one method: measuring intensity of effort. And that is done through the RPE scale (rate of perceived exertion) which is measured with RIR (reps in reserve) - how many repetitions you have left in the tank.

It may sound difficult, but bear with us. It will all make sense shortly.

The rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is a way of measuring how close you are to hitting failure during your set. The higher the RPE, the closer you are to failure.

This table will make everything very easy to understand:

Rate of perceived exhaustion (RPE)

Repetitions in reserve (RIR)


Can't do more reps or add more load


Can't do more reps, could slightly increase load


Can do 1 more rep


Can definitely do 1 more rep, maybe 2


Can do 2 more reps


Can definitely do 2 more reps, maybe 3


Can do 3 more reps

5 - 6

Could do 4 - 6 more reps

1 - 4

Very light effort

Now that we have an understanding of the RPE scale, let's see what the research says and how you can apply that to your calisthenics for strength, using the scale.

A study conducted by Brad J. Schoenfeld in 2014 looked at two groups of people training with similar volume but different rep ranges. One group had to train with 3RM sets (a set where they used the maximum weight they can lift for 3 repetitions) and the other group with 10RM sets. At the end of the study, both groups had similar muscle building results, yet the 3RM group got significantly stronger than the 10RM group. (2)

That being said, the group only doing 3RM lifts also experienced:

  • Longer workouts, because they had to rest more between sets
  • More joint pain and injuries than the 10RM group
  • Regularly felt beat up and tired

Therefore, it isn't practical to have your entire workout strength based because recovery is a very important part of training. There is no point in maximizing your strength over a period of 3 months if you are going to be injured for another 3 afterwards.

That being said, we don't want to only train for pure strength: 1, 2, or 3 max repetitions.

We also want some muscle gain benefits and to protect our joints. For this reason, we are going to work in the 1 - 6 rep range with an RPE @ 5-10.

So, as a conclusion on intensity:

  • Train in the 1 - 6 rep range RPE @ 5-10
  • Have more than half of your volume coming from this rep range and the rest in the 8 - 10 and 12+ rep ranges, to get some muscle building effects and take it easy on the joints

How to apply this knowledge to calisthenics for strength

Man doing inverted rows on suspension trainers

To recap the conclusions of the previous sections, in your calisthenics for strength workout you should have the following programming:

  • Volume: 10 - 20 sets per movement/muscle group per week
  • Intensity: 1 - 6 rep range, RPE @ 5-10
  • Frequency: at least 2x per week, at most 3

Let's see a clear example of how you can apply this to the workouts above.

In the pull workout, the first exercise is a "Pull-up variation" that should be done for 3 - 5 sets of 3 - 5 reps. Let's imagine that you want to do 4 x 5 reps. This is what it would look like.

  • You pick a pull-up progression that allows you to do 1 x 7-8 reps.
  • In the first set you do 5 reps and stop, which means you stopped at an RPE @7.5
  • You do the subsequent sets where your strength will decrease
  • By the last set, you will approach failure at the 5th repetition

It is as easy as that.

It works the same for bar, parallel bars, and calisthenics ring exercises.

Applying strength training principles to a calisthenics workout for strength is not difficult, once you understand the principles. The only difference is that, instead of increasing the intensity (load) with weight plates, you are increasing it using leverage or unilateral exercises.


We will use this section to answer some of the most common questions in regards to calisthenics for strength.

Is calisthenics good for strength?

It is good but not ideal.

With calisthenics, the intensity is manipulated through increasing leverage (the length of your body), by training at different joint angles (wide pull-up vs regular pull-up) or by doing the exercises unilaterally (regular push-up vs one arm push-up).

These methods can work very well to increase your strength. However, the progress is more difficult to track. For this reason, we don't consider calisthenics ideal for strength.

If you are more interested in strength training, we recommend giving weighted calisthenics or powerlifting a try.

Does calisthenics build strength or muscle?

It depends.

Whether calisthenics builds strength or muscle depends on the way you are training. If you are training in a way to promote strength (low repetitions, high intensity) then it will build strength. If you are training in a way to promote muscle mass (medium repetitions and intensity) then it will build muscle.

This question comes from the misconception that some forms of resistance training are geared towards an attribute or another.

In reality, it all depends on the way you trian, not your choice of resistance training.

Will calisthenics make me stronger?


Just like any form of resistance training, calisthenics can make you stronger. You only need to be consistent with your training and to progress as you get stronger; add weight, use different variations of an exercise, do the exercises slower, rest less between sets, etc.

Whether you decide to then optimize strength over muscle mass or endurance is your choice.


As you can see, doing calisthenics for strength or muscle mass depends on the way you train.

Remember that strength is a skill, so you not only have to train with increased intensity and fairly low volume, but you also have to train the same exercise over and over again to get results. Repetition is a big part of getting stronger, because it increases the efficiency of your neuromuscular system.

All in all, you now have the necessary knowledge to apply to your calisthenics strength training.

Over to you.