Can you "bulk up" on calisthenics alone?

I am interested in improving my physique a bit but am unsure what I all want to do. I have a decent build naturally but a little refinement couldn’t hurt. I’d like to improve my upper body mostly (pecs, biceps, etc.). Thing is, I am not real interested in buying weights and I know I will waste money on a gym membership.

So, I am wondering if any decent bodybuilding can be done via exercises one can do at home or are weights the only way to go (skip ideas of rigging up paint cans and a broom…I’ll just buy weights if it came to that)? I am not looking to compete for Mr. Universe…just want a tad more meat on and some better definition.

Your average male gymnast doesn’t generally weight train, and he’s not gonna be a slacker in the physique department, so yeah, it’s possible. Matt Furey is the big name in bodyweight-only exercises, so you might look into his stuff.

Furey guy here. It is certainly possible to get both muscle mass and definition on his program(s) (or any bodyweight one for that matter). As a bonus, I’ve gotten tremendously flexible (at least in the upper body, which makes a phenomenal difference in everyday life) - try doing that with weights! Another side effect is extra endurance/cardio workout that weights alone won’t give you. It’s essentially a workout for wrestlers.

Except for some weighted wrist exercises and banded chest expansion, I strictly train bodyweight stuff. It works for my MMA purposes, but YMMV.

To be sure, Furey isn’t saying anything new, but he packages it very convienently and his unorthodox attitude towards training really works for some people.

To get started, check out his website and go through his letter archives. That will give you an idea of what he does and if you want to spend the money on his books. Pavel and the crew at have some love-'em-or-hate-'em books (from the reading I’ve done into them, they’re more overpriced than Furey and either repeating what he said or significantly less useful), but their forum/article section has some positively bizzare exercises that would be great to try (like hanging your pullup bar to a chain in the middle, so you have to be sure to lift yourself evenly or you get dumped on your ass. No cheating there).

I also recommend looking into plyometrics.

That’s actually pretty easy if you’re careful about it. It’s the act of stretching that leads to increases in flexibility, not whether you’re holding a piece of iron or not.

I certainly don’t doubt you, but from my experience and general observation, I’ve noticed that there’s a definite correlation between inflexibility and people who lift weights.

To be sure, my sample size for the bodyweight stuff is rather small compared to the people I know who lift weights, but around the dojo, the people who primarily do bodyweight stuff tend to be significantly more flexible than the guys who really bulk up with weights.

Then again, the bodyweight folks tend to be more interested in wrestling which requires more unusual sorts of flexibility than the boxers or kickboxers, or they do a lot of yoga which also helps immensly.

From my own experience, when I was lifting weights and stretching, I wasn’t neither nearly as strong or as flexible as I have been since I started doing the bodyweight stuff. Granted, I’m several years older, but I don’t weigh any more and may possibly weigh less. I can honestly say that in my case, the flexibility was as a result of doing the bodyweight stuff.

To be sure, there were a couple of guys I worked with who lifted quite a bit and, despite stretching, were quite stiff in some areas. I gave them the Furey book and some advice on how I got started and they reported that after doing the exercises for a couple of weeks, they gained flexibility in the problem areas.

What I should have said was, “the bodyweight stuff works flexibility at the same time as the strength, something that weights tend not to do.”

I haven’t seen any weighted exercises (I should probably limit that to “traditional” weights (dumbbells, barbells and the various machines) - there are some kettlebell exercises that work flexibility quite a bit) that work flexibility, although your knowledge of weighted excercises is much greater than mine, so there may well be some - I’ve just never seen them.

That said, any given bodyweight workout will not necessarily work flexibility either; one has to build it in to their routine. I do think that working the flexibility into the workout is extremely efficient, if set up for different goals than weightlifting.

To be sure, a lot of guys (UFC fighters, regular ol’ exercise folks) work both bodyweight and weighted routines. Certainly, doing one doesn’t disqualify the other.

Here’s a hijack for you Ultra: One of the selling points for the bodyweight stuff is that it “lubes” your joints and doesn’t tear them up like weightlifting does. I’ve heard from some former high school and college wrestlers that they work the bodyweight stuff primarily because of the fact that weights do cause more injuries than the bodyweights alone and weights tend to cause joint problems later in life.

How true do you find that statement to be? Certianly these guys who are setting records risk significantly more injury than the guy who is just trying to look good in a bathing suit, but is joint damage a concern for most powerlifter types?

One of the reasons I went to the bodyweight stuff in the first place was because my joints did hurt after weighted exercise, especially after nearly tearing a tendon in my shoulder. I certainly wasn’t using exceedingly heavy weights (35 lb dumbbells for everything). Once I switched to the bodyweight, I find that I have significantly fewer problems and those that I do are in the shoulder.

WTF was I thinking when I wrote that? As should be obvious from the rest of the post, weightlifting doesn’t preclude one from being flexible, nor would I have reason to doubt your statement.

I need to go to bed. Ugh.

Definitely, but AFAIK that’s just due to the stress from dealing with 400+ lbs., and not to do with any “lube” issue that I’m aware of.