Is it possible to be a bodybuilder doing only calisthenics?

If you are new and want to be bodybuilder, you will most likely be looking for the most effective ways to train for size. The go-to for many people would be to simply join a gym and start lifting weights.

While this is certainly a viable method, there are other ways to grow lots of muscle.

This being the case, allow me to talk about calisthenics and if it is possible to be a bodybuilder doing only calisthenics. I will not only talk about if it’s possible, but I will also go into detail on the key differences between calisthenics and traditional bodybuilding exercises so you can choose what to do yourself. Let’s get into this!

The main difference between calisthenics athlete and bodybuilder

In terms of training, calisthenics is very different to bodybuilding. First and foremost, calisthenics does not involve the use of weights and/or any form of additional resistance for the most part. Because of this, calisthenics mainly revolves around bodyweight movements.

On the other hand, traditional bodybuilding training sessions will almost always involve lifting weights. This might include movements like the bench press, the deadlift and/or weighted pull-ups.

While the movements and exercises may be different, the main difference has nothing to do with the training methods, but rather the training principles. In this case, bodybuilding almost always requires some form of progressive overload.

This progressive overload is a repeated added intensity to the workout and it is done so that the muscles can continuously grow without becoming resistant to the workout. Since calisthenics offers no additional resistance, you will be left with far fewer ways to achieve this.

Which develops a bigger physique – calisthenics or bodybuilding?

After a read through the section above, you will now know and understand that a bodybuilders prime focus is to continuously grow their muscles larger and larger over time. On the other hand, those who practice the art of calisthenics do usually develop great physiques, but this is usually not their main goal, more so, extreme physical strength and manoeuvrability is.

While this paragraph above pretty much answers the question, let’s go into more detail on why bodybuilding usually develops a bigger physique.

Firstly, as mentioned above, bodybuilders can and usually focus on progressive overload, a training principle that will never usually get used through calisthenics. In addition, since most bodybuilding movements involve plenty of additional resistance, there is more overall chance of breaking the muscle down.

While this may sound bad, breaking the muscle down during training is exactly what a bodybuilder wants as this allows for muscle growth when it repairs.

photo of man with muscular body

Hitting the wall as a bodybuilder

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for bodybuilders developing more muscle than someone who does calisthenics is that calisthenics will almost always have you hitting the wall quicker.

In bodybuilding terms, hitting the wall refers to a stage where your muscles have become extremely resistant to the weight load and intensity of your exercises. This inevitable process can cause a stunt in your muscle gains.

For those who do calisthenics, this will usually mean that they will not grow anymore as they typically can not overcome this wall when they provide little-to-no additional weight load/intensity. In conclusion, bodybuilding allows the process of muscle growth to continue for much longer than calisthenics may offer.


After a thorough read through this article, you should now possess a much deeper understanding of both bodybuilding and calisthenics in terms of muscle gain.

As we now know, calisthenics can indeed develop a great physique. Not only can this training method develop and maintain a great physique, but it can provide a very strong-strength foundation as some of the movements and static holds can be very tough to master.

However, since the main goal of calisthenics is not to grow, and the training methods that it accompanies do not accommodate the strongest foundation for consistent muscle gain, calisthenics can only get you so far…

To continuously and consistently grow your muscles, additional stimulus and/or intensity must be applied, just like it is with traditional bodybuilding methods.

This very difference is why, for muscle gain, bodybuilding is a far more effective way to train than calisthenics.