Building Muscle with Calisthenics

Developers can build muscle too.

January 17, 2020

Just before the start of the new year, I started a calisthenics routine to start building muscle (mostly in my upper-body).

I grew up as a soccer player, and ran track as well. I never played a sport that demanded strength in my arms, and as a developer-by-trade neither did my work.

I’ve always had strong, muscular legs, but my upper body is a different story. Thin arms, bony chest, no lats to fill out my back.

I definitely look a bit odd - as my legs are far different than my upper-body.

So, in 2020 (and beyond) I vowed to change that by progressing my way to building strength in my upper-body.

I spent a few months researching different programs, products, and resources.

I wanted something I could do at home, on my own time, with as little commitment level as possible. With a small barrier to entry, I knew that I would be able to build up the routine and end up building a strong habit.

Ultimately, I ended up on full-body calisthenics workouts.

Calisthenics is a form of exercise that uses your own bodyweight as resistance. Because of this, there’s no gym needed. That’s what I wanted.

There are a few products you can buy that will assist you in different workouts, and I’ll go over what I purchased to be able to complete the exercises that ended up being part of my routine.

Researching Workout Plans

I’ll cut straight to the chase. I ended up following this plan exactly:

I had found several other videos and documents that contained exercise routines, but this video specifically addressed my core weakness (which was, my upper-body).

Most of the other content assumed you had some level of strength, and could perform certain exercises (and that it was just a matter of doing reps of those exercises).

I, however, couldn’t do hardly any of the exercises in their traditional form (pull-ups, dips, [more than a few] push-ups, etc.).

The above video did what no other content did. It gave progressions to get to the traditional exercise.

So, instead of just prescribing 4 sets of 10 pull-ups it showed you that you can do the following progression: Leg assisted pull-ups → Let-downs → Pull-ups → Pull-ups with additional weight.

This progression of difficulty is laid out for all of the 7 major calisthenic exercise target muscle groups.

The video also shows how to adjust reps and sets based on the difficulty, and how to understand when you’r ready to progress to the next stage of an exercise.

It even goes into some of the nutritional elements of building muscle.

Rather than lay it all out in this post, I’ll just let you watch the video. It’s a great resource.

I have ended up doing 4 workouts a week (MTThF) with 4 sets of ~10 reps of each of the exercises listed in the full-body-A and full-body-B workouts (talked about in the video).

My Setup

In the video, there are a few exercises that needed some additional hardware - whether it was parallettes, rings, or a weight bar, I didn’t have any of them.

So, rather than wait for hardware, I got started. I think this was a great decision, because I did 4 exercises and realized exactly what I could and couldn’t do at home.

The exercises that were very hard without specific hardware were inverted rows, pull-ups, dips, and knee-ups.

So, for the first four exercises I skipped those workouts entirely. I decided to get some hardware that would address those exercises so I could get a complete workout in.

After some digging (mostly on Amazon), I stumbled upon this. A “portable power tower” home gym dip/pull-up station.

Unlike most of the other products on Amazon, this one completely disassembled so it could be put out of sight. I would be doing my exercises in the living room, so being able to put it away was a must.

This portable home gym allowed me to be able to address all of the exercises that I couldn’t do without it. It’s been really useful, and I highly recommend it!

Here’s a picture of it in my dining room:

Portable Home Gym

It’s a bit heavy - at roughly 40 pounds. But it’s very portable, very versatile, and allowed me to do complete workouts very easily.

It even comes with a manual on how to do specific workouts with this product, so you’re not left guessing the best way to do it.

What I like about it is that it can be flipped, rotated, and laid down to do any and every exercise you could think of.

Also, being able to set it up before a workout and break it down allows me to do exercises at home.

That’s really it for my setup. I don’t have any additional insight on other hardware, as this is the only one I purchased. I really like it, and it addressed my issues, so I recommend it.

4 Weeks In

The reason I am writing this post is because I have been able to stick to the calisthenics program for 4 weeks. After another 4 weeks or so, I will have made it into a consistent habit and it will be harder to just stop.

I’m also writing this post because there are a lot of other programs I have not stuck to, and had a hard time implementing.

This time, things are different, and I feel good about it.

Part of the reason this is easier to do (now, than in the past) is because I quit my full-time job in November 2019 to work full-time on my SaaS app.

That has given me the time and flexibility I needed to workout when I could, rather than be forced to work out at the same time everyday.

Between kids, obligations, and other things that change often, it’s hard to keep a consistent routine and not fall-behind in other things in your life.

After 4 weeks of doing the full-body workouts, I have been able to jump to the next progression in a few of the categories.

My initial goal for this program is to be able to do 10 unassisted pull-ups. That’s quite the task, as right now I can’t do a single one.

My ultimate goal is to balance out my body, by filling out my chest, arms, shoulders and lats.

I’m confident that if I stick to the program I will be able to accomplish it. The exercises are targeting the correct muscle groups to be able to build muscle in my upper-body.

My plan is to stick to these workouts for 6 months before exploring some other programs and options that will expand the routine and target specific muscle groups I want to grow.

Around that time as well I will research nutritional changes to increase muscle mass (power-lifting style).


Calisthenics is a great way to start exercising in a low-commitment, accessible way without needing to go to the gym and buy an exorbitant amount of equipment.

The video I have embedded in the post has all of the information you need to get started and start building muscle using calisthenics.

The equipment I mentioned in the post addressed all of the exercises I couldn’t do without equipment.

As with any exercise, you need to have a long-term approach. Things don’t happen over night, and you need to stick to them for months and years to see the results.

Hopefully this helps you!