Some Thoughts on High Frequency Calisthenics

For the last 10 weeks or so, I’ve been training exclusively at a local park. My workouts have consisted of 3 hard sets of each of the following: a pull up or chin up, a pushup variation or (infrequently) dips, and bodyweight squat or lunge variations. I have an adjustable (16kg - 24 kg) kettlebell and some bands, so I would occasionally do some curls, pressdowns, or swings in addition to this “base” workout, either immediately afterwards or in a separate mini-session later in the day.

On the bodyweight exercises, I really worked on “mastering” the movements and went slow, included pauses, and focused on maximizing tension on the target muscles rather than getting as many reps as possible or turning the whole thing into a conditioning workout. Sometimes I’d do supersets, occasionally a circuit, but usually just straight sets. Every once in a while I’d do a pyramid or ladder type of workout instead of the three hard sets. Either way, I’d do this 5-7 times per week, just doing whatever variation of the exercises I felt like that day.


  • I look pretty much the same as I did when I was doing 4 bodybuilding-style workouts and 2 cardio workouts each week. Maybe a bit better. My total training time is roughly 60% of what it has been in the past.
  • My back and chest grew, my triceps and quads stayed the same, and my biceps and glutes shrank a bit.
  • My joints feel better in general, but I picked up some mild medial epicondylitis on the right side. This hit a peak at about 3 weeks in and has slowly gotten better since then.
  • My shoulder mobility has improved a lot, as measured by passive internal/external rotation and flexion, as well as my ability to do a set of dips without feeling like my left clavicle is being ripped off.
  • I got a lot better at bodyweight exercises. Go figure.
  • Doing a set of 100 slow, controlled bodyweight squats is a humbling experience.
  • I bet being more consistent with my “assistance” work would have attenuated the shrinking of my biceps and glutes.
  • This is probably a better “beginner program” than most of the ones that people get recommended.
  • During a week-long vacation, I was able to find a ledge that I could do pull ups on, so I just woke up a bit early and banged out my “base” workout in about 20 minutes most days. This worked better than my usual vacation behavior of either skipping training or taking a larger chunk out of my day to find a local gym and get a traditional workout in.

Overall, I think this is an effective and surprisingly fun way to train, at least for a while. I’m 34 and have been training since I was 17, and I haven’t done anything like this since I was in high school. Turns out, it still works. I do imagine I’ll add weights back in at some point, because I like being in the weight room. But maybe I’ll keep doing most of my assistance work in the form of basic calisthenics, or I’ll go back to a more traditional split but keep some calisthenics in as “daily work” that I do on top of my workouts.

Anyway… that’s it I guess. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.


High rep bodyweight training is exciting, dynamic and creative. It’s also extremely brutal once you start hitting the high numbers

Welcome to Rep city my man

I miss the barbell, but this has been a fun experiment. I have a long history of including basic calisthenics in my training, so the fact that they “work” was not surprising to me. It was more the high frequency (total body up to 7x per week) that I was unsure about.