Weighted Calisthenics: The Best of Both Worlds

Weighted CalisthenicsSo you might be wondering why the F there’s only one post since December? Well, I’ve been really busy with my full-time job (yes, I have a full-time job) and with music (yes, I’m musician (and not to waste this awesome place without advertisement check my stuff out on SoundCloud)), and with my own training, so there was no time and energy for articles. But now I’m back and ready to kick some ass. So today’s topic is weighted calisthenics. I wrote an article on what is better: weights or calisthenics? You can check it out here. However, current topic is not about what is better. It’s about the ways to utilize external weights to make calisthenics more challenging and interesting, and how to make bodyweight strength progressions easier. Yep, that’s right.

How Did I Discover Weighted Calisthenics?

You might think: “Are you retarded or what? Every bonehead gym rat knows that you can add weight to bodyweight exercises to make them harder”. Well, I knew that too as well. And I knew that weighted vests are awesome training tools. The problem is that they cost a lot. If you can afford them – cool, buy one without even thinking, if you are into this calisthenics thing. But Rough Strength is all about training without any luxuries or, in other words, with as little investment in equipment as possible. So ordering a weighted vest from USA or Europe was a bad option for me. And by bad I mean expensive, of course.

Some time I thought about making one myself. I drew some sketches, calculated how much weight I can add, thought about what to take as additional weight (sand or what?) etc. Yet all this remained as a project. So I decided to keep it simple and train calisthenics strength exercises with bodyweight only (ta-da!).

Lately, I came back to idea of weighted calisthenics (because of lack of progress in some difficult exercises). But this time I discovered much easier way. The backpack. First thought was: “Fuck, it was so obvious”. But it’s always like that in life, you think hard on things to come up with some really simple idea. So here’s a photo of my little beast and his friends:

The Backpack and His Friends

The main problem was with what to put inside. Luckily, I have some generally useless objects that I can put in without any regret (look on photo above).

Of course, backpack is not the same as weighted vest. I probably can’t use it for handstand work and sequences of exercises involving upside down position of the body. But that’s, I guess, it. Everything else can be successfully done weighted. So the obvious question is how to use this little dude to get stronger?

Weighted Calisthenics in Practice

There are generally two ways of using external weight in calisthenics movements:

  • to make basic exercises harder
  • to make easier transitions from one progression step to another

How to Make Basic Exercises Harder

I think all of you know that you can stay with your favorite bodyweight exercises longer (after you mastered them) if you add weight to them. The brilliance of this method is that you don’t need to learn new movement patterns. If you mastered ring dips or ring chin-ups, then you can stay with them longer just by adding external weight. This will be good for building muscle. Why? Because resistance is progressive and pattern is the same. One of the reasons why barbell is better for building muscle is fact that the movement pattern stays the same. Besides, you don’t need to sacrifice exercises in which you feel your muscles the most (which is great for hypertrophy). Often you can find that when you progress from exercise to exercise you may start feeling different muscles more. The only way to prevent this is to stay with the same exercise, but to make it harder. That’s where weighted calisthenics can make big difference compared to pure bodyweight training. Here’s me cranking out some reps in towel chin-ups (awesome exercise for grip strength) with added 8 kg:

But if hypertrophy is not your concern, there’s no need to bother. Or is there?

How to Make Easier Transitions from One Progression Step to Another

My primary goal is always strength. If you’re trying to build strength with bodyweight exercises, you have definitely been in situation where you have already mastered the progression step, but still can’t move to the next one. That’s where weighted calisthenics are really handy. If you can’t progress from one step to the next, guess what, add weight and progress until you will be able to do this. This is relevant for static positions too. I often find that I progress good to 15 seconds hold. Progress further seems impossible. So why bother if I can just add weight, be in comfortable time range and progress. I believe progress is all that matters. So adding weight might be the cure you’re looking for. Here’s a video of me doing low ring assisted One-Arm Chin-Up with additional 3.5 kg:

Closing Thoughts

So it’s time for some conclusions and tips. Adding weight to bodyweight exercises is powerful weapon. Use it wisely. Don’t rush things. The fact that progressions can be easier doesn’t mean that you can add more weight than you can handle. Slow and steady progress will always be better than meaninglessly adding large amounts of weight. Show some discipline. As always thanks for reading. Share this as much as possible, spread the knowledge.

I would love to read your thoughts on weighted calisthenics in comments.

Play rough!


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34 thoughts on “Weighted Calisthenics: The Best of Both Worlds

  1. Marcus

    Great article Alex, and love the video with the one-arm chin-ups. I started using rings a while back but this got me really inspired to advance. Thanks and keep up the great work!

  2. Gabri

    Alex, this article comes in handy since i have been thinking lately about adding weight to those steps in exercise progression where i seem to stall.

    How do you progress from an inverted row to a arm row? I have been using a one hand two arms variation, but my grip fails before my back, and i don’t really feel it. Same thing with the chinup progression. (Step 7 in convict conditioning).

    Because of these variations, my elbow is really sore (i have to stop training for a few days to avoid tendonnitis), and i don’t work so much my arms and back.

    So i think i am going to change to assisted chinups/row. And if they are too hard for me, what variation would you use? Maybe pulling to one side?

    Thank you Alex!

    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Gabri, one-arm calisthenics are quite unpredictable from individual to individual. Some people can use progression steps you used and be fine. Others will stall with no success.

      As for The One-Arm Chin-Up, the closest I was so far to it is 2/3 positive with full negative. So I can’t say for sure. The only thing I know is that progression outlined in CC fails for me. I used several exercises to come to my current level. Side chin-ups on rings, low ring assisted chin-up, towel assisted chin-ups, rope assisted chin-ups, partials, negatives and several else. They are all useful but need proper timing.

      As for one-arm inverted row, I was able to do it the first time I tried it. I think, it’s all because of The One-Arm Chin-Up training.

      Lastly, if you feel soreness in elbow it’s a bad sign. It means that you are not ready for pure one-arm work yet. Scale down the intensity.

      Hope this helps.

      – Alex

      1. Gabri

        It helps a lot Alex!

        I’ll try others variations, to see which one fits me, and then i’ll add weight after mastering it to progress to the next one.

        As you said, it’s all about progressing!!

        Thank you!

  3. Hu

    Awesome article! I’m glad that you chose to share this. I had the same problem as you with spending so much on a weighted vest so I too bought a backpack and filled it with weights. If you don’t have weights books bottles filled with water/sand/ stones, etc will get the job done. Having little or no money is no excuse when it comes to training and I’m glad you are proving this to the world. Keep it coming!

  4. Connor

    Have you considered putting your legs through the arm holes? It might screw up your balance for hand balancing but should be okay against walls…

    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      I haven’t understood the question, Connor. What do you mean?

      – Alex

      UPD: Got it. Well, I haven’t really tried. And getting into handstand would be quite problematic. Not to mention “balls danger”. But might be worth a try.

  5. Zach Walker

    Hope you see this. First time on your site so I’m not sure if you heard of Stronglifts 5X5 routines but I’ve been considering applying this process to my calisthenics training. I’m just curious to get your take on it. This is the first site I’ve found that talked about weighted calisthenics the way I have been recently. Price wouldn’t be an issue, considering I would be buying $1000 in free weight equipment. I want to incorporate raw strength while still being able to climb ropes, cliffs, jump, and do anything that I can actually use my new found strength in the real world

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  16. Aaron

    It’s alway a pleasure to read your articles Alex. I enjoy bodyweight training and adding weight to chins helped me achieve a muscle up.

  17. Dave

    When I was in rock-climbing, we simply referred weighted calisthenics as hyper-gravity and would add 5-, 10-, 15- or 20-lbs to our waist via a belt to strengthen our grips and back muscles. Some of the hardcore would use a 90-lbs vest instead. We would wear them during push-ups and pull-ups.

    Here’s an article for reference: http://trainingforclimbing.com/new/hypergravity_training.shtml

    The belts were easy to make at home. Hardest part is finding rods of solid iron.

    1. Dave

      Speaking of which, I recommend combing through climbing literature to expand calisthenics knowledge. You might enjoy specialist DIY equipment such as softball grips and Bacharach ladder.

      To be honest, I was a bit disappointed the Progressive Calisthenics Community didn’t really have much new things to offer since rock-climbers incorporated much of it since the 1950s, but I do enjoy reading the progression in Convict Conditioning for people who are rehabilitating themselves from old injuries.

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  19. Douglas S

    Oh Yeah, weighted vest, weighted backpack. I call b.s. because the first picture (under the banner) obviously shows that you found something much superior to either of these ;) lol

  20. Dean

    I know this is older but great article. Weighted cals are underrated. Its either weights or skill progressions. Weighted calisthenics can be just as good as weights for hypertrophy and still help with your skill progressions. Not sure why people don’t do more. Anyway great article.


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