This one drives me crazy. Far too often I see this comment followed by the question — “why aren’t I getting stronger in my PT?” This question is about adding PT everyday into a workout program for hundreds of repetitions each day!
“Stew, I have been doing 500 pushups and situps along with 100+ pullups everyday for the past few months. I saw some great increases but now my increases have stopped and starting to turn into decreases on some days I test. What is going on? I thought it was OK to do calisthenics everyday?”
Every day — really? In a row? Is that what you are doing? Not upper body every OTHER day?
This is a great question because I get it all the time and I am tired of answering it to be honest.
Now you have inspired a full length article post to clear up what is happening to people who like inventing their own workouts without any regard to recovery or basic physiology for that matter. One thing you have to realize is that calisthenics is resistance training and these specific exercises work the same muscles as some of the most common weight machines / free weights do. Also, consider pullups and dips as the HEAVY weight version of calisthenics as you are placing ALL of your body weight onto these major muscle groups. Yes you actually can build muscle with calisthenics — and GAIN WEIGHT TOO! So — these exercises require rest for you to truly grow ESPECIALLY at the volume you are doing each day. At 500 / 500 / 100+ reps a day, you should only do that every other day MAX. In fact, I would only get that kind of volume once a week as you really are taxing your muscles / muscle endurance with this many reps. Here are my weekly recommendations:
1st Upper body Workout of the week: (Monday) — Sub max effort reps so DO NOT fail at any sets. If you think you are going to fail, stop 1–2 reps before that failure feeling. You can still do several sets and get a pretty high volume of reps, and failing each time is up to you as it is not necessary every set. I like a Super Set Circuit for this type of workout. For instance do several sets 10–15 sets of 5–10 pullups / dips and 10–20 pushups per set. Rest a minute with a water break / light stretch or active rest with a set of abs of your choice.
2nd Upper body Workout of the week: (Wed) — Pyramid Workout - This workout has a warmup, max out (1 set), and a cool down built in and works really well of building and maintaining a foundation of PT fitness for testing or training purposes. See the Pyramid Workout.
3rd Upper body Workout of the week: (Saturday) — Notice the two day recovery for this ONCE a week max failure set workout. Here is a tough workout that will help those stuck at 15+ pullups / 80+ pushups get into the 20+ / 100+ range in a two minute time period for PST, PAST, PFT purposes. Do a set number like 100 pullups, 200, pushups, 300 situps in a max rep set round robin circuit. Your goal is to get the 100,200.300 in as few sets as possible resting 1 min after each max rep set of pullups, pushups, situps (2 min max time on each). Your goal is to also fail at each set or make the time limit of 2 minutes.
So for more information about the three heavy weights of calisthenics (Pullups, Pushups, Dips) check out why it is important to learn about recovery as these exercises do work you harder than you think:
Pullups will work the grip, back, biceps just as pulldowns, bent over rows, and bicep curls will. Pullups are equivalent to nearly 100% of your body weight on your back / bicep muscles and all of your bodyweight on your grip muscles.
Dips are the same tough heavy weight exercise as pullups but focus the muscle groups of the chest, shoulders, and triceps at nearly 100% of your body weight. This is very similar to doing bodyweight bench press or even military press as far as muscle stresses. These exercises are considered the heavy lifting exercises of the calisthenics and require rest for recovery.
Pushups will actually only put about 40–50% of your body weight on your chest, shoulders, and triceps so it is less of a heavy weight exercise equivalent. BUT, it still requires the same amount of rest as you would need during a weight lifting day of bench press, military press, and other pushing exercises.
Hope this helps you create better workouts that will allow you to recover. Because if you do not recover from your workouts you will not grow or get stronger.
But here is the difference — these programs only last 10 days of daily pushups or pullups. Then you rest three days and you test on day 14. Your maxes usually increase by 50–100% depending on what you started with on day 1. I only recommend these two programs 1–2 times a year as people who have tried it back to back to back were disappointed with results of anytime longer than 10 days.