I am by no means a coach or trainer of any sort – just a normal guy who happens to be a health and fitness enthusiast. As someone who loves the idea of continuous improvement in all areas of life, my fitness motivation has always been rather simple. Keeping fit, healthy, and strong enables one to live a better life in many respects. Enhanced health and longevity, as well as an attractive body, are obvious physical outcomes. But the real value of fitness is that it makes you more smart, alert, confident, disciplined, and mentally strong. Combined, all these benefits improve your quality of life by leaps and bounds.
When I arrived in Singapore as an international student to pursue my Master’s degree, I had to find a way to keep fit. Previously, my fitness routine at the gym revolved around powerlifting and compound exercises. However, my busy schedule and inability to afford an expensive gym membership (in Singapore!) meant that I had to improvise.
Luckily for me, there was a calisthenics park right behind my student residence. This meant I didn’t have to worry about spending money on a gym membership and wasting time commuting to a gym. This was perfect. Needless to say, this park became my new gym in Singapore.
As someone who believes in functional and practical fitness rather than aesthetics-driven routines, calisthenics naturally appealed to me. While I thought I would use a bodyweight calisthenics routine only for maintenance, I eventually settled and came up with a workout with which I got ripped and achieved six-pack abs – something I never expected from myself.
I am confident that the quick results I got can be achieved by anyone who strictly follows this simple routine. After seeing my results, many friends and acquaintances started asking me about my routine, so I decided to share my program with everyone. I’d like to call it the “Built By Bars” Calisthenics Park Workout.
The Built By Bars calisthenics park program targets the entire body using bodyweight compound exercises spread across three different workouts.
- Pull day – a focus on pull-ups
- Push day – a focus on dips
- Leg day – a focus on bodyweight squats
Simply perform the workouts in order and then repeat the cycle. This means that each workout is performed twice a week. You need to discipline yourself because you will be working out 6 times a week, with the 7th day being for rest or active recovery. For these workouts, you won’t need more than an hour each day.
Here’s a sample schedule:
|Sunday||Rest or Active recovery|
Since there is no heavy lifting involved, you won’t overtrain yourself working out every day. There is a gap of three days before you perform the same workout again which allows the targeted muscle groups to recover.
Within each workout, there are core workouts infused so as to make it faster to achieve those six-pack abs.
For the 7th day, while optional, I highly recommend doing some sort of cardiovascular exercise for active recovery. Running, walking, swimming, cycling, or playing a sport – just pick what you enjoy most. This will keep your metabolism high and would help you get faster results.
A key strength of this program is its simplicity. You don’t need a complicated, fancy workout to get in shape. I can’t stress this enough.
Before getting into each workout session, don’t forget to do some basic stretches to warm up. Since most of the exercises will require your shoulders to be actively involved, I recommend doing shoulder dislocates using resistance bands or any stick to keep your shoulders healthy and free from injuries. Shoulder dislocates are my go-to stretching exercise for warm-ups.
In this workout, the focus will be on pull-ups to engage the back, biceps, and core muscles. Here’s the target workout session:
The goal is to eventually perform 100 pull-ups (i.e. 5 x 20), 100 hanging leg raises (i.e. 5 x 20), and one to-failure set of planks in a single workout. Note that the 5 rounds require you to do pull ups and hanging leg raises in an alternate, superset manner. So while waiting for your next pull up set, you insert a set of hanging leg raises.
You may also alternate pull ups and chin ups, doing 3 rounds with pull ups and 2 rounds with chin ups, for example. Rest around 3 minutes between rounds. This style of training in my experience is more efficient.
Once you reach this level for pull ups, it would be a game-changer for your upper body physique, endurance, size, and strength. Pull-ups are hard, but they are also the best exercise you can do to get that V-shaped upper body.
For pull-ups and hanging leg raises, start at your current level, and increase by 1 repetition every session until you hit 20 reps per set. For planks, increase by 10 seconds every session, indefinitely. It is key to keep the increments small so you don’t stall in the long run. That said, try your best to achieve the target increments every session.
Obviously, you won’t be able to do 5 rounds of 20 pull-ups and 20 hanging leg raises while starting out. Most beginners start at around 5 pull-ups. Do the number of reps that allows you to do 5 rounds. Following the 1-rep increment every session, you can expect to hit 20 reps in a single set of pull-ups after around 3 months of consistent effort.
The Next Level
Pull-ups are capped at 20 reps because beyond this point, you’re training more of endurance than strength and power. Once I reached this level, here’s how I took things to the next level:
- Instead of regular pull-ups, you can move on to performing high pull-ups. Pulling to your waist requires more strength and explosive power. The next goal can be to do 5 sets of 20 high pull-ups. After this, you can even start incorporating muscle-ups.
- If possible, invest in a weighted vest to make the pull-ups heavier. Adding around 5 to 20kg of weight to your body would make the workout much harder. Use the same workout and work your way up to 5 sets of 20 pull-ups, this time with added weight on your body. At this point, you’ll be getting into the advanced to elite strength level as far as pull-ups are concerned.
Below is my attempt at 25 strict pull ups in a single set. I recorded this video once I could manage 5 sets of 20 reps in a single workout.
Once you can do around 20-25 clean pull ups in a single set, you are all set to begin learning muscle ups. The muscle up is an entirely different ballgame altogether and requires more technique and practice than it does strength, so be careful not to be reckless with the move.
Muscle ups are not technically part of this program so they are optional. You will get the same results without training muscle ups. However, muscle ups offer a few benefits:
- They require more pulling strength and explosiveness compared to pull ups.
- They are high-intensity as they work the entire upper body in one move. As such, it’s best to do them at the start of your workout.
- They work your shoulders better than push ups and dips.
- They look cool and badass.
Here’s a recorded attempt of me doing 10 muscle ups.
On the push day, the focus is on doing push ups and parallel bar dips to target the chest, shoulder, triceps, and core muscles.
To start this workout, you will do one set of chest-to-floor push-ups until failure in order to warm up for the 3 rounds of dips and bar crunches to follow. Do not worry about the numbers initially, just make sure your form is spot on and your chest hits the floor every single rep. Increase one rep every session for push-ups.
Parallel bar dips are central to the push day as they stretch your pushing muscles much better than push-ups. For both dips and hanging bar crunches, start at your current level until you progress to being able to do 3 sets of 40 dips and 3 sets of 25 bar crunches, in an alternating manner. Rest around 3 minutes between rounds. For the dips, increase 1 rep every push day workout. As an example, if your current ability is 3 sets x 10 reps, it will take you around 3-4 months to hit the 3 x 40 milestone for dips.
To finish out the workout, perform a to-failure set of decline push ups. The total number of repetitions in this workout may seem a lot, but this high level of intensity is exactly what is required for building strength and muscle size through calisthenics.
The Next Level
Once you reach the target number of reps (i.e. 3 sets of 40 dips) in this workout, it’s time to take things to the next level by adding weight to your body. Mindlessly increasing the number of repetitions beyond this point would be detrimental and won’t do much for you as the focus would shift to endurance instead of strength.
You can add weight by using a weighted vest, suspending a dumbbell on your body, or even wearing a backpack with heavy stuff inside it (at the expense of people laughing at you, of course). Personally, I recommend the weighted vest alternative.
The same programming applies once you start adding weight. Work your way up to 3 sets of 40 reps using a certain amount of added weight and then keep increasing the weight from there. If you can do 3 sets of 40 dips with 10kg added weight, you’ll have reached an advanced level of relative body strength.
If adding weight is not an option, you can opt to slow down the repetitions to increase the time under tension. This way, your muscles would have to work harder despite doing the same number of repetitions. Alternatively, consider adding in these push up variations that focus on strength rather than endurance.
Below is a video of me doing 40 parallel bar dips with 10kg of added weight in a single set. At this point, I could do around 50 reps of bodyweight dips and around 45 reps of chest-to-floor push-ups in a single set.
While the previous two workouts focus on the upper body, the leg day is for your lower body. This workout is pretty simple as it just requires you to do 5 rounds of bodyweight squats and sprints. Sprints will not only fire up your leg muscles, but they also serve as a metabolism-boosting cardiovascular exercise.
The same principles from the Push day and Pull day also apply here. Start with your current level of repetitions and work your way up until you can eventually do sets of 40 repetitions.
For sprints, you can train based on the distance covered within 1 minute. In each of the five 1-minute sprint sets, try and aim for the same distance each workout. Increase this distance every session or every week. Compared to regular jogging or running, sprints are superior because they are higher in intensity which helps boost metabolism and burn more fat. Sprints are also more time-efficient – burning more calories per each second of effort.
The Next Level
Once you can comfortably do 5 sets of 40 reps on bodyweight squats, consider wearing a weighted vest to make things harder. If this is not possible, you can modify your squats by pausing at the bottom or performing slower reps in order to increase the muscle tension without increasing the repetitions. Another option is performing jump squats as they require more strength and explosive power.
For sprints, you can keep increasing the distance indefinitely. However, if you happen to run out of space or runway, it may be better to train based on time. For example, instead of doing 1-minute sprints, you can limit the distance to 50 meters per set and try to shorten the time traveled to hit that distance.
The photo above was shot after around 6 months of regular effort into the program. Admittedly, I wasn’t 100% diligent because of my other commitments, but I was consistent for the most part.
What you can expect from this program is to get lean and strong. This is not a bodybuilding program and you won’t build significant “balloon-like” size. But you will build strength-dense muscles that are actually useful outside the gym.
Before the program, I weighed around 64kg with 22% body fat (height: 168cm, body type: ectomorph). After 6 months into the program, I weighed 62kg with 12% body fat. While I lost weight (fat) overall, I gained a good amount of muscle mass for a calisthenics-based routine.
Individual results would vary based on factors such as age, activity levels, current body fat percentage, technique, nutrition, sleep, experience, consistency, etc. Regardless of these factors, you will improve for sure provided you simply follow the program diligently.
Accessories are extremely helpful in making your workouts more efficient and effective especially when you get more advanced. Here are five that I recommend.
One caveat of Calisthenics is that you only have your body weight to work with. By investing in a weighted vest, you can add around 5-20kg of weight to yourself. This makes all the exercises exponentially harder.
Resistance bands are extremely versatile and they can be used to perform just about any stretch or exercise. Your imagination is literally the limit here.
For instance, if you can only do under 5 pull ups, you can use resistance bands to assist you until you get stronger. Personally, I used resistance bands to learn muscle ups when I wasn’t as strong yet. Resistance bands can also be used to perform stretches such as shoulder dislocates.
If you have sweaty hands or weak grip strength, lifting chalk or any type of grip powder is a must. The last thing you want is not getting the most out of your push and pull workouts just because your hands become the weak link in the chain.
Lifting gloves offer a less messy and more convenient solution compared to lifting chalk.
Wrist Wraps for Support
Unless you have wrists of steel, high volume pull ups and muscle ups may pose a risk of wrist injury. As such, I highly recommend investing in wrist support or wrist wraps, especially once you begin learning muscle ups. Trust me, injuries are not worth anyone’s precious time.
Nutrition – What To Eat
I honestly think I couldn’t have achieved the results I got without my strict nutrition strategy. While I did not count my calories or macros, I simply focused on eating clean. The basic idea is to eat a diet that is high in protein, fiber, and greens; but low in carbs. In general, try to avoid salty and oily foods as well.
I almost completely eliminated refined carbs from my diet. That means no white rice, noodles, white bread, and pasta. I consumed more healthy and complex carbs such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and wheat bread, but those too in limited amounts. Also, I ate mostly lean meat sources such as chicken, fish, and seafood and refrained from eating pork or beef.
For best results, I recommend that you meal prep instead of eating out. This allows you to plan ahead and eat healthier overall. When you cook by yourself, you can also ensure that unhealthy ingredients don’t slide into your meals.
Here’s what my typical meal plan looks like:
To boost my metabolism and recovery, I would usually drink either a cup of green tea or fresh lemon juice every morning. I feel this helped speed up my fat loss. Drinking lots of water also helps cut down salt retention in your body which makes you appear leaner.
For snacks, I would occasionally consume almonds, cashews, pistachios, peanuts, or peanut butter. For pre-workout energy, I like to eat fruits such as apple, banana, orange, kiwi, or watermelon. I also stayed away from junk food and fast food.
You can choose to take whey protein, but I don’t think it’s necessary if you’re already getting around 100g of protein naturally through your meals and snacks.
General Tips and Considerations
- Never sacrifice form for more reps. For pull ups, make sure you pull your chin over the bar and return to a dead hang on each rep, without swinging or kipping. For push ups, the chest should hit the floor on every rep. For dips, get your upper arms parallel to the ground before pushing back up.
- For pull ups, it is key to pull in an explosive manner. A good cue is to visualize bringing your elbows down as you pull. This engages the back more instead of the arms. For dips, look forward and maintain a steady head position to avoid strain.
- This program depends on progressive overload by increasing the reps over time. Push yourself to improve and have fun seeing the numbers go up. Your physique will automatically follow. Remember that small increments compound in the long run.
- If possible, get a friend or workout buddy to tag along with you so you can motivate each other.
- Get enough sleep – at least 8 hours – each day for optimal recovery.
- Maintain healthy activity levels outside the workout. I recommend walking around 6000 to 10000 steps each day.
- Just stick to the program and follow it diligently. The results will come. It’s simple, but it’s not as easy as it seems. Most importantly, it just works.
Learn From The Best
If you want to learn more about the science and technique behind each of the calisthenics exercises in detail, I’ve listed below some of my favorite Youtube Channels that offer the best training advice. Whenever I had questions or stalled in certain areas, the expert advice from these Youtubers helped me a lot.
- Calisthenics movement
- School of Calisthenics
- Chris Heria
- Max True
- Official BarStarzz
- Austin Dunham
- Calisthenics King
All the Best
I sincerely hope this program helps you achieve your relative strength and physique goals as it did for me. If you have any questions or comments regarding the program, feel free to shoot me a personal email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will surely reply. I would love to give you the ability to comment below but decided not to because of the high number of spam comments coming in.