The Grind Style Calisthenics Workout for Total-Muscle Strength

bodyweight training calisthenics hypertrophy programming strength Feb 06, 2024


A Grind-Style Calisthenics workout routine uses each level in the muscle tension hierarchy.

Each level supports the others above it, and you program each workout in 4 phases to cover each level optimally.

Let's explore how these work.





You walk into the gym or a corner of your basement, and you're ready to get grinding. Maybe you’re feeling motivated, tired or distracted. Whatever the case, you never come to a workout routine as the same person twice. 

Just jumping into a workout would be ill-advised because your tension control could be anywhere when you're just getting started.

That's why the first phase of a GSC workout is to practice a few simple tension control exercises.

These drills wake up sleepy muscles, improve neuromuscular connectivity, and prepare both body and mind for the work to come. This phase also helps you identify positions where your tension control may be weak, so you can address your weaknesses before compromising your workout’s integrity.

Tension control exercises shouldn't feel like hard work.

They should employ only a little bit of resistance to your muscles. Keeping the resistance low will make it much easier to rewire your neuromuscular system, so your exercises are safer, more comfortable, and effective.





Once you've woken up your working muscles, it's time to use that tension control to create a safe and secure neurological environment.

Stability work uses a modest amount of resistance, so your nervous system starts to ramp up and get used to applying force through the muscles. This training will also improve your mobility and balance, releasing stress in your joints and areas where you feel stiff.

The primary form of stability training is what I call shift work. Shift work involves applying a moderate amount of resistance to the body as you shift and move your body around in various positions.

Doing this helps you address areas of weakness, poor tension control, and stiff muscles that need to loosen up. It's a very satisfying way to work out the kinks in your system, and you may find it’s more effective than stretching for loosening up tight joints.

Above all, control is the name of the game during this phase. Control your tension, control your body, and control your breathing. It's all going to come together in the next phase of your workout.





This phase is the meat and potatoes of your workout. This point is where you flood your muscle chain with a massive amount of tension to stimulate the progression of strength and hypertrophy.

Some people like to start a grind phase with 1-2 warm-up sets, but this is usually not necessary due to the warming up effects of the first two phases, but use a couple of light sets if you feel it will work best for you.

The grind phase can include anywhere from 2-6 sets or more, and most people find that three sets are perfect for their needs. Use as many sets as you see fit to work your muscles very hard, yet save a few reps in the tank on the first few sets.

Your objective with the strength phase is to work your muscles very hard toward the strength end of the repetition spectrum, so you’ll probably be working with no more than 8-10 reps at a time in most workouts.


High Neuromuscular Capacity, Low Technical Challenge


Veterans of progressive calisthenics will notice that there aren't many "skill" based exercises in this phase like handstands, muscle-ups, or archer pull-ups. The reason for this is because the grind phase exercises will be some of the easiest ways to challenge your muscular work capacity without much technical difficulty.


In an ideal world, you'll become a technical master, so advanced moves become less of a technical challenge and more of a muscular challenge. However, doing that can take a lot of practice, time, and sometimes money to hire a good coach.

That's why the primary grind phase exercises, and progressions, are designed to require as little technical proficiency as possible so you won't get too hung up on those technical challenges.

Besides, if there's one thing that can improve your ability to enhance your calisthenics skills, it's building brute strength.





I like to think of this as a "free play" phase, like when I used to take swimming lessons as a kid. Most of the class was structured around lessons, but the last 15 minutes of the class was a free time when we could mess around and run off the diving board or go down the water slide.

There are several options you have for this phase. One fun toy is to employ a "finisher," where you use a regressed technique from your grind phase, and you drive your muscles to a super high level of fatigue.

For example, you might finish your leg workout with a set of jump squats or lunges for distance to make your legs suffer. Alternatively, you might hold a plank for 30 seconds to make your abs beg for mercy.

Another option is to practice some exercises that focus tension in specific muscles, sort of like the isolation exercises bodybuilders use. Maybe you'll finish your pushing workout with a set of chest flies or hit your biceps with some concentration curls after your pulling workout.

Whatever you do, be sure this last phase is somewhat brief.

Remember that the grind phase should be where you invest most of your effort. You’ll probably also want to select a level of resistance that allows you to complete at least ten reps. This lower resistance will make it easier to push your muscles to a much higher fatigue level than the lower-rep strength phase.

This phase is also optional. If you're running short on time, energy or motivation, feel free to skip it.




So that is the basic structure of a GSC workout routine.

To recap: it's about practicing tension control, working on stability, doing a few hard grind sets, and then finishing off with some specialized work or exhaustive finishers.

It may sound like a lot, but it's not that much.

The first two sets only take a minute or two, and the grind phase usually takes about 10-15 minutes or so, depending on how much recovery you need between sets.

From there, it's more of a matter of how many exercises you choose to do in a workout. 

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