Grind style calisthenics (GSC) is bodyweight training with an emphasis on building strength and muscle. It’s essentially the calisthenics variation of bodybuilding or powerlifting.
This is in contrast to endurance or met-con style calisthenics which uses fast circuit style workouts for conditioning. It’s also different from the sport of calisthenics which uses explosive techniques for power and athleticism. All that is great, but grind style bodyweight training is all about the following approaches.
#1 Basic compound exercises and consistent application of muscle tension
The goal of GSC is to place a lot of tension within a given muscle chain and maintaining that tension consistently throughout a work set. This means a heavy emphasis on basic compound exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, leg raises, and squats.
It’s not just the exercises themselves but how they are performed. GSC is all about “cooking” the muscle by applying tension evenly throughout each rep. Momentum and relaxation are the enemies as you maintain tension within a muscle from the first rep to the last.
#2 Programming that’s similar to bodybuilding and powerlifting
Using consistent tension throughout a set also means you use workout methods that are similar to bodybuilding or powerlifting. This includes working a single exercise for reps rather than doing things like burpee push-ups where you alternate between different movements in a given set.
GSC also uses periodization and workout templates in a similar way to the classic lifting strategy. You can have workout blocks emphasizing strength, hypertrophy, and endurance or power. You can also do whole-body workouts 2-3 times a week or split routines like an ABA, BAB style, or push-pull-squat approach.
#3 Progressive tension control
Grind style calisthenics is all about getting tension into the muscle. All things like technique, weight, and a routine is an influence to serve the progressive creation and control of muscle tension.
This means improving tension control is a very high priority. After all, you can only work a muscle to the degree with which you can engage it. This is why GSC places a lot of importance on daily tension control exercises like reaching overhead or deep squatting. The purpose of these daily movements isn’t to necessarily work the muscles, but to practice use them while improving stability and mobility. This allows you to place significantly more tension in the muscles during your workouts and work them to a much higher intensity.
#4 Weight or technique goals are secondary
Tension control is the number one priority which means other common goals are now secondary. These goals may include lifting a given weight, advancing to a fancy technique or doing a given number of reps. If anything, the grind style practitioner will avoid adding extra weight or advancing to a progressive technique as long as possible. They are in no rush to perform a one arm push-up or do 30 pull-ups.
This is due to the fact that chasing after such goals often mean looking for ways to use tension in an efficient way to make the exercise as easy as possible. It’s an excellent approach when your goal is to do a one arm push-up or dip 100 pounds, but it’s the opposite of what you want when your goal is to create or control muscle tension.
This doesn’t mean the GSC practitioner doesn’t do one arm pull-ups or weighted dips, they very often do. The difference is they are not pursuing the weight or the advanced technique and they use those approaches as the last resort. They are more than happy to use a lighter weight or an easier technique and “milk” them for all they are worth with the hardest technical adjustments like weight shifting or range of motion.
Check out the podcast below for more on grind-style calisthenics and check out the R.D.P YouTube channel for more training tips and ideas.