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The Best Calisthenics Training Split

How many times a week should we train, how long should each session be, what exactly should we do per session, can we focus on multiple goals at the same time, which goals should I prioritize, how long should an isometric hold be to trigger hypertrophy… The list of questions is endless. 

Home | Knowledgebase | CALISTHENICS

The Best Calisthenics
Training Split

How many times a week should we train, how long should each session be, what exactly should we do per session, can we focus on multiple goals at the same time, which goals should I prioritize, how long should an isometric hold be to trigger hypertrophy… The list of questions is endless. 

This past year teaching workshops, seminars and retreat I’ve started making the events longer in order to have more time for questions. Especially when it comes to calisthenics programming the misconceptions that I am seeing in countless athletes are quite big. Whilst many have the same questions almost everyone overcomplicates the answers drastically.

Understanding the fundamentals of calisthenics program creation or more specifically how to split up and divide workouts for faster gains, less plateaus and ultimately simply more fun is absolutely key!

At the end of this article you will have developed an understanding of why it is important to split your goals over multiple workouts throughout the week, how you should structure workouts and cycles, where most programs go wrong and where you can gain an advantage over other athletes. If you pay attention and retain the most essential details you’ll be able to answer most of your questions yourself by combining the pieces and drawing your own conclusions.

Rules of
muscle building

Building muscle and getting stronger is surprisingly simple. The catalyst of the building cycle is training. Filled up with nutrients we work hard at the gym to create a stimulus. We then go home, rest, sleep and recover. Muscle is being built. 

Very generally speaking the more you will train the more muscle you will build as long as you are getting adequate protein and recovery. For most athletes a muscle needs about 48h-72h to recover between workouts. Depending on how much experience with training you have, muscle growth will come faster or slower.

Calisthenics at the end of the day is strength training. Instead of weights we use our own body paired with progressions.

Your planche push up is your bench, your handstand push up is your overhead press and your front lever row is your cable row.

Just like with weight training the same thing is true with calisthenics: the more we practice a progression, the better we will get at it assuming the body gets adequate time to recover and nutrients. 

One key difference is that calisthenics skills are more technical than weighted training. Not every session has to be extremely hard, leaving you sore and exhausted. Yes, you need this to build muscle but there is a lot to gain with lower intensity, higher volume training where you work on technique, muscle memory and general efficiency of the body in the trained movements.

What is a training split
why do we need it?

Our goal is to make training efficient, to feel good, to get stronger and to recover faster. Understanding how much and how hard to train for muscle growth is going to be the first key in figuring out how we should be training.

Hard Working Sets

When talking in gym lingo and muscle building you will often hear people talk about hard working sets. A hard working set can have 4 reps, 12 reps or even 20 reps. What is important is that it is hard, meaning you only have very few reps left in the tank at the end of each hard working set. If you for example perform a set of chin ups, you do 5 reps knowing you can do 6 or 7 but not 14 this would be a hard working set. If you would do band assisted chin ups and you stop after 15 knowing you can do probably 17 this would also be a hard working set but if you stopped after than with the band you would not consider this a hard working set since you had 7 reps left in the tank. 

How many sets per week

If you simply want to hold the muscle that you currently have because you are focusing on other disciplines or maybe you are on a vacation the research suggests that 3 weekly hard working sets per muscle group are already enough. Meaning 3 sets of bench or push ups excluding the warm up sets will be enough to maintain your current muscle mass assuming these 3 sets are close to failure.

If you go to the gym and actually want to get stronger you will need at least about 7 hard working sets per body part per week. 

Finally, if you want to maximize growth and get bigger and stronger as fast as possible you will need 10-12 hard working sets per body part per week. More than this might not add more benefits to your growth or could potentially even stop you from getting even bigger.

12 hard sets per workout?

The lower the rep count, the higher the intensity of your set and the longer you have to rest in between sets. Hitting the suggested weekly set volume can become more difficult if all sets are performed at a very high intensity. Training will take a very long time leaving you physically and mentally drained.

7 hard working sets in 1 session are quite possible. Performing 10-12 is rather unlikely especially as after 4-6 sets this body part is tired and you will not be able to push as hard anymore making the sets less efficient.

Dividing your session
with training splits

Now the problem is that we can not perform this many hard sets in 1 training session. The solution is quite simple: We take the workouts and divide them over multiple days.

If you want to maximize strength gains and you can only workout 2x per week you can simply do 5-6 sets per workout. If you are able to hit the gym 3 times per week you can even get away with doing only 3-4 sets per workout.

Higher Frequency = increased growth opportunities

This comes with more advantages. If you train each muscle part or in our case each skill direction only 1 time per week you will only practice this skill 52 times per year. If on the other hand you train the same muscle group or skill direction multiple times per week you can train the skill 104 or even 156 times per year.

This increased frequency allows you to grow and improve faster. After all, your body recovers 2-3 days after the workout. Why deprive yourself from the opportunity to grow again before the week is over?!

But Gymnasts Train skills every day

A good argument point here is that gymnasts do indeed train skills every day and often the same skill every day of the week. It is important here to remember that gymnasts are professional athletes focusing on combining mainly acrobatic skills with some strength work. Most of the training of the gymnast is of course of physical nature but at the same time most of it is technical refinement. In the case of calisthenics everything is strength based and you have to allow your body adequate time to recover.

Training Splits

The way you structure and organize your workouts throughout the week is called a training split. Splits depend on your goal, complexity of your programming, amounts of weekly workouts and your experience with training.

Full Body Split

In a full body split you go to the gym 2 or 3 times per week performing exercises for each muscle part. This creates a well balanced routine and to get a high frequency of training allowing for lots of practice with skills. 

A problem that most beginner athletes face is that in order to do lots of calisthenics exercises the athlete needs to be somewhat advanced. Most beginner athletes are not able to fill an entire shoulder workout utilizing exclusively calisthenics exercises. The full body split fixes this problem. This in combination with the full day off between each workout truly makes this split the ultimate beginner solution. 

The split also leaves room for changes in the weekly schedule. You could plan on working our Mon, Wed & Thu taking 2 days off on the weekend. If something comes up Wed you can simply shift your workouts to Thu & Sat without messing with the overarching structure too much.

A downside of the full body split is that workouts can get somewhat repetitive considering you are doing the same workout 3 times per week. Depending on what kind of athlete you are you might love or you might also absolutely hate this!

If you are new to training or if strength gaining is your only goal and you have little time available then this split is great for you.

If you are a more advanced athlete looking to increase skill and strength at the same time than on of the following splits will be more appropriate as you simply can not clover everything in 1 single workout.


In the upper/lower split we separate exercises targeting the upper body from lower body exercises. Since most calisthenics athletes are not as interested in training legs for a variety of reasons that I do not support, this split is less popular. 

Generally we don’t do an equal amount of weekly workouts for upper and lower per week. Most athletes chose to do 2 upper and 1 lower body workouts or possible 3 upper and 2 lower body workouts. Theoretically one can also do 2 or 3 of each but multiple hard leg workouts per week will require lots of recovery and will take a toll on your overall training capacity as you will be tired and sore.

Most calisthenics skills are upper body focused meaning your upper body days will be very full feeling like full body workouts and even when using weights for leg training it might become challenging to fill an entire session just training legs.  

If you are quite new to training, went through 3-6 month of full body training and realize that the full body workout is not leaving enough space, time or energy to focus on skill specific goals then this split can be exactly what you are looking for. By moving leg training into a separate session your “main workout” won’t change much but you will free up time to focus on these new skills and to continue growing until you are again ready to take the next leap.

Push/Pull (Legs)

The most popular and in my regard the most efficient split for training calisthenics. You take your full body workout and divide it in 2 separate sessions. One workout made up of all your pushing exercises and the other for the pulling work. You can either train legs on each of those days (Squats for push & Deadlifts for pull for example) or in a separate workout. 

The big advantage of this plan is that you can theoretically train up to 6 days per week practicing skills at a high frequency as half of your body recovers as the other trains. 

The problem is that in a real life scenario half of the body does not exactly rest when the other half works. For example if you train front levers on your pull day you will be using your triceps, a muscle primarily used for pushing exercises, and when training planches on your push day your biceps, a muscle primarily used for pulling, will still be engaged. These are details that most are happy to look past on the search of the ultimate training split considering all calisthenics exercises are heavy compound moves.

Another problem with the push pull split is that it can be hard to justify when to train muscle ups and human flags as both combine pushing and pulling muscles. 

Lastly, this split is not exactly beginner friendly as it might be hard to fill an entire workout exclusively utilizing pushing exercises.

If you have at least 6 months of calisthenics experience and you are looking to build skill and strength alike then the Push Pull Workout Split is ideal for you. Train 4 times per week to assure a high enough training frequency whilst leaving lots of room for recovery and flexibility for last minute schedule adjustments. 

Bent Arm – Straight Arm

The Bent Arm Straight Arm split has been invented and popularized by calisthenic athletes with the idea of splitting workouts based on elbow position. If the elbow remains locked during a skill like for example in the iron cross, human flag or front lever the skill is trained on a straight arm day. If the elbow joint bends on the other hand like in the muscle up or front lever row the skill is trained on straight arm day. Both days train all directions of pressure essentially turning every workout in this split into a full body session. Legs can be trained on a separate day or sprinkled into the routine wherever convenient. 

This split is especially great for professional athletes who train maltese or the iron cross. These straight arm skills take quite a toll on tendons. With this split an athlete could give his shoulders and elbows an entire week’s worth of rest whilst still getting frequency through the bent arm workouts. 

But this split is not only exclusively for pro athletes. Anyone with some calisthenics experience can take advantage of this split. The idea of training straight arm at the beginning of the week to max out with skills & 2 bent arm sessions for strength training during the rest of the week to build strength is a great approach. If you have been preparing for the muscle up with a push/pull split this bent arm day could be exactly what you were looking for to finally nail your first muscle up!

The real drawback of a strict bent arm straight arm skill is that essentially you cannot work out more than 3 times per week without breaking the traditional rules of muscle recovery as everything is a full body workout. Most beginners will also find it close to impossible to fill an entire session exclusively with straight arm skills. 

If you are working on very advanced skills, you are trying to justify your muscle up work or simply because you want to shake things up for 4-6 months to bust through plateaus then this split is exactly right for you! In all other cases I recommend the Push Pull split.

Split Ideas

Training splits are a great way to get organized, to ensure adequate recovery and to make the most out of every single session. The above presented splits are simple enough and ready to be applied to any athlete. By now you should know exactly how you can structure your workouts and you should be eager to hit the gym! If your only focus is strength training the full body or push pull split will work for you for many years to come.

Adding other disciplines into the mix

If you are an athlete of any kind other than calisthenics and want to use calisthenics styled training and bodyweight exercises to build strength then you have 2 main interests. 1 being that you want to get stronger and the second being that you do not want to limit yourself when training for your main sport. 

As long as you work hard enough you will get stronger no matter what. There is nothing to worry about here. Not being tired or sore for your actual workouts is the real issue. You will have to do full body workouts. Ideally almost every day of the week with only very little, high intensity sets per muscle group. Since you only do little amounts of sets you will not get sore from the training and working low rep sets will allow you to recover faster. Any of the other splits will leave you tired and have a negative impact on your main discipline.

Adjusting intensity throughout the week

The thing that I probably love the most about more advanced training splits is the possibility to not just mix splits throughout the week but especially to adjust intensity throughout the week. For example you can do hard, high intensity workouts with low rep or hold time at the beginning of the week and towards the end when you get more tired finish with hypertrophy styled workouts with a higher rep count. For this I would alternate 2 push and 2 pull workouts in the beginning of the week before finishing with an easier full body workout at the end of the week. In this easier workout I would use easier progressions or a band for assistance to focus a bit more on technique whilst keeping the strength stimulus alive.

Another interesting way of adjusting intensity is doing a total of 4 bent arm straight arm sessions per week. Based on the established rules this can not be legal. By adjusting focus in each session and with that intensity, yes all workouts stay full body you can still get enough recovery to make great progress and work on many different skills at the same time. Here is the outline of how a routine like this could look like

  • Monday Bent Arm – Push Focus (HSPU, Planche Push Up, Chin Up)
  • Tuesday Straight Arm – Pull Focus (Levers, Chest/Maltese flies)
  • Wednesday – Active Recovery
  • Thursday Bent Arm – Pull Focus (One Arm Chin Up, Front Lever Row, Dips)
  • Friday Straight Arm – Push Focus (Planches, Iron Cross)Saturday – Active Recovery
  • Sunday – Full Rest

Changing Splits

Figuring out when to move from one split to another and when it’s time to shake things up and try something new is a science for itself. Rule of thumb is “why mess with something if it works”. We have to stop always chasing the new and shiny thing or workout routine. As long as you are making progress on your current split this is a good split. The time will come when you body has adapted and you won’t be seeing much growth anymore. At this point you can try this new and shiny thing you saw on tiktok. Until then stick to what brings you results.

Every 3-6 month

One of the main principles of muscle building is progressive overload and constant new challenges for the body. If you train exactly the same thing over a longer period of time you might not actually build more strength but simply get good at the exact thing. Plateaus are imminent.

Generally speaking, I recommend changing training splits every 3 to 6 months. Usually this is a decent amount of time to get used to a new split, to make lots of gains and to approach a plateau. There are occasions when one can train for years on the same workout plan without seeing a decline in growth and progress but this requires high levels of focus and often outside help for motivation. 

Exchange exercises

Instead of flipping the whole system upside down and messing with your well established schedule simply exchanging exercises can very often do the trick. There are 2 main reasons why you might choose to exchange an exercise. 

This can be for example when you have a different exercise of the same type available that will give you better muscle activation, better mind muscle connection and with that simply better results. You could for example exchange the extra deep HSPU with a weighted regular HSPU.

On the other hand, a reason to exchange an exercise right away and as soon as possible is if you realize your body is showing wear and tear from the training. Skull crushers are uncomfortable on my elbows, so are slow muscle ups on bars. Sometimes making a technical adjustment to the skill can protect the body, often simply exchanging the exercise is the smarter and safer way to go.

Ultimately, there is no perfect or best split. Something that works for you can and should not work for everyone else. What works for you today might not work in 3 months and definitely won’t work just as good as today in 6 months. 

Your split needs to be well thought out, goal oriented and forever changing. Keep challenging your body whilst holding on to a well balanced routine. 

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