Should Ectomorphs Do Calisthenics | Bodyweight Training Tips

Bodies By Byrne is supported by its readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Also, as an Amazon affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases.


If you’re an ectomorph, the most common thing you’ve likely heard to build muscle and improve your physique is to lift heavy using compound movements and to consume a calorie surplus, or as many in the “bro” community would say:

“Eat big to get big”

For the most part, this type of approach will see ectomorphs build muscle 90-95% of the time as there will always be some exceptions (and some that simply don’t bother to follow this advice but claim that they do). What is not often discussed though is whether or not bodyweight exercises are beneficial for ectomorphs. 

Should ectomorphs do calisthenics? Ectomorphs should do calisthenics and bodyweight exercises but should not rely on this as the sole method to build muscle. Calisthenics is good for providing a different stimulus to the muscle group but its effect on muscle hypertrophy will be limited, especially for ectomorphs. 

Ectomorphs struggle to build muscle and the reason you are reading this article in the first place is that you are probably looking for the best methods to build muscle. In this article, I’ll therefore cover whether or not ectomorphs should do calisthenics and how you could include them in your workout routines. 

Should Ectomorphs Do Calisthenics

Calisthenics offers a different training stimulus and that can only ever be a good thing when it comes to building muscle or improving your physique. The body is functional and therefore requires a variety of approaches when it comes to building muscle. 

Moving an object from point A to point B should not be the goal when it comes to developing your physique and as an ectomorph, it’s even more important that your exercise selection is going to give you the most bang for your buck. 

Bicep curls are one of the most common exercises that you’ll see skinny guys performing in the gym but they are also one of the exercises that offer minimal benefit for the ectomorph looking to build muscle. 

Popular YouTuber Joe Fazer doesn’t have to most impressive physique on the planet and is simply someone that publicly documents his journey bulking up as a skinny kid yet even he will advocate the importance of focusing on the basics to build muscle. 

To get back to the point then, a variety of training is needed, heavy compound exercises are needed, and getting stronger session after session, week after week, month after month is also needed. 

So where does calisthenics fit into this equation?

Moving your body through space instead of moving an object through space will challenge your muscle groups in a way that they are most likely not used to and for most ectomorphs, this will usually be a very useful tool for stimulating muscle growth.

Can You Build Muscle With Calisthenics

If you are wondering what I meant by that last statement then take a moment to consider the pull-up

should ectomorphs do calisthenics

Chances are that you are quite a bit stronger on the lat pulldown machine than you are at performing traditional pullups, especially if you are a beginner and new to weight training.

Mastering the ability to move your body through space and against gravity involves significantly more muscle control than contracting against an external object to then move an external object. 

With a lat pulldown machine, you can brace yourself against the thigh pads to generate force and are pulling the object towards yourself. 

With the pullup, you don’t have anything to brace against and therefore you not only need to focus on contracting and moving the weight (your body) but you also need to control this movement against gravity. 

The ability to master bodyweight should really be a prerequisite before moving on to free weights and machines for resistance training in my opinion. This is because it strengthens the smaller stabilizing muscles, teaches you to control the muscle group through the eccentric (lowering) portion of a movement, and builds a decent foundational level of strength. 

With these benefits of the above, it’s clear that calisthenics does offer the potential to build muscle. Your body does not differentiate between the weight it is moving, it is simply concerned with moving the weight that you present it with. 

Pullups and dips are amongst some of the best mass building exercises that you can use in your routine and while you will eventually adapt to your body weight, you can always add additional weight to keep progressing. 

It’s a common misconception that calisthenics and bodyweight training means that you can’t use an external load. A natural form of progression with any type of resistance based training is to increase to load you lift over time in order to continue to build muscle mass. 

Therefore, making use of a dipping belt will allow you to continue to make progress and build muscle for the duration of your training days.

Now that we now calisthenics can be used to build muscle, we need to look at the best way an ectomorph can incorporate calisthenics into their routine. 

How Ectomorphs Can Make Use of Calisthenics

Calisthenics can certainly be used to build muscle but as an ectomorph already struggling to gain any noticeable size, you do not want to focus solely on calisthenics as this will limit your progress and potential. 

The reason for this is that ectomorphs need heavy loading in order to stimulate muscle growth and hypertrophy. Calisthenics simply do not have the loading potential necessary to achieve sufficient growth and most people training with calisthenics will tend to be lean and appear muscular but their size will be significantly less than someone training with weights. 

Therefore, to effectively use calisthenics as an ectomorph you need to include some bodyweight exercises in your training but still focus on getting strong in your heavy compound lifts which should include:

  • Squats
  • Deadlift
  • Chest and overhead presses
  • Lunges
  • Loaded carries
  • Rows 
  • Dips 

What you should notice is that some of the exercises mentioned also happens to be some that are primarily used for calisthenics and you can see that there is some crossover between exercises.  

Ectomorph Calisthenic Exercises

Below are some of the best calisthenic exercises that you can add to your training routine. You’ll notice I’ve not included any leg exercises on this list, while people are certain that you can still train your legs with calisthenics (which is true) there is simply more benefit when performing heavy squats, lunges, and presses. 

A heavy RDL is something that you can load continuously to build your hamstrings and there are simply not efficient alternatives if you only focus on calisthenics. 

With that said, let’s get into the exercises. 

Pullups (any variation)

Traditional pullups are one of the most challenging and beneficial exercises that you can include in any sort of workout routine. They are a compound movement for the back and different variations based on hand positioning and grip will vary the muscles that you work. 

If you could only do one exercise for life (with no access to equipment), the pullup would likely the best option to choose. 

Dips

Dips are another great mass builder and work the pecs, front delts, and triceps to varying degrees. Your hand and body position can be adjusted to place more emphasis on certain muscle groups and as mentioned earlier, you can easily make this exercise more challenging with the use of a dipping belt. 

Hanging Leg Raises

When training abs, many people will focus on bringing your shoulders and upper body towards your torso with traditional situps, crunches, and cable crunches. This, however, will only work one function of the abs and you could therefore be leaving progress on the table if you only focus on this type of movement. 

Leg raises bring your legs towards your torso and therefore utilize the muscles of the lower abdomen. Hanging leg raises are something you should include alongside any “crunching” type movements for a more complete ab routine. 

** check out this article on how an ectomorph can get a six pack

For beginners, it’s best to start out with knee raises and gradually progress to leg raises with legs fully extended. 

Final Thoughts (H2)

An ectomorph should not be relying on calisthenics to build a physique, especially if the goal is for maximal muscle mass. Therefore, calisthenics should be used as a tool that you can incorporate in your routine to facilitate muscle growth and it should not be the main focus. 

To get the most out of calisthenics, you should look for ways to add additional load to the exercise and use exercises that are multi-joint and utilize multiple muscle groups (like the pullup, dip, and lunge).

When used correctly, calisthenics and bodyweight exercises are something that can certainly help an ectomorph to develop their physique and build considerable amounts of lean muscle mass. Just make sure you are still hitting your heavy compound lifts and consuming a calorie surplus!

What Next

If you are looking to make changes to your physique by either losing body fat, building muscle or looking to maintain a lean physique then sign up to my weekly newsletter below. Each week I send out actionable tips to help you lose that extra 1lb of fat or build that extra 0.5lb of muscle mass on a weekly basis. 

If you sign up now you’ll also receive my 28 day body recomp program completely Free. This ebook will be sent straight to your inbox and will provide an intense 28 day program aimed at helping you lose up to 8lbs of body fat whilst also building 2lb-4lb of lean muscle mass in just 4 weeks.

Don’t worry if you’re not ready for an intense program just yet, my weekly newsletter will give smaller tips that when implemented daily, will stack up over time and see you transform your body with seemingly minimal effort!

Join The Newsletter

Receive fitness advice and body recomposition tips every Monday to help you lose at least 1lb of fat every week and build 1lb of muscle mass every fortnight