Heavyweight Calisthenics

No Excuses

Whenever discussing the potential of calisthenics, it is all but guaranteed that someone will suggest bodyweight exercise is only valid for smaller athletes. Personally, I’ve never understood how anyone could argue that he’s become so big and strong that he can no longer perform an exercise. I always cringe when I hear someone tell me he’s too big for movements such as pull-ups or handstand pushups. You would have never heard such nonsense from strength athletes who thrived in previous eras (ex. Marvin Eder, Bert Assirati, Doug Hepburn, etc.). These athletes could lift heavy loads and perform a variety of bodyweight movements. Anyone who believes bodyweight exercise isn’t feasible for larger athletes is ignorant to the past.

Modern Example

Fortunately, we aren’t limited to the past when seeking out heavyweight athletes who have thrived with bodyweight exercise. Throughout this blog’s history, I have highlighted several examples. Below is yet another which I believe is worthy of a look for a few reasons.

The man seen within the video weighs approximately 215 pounds. He is athletic, strong, and capable. He performs several bodyweight variations that would humble many smaller athletes. He is clearly an inspiration to athletes of all sizes. It’s obvious that his weight has not limited his bar skills.

Yet, while he is clearly capable with bodyweight exercise, it is his weight lifting that stuck out most to me. Although he is certainly strong, he isn’t lifting the type of loads that cause people to turn their heads. It isn’t as if his weight lifting strength is superhuman. And while that may seem insignificant, it could actually offer hope to more large athletes. In other words, you don’t need to be lifting the type of weight that Doug Hepburn was lifting to perform calisthenics as a heavyweight.

Size Matters

Many large athletes write off bodyweight exercise without even giving it a try. They fail to realize that their added size could actually be viewed as a plus. Naturally, the added weight makes it more difficult to perform many bodyweight movements. That means you don’t need to perform as many reps or seek out as many variations. Even many so-called basic exercises can be difficult for larger bodies.

Speaking for myself, there are many bodyweight movements that are more difficult for me now that I am bigger and stronger than I was as a young athlete. The added size forces me to work harder with each exercise and rep. Once again, I consider that a plus. It took more for me to be challenged when I was 30 pounds lighter many years ago. I wasn’t working against as much resistance.

In summary, just because you are big doesn’t mean you are too big for calisthenics. You may never perform the same movements that a 120 pounder performs, but you can still be challenged and improve. And as evident in the video above, you don’t need superhuman lifting strength as a prerequisite to perform bodyweight exercise. With hard work, consistency, and patience, almost anyone can develop competency with many bodyweight variations. Rather than using your size as an excuse, focus on the positive and embrace the potential benefits that come along with it.


“No one ever excused his way to success.” – Dave Del Dotto


  1. i love this blog so much! i particularly enjoy entries such as this one. the advice this man gives in the video to big guys who want to get started on the bar can be given to women as well – “just get your ass on the muthafuckin bar!” haha. as a female, when i first started out on my current fitness journey i got a lot of negativity from others.. especially other females! (similar negativity, i imagine, to what a big guy might get if he decided to go for bodyweight work). for me, it was almost as if people wanted to make me feel ridiculous for deciding to go for my own (some very difficult) fitness goals. or that i was somehow less womanly because i was dreaming of doing pushups and pullups and pistol squats etc, and didn’t want to join the others on the stair master for 2 hours. about a year ago i decided i wanted something different for myself, so i installed a pull up bar in my house and began bodyweight exercises. that was when i first discovered Ross through the youtube video about picking people up/not putting them down. it resonated with me with such force at that time that i’ve been hooked and inspired ever since. when i first started, i literally couldn’t lift myself even 1 single inch off the ground, now i can do 2 (almost 3!) unassisted pull ups! i’m not sure if that sounds extremely unimpressive to whoever happens across this comment, but my journey is my own and i personally am super stoked on my progress! i’m an absolute believer that we all can greatly benefit from calisthenics!! even if you’re a big guy or a chick! =D

    1. Thats great AIR stick with it you will get stronger and stronger i am 6’2 270lbs i got chinup/dip station in my house and a special pushup board with 2 35lb kettlebells i just started BW training myself the shit harder than pumping iron imagine at my weight doing lunges in all directions its a freaking killer i was so dang sore the next day from doing chins dips pushups and lunges i was like holy shit!!! i don’t even get this sore from weights plus BW not only work your muscles but your heart and lungs too!!! i am seriously considering making my majority BW for awhile and maybe hit weights once a week oh yea plus i got a 50lb weightvest too!!! i think i got enough equipment to sufficiently build some serious muscles at home with BW and burn some serious fat

    2. You could try the greasing the grove technique. That’s meant to be really good, I am trying to use it for one arm pull ups now.

  2. This was a much needed article Ross, I’ve followed you for years and I became a trainer because of your influence. I’ve never felt size was a limiting factor other than in regards to joint stress. I stand at 6’5 , 300lbs. and am still able to have freedom of movement beyond what most people my size have only due to practice. The notion that big guys can’t move is bullshit at most perpetuated by lazy asses and certainly needs to be nipped in the butt.

  3. Air – I’m impressed with your progress! I am currently only doing chair assisted pullups. I can lower myself slowly unassisted but haven’t gotten the strength to pull up on my own. They are getting easier and i’m able to pull up more of my own weight each time. I love bodyweight exercises. I’d have to say that my most challenging days are arm days. I’m also female. I really love leg and core exercises. The upper body is coming along at a much slower pace. I love not hiring a babysitter, not going to the gym and not spending a load of $$$. My kids watch me exercise and they want to do it also.

    1. Body rows with a suspension trainer (DIY options are easy to make) would be a nice addition in your quest to perform pull-ups.

    2. thanks Lyla! i started out with chair assisted pullups as well. you might want to also look into picking up a band or two. that’s what i did and i highly recommend them. i’m not sure if you’re familiar with them – they’re essentially giant tough rubber bands that you attach to your pullup bar. you step inside the band and as you lift yourself up, the band helps you along. you can get different sizes depending on how much help you need during your ascent. good luck!!

  4. Ross,

    I want to make a go at building up my push-up numbers. I can do about 8 standard push-ups. If Iam going to do them in a circuit/conditioning workout with other exercises would I start with standard pushups and then go to knee pushups when I can no longer complete standard pushups?



    1. Start with a few sets of full range reps before you drop to the knees. If you immediately perform circuits (full range + partials), subsequent sets will be compromised. I’d rather see you get more reps in from a full range and then finish with a few higher rep sets from the knees.

    2. hi Kay, i know you were specifically asking Ross this question, but i went from being able to perform basically 0 good standard pushups to more than 25 in a row before my form begins to falter…so i might be able to help, if you don’t mind me piping in here! =) first, i agree with what Ross told you – stick with the standard pushups for as many rounds as you can before you go to your knees. i’m even going to take it a step further and suggest that you don’t bother with the knee ones at all. girl i’m telling you, i was doing pushups from my knees for dayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyz and really wasn’t seeing any improvement in my regular pushups at all! also, be a stickler for really good form. maybe your first round you can do 8, but by your last round you’re only pumping out 1 or 2 regular pushups with good form (chest to the floor and head up! body straight!) it’s my humble opinion (based solely on my own personal experience) that doing regular pushups is the only road to being able to do more regular pushups. good luck!!

  5. I would be considered as a big guy I’m 6ft and weigh 19 stone but I like doing body weight exercises , I can do 25+ push ups , 12 dips but I struggle more with pull ups (can do 2 or 3) and I think body weiggt exercises are great … . Great article Ross , been a fan of your work for awhile now , really good informative stuff.

  6. You have to check this guy out. I don’t know much about him except his name is Jujimufu and he is a monster and uses a lot of bodyweight exercise and seems to have a good sense of humour. This video (100lb pound neck chair split on youtube) is equally hilarious as it is impressive:


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