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How important are genetics? How many sets should I do? And why are the guys in the park who seem to do only chin-ups so much more ripped than I am? These are some of the age-old questions on the mind of every guy who ever wanted to build muscle. We can’t tackle the first two right now, but we think we may have the answer to the third. You can build slabs of muscle without a gym, fancy equipment, or heavy weights—while simultaneously getting a tan and soaking up some vitamin D. Here’s your summer training plan.
First of all, those “guys in the park” don’t do just chin-ups. You can train every muscle using just your body weight—which is what Queens, NY, native Hit Richards has done since 1996. Though he’s experimented with more conventional training, Richards—who’s 39, weighs 182, and is our model for the exercises on these pages—swears body weight training is best, and today relies purely on calisthenics (apart from some use of resistance bands and a jump rope). He’s the founder of Calisthenics Kingz, a company he started in 2007 to popularize what he calls “a different, more entertaining, more challenging form of fitness.”
Richards sells instructional DVDs on his website, calisthenicskingz.net, and has affiliates around the world who teach his methods. “I pretty much just did a video of the things I could do,” Richards says. “Not just basic calisthenics exercises, but more of the extreme stuff. I put it on YouTube and it went viral—it took off.”
By “extreme stuff” he means the kind of cool, show-offy body weight exercises you rarely see outside of a Cirque du Soleil tent: muscle-ups, handstand pushups, the human flag (where you grab on to a vertical object and raise your body till it’s parallel to the ground). Even if you’re a world away from doing fancy moves like these, Richards says a basic calisthenics regimen will serve you well. “The injury risk factor is much less than with weights,” he says. Plus, you can do body weight workouts virtually anywhere, from your house to a hotel room. Of course, being that it’s summer, we want you to go outside, which is why the following workouts—prescribed by Richards—are perfect for a park, or anywhere else you can find a sturdy bar to hang from.
The other big advantage body weight training has over free weights is that nearly every exercise is “closed-chain,” meaning that your working limbs exert force in a fixed position—such as against a chin-up bar or on the ground. Exercises like bench presses and curls are open-chain movements—the bar or dumbbells move freely in the air. Closed-chain exercises require more overall muscle activation and core strength, which accounts for the densely muscled physiques of gymnasts and wrestlers (who often never touch a barbell). These workouts also emphasize volume and conditioning. Because you won’t be straining with max weights, you need to stimulate your muscles with a large number of reps, a wide variety of angles, and short rest periods. This is the ticket to getting the ultra-lean, hard look of an acrobat or gymnast.