One of the biggest misconceptions with calisthenics is that it doesn't provide enough resistance for ample muscle breakdown; and therefore, muscle gain. Intuitively, this makes sense since the only form of resistance is your body weight and, for the most part, your body weight doesn't change. The BIG misconception with this theory is:
THE AMOUNT OF RESISTANCE DOESN'T DICTATE THE AMOUNT OF MUSCLE GROWTH
To truly understand this misconception I must first explain a little about the different types of muscle fibers and the motor units that stimulate them.
Muscle Fiber & Muscle Contraction Overview
As depicted by the different colors in the picture to the right, there are
3 types of muscle fibers:
1: Slow twitch: small; produce low amounts of force but don't fatigue over time
2: Fast twitch: big; produce high amounts of force but fatigue quickly
3: Intermediate twitch: medium: can be trained to contain beneficial properties of slow and fast twitch fibers. (These fibers are very unique and can be further discussed in another blog post)
Furthermore, these fibers are recruited to contract based on The Size Principle, which states that small fibers are recruited first and bigger fibers in succession based on the amount of force required. Check out the graph to left for a visual orientation of this theory.
Now that you have a basic understanding of this concept we can continue to discuss the BIG misconception of calisthenics.
The Weight Lifting Argument
The Answer: Maximal Effort
Regardless of whether your doing calisthenics, weight lifting, yoga, or any other type of exercise, if you want to get the most out of it you have to complete it with maximum effort. Dr. Ralph N. Carpinelli confirms this statement through his writing in the Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness, volume 6, number 2, 2008. He shows that the factor controlling muscle fiber recruitment is effort, which starts in the brain. By pushing your body to its limits, you are requiring more and more motor fibers to be recruited till they are all exhausted. Carpinelli shows that doing 20 reps of an exercise or 8 reps with higher weight have no significant difference in strength or physical outcome. So why risk injury.
*For a short and easy summary of Carpinelli's writing check out this link: http://www.cbass.com/Carpinelli.htm