Top travel tip: how to improve strength and build mass without equipment?

My cousin got fit just using calisthenics. I haven’t seen my cousin for a year, so I came to his village. I turned off the car, opened the door, and a V-shaped guy started walking towards me. His arms were about the size of an average person’s legs, was as wide between the shoulders as a wardrobe. Who is he? He cannot be my cousin – I remember him from just a year ago as a skinny village guy. Moreover, he can’t afford to purchase gym equipment, nor any nutritional sports supplements like you see on magazine covers with jacked guys hugging a tub of protein powder. A majority of my cousin’s food supply he either grows (mainly potatoes and cucumber) or gets as part of social welfare from the government. Also, his village doesn’t have any gyms, nor could he afford a membership. He couldn’t be my cousin; he doesn’t meet the requirements to get fit that I learned from social media.

The man came closer and it actually was my cousin. My jaw dropped, I thought my eyes are lying.

“What happened?” I asked amazed.

Yet I shouldn’t have been surprised because my father told me earlier about my cousin getting bulky and strong. Despite the fact that I knew, I was still surprised. “What happened?”, I was still thinking. Yet, soon I got an answer. He said “dips and pull-ups. Follow me, I’ll show you” and we went through his backyard, which was full of things somebody threw away years ago – tiles, buckets, bricks, tires, logs, old toys. We went close to a nearly collapsed farm house and he showed me his handmade pull-up bar and dip station. I had seen these before all around the city’s playgrounds, and it had the same functionality as the others, but these were made from wood.

“I don’t have much money, I can’t go to a gym, I can’t afford supplements, so I just built a pull-up bar and eat what I have on the table that day”, he explained, and continued clarifying how he started learning street workout tricks like the planche, front lever and one-arm pull-up. When body weight was not enough to trigger muscle growth, he started adding extra weight little by little. First 10kg, then another 10kg, progressing step by step and even managing one full pull-up with 85kg extra added weight. So he massively developed his biceps and lats. He used the same techniques for dips to build his lower chest and triceps.

Calisthenics and street workouts – these key words could be used to do sports on the go with little or no equipment. The words might sound unfamiliar. And they are. They come from the ancient art of training with your own bodyweight. Actually, you have done it before. The exercises include good old push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, bridges and lots of others. Street workout is what I consider to be advanced calisthenics. It’s a treat for your imagination because you can do tricks and show off on a beach pull-up bar during the summer.

Moreover, callisthenics could be done anywhere and the following gallery is to prove my point. The pictures are taken all over the world with me or my brother Armandas, who is athlete, soldier and double Ironman finisher
[envira-gallery id=”1783″]

Calisthenics and street work out – these keywords could be used to do sports on the go with little or no equipment. The keywords might sound unfamiliar. And it is. It comes from the ancient art of training with your own weight. Actually, you have been doing it before. Exercises include old good push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, bridges and lots of other. Street-workout is what I consider an advanced callisthenics. It spoils your imagination because you can do even more tricks and show off at a beach pull-up bar during summer.

Callisthenics is, actually, cooler than gyms because you can do all exercises in the open air and usually anywhere. You can meet your friends in the local park, and instead of wondering around, go to the pull-up bar and start a workout, while chatting. So next time you hang around with your mates, meet next to pull-up bar.

Another great way to build strength is isometric exercises in which muscle length and joint angle do not change during contraction. In other words, just try to push a wall as hard as possible. Your body looks still, but you are suffering big time and having a great workout. It is called isometric exercises and could be done without special equipment. Exercises include our favourite plank, hanging on a bar, wall sits, even yoga poses in which you kick your leg as hard as possible, but the leg does not move.

For your extra motivation, I’ll tell that many callisthenics competitions exist. Actually, it’s growing worldwide sport with international championships, which includes:

  • Max pull-ups and dips, or a total score of both
  • Max pull-ups and dips with extra weight. Usually, it’s 32kg added
  • Pull-up with max added weight
  • Street workout, where you perform tricks in few minutes’ time to get the best score from referees

Below are just a few exercises from a vast variety of body weight training movements. If you thought that push-up is just a singleton, think again, and if you got bored from doing push-ups, try another type, for example, Superman push-up or archer push-up. Same goes for pull-ups and other exercises.

Calisthenics exercises include:

  • Push-ups and all variations
    • Wide grip push-up
    • Close grip push-up
    • Deep push-up
    • Pseudo planche push-up
    • Fingertip push-up
    • Wrist push-up
    • One-arm push-up
    • Clap (back, double, triple) push-up
    • Superman push-up
    • The Lalanne push-up
    • Wall push-up
    • Archer push-up
    • Spider push-up
  • Pull-ups
    • Rows
    • Chin-up
    • Pull-up
    • Wide grip pull-up
    • Close grip pull-up
    • Behind the neck pull-up
    • Inline pull-up
    • Rock climber pull-up
    • L pull-up
    • Horizontal pull-up
    • Finger pull-up
    • Rope/towel pull-up
    • Clap pull-up
    • Typewriter pull-up
    • Weighted pull-up
    • One-arm pull-up
  • Planche
  • Handstand pushup
  • Human flag
  • Pistols – one leg squat
  • Squats
  • Elbow lever
  • Burpees
  • Back lever
  • Plank
  • L-Sit
  • Jumps

This is just a short list of available exercise. It takes time to master any of listed drill, yet there are countless movements. For more movements, routines and progressions check out recommended books and especially Ashley Kalym book “Complete Calisthenics: The Ultimate Guide to Bodyweight Exercises”.

Probably the biggest issue with callisthenics, that it mainly build upper body[1]. And that’s right. I like pistols, as it is great exercise, but it can’t be compared to back squat with a barbell and loads of plates on sides. Nevertheless, various leg exercises exists even progressing beyond pistols, which could be harop curl, shrimp squats[2], dragon pistol squat, and others

Recommended reading

“The Naked Warrior” by Pavel Tsatsouline. The book describes progressions in pushups and squats. Also, it undercover secrets for strength, for example, tension, breathing and, most importantly, performing main moves often i.e. several times a day, but not exhausting yourself. To get more great insights, please read Pavel’s book.

“Convict Conditioning: How to Bust Free of All Weakness–Using the Lost Secrets of Supreme Survival Strength” by Paul Wade. The author claims to spend big part of his life in most dangerous prisons in the western world, where he developed his strength and became a tough warrior, therefore the book describes his techniques. All exercises are completely body weight, hence in a cell, you have nothing more. All routines have a clear ten-step progression, some are easier, other are more difficult.

“Complete Calisthenics: The Ultimate Guide to Bodyweight Exercise” by Ashley Kalym. The book contains an extended collection of movements with supporting photos to perform them. Clear progressions are also included.


Dry bags. Ohh, my favourite dry bags. Not just we’re keeping my stuff dry during heavy tropical rains, but actually, they can be used for training as well. Dry bags should be filled with water and you get a nice extra weight for your pistols, squats, pull-ups, biceps curls and others.

Resistance bands. Depending on resistance, they are different heaviness. I have been carrying one with light resistance but ultra-light and cheap. At home, I keep stronger ones because they are heavier. I have been using bands to mainly build muscles to improve my posture. It’s also a great way to stretch your back.

Mattress for yoga and stretching. If you are camping, so you might have a foam mattress already. They are perfect if you want to drop down and do few pushups, but it’s dirty around. Killing time by stretching in woods or a room, is also great

Rings. The size of rings might be bulky, consider twice if you really want them. Anyways, rings work out more muscle groups and could be added used in many locations, for example, kids playground and parks. One can do dips, pull-ups, muscle ups and other routines as seen in gyms or, if you are adventurous, Olympic gymnastics movements.

If you get stronger, you build mass as well. And if you get extra muscle mass, you improve strength as well. Yet, if you want to focus on one of them, below is my simple comparison for beginners.

  Building mass Improving strength
Tempo 4s down, 1s up 1s down, 1s up
Repetitions 8-12 3-5
Do exercise until can’t do any more Yes, and after that, do few more No, always keep few repetitions advance
Challenges while travelling Keep up eating 6-meals diet a day Bodyweight might not be enough at some point, especially for lower body. Therefore equipment might be required


Building mass involves similar exercises, but some factors are different. One needs to do slower tempo of a repetition. For example, take four seconds to go down, and a second to come up. Moreover, have 8-12 repetitions per set. This would work the best for hypertrophy. Also, you should do until you can’t do anymore and afterwards do few more. Eat, eat and eat, although it is challenging sometimes to keep up with 6-meals diet a day and get proper food while backpacking

For mass building, I would recommend books by Charles R Poliquin who is U.S. Olympic coach and his trainees received medals in various disciplines.

Sample routines

This chapter describes few routines which could be successfully used to develop strength using body-weight, which I used during backpacking. You can use one of them and follow blindly, or modify according to your needs and possibilities.

Typical gym routine

Day Workout
Monday Leg day</p>
  • Pistols 5×5. Add a backpack for extra weight
  • High jumps 20 reps
Tuesday Triceps, chest and shoulders day</p>
  • Handstand pushups 5×5. Try to vary the distance between your palms, which would involve different muscles. The closer you get, the harder it is.
  • One-arm push up 5×5. You can use any other variation of push up too, but it has to be challenging to do five of them
  • Dips 5×5.
Thursday Back and biceps</p>
  • Straight pull-ups. 10 sets 5 reps. Remember to vary distance between palms
  • Chin-ups 5×5
Friday Leg day – same as Monday

Single-exercise in a day

I’m a big of workouts called single-exercise in a day which was advertised by Dan John, who is a brilliant author and world-class athlete.

The workout should last around 45 minutes, so just continue doing sets until you are done.

Day Workout
Monday Pistols 4-7 repetitions. Try to add extra weight
Tuesday Handstand pushups 3-5 repetitions
Thursday Pistols 7-9 repetitions
Friday Push-ups and their variations
Saturday Pull-ups and their variations

All day every day

Day Workout
Monday Do all weekdays three-four times a day at various times, for example, after waking up, before long bus ride, during a break on a bus journey and before going to a bed.</p>
  • 5x Pistols (each leg). This is my favourite because you can do it almost anywhere. Unlike push-up, one doesn’t have to get down to a floor. Generally, no excuses for skipping leg workout
  • 5x Handstand push-up (HSPU). This is my second favourite since you just need a wall for support or try to master freestanding version. You are likely to make new friends and get attention if you start doing them anywhere.
  • 5x Pull-ups. A bit more challenging to find a pull-up bar, but you can use anything like scaffolding,

Note. More information regarding this routine found at Pavel Tsatsouline book “The Naked Warrior”, who argues that exercises should be done frequently, but not breaking muscles i.e. always keep few extra repetitions then you finish the routine.


  • Bodyweight is enough to build strength and mass
  • Exercises include push-ups, pull-ups, handstand, single-leg squats and others
  • Various and lightweight gadgets could be used for backpacking
  • Callistetics and sports is a vast topic, therefore refer to recommended reads
  • Different backpackers-friendly routines could be prescribed including one-exercise a day and minimal but frequent workouts


[1] Some prefer to train just upper body. Feel free to have arm day every day, and become a guy with chicken legs

[2] Explained at