Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
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Calisthenics and weight lifting are both forms of strength training, but which one of the two is the better choice?

In the following article, we will look at the benefits of both types of resistance training, and whether there are any negatives to them as well.

Read on as we are going to answer the calisthenics vs weights debate once and for all.

What Is The Difference Between Calisthenics And Weights?

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There are a few differences between calisthenics vs weight training, however, the main difference between the two is that calisthenics focusses on bodyweight movements, with a focus on building your relative strength. In other words, your strength in relation to your total body weight.

Weight training, on the other hand, uses external resistance to workout, i.e. free weights or machines.

The focus of weight training and weight lifting is to build your body’s maximum strength, which means how much you can lift, regardless of how much your body weighs.

Example calisthenics exercises include pull-ups, push-ups, and dips, which are all bodyweight exercises. Activities that are typically performed in weight training include the bench press, deadlift, and overhead presses.

Pros & Cons Of Calisthenics

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There are pros and cons to calisthenics, let’s check them out:

Pros Of Calisthenics

  1. Calisthenics workout is affordable. In some cases, it can cost nothing at all. Yes, you may need a pull-up bar for some drills, but in the majority of exercises, you will only need your bodyweight and a bit of space.
  2. You can exercise wherever you want, even in the comfort of your own home. As no equipment is needed you won’t need the gym to be open to perform a calisthenics workout. Even If you are on holiday, there is nothing to stop you from working out. Read here to find the best calisthenics gear.
  3. You can do your workout with a group if you choose. This won’t be for everyone, but if you enjoy the company when you workout then you may want to join a class. An added benefit of group classes is the motivation and encouragement given by the other attendees.
  4. It can improve flexibility and coordination. Many calisthenics exercises require you to possess body awareness, body control, and movement. Without these, you will struggle to perform the movements. Luckily as you practice and become more experienced you will become stronger, which will result in increased mobility and flexibility. It may help you lose weight, too.
  5. You can build a stronger core. Almost every calisthenic workout will involve exercises that will require you to engage your core muscles. This is because a strong core will provide better balance when performing bodyweight training.
  6. You can work weaker muscle groups. Calisthenics will require you to engage smaller muscles to stabilize yourself during the movement. These smaller muscles will, therefore, become stronger over time. It is a good form of strength training and may help you lose weight as well.
  7. It may support better heart health. As many of the movements involved are cardiovascular in nature you will see your heart health improve, plus a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease [1].
  8. The exercises look cool. This is quite narcissistic but once you are able to master some of the more advanced calisthenic exercises, such as the handstand, for example, you will start to turn some heads.

Related Post: Calisthenics for Beginners

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Cons Of Calisthenics

  1. This may not be suitable for those who are overweight. As all of the exercises are based on lifting your body weight, this may be difficult for those who are overweight or obese, especially if they are a complete beginner.
  2. It is not easy to increase the intensity of the exercises performed. Yes, you can increase the number of repetitions performed, but to increase the intensity of each exercise for strength training, you should consider changing the angle too. Changing the angles can lead to injury if not performed correctly.
  3. Some progressions will be difficult. Increasing repetitions is easy, but other progressions will be much harder. For example, the jump from a pike push-up to handstand push-ups is massive.
  4. Leg exercises are limited. The legs contain some of the largest muscles, therefore they require the most resistance to grow. The pistol squat is probably the most intense bodyweight exercise you could perform, so once this is mastered you won’t really see much progress. This limits the amount of muscle mass you can grow.
  5. You may not be able to build as much muscle as you would using weight lifting. If you want to build mass, then this may not be the best method. This is simply due to the lack of resistance you are able to apply to each movement. Even changing the angle of each exercise you are still limited to how much you weigh.

Pros & Cons Of Weights

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Weight training also has its own pros and cons:

Pros Of Weights

  1. You can progressively overload your muscles easily. To build mass and strength, you need to be progressively overloading your muscles, this will better enable you to achieve atrophy. This can be difficult to achieve using only the weight of your body. Weight lifting allows you to add more and more weight to your lifts over time.
  2. It is easy to keep track of your progress. All you have to do is look at how much weight you are currently lifting and then look at what weight you were lifting the previous week, or month, or even when you first started.
  3. Weights can help you to develop your lower body. If you want a big strong lower half, then you need to perform big compound exercises. Bodyweight squats simply won’t cut it, I’m afraid.
  4. You are able to isolate individual muscles. If you have a muscular imbalance or wish to work a specific body part then you are able to with weights. You won’t be able to do this with calisthenic training.
  1. It helps fight osteoporosis. As you age you will, unfortunately, suffer bone loss, weight training has been shown to reduce this by improving bone density [2].
  2. Regular weight lifting can help to regulate your blood sugar levels. This can help to lower your risk of developing diabetes [3] with you undergo strength training.

Cons Of Weights

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  1. You either need a gym membership or will need to buy your own equipment. Weight training will require you to have access to a variety of free weights and machines. This means that you either will need a gym membership, or you will need to build your own home gym.
    Neither of these options is cheap, the cost of a gym membership will mount up over time, while the initial outlay for a weight bench, squat rack, barbell, and dumbbells is more than most are willing to pay.
  2. Beginners need supervision. When you first start weight training it is important that you learn how to use the equipment safely and to ensure you see the best results from your training. At this stage, it may be worth seeking the help of a professional trainer.
  3. Risk of injuries from poor form. Both calisthenics and weight training have this issue, but the severity of injury is so much more when weights are involved. Many gym-goers are competitive and when they see other members lifting extraordinary weights they are tempted to do the same. Unfortunately, ego-lifting with poor form usually ends badly and with an injury.
  4. Many of the exercises performed are non-functional. You may be building muscle and strength when using weights when training, however, the movements performed often offer very little real-world benefit, and are certainly not functional.
  5. It can be boring. The most exciting part of your workout is adding the weight to the bar. While increasing the weight will give you a lift, and seeing people smash their PRs is motivating it isn’t what most people would call exciting.

FAQs

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Can You Build Muscle With Only Calisthenics?

Yes, you can build muscle using only calisthenics.

Whether you use a bodyweight routine or choose to use free weights or the machines at the gym, resistance training of any sort will build muscle [4]. That is as long as you are able to achieve muscle atrophy.

Is Calisthenics Safer Than Weights?

Generally, calisthenics is safer than weights. However, just as it is possible to injure yourself lifting heavier weights, it is also possible that you may injure yourself performing more difficult calisthenics movements.

Poor form and ego lifting are the main causes of injury, so if you avoid both of these then the risk of injury will be less.

What Burns More Calories Weights Or Calisthenics?

Whether you choose weights or calisthenics, the number of calories burnt during the workout will depend entirely on your intensity levels.

Building muscle through whatever means is an effective way to increase your resting metabolic rate [5]. Research has also shown that resistance training can cause calories to be burnt long after a workout has ended [6], unlike a cardio workout where the calorie burning will cease when the workout ends.

Why Is Calisthenics Harder Than Weights?

Calisthenics is harder than lifting weights because of the smaller muscles you need to use in order to stabilize yourself during the movements.

Weight training often focuses on bigger muscle groups, so smaller ones are often ignored or forgotten about.

When using your bodyweight, it is impossible to ignore these smaller muscles.

Is Calisthenics Or Weights Best?

The answer to the question is calisthenics or weight lifting best would be it depends.

If you want to workout at home, don’t have time to visit the gym, or do not have access to much gym equipment, then calisthenics may be the better option. It may also be a better option for those who are just starting their fitness journey and whose main goal is to lose weight.

You may want to choose to do weight lifting if you have access to a fully stocked gym, are willing to learn how to use proper form to avoid injury, and are looking to build mass and improve overall body and physical fitness.

Personally, I would recommend doing both if you can. There are plenty of ways to incorporate different exercises from both disciplines into your strength training workout routine.

Doing both will allow you to build a strong well-rounded body, plus will ensure you are getting plenty of variety when you workout, so they do not become stale.

A popular method of doing hybrid workouts is incorporating a kettlebell with your calisthenic exercises.

Whichever exercise you choose, it is surely a more effective option than sitting in front of the television eating junk food.

Pair your workouts with a workout nutrition plan and a fitness tracker for weightlifting to make sure you're always on track to make those gains.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6172294/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6279907/
  3. https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(18)30789-4/fulltext
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6303131/
  5. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01325038
  6. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/epoc.html

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