Calisthenics vs Weights: Which One Is Better?

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Published by Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer
Last updated: June 20, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Christiana Mikesch, CPT
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Calisthenics and weight lifting are both forms of strength training, but which one of the two is the better choice?

As a certified personal trainer, I 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.

Quick Summary

  • The key difference between calisthenics and weights lies in their approach to strength training, with calisthenics focusing on bodyweight exercises and weights relying on external resistance; the article evaluates which method is more effective based on individual fitness goals.
  • The article delves into the advantages of both calisthenics and weights, highlighting how each method caters to different fitness goals and preferences.
  • According to the Mayo Clinic, participants with a middle level of muscular strength had a 32% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those with lower muscular strength, highlighting the health benefits of strength training.
  • As an experienced athlete and fitness expert, while also considering my own experience, I emphasize the importance of understanding your own body and fitness goals when choosing between calisthenics and weightlifting.

​What Is The Difference Between Calisthenics And Weights?

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The difference between calisthenics and weights is that calisthenics focuses 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. Based on my experience, I recommend pairing 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.

​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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In my experience, 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, you will see your heart health improve, plus a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to one of the studies from the National Center for Biotechnology Information website [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, according to one of the studies from the National Center for Biotechnology Information website [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, building muscle with only calisthenics is possible, as resistance training in any form, including bodyweight routines, can achieve muscle hypertrophy. 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].

Is Calisthenics Safer Than Weights?

Calisthenics is generally safer than weights, but like weightlifting, the risk of injury exists, especially with poor form or attempting overly challenging movements.

What Burns More Calories Weights Or Calisthenics?

The number of calories burnt in weights or calisthenics depends on the intensity level of the workout, with both forms of resistance training capable of increasing resting metabolic rate and burning calories post-workout [5] [6].

​Why Is Calisthenics Harder Than Weights?

Calisthenics is harder than weights due to the involvement of smaller stabilizing muscles, which are often not as heavily engaged in weight training focused on larger muscle groups.

What Are the Psychological Benefits and Motivational Aspects of Calisthenics Versus Weights?

The psychological benefits and motivational aspects of calisthenics versus weights are a sense of achievement and boosted confidence from mastering complex movements. At the same time, weightlifting motivates measurable progress in lifting heavier weights.

How Does Calisthenics Impact Flexibility and Mobility Compared to Traditional Weightlifting?

Calisthenics typically improves flexibility and mobility more effectively than traditional weightlifting, as it involves a wider range of motion and various body movements.

What Is the Long-Term Sustainability and Injury Prevention Aspect of Calisthenics Versus Weights?

The long-term sustainability and injury prevention aspect of calisthenics versus weights is that calisthenics is often more sustainable long-term and has a lower risk of overuse injuries, using body weight for resistance. In contrast, weightlifting may pose a higher risk of joint and muscle injuries without proper technique.

How Can Calisthenics or Weight Training Complement Other Sports and Physical Activities?

Calisthenics or weight training can complement other sports and physical activities by improving body control and functional strength. In contrast, weight training increases muscle strength and endurance, which is beneficial for sports requiring explosive power.

What Are the Environmental and Financial Considerations of Calisthenics Versus Weights?

The environmental and financial considerations of calisthenics versus weights are that calisthenics has minimal environmental impact and financial cost, requiring little equipment and space. In contrast, weight training often involves costs for gym memberships or equipment, along with an environmental footprint for equipment production and transport.

  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/abstract
  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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About The Author

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Senior Coach
Christiana Mikesch, CPT is a personal trainer and author with contributions to publications like the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo. She emphasizes a holistic approach to weight loss, combining an energy-fueling diet, goal-oriented workouts, and daily habits. Her approach avoids short-term goals and fosters a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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