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Calisthenics vs Weights – Let the Battle Begin

Have you ever wondered whether or not you are performing the proper exercise for your fitness goals?

When it comes to calisthenics vs weight training, people often don’t understand which is better suited to build muscle mass.

We’re here to give you all of the information you need about both programs so you can decide once and for all whether bodyweight exercises or weight lifting is right for you.

Calisthenics Explained

Calisthenics is a bodyweight training exercise that utilizes only your body weight to develop muscle mass throughout different muscle groups.

Some calisthenics exercises use weights for resistance training, but most exercises use body weight only.

Calisthenics has grown in popularity over the past decade as an acceptable way to lose weight and develop multiple muscle groups at the same time using compound exercises.

Most calisthenics movements consist of progressions that build on each other to increase overall strength and endurance.

In general, calisthenics provides more of a cardiovascular workout than weight lifting.

Benefits of Bodyweight Exercises

If you decide that calisthenics is the right choice for you, it’s essential to understand the benefits and disadvantages of the program.

First, let’s look at the benefits of calisthenics.

Inexpensive Option

Since calisthenics uses your own body weight for resistance training, it means you don’t have to spend tons of money on weight stacks or machines.

You won’t need to pay for a gym membership either.

While you can use pull-up bars, gymnastic rings, or parallel bars, it’s unnecessary.

Your workout routine just requires some form-fitting clothing and your body weight. It’s as simple as that.

Perform Anywhere

Building on the fact that calisthenics requires little to no equipment means you can work out anywhere. You don’t need an expensive gym membership.

You can perform calisthenics at home or a local park.

Since calisthenics is so popular, certain areas have parks equipped with equipment like pull-up bars or gymnastic rings to take your workout to the next level.

Compound Workout

Almost every calisthenics workout is a compound exercise.

That means you are working for more than one muscle group at a time. A great example of a calisthenics exercise is pull-ups. Most people think that it just works on the upper body or arms.

However, the pull-up works by retracting the back muscles between the scapula and tightening the abdominal muscles.

Keeping your glutes tight also prevents a swinging motion, which can offset the muscle work.

Therefore, a simple pull-up registers muscle groups all over the body. Pretty cool, right?

Increased Mobility and Flexibility

Our mobility and flexibility decrease drastically if we don’t work on them as we age.

Calisthenics is known for improving range of motion which increases mobility and flexibility.

Different holds and movements use progression to develop muscles in another way.

That improves coordination, stability, and promotes better body awareness. The stronger you are, the better your body can cope with everyday activities. 

Also, better mobility means being less prone to injuries. Because calisthenics works with gradual progressions, your body builds up the strength slowly.

That means it is much less likely to injure yourself, unlike resistance training using free weights.

Better Cardio Workout

Because calisthenics uses more movements and holds, your heart rate increases and ignites your metabolism to burn more calories.

If you want more cardio with strength training, calisthenics is the one to try.

Different and Challenging Workout

Have you ever heard of the human flagpole? Doesn’t everyone want to progress to holding a pole with their body straight out like a flag?

It takes an enormous amount of strength and stability, but the beauty of calisthenics is that you can get there with progressions.

While it’s challenging, it’s achievable if you follow the right avenues to build a solid upper body and core muscles.

Disadvantages of Calisthenics

There aren’t too many disadvantages to calisthenics, but a few of these might sway you to stick with free weights.

Isolation Exercises Limited

We mentioned that calisthenics is a full-body exercise program. That is a great thing, but some people prefer strength training exercises that isolate one muscle group.

If that is the case, free weights might be the better option.

Weight Limited

The amount of weight you are working with is dependent on your body weight. That said, at a certain point, you can’t increase the amount of weight anymore.

Some people add weights to their calisthenics training, but it’s not as prevalent as free weights.

Too Challenging

While strength training exercises are great when challenging, sometimes calisthenics proves to be too much of a challenge for some.

Even with progressions, some holds or movements may be too difficult for some people.

Frustration with your workout program means you won’t continue. That’s not good, people.

Weight Training

Weight training exercises are any workouts that utilize free weights or a barbell to target a specific muscle group.

Weight training is versatile as there are multiple avenues to increase your fitness with external weights.

The amount of weight, reps, and time performed develops your fitness quicker or increases your cardio.

Benefits of Weight Training

People have lifted weights for decades to increase their muscle mass.

Bodybuilders swear by free weights, so let’s review some of the benefits of weight training.

Facilities Everywhere

No matter where you are, there is likely a gym of some kind in your neighborhood. That’s what makes weight training so easy.

There is access to different types of gym equipment nearby.

Of course, you can always invest in some home gym equipment, but that can get pricey.

A better option might be to join the local gym and use their weight stacks as much as you would like.

Progression Made Simple

When it comes to progression, it’s as simple as adding more weight to your barbell or picking up heavier dumbbells.

More weight and fewer reps will generally bring on bigger muscles, whereas less weight and more repetitions will sustain those muscles.

Either way, your progression is as easy as adding another weight stack.

Isolate Muscle Groups

Lifting weights means isolating specific muscle groups to focus on your upper body and then switching to a different exercise to isolate another muscle group.

Grab some dumbbells for bicep curls to isolate the arms. Next, lie down and use the barbell for bench presses that isolate the pectoral muscles.

Finally, grab the barbell and put it on your upper back, and squat to your heart’s content. The sky’s the limit on isolating muscle groups when lifting weights.

No Weight Limit

With calisthenics, you are limited to your body weight for resistance training.

You can always add more weight to develop bigger muscles with weight training. It’s essential to do so gradually to avoid injury.

As long as you are weight lifting at the right level for your fitness, adding on weight is always an option.

Disadvantages to Weight Training

It’s only fair that we look at the disadvantages of weight training too.

While there aren’t many, it might help you decide if weight training is better for your goals than calisthenics.


If you decide to join a gym or buy exercise equipment for your home, it’s a pricey option.

Since weight stacks or a gym membership is necessary, it also means you are limited to where you can work out. Weight lifting is effective but expensive.

Lack of Compound Exercises

If you’re looking for a full-body workout, then weight lifting might not be the best option for you.

While you can work the whole body, it’s harder to do that. Most weight training programs involve isolation exercises to develop muscle growth in specific areas.

You need to do upper body exercise, core work, and lower body workouts to work the entire body. It can be done, but it takes longer than calisthenic exercises.

Not Exciting

Lifting weights is monotonous. There is only so much variety to the workouts that can get boring for some people in time.

While calisthenics can be challenging, it offers a more exciting training for some people as the progressions get harder.

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And the winner is…

There isn’t a clear winner in the calisthenics vs weight training debate. Both offer an effective way to build muscle.

Calisthenics offers an overall well-rounded, firm physique, while weight training isolates certain muscle groups to build bigger muscles.

Both are excellent, but it depends on personal preference on which body type you prefer.

Both weight training and calisthenics can promote weight loss coupled with a healthy diet. Calisthenics tends to burn more calories because of the movement and compound workout that engages multiple muscle groups.

That said, weight training can promote high caloric burn with specific exercises.

Weight lifting has a higher injury rate due to improper form and progressing too quickly to heavier weights. Calisthenics can cause injury, too, if done incorrectly. The vital element to remember with both is not to progress too soon.

Allow your body time to adjust and recover from workouts. Advancing too quickly will put too much pressure on your muscles and cause them to fail.

Whichever exercise program you decide to try for resistance training, go at the best pace for your fitness level. Consider your goals too.

If a firm overall physique is your jam, then go for calisthenics. If you want to isolate specific muscle groups and build incredible muscles, go for weight training.

There’s no wrong answer. Get moving!

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Kristen holds a bachelors in English from Louisianna university. With a longstanding passion for fitness, she owns and operate her own gym and is a certified jazzercise instructor.

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