Both calisthenics and weights can offer effective training routines. Both offer unique benefits, but what is the right choice to help you conquer your fitness goals? This depends on several factors.
In this article, we will break down the differences between calisthenics vs. weights, explain what they are, and explain why it doesn’t have to be either one form of training or the other, that both training methodologies have their place. And you might even find combining both can be beneficial for your workout.
But first, let’s explain the two different training methods;
Unless you are a complete newbie to the gym, most will know that weightlifting refers to lifting weights to build strength and muscle mass.
In exercise science, this is more commonly referred to as resistance training.
Lifting weights or weight lifting can be done with weight training equipment such as barbells, dumbells, kettlebells, weight machines, and any external forces to create resistance against the body.
The underlying principle here is that the body always resists gravity, and adding weight to this equation makes it easier to overload muscle groups. When this happens, it promotes tiny tears in the muscle, prompting repair. This results in hypertrophy or muscle growth, which can help build absolute strength through bigger, stronger muscles.
Benefits of Lifting Weights vs. Calisthenics
While progression is still possible with calisthenics, weightlifting progression is much more straightforward. For example, when using dumbbells, all that’s needed to move forward is to use a heavier dumbbell to make the workout more challenging.
Although calisthenics may be an effective method for beginners to overload their muscles to elicit hypertrophy, for experienced lifters, calisthenics may not offer the same response at the standard hypertrophy (6-12) rep range. The intensity of an exercise or movement pattern can be easily increased by adding weight.
Isolating Muscle Groups
It’s significantly easier to target specific muscle groups when weight training.
For example, leg presses will primarily target the quadriceps and gluteal muscles. Similarly, the bicep curl will target the biceps brachii muscle.
It is harder to specifically isolate a particular muscle group with calisthenics because most calisthenic exercises are compound movements.
What Are Calisthenics?
Calisthenics exercise is where you use your body weight to perform dynamic, compound exercises instead of external weights. Calisthenic exercises generally included in a calisthenics workout are;
- Jumping jacks
- Trunk twists
- Push-ups and pull-ups.
Benefits of Calisthenics vs. Lifting Free Weights
1. Easier Learning Curve with Calisthenics
Calisthenics is often easier to learn because the movements are simple and involve using your body weight, making them more accessible for people of all fitness levels.
2. Convenience and Affordability
It takes quite an investment to have a fully equipped home gym. And on that note, gym memberships don’t come cheap, either. So the issue of affordability is often mentioned as a common reason why people don’t work out or don’t do so as often as they should.
With calisthenics, you only need space and your body to work out. No equipment, no gym membership, and you can work out anywhere; your home, the office, in a hotel room, name it.
3. Targets Multiple Muscle Groups
A significant benefit of calisthenics is that it focuses on using the entire body instead of several sets of muscles at a time. This gives you a full body workout simultaneously and allows you to burn many calories quickly.
4. Co-ordination, Balance, and Flexibility
Aside from strength training, calisthenics also helps you improve your coordination, balance, endurance, and flexibility, offering heightened body awareness and overall body control.
5. More Efficient Fitness Routine
With weightlifting, time can be eaten up by non-exercise routines. For example, moving from one piece of equipment to another, cleaning up equipment before and/or after use, loading weights, waiting for equipment to become available, and so on.
Calisthenics eliminates these blocks, allowing you to go from one exercise to the next without cooling off. You can also do supersets easily since all you need is your body. As far as efficiency goes, calisthenics can be a more efficient routine.
Calisthenics vs. Weightlifting: What does the Science Say?
1. Hypertrophy Rep Range
The science of hypertrophy, when it reviewed the scientific literature around the “hypertrophy rep range” found that the number of reps per set can affect muscle growth. In a study, low reps caused measures of muscle size to increase by 11.91 ± 5.70% on average, while moderate reps in the same studies caused estimates of muscle size to increase by 12.19 ± 6.58% on average after adjustments.
Concluding that sets of anywhere from 4-40 reps can stimulate muscle growth; most research shows that doing 6-20 reps per set is the most efficient way to build muscle.
Meaning that progress within the scientific hypertrophy rep range can be possible for beginners. Still, after the muscles have adapted to body weight, increasing the exercise intensity at a specific hypertrophy rep range may be challenging for more advanced lifters. Thus, lifting weights may be better as a general form of hypertrophy progression.
2. Compound Exercises
Compound exercises, like the squat and deadlift, will increase muscle activation and growth more effectively than isolation exercises. Compound exercises, which work for multiple muscle groups simultaneously, can promote muscle growth and increase overall calorie burn more effectively than isolation exercises targeting just one muscle group.
The majority of calisthenic exercises are compound exercises. And as a way to increase the overall calorie output of a workout, calisthenics doesn’t have to be just for beginners, more advanced lifters can also incorporate them into their training.
Calisthenics vs. Weightlifting: Which is Better?
Both Calisthenics and Weightlifting Can Get You Fitter and Stronger. That said, the best option for you depends on your goals. As well as your training experience.
Lifting Weights May be Better for Building Muscle Mass
For example, if your sole goal is to gain strength, weightlifting might get you there much faster due to the greater intensity you can get from more accurate weight and intensity progressions. Also, weight lifting allows you to target specific muscle groups.
Calisthenics May be Better for Losing Fat
Both calisthenics and weightlifting can help burn fat. However, calisthenics is generally a compound exercise, can be done anywhere, and can be used with supersets or even circuit training and HIIT.
Can You Build Muscle With Only Calisthenics?
Calisthenics exercises, like push-ups and pull-ups, work for multiple muscle groups at once, which can lead to overall muscle growth. Plus, because they use your body weight for resistance, they can be a challenging workout that can help you build strength and increase muscle mass. So, if you’re looking for a fun, challenging, and effective way to build muscle, calisthenics could be a great choice!
Is it harder to build muscle with calisthenics?
Building muscle with calisthenics can be challenging, but it’s not necessarily more complex than building muscle with weightlifting. It just requires a different approach and a greater focus on progressive resistance training.
With calisthenics, you use your body weight as resistance, so you have to continuously increase the difficulty of the exercises to continue making progress. On the other hand, weightlifting allows you to add more weight to your exercises, making it easier to progress in hypertrophic progression. It is harder to build muscle with calisthenics, but not impossible.
Do Calisthenics Build Strength?
Calisthenics can help build strength. It involves using your body weight for resistance, targeting multiple muscle groups at once, and improving overall strength and muscle development. Calisthenics exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and squats can be modified to increase or decrease the difficulty level, making it a versatile workout option for people at different fitness levels.
What happens if you only do calisthenics?
If you only do calisthenics, building muscle and increasing strength is possible, especially in the beginning stages of your training. However, as you progress and try to increase the difficulty of your exercises, you may eventually reach a point where bodyweight exercises alone are insufficient to provide enough resistance for further muscle growth.
However, you will still develop strength, endurance, and flexibility, essential components of overall fitness. Additionally, since calisthenics focuses on bodyweight exercises, it’s a low-impact exercise that’s easy on your joints, making it a good option for those with joint pain or other physical limitations.
Can You Combine Calisthenics and Weights?
Combining calisthenics and weightlifting exercises in a single strength-training session effectively builds overall strength and improves physical fitness. Calisthenics exercises like push-ups, squats, and chin-ups use body weight to build strength and enhance functional movement.
Weightlifting exercises, such as bench presses, deadlifts, and bicep curls, allow for progressive overload and increased strength gains. Combining these two types of exercises allows you to target multiple muscle groups, improve your overall fitness, and prevent boredom from doing the same exercises repeatedly.
Final Verdict: Calisthenics vs Weight Training?
Calisthenics and weightlifting offer unique benefits that make you fitter and more robust. Weightlifting may be the better option for you if you’re looking to build muscle mass. The heavier weights you can use with weightlifting can lead to greater intensity and quicker progressions in strength. Additionally, you can target specific muscle groups with weightlifting exercises, allowing for a more focused approach.
On the other hand, calisthenics may be a better option for those looking to lose body fat. Calisthenics can also be done anywhere and incorporated into different workout routines, such as supersets, circuit training, and HIIT.
Whether you opt for weightlifting or calisthenics, both can help you achieve a fitter, stronger body. But if you are looking to pack on as much muscle as possible, weight training is superior for the general population due to the loading progression it offers.