Calisthenics vs weight lifting, which is better? Well, it all depends on your goals. Calisthenics refers to the practice of working out by using your own body weight, while weight lifting requires that you use an external weight(s).
Most people assume that weight lifting is the only way to gain size and strength, or that calisthenics is the only way to get that naturally strong, lean and ripped look.
The reality is not that simple.
Understanding Calisthenics and Weight Lifting
For the most part, your body does not know if you are lifting your own body weight, using resistance bands or lifting external weight. Your body just knows that there is resistance, and if that resistance is challenging enough, your muscle fibres will rebuild stronger.
Training via calisthenics gives you a lot of functional strength, while many bodybuilders train using traditional weight lifting movements rather than functional training-related movements.
Technically challenging calisthenics exercises help to train your nervous system as well, while for many people, bodybuilding is all about the looks. Further, there is a common belief among weight lifters that assumes that one cannot build muscle with calisthenics. There is even an idea in some parts of the fitness world that calisthenics should only be considered as a foundation for weight lifting.
However, if your goal is to get bigger muscles while sticking to calisthenics, you are going to have to push yourself past your comfort zone. You can not keep doing the same basic body weight exercises and expect to make progress.
The thing about weight lifting is that it is very progressive. In simple terms, all you have to do to increase muscle mass is to keep adding more weight. In contrast, when training via calisthenics, once you are able to do about 50+ bodyweight squats or push-ups/press-ups, you are not going to gain much after that (i.e. increasing muscle mass).
Of course, you could always learn to perform harder variations like one arm push-ups and pistol squats, but that is not always optimal or achieveable.
The takeaway? Just training with your bodyweight can feel limiting over time in terms of gaining muscle mass. This is where weighted calisthenics comes in, because it enables you to keep adding weight to your calisthenics based exercises so you can increase the challenge and improve your chances of getting stronger.
It is often recommended to only start weighted calisthenics after a year or so of starting your journey, because that way, you will have built the prerequisite foundation (thereby helping to reduce your risk of injury).
Generally, the best way to make sure that your body grows bigger and stronger via calisthenics, is to follow a progressive training programme. Initially, you will want to focus on performing sets and reps with basic calisthenic exercises instead of doing fancy tricks.
The Benefits of Calisthenics
- Better for functional strength like climbing, and can increase your physical efficacy in everyday situations.
- It is free, regardless of whether you exercise indoors or outdoors.
- All you need is your own body weight, and you can easily incorporate it into your vacation regimen or use regular home gym equipment.
- It works multiple muscles at once.
- You learn a lot of new and impressive moves, which gives you a more athletic and functional body.
Benefits of Weight Lifting
- It is easier to progress in strength and hypertrophy training, since you can just add extra weight.
- You can target specific muscle groups, which is often harder to do with calisthenics.
- It is easier to train legs than in calisthenics, unless you are doing weighted calisthenics.
What About Injuries?
Calisthenics fans often say weight lifting is dangerous and bad for your joints, and you can easily get injured. But, the same goes for calisthenics.
Sure, a push-up is a lot more stable than a bench press, but there are many people who have sustained injuries with calisthenics, especially when doing more advanced moves.
The point is that, if you put too much stress on your joints and your body cannot handle it, you will get injured – whatever your training modality. You can also increase your chances of getting injured by performing exercises with bad form or through overtraining.
Overall, calisthenics is a bit safer than weightlifting but it also depends on your form and intensity.
Training For Your Body Type
Body types are another important consideration to make when comparing calisthenics and weightlifting.
For instance, if you are an ectomorph that has a naturally slim physique, gaining muscle can be a struggle, while losing and maintaining healthy weight is not an issue.
If your goal is to bulk up as an ectomorph, then you would first have to pay attention to your diet before you even think about the training regime. You want to increase your protein intake and combine it with the right carbs in order to accelerate mass growth.
Because ectomorphs have a faster metabolism, it is also important to eat more than normal, especially if you want to gain muscle mass through weight lifting.
While calisthenics come easier for ectomorphs, if your goal is to gain muscle mass, you must focus on strength training and heavy lifting. Performing compound moves can be a great way to build your physique faster by engaging more muscle groups.
Isolation exercises on the other hand, can slow down your progress, so weighted calisthenics can be a great way to reach your goals in the long term.
An endomorph body type is often characterised by being heavier around the waist, so the goal is usually to shift their weight from the waist to the upper body.
To lose weight and burn fat as an endomorph, it might be beneficial to engage in interval training and intensive weight lifting, while cutting calorie intake.
The last body type we are going to look at is the mesomorph. This is a balanced body type that can easily lose fat and gain muscle mass.
To make the most of this well-proportioned body type, you should focus on moderately intense weightlifting and cardio. Due to the inborn stamina and strength of this body type, weighted calisthenics can also be a great way to get the most out of your body.
What To Choose?
At the end of the day, the type of workout that is relevant and effective for you depends on your personal goals.
Just remember to keep in mind how your body responds to different kinds of training, and the goals you have set for yourself.