Building Strength and Flexibility: Calisthenics vs. Weights Analyzed

Physical fitness is now recognized as one of the most important factors affecting our health. The challenge can be knowing where to start when there are so many types of fitness training. In this article, we’re going to explore two popular types of strength training: calisthenics and weights. Both types of exercise aim to build muscular strength and endurance. Here, we’ll look at the differences between calisthenics vs. weightlifting and the benefits each type of training has to offer.

What is calisthenics?

Calisthenics makes use of your body weight and gravity to help build endurance, strengthen your muscles, and increase your mobility. Some people consider gymnastics to be a form of calisthenics. Calisthenics for longevity is gaining popularity as more people become aware of this type of training.

Bodyweight exercises can be very simple (such as a heel raise) or complex and physically demanding (such as a muscle-up). Calisthenic movements fit well into most training routines and often require little to no equipment, making them ideal for beginners and seasoned exercise enthusiasts.

What is weight training?

Weight training is a type of resistance training that uses weighted objects, such as dumbbells, barbells, or weight machines, to build muscle strength and endurance. It is suitable for beginners and professional athletes alike.

Like calisthenics, weightlifting affects the central nervous system. This can result in rapid increases in strength in the early phases of resistance training.

Some weighted exercises are relatively simple, such as the leg press machine available in many gyms. However, people new to weightlifting may require guidance on how heavy their weights should be, and more complex movements (such as a Turkish getup) are best performed with some initial coaching.

Calisthenics vs. weights: which is more effective?

Calisthenics and weightlifting each offer unique benefits. Here, we’ll explore different aspects to help you work out which type of training (if not both) is right for you.

Accessibility and cost

Calisthenics requires minimal equipment, making it accessible and often free exercise that can be performed nearly anywhere. For more advanced moves, you may require bars of different heights — these can often be found in free outdoor parks or local gyms.

Weightlifting requires weights. It is usually performed at a gym or exercise center, giving lifters access to a wide variety of free weights and machines.

However, weightlifting is still an option if you can’t get to a gym or buy your own weights. Household items such as water bottles can be used as makeshift weights for home workouts, although you’ll have fewer exercise options than people who attend gyms.

Impact on body composition

Calisthenics and weight training both build muscle and burn calories. However, weight training makes it easier to overload muscle groups, particularly if you’re focusing on a specific area.

Muscle overload is required to build strength and muscle mass. If you want big biceps, the fastest way to get there is by training those specific body parts with external weights.

Improvements in flexibility are another benefit of calisthenics training. Calisthenics movements require your joints and muscles to move through their full range of motion, increasing flexibility and mobility. Weightlifting can also increase flexibility during movements such as squats, but only if you move through your full range of motion.

Calisthenics provides a full-body workout. While building muscle in specific areas of the body may take longer, you’ll also be burning calories, increasing flexibility, and working multiple muscle groups at once through compound exercises. Research shows calisthenics training can also help decrease body fat, which is worth considering if this is a goal of yours.

For this reason, both types of training work well together as part of your fitness regimen. An additional benefit is that, as forms of resistance training, both calisthenics and weightlifting may be anti-aging.

Risk of injury

The risk of injury is similar across the two types of training and varies across their subcategories.

For example, calisthenics was found to have an injury rate of 1.288 per 1,000 hours. Gymnastics, viewed by some people as a branch of calisthenics, had an injury rate of 9.37 per 1,000 hours for women or 8.78 for men.

Bodybuilding, a type of weightlifting for aesthetics, was found to have the lowest injury rates of all, with 0.24–1 injury per 1,000 hours. However, Strongman, a competitive branch of weightlifting, had injury rates of 4.5–6.1 per 1,000 hours.

Suitability for different fitness levels

Both calisthenics and weightlifting are suitable for beginners, intermediates, and advanced athletes. They both offer:

  • A huge variety of exercises
  • Competitive and non-competitive training opportunities
  • Very simple exercises for beginners
  • Complex, challenging movements for advanced athletes

Do calisthenics make you stronger than weights?

It may be disappointing, but there is no clear answer to this. It depends on how you train, and both training styles can get you strong.

When you train with weights, you can adjust the resistance more precisely and gradually increase your weights as you get stronger — a concept called progressive overload. This leads to building strength and gaining muscle in your chosen muscle groups. Weight training also makes it easier to target specific muscle groups.

With calisthenics, your progressive overload will be less precise. You can add reps, deepen the movement, and alter your technique to make it more challenging, but it can be difficult to tell if you are working your muscles harder than your last session. This may slow your strength progression.

However, calisthenics works multiple muscle groups at once, meaning your sessions may be more time-efficient than with weight training. With practice, you’ll improve the process of progressive overload in calisthenics.

Combining calisthenics and weights

For the best of both worlds, combine calisthenics with weightlifting. Advantages of a hybrid approach include:

  • Strength gains from both types of training
  • Increased calorie burning by combining weightlifting with calisthenics
  • More precise progressive overload from weight training
  • Increased mobility from calisthenics
  • Ability to target specific muscles with weight training
  • A full-body workout from calisthenics

Here is an example of a hybrid workout routine for your back and biceps:

1. 10–15 back extensions (calisthenics)

10–15 back extensions (calisthenics)

2. 10–12 deadlifts (weights)

10–12 deadlifts (weights)

3. 10–12 pull-ups or assisted pull-ups — movement can be assisted with a band or machine (calisthenics)

10–12 pull-ups or assisted pull-ups — movement can be assisted with a band or machine (calisthenics)

4. 10–12 chin-ups or assisted chin-ups — movement can be assisted with a band or machine (calisthenics)

10–12 chin-ups or assisted chin-ups — movement can be assisted with a band or machine(calisthenics)

5. 10–12 one-arm dumbbell rows (weights)

10–12 one-arm dumbbell rows (weights)

6. 10–12 bicep curls (weights)

10–12 bicep curls (weights)

Final word

Calisthenics and weightlifting are great options for getting stronger, building muscle, and increasing stamina. If you’re unsure where to start, why not try both? Hybrid workouts provide a two-for-one solution, so you can have all the benefits of both training styles. Ultimately, your choice will come down to what works best for you and your body.

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