You’d actually be astonished how many people down the gym don’t even know what calisthenics are. Maybe not, and maybe you are one of them. Even if they’ve heard the name in passing, they’re so busy focusing on the equipment and pumping iron that it never enters the head to find out what calisthenics actually are.
So what I’m going to do here is talk you through calisthenics and how using them as a principle for developing your body and mind compares to using weights in resistance training.
Even if people have heard about calisthenics, the comparison almost always quickly ends with them not being as good as weight training for developing muscle. But that’s not the whole truth, and whether something is better is very dependent on your perception, your goals, and how you develop things.
So let’s explore this topic in detail now, give you the pros and cons of both, how you can combine them, and draw some conclusions on whether you should focus on calisthenics at all as part of your regime.
Why Are Calisthenics Overlooked Or Looked Down On?
The simplest reason why calisthenics is often completely ignored by bodybuilders or looked down upon, is they are seen as part of gymnastics. Also, they can be seen as not allowing much development or being a bit boring. Would you rather do variations on push-ups endlessly, or crank weights and machinery in the gym?
But there are lots of pros to calisthenics, both using them on their own, and the argument around mixing them with weight training as well.
The Pros And Cons Of Calisthenics
Calisthenics can be awesome for a lot of reasons, especially if you want that generally toned body. At the lower levels is great to be able to use just your body weight to develop a nicely balanced physique.
It’s only when you start wanting to hit specific areas or upping the weights beyond what you can achieve using natural body weight, that calisthenics hits limits.
But generally, there are some crucial pros around focusing on calisthenics:
Calisthenics will appeal to minimalist athletes and bodybuilding types. They are actually quite fashionable, and they do mean that you can work on them anywhere.
Flexibility is the crucial pro of calisthenics. You can be anywhere; you can work on them at any time. The only thing you might need is a bar of some sort, but other than that minor piece of equipment, you have complete flexibility to achieve your goals anywhere, and in a shorter space of time than having to go through the whole 2-hour process of going to the gym several times per week.
Calisthenics is very functional because they consist of compound movements. So you’ll get lots of muscle groups working, and it delivers on the all-round benefit to the body. Your physique will start to change as a whole, not in pieces. Those movements are also practical, which delivers strength in everyday life.
However, there are a few cons of focusing on calisthenics specifically:
At some point, you will reach a plateau. It gets to the point you can’t overload your body. The only way around it is to put on physical weight because you’ve done the advanced moves which means you can’t put any more resistance into the mix. That’s obviously not appealing.
There’s only a limited range of exercises you can do without equipment. That’s a basic fact and unfortunately, there’s no way around that. You could use a bar, that’s permissible, but if you start adding in equipment, then it’s not calisthenics, and you’re starting to break things down into isolation exercises, which you can’t just use your body.
Sometimes they can be a real bump in the road to get over with calisthenics. The advanced exercises really can be tough to master, and can get frustrating. You can also have in the back of your mind that you can only progress so far, so what’s the point in mastering all these advanced exercises when you’ll need weights to go to the next level.
The Pros And Cons Of Pure Weight Training
On the other side of the coin is weight training, where you are using equipment and progressively heavier weights to reach your goals and then push beyond them.
Let’s take a look at the pros of using weights instead of calisthenics:
The most obvious one is the ability to endlessly progressive the overload. You can simply keep going. You want to go further, you just add more weight, or just do more reps, or hold the movement at the top of the squeeze; there are variations to achieve all this.
You can achieve both isometric and compound exercises using weights. That’s why so many people go straight for them. You can start by doing the compound stuff, and then move into the isolation exercises to finish. You then know that not only have you had a general workout in the areas of the body you’re working on, but you have also focused on very specific muscle groups in a way that you can generally can’t use calisthenic techniques.
It’s really easy to develop a routine when you go to the gym or use weight equipment. You know the routine you are going to use, the equipment, and the weight range you’re going to lift within. You know how you’re progressing and you know how to manage that process. It’s perfect for beginners, and easier to stick with them doing progressively harder body movements to achieve more stress.
But it’s not all sunshine and muscles if you stick to weight training rather than calisthenics, and weight training on its own does carry some negatives as well:
You’re obviously going to need a lot of equipment. As a minimum that means having a lot of space in your home, and some money to spend. But for most people, it means going to the gym. That then takes up time. By the time you get there, warm-up, do what you need to do, warm down, stand around chatting, and get home it can be two or more hours. That’s really not practical for some people to push their bodies to where they want anyway.
There are fewer fundamental movements. When you’re doing bodybuilding with weights you are not doing natural functional movements, this means the gains aren’t really going to help in real life as much, it’s very much about the aesthetics, which may be a good thing or bad thing.
If you hit a plateau with bodybuilding it can be really tough to get over. You’ll get to a level where you’ll really struggle to get to the next step. That’s where people look at using things like SARMs and CrazyBulk supplements to help lift them over those barriers.
Calisthenics Vs Weight Training
So although on the surface it seems completely obvious that weight training has been better because it’s more flexible and you can push yourself a far further, and for longer, that’s not actually the whole story.
Weight training does have several pretty fundamental problems that aren’t there with calisthenics.
A lot of it comes down to how you want to look. If you want lean, practical strength, and to get that athlete’s body, then calisthenics is definitely the way to go. If you want that huge ripped shape, with really define muscles and bulk, then you need to hit the gym at some stage.
On the downside, calisthenics does have a limitation. Once you hit a plateau there’s nowhere else to go. Once you’ve mastered the advanced exercises, there’s no more resistance you can put on your body naturally.
That’s not the case with weight training, but there is another problem with that. As you push your body harder there’s more and more risk of getting injured. That’s where you can get put out of action for months, throwing your progress right backward.
For me, whichever one you decide is better for you, I would always recommend that you look at diet and nutrition as well, because they are crucial to your success.
Also, you need to look at recovery times. A lot of the people just keep hitting the gym or doing calisthenics every day, and they are not giving the body time to recover, and they are often not giving the right nutrition to the body to allow it to do that.
Your body needs a couple of days to recover and to get the hormones to the area to fix the muscle and build it. If you just keep hammering your body you are not getting the most out of it.
SARMs are a brilliant way of helping to bulk up faster, cut fat better, and also to recover quicker as well. If you use something like Cardarine, you’ll get insane strength and endurance, which helps with both calisthenics and weight training.
Which Focus Builds More Muscle And Has The Best Outcomes?
On the surface, if you’re looking to build muscle then it seems like weight training is the clear winner. You can put more resistance on the muscles, you can do compound exercises, and isolation movements as well to really hit every angle.
Also, you’re putting your body through a more complete workout where you are fatiguing that, improving your metabolism, and setting your body racing with more hormones to build muscle.
But it can look disjointed, and it cannot come together as hard work for years. This is less if you use SARMs or supplements, but it’s still a huge investment because of the way it works.
By comparison, calisthenics is very straightforward and linear. You do the same core exercises and once you’ve mastered them and they are easy you start doing variants that increase the resistance.
So if you want a smoother ride, and a better look for your body all the way through, where you have a generally defined tone, and overall strength that helps in real life as well, then calisthenics are actually superior for developing the muscles you really want.
Is A Combination Of Calisthenics And Gym Work The Best Option?
So the conclusion here really has to be that it’s not straightforward, it’s not a straight-up fight in which one method is the winner.
For me, both have their place. You should build a routine around both. You can’t be in the gym every day, and you need to allow yourself time to recover from the intense workouts.
That’s where calisthenics can come in. You can work on generally improving your strength and tone, and you can do it gently so that you are developing yourself, but also giving your body time to recover from the heavier workouts.
I would also say here that neither is better than the other. If somebody tries to tell you they are, then they are talking rubbish. It’s a personal choice, and there’s a place for both. Don’t let gym snobbery win the day.
The final point I want to make again is around diet, nutrition, and supplements. If you are struggling, whether you are using the gym, calisthenics, or a combo, then look at these as well. Look at your diet, fueling your muscle growth in the best way you can. Look at your general nutrition, is your body getting everything you need?
Also, look at your recovery times. Are you allowing your body to produce the hormones and repair and build the muscle?
Then look at supplements. Look at SARMs as a beginning point. Although too much for some people, some androgenic SARMs can dramatically build muscle. Others help with strength and endurance and can help with motivation plus recovery times.
Whether you hit the gym, or you are doing calisthenics, you will plateau, you will be short of energy at times. Nutrition, supplements, and proper recovery can dramatically improve what you can achieve with either method or both combined.