In every sport, hobby or activity there are always going to be some very weird terminology that just spreads all-around confusion.
This, I feel like, is the case with the difference between calisthenics and bodyweight exercises.
The problem comes from the gap in the experience. The more experienced of us will talk and often use these interchangeably without even thinking about it. And if we are talking to somebody new to this, well they will feel really confused and think to themselves, “Am I missing something? What is going on, here?”
If you are here, you probably want to know that answer too, so here is it at a glance.
What is the difference between calisthenics and bodyweight exercises? The main difference between calisthenics and bodyweight exercises is that calisthenics is based on bodyweight exercises, but additional weight can be used to achieve better physical conditioning and bodyweight exercises are a type of physical training which does not require the use of free weights
This is the short and sweet answer I would always start when introducing calisthenics and bodyweight exercises to anyone new.
And if you want to read more, below I will go into more details as to what information I would teach everyone working with me in order to have them better understand the topic.
What Are the Basics of Bodyweight Exercises?
Unlike weight lifting exercises, bodyweight exercises are a form of physical training which uses the weight of your own body. This is done through overcoming your own body resistance in connection to the gravity.
When performing bodyweight exercises, you will not use any weights or equipment.
Bodyweight exercises are a great way to promote a healthy physical and mental state.
Bodyweight exercises are suitable for all people regardless of age, sex or body composition. They are perfectly suitable for beginners that are just starting with physical training.
Bodyweight exercises can be a great way for physical conditioning and building strength and achieving a lean and healthy-looking body physique. Bodyweight exercises are also used for rehab purposes after injuries because they have a lower impact than weight training.
Some examples of bodyweight exercises would be:
- Pull-ups and chin-ups;
- Bodyweight squats;
- Bodyweight lunges;
- Wall sits;
- Handstand push-ups;
- Triceps dips;
- L-seats; and many more.
What Are the Basics of Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a type of physical training and conditioning which is mostly based on a variety of different bodyweight exercises.
Often the focus of calisthenics is to develop high amounts of physical strength and conditioning in order to achieve different complicated and skill-based movements and tricks.
Calisthenics exercises are used with little or no equipment.
Calisthenics, just like the bodyweight exercises, are suitable for all people. With a little caveat that some of the more skill-demanding exercises may be really hard for beginners.
Calisthenics is based on the use of bodyweight exercises. Some calisthenic exercises are:
- One-arm pull-ups;
- Front and Back levers;
- Pistol squats (one-legged squat); and so much more.
All of these are different types and kinds of bodyweight exercises which utilize your body weight in different ways in order to create resistance which your muscles need to overcome.
However, so far, it may seem like there is no difference between the two, right?
Is There a Difference Between Calisthenics and Bodyweight Exercises?
There is a difference between calisthenics and bodyweight exercises. But it is not huge.
The difference is that bodyweight exercises are limited to the use of your body. As opposed to, calisthenics where, although you will use your body weight there too, you are not limited in any way shape or form to just bodyweight exercises.
When you first start with calisthenics, you will begin with bodyweight exercises. This is how I started years ago, and this is how everybody starts.
For example, you may start out with push-ups and squats. But after a while, as your muscles grow stronger and bigger, you may decide to move on to pull-ups and dips, then after a while, to muscle-up, one arm pull-ups, and so on.
And while you are working on achieving these new movements and tricks, you may find it helpful to incorporate some weight training, or you may start adding extra weight to your exercises.
For example: weighted pull-ups. When I was working on my one arm pull-up, I started doing weighted pull-ups. And the vast majority of people have actually found a connection between the two.
If you can do weighted pull-ups with about 80 to 90% of your body weight, then the chances are you should be able to do a one-arm pull-up too. And this is what my own experience shows too.
As you see, there is not necessarily a big difference between calisthenics and bodyweight exercises. Bodyweight exercises are and will always be the core of calisthenics. It is just that calisthenics takes things one step further.
Frequently calisthenics do incorporate different movements from athletics, gymnastics and other sports.
Which Is Better? Calisthenics vs. Bodyweight Weight Exercises
Now that you understand what the difference between the two is, you may wonder if there is any inherent benefit in doing one over the other.
Both calisthenics and bodyweight exercises are very much alike. But there can be times where one is going to be better than the other.
Bodyweight Exercise Advantages
Bodyweight exercises are a better alternative for complete beginners. If you are just starting out with physical training, Bodyweight exercises are a great way to build and develop your muscles and strength.
The first few months you can do a pretty good job at building some muscle mass, losing weight or just overall gaining more strength and endurance.
Bodyweight exercises will also not cost you any money. You don’t need to get a gym membership which can be very costly.
Additionally, you don’t need to buy any training equipment. All you need is some free space in your own home and some free time.
In order to do them, you don’t have to worry about time or place.
If you have suffered a recent injury, you may have noticed that your physiotherapist has prescribed you to do different bodyweight exercises. So they are also relatively low impact and a great way to build up that strength and endurance back in your muscles, ligaments, joints.
We have established that calisthenics is just one step above bodyweight exercises.
Frequently they are the natural progression for anyone that wants to start training seriously and really likes the allure of bodyweight exercises and overall training outdoors.
Don’t get me wrong, calisthenics can be performed in the gym, in your home or in an outdoor park. Thus they have the same advantage as bodyweight exercises do; they can be done almost everywhere and at any time.
Calisthenics exercises are a superb way to build strength and muscle mass.
With calisthenics, you can get a good and lean body without the need for extra equipment or gym memberships.
Additionally, many of the different tricks and movements that people into calisthenics try to learn are very skill-based, which will develop your spatial awareness and ability to control your body.
Calisthenics is not limited in terms of equipment use. Pretty much anything goes here.
You may find yourself doing different progressions using extra weight by attaching it to yourself. Or you can use some other equipment like resistance bands and chains.
Disadvantages of Bodyweight Exercise
There are not many disadvantages to bodyweight exercises, generally speaking.
They are a good start for any beginner, so the major disadvantage is going to be that they are not going to do a lot for you once you get more advanced and strong.
This also depends on your own personal goals: are you after endurance, or do you want to build a muscular body? They are not necessarily always going to be the same thing.
Take, for example, push-ups. In the beginning, they are good, and they will develop your chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles. But once you start doing 20, 30 or even 50 of them in one go, you are developing your endurance and not necessarily your muscle size or strength.
And if your goals are muscle strength and size, the old and regular push-ups will do you no good. You may start thinking about different variations of them or even doing weighted push-ups. Which, if we have to get really technical, is going to be considered weight training and not bodyweight training anymore.
Many of the bodyweight exercises are going to be very limited in terms of how much resistance they can provide you with. At certain points in time, they may start developing your endurance but not muscle mass.
Disadvantages of Calisthenics
Calisthenics can share the same disadvantages bodyweight exercises do. But the good thing is that you can use extra weights.
For example, when I started doing four sets of twenty consecutive pull-ups, I decided that I want to move on to weighted pull-ups. So I started doing pull-ups with 45 lbs attached to me. (I used to bring this backpack which I would fill up with weight plates and tie it around my waist)
I have always considered that the true calisthenics exercises have to be performed outside. So one disadvantage may be the fact that you will find yourself frequently training outside. I have been rained upon, and one time I had to hide under a tree from the hail.
This may also mean that you will have to train outside during the winter or summer. Both of which bring different disadvantages.
And lastly, I’d like to mention some of the different calisthenics tricks and movements like the front lever, the 360 pull-ups, the muscle-up and more.
They can be dangerous when first learning them. Falling from the bar is not a nice thing and can lead to bruises and injuries. So extra care needs to be taken while performing them.
Calisthenics vs. Bodyweight vs. Street Workout
Finally, I’d like to clear out any confusion when it comes to another frequently used terminology, namely, street workout.
So far, we have established the following:
Bodyweight exercises are limited to the use of only your body weight as resistance.
Calisthenics is using bodyweight exercises, but weights and different types of equipment can also be used. And additionally, a lot of focus is placed on doing some skill-demanding movements.
So where does street workout fall compared to these two?
Street workout and calisthenics can often be used interchangeably. There is not much of a difference between the two nowadays.
Street workout, to a certain extent, can be considered a slight variation of calisthenics as it is usually performed outside in parks and outdoor gyms. The term street workout was coined because frequently people will utilize the equipment found in the parks and streets in order to train.
In both street workout and calisthenics, a lot of different gymnastic moves, athletics, and other sports are frequently used.