I remember the times way back when, when I first got into calisthenics, although at the time I didn’t know it was called that way. I just decided that I was fed up with being skinny. So I decided to start training anyway possible.
It really warms my heart to see how popular calisthenics has become nowadays.
So what are the pros and cons of calisthenics?
Table of Contents:
Pros of Calisthenics
Calisthenics definitely does have advantages that are unique to it. The pros I have listed below are not sorted in any way.
one of the best things about calisthenics is the fact that you can do the majority of exercises almost everywhere.
Just take a look, what do you need in order to do push-ups, planche, planks, handstands, sit-ups, one-legged squats? Nothing but the ground.
Even with pull-ups and chin-ups, all you need is a bar, and most of the time, we will have access to one or some variation of a pull-up bar.
You don’t need a gym membership or weights in order to train effectively.
Calisthenics, most of the time, will cost you almost nothing.
Admittedly you may need to buy yourself a pull-up bar, even some rings or chalk, but how much is that really going to cost you anyways?
Gym memberships, on the other hand, can put a wide gaping hole in one’s wallet. And to make things worse, this happens every month.
With calisthenics, you will not need to buy a gym membership. And you will not need to buy any expensive equipment. This keeps the starting investment very low.
Develops Your Strength
Calisthenics can successfully take your strength to a whole new level.
It develops not just regular but functional strength as well.
After several years of doing calisthenics, when I started doing weightlifting, I found out that I was a lot stronger than most guys in the gym. I was performing exceptionally well and lifting as heavy as some of the bigger than me guys.
Many people may underestimate the potential of calisthenics. Frequently they are believed to be inferior to the gym training when it comes to building strength, but that is simply not true.
Training Multiple Muscle Groups
There are very little to no exercises in calisthenics that will isolate your muscles. Almost all calisthenics exercises are basically compound movements that incorporate the use of at least two or more muscle groups.
This can make your workouts a lot more effective and leads to better all-around strength development.
The fact that you will be training at least a few muscle groups also means that you will be burning a lot more calories while doing calisthenics.
This particular advantage of calisthenics, I am sure, is going to appeal to many people.
Regardless of whether you want it or not, your flexibility will improve with calisthenics. There is just no way around this.
It is the nature of calisthenics and bodyweight exercises.
I used to have a lot of lower back problems as a result of a desk job, and let me tell you once I got on the bar, did a few pull-ups, stretched a little bit my back felt like new.
Your Posture Will Improve
With better flexibility comes better posture.
Fitness, in general, is one of the best ways to combat the adverse effects of an office job. Hunched back? Rounded shoulders? There is a way to fix all that, and it comes in the form of physical training.
By doing calisthenics, you will strengthen your back, erector spine, and abdominal muscles, which are one of the most important muscles when it comes to proper posture.
There are calisthenics exercises that can meet anyone’s abilities and skill levels. Regardless of whether you are a complete beginner or a pro, you will always find an exercise that will be suitable for you.
Another thing is that bodyweight exercises can be performed almost everywhere.
There are also so many different variations of the bodyweight exercises that you will never get bored. There are even books that list hundreds, if not more, different exercises.
For more information on the topic, check out my article about the best calisthenics books.
You Need Less Time
Calisthenics exercises can be a lot more time-efficient.
Frequently I have been able to squeeze in a 15 to 20-minute workout even on my busiest of days.
And if you have a good pull-up bar and a set of parallels at home, this can make things even better as you will not have to go out to the park in order to train.
For more information check my article on, “Are door pull-up bars effective?“
Mental Benefits of Calisthenics
Calisthenics has a lot of different mental benefits.
- Reduces stress;
- Improves sleep;
- Improves the cognitive function;
- Increases energy;
- Improves self-confidence; and
- Increases mood and happiness.
Better on the Joints
One of the most significant downsides of resistance training is that, well, it is not a secret that many gym-goers suffer from various injuries.
This frequently happens as a result of using too heavy training equipment, machines, and barbells.
All of these, when misused, will place excessive stress on your joints, tendons, and other connective tissues.
One of the best advantages of calisthenics is that the progressions are usually a lot smoother and don’t allow you to do exercises that are too difficult and harder before you have developed enough strength. So yes, calisthenics are better on the joints.
Of course, this does not mean you cannot get injured with calisthenics; however, the chances are much lower.
Improved Mind-Body Connection
Physical training’s one of the best benefits for the body, is the improved mind-body connection.
The brain and the body are connected through neural connections. These connections act as a medium for the different signals to travel between the body and the brain and vice versa. These connections control everything your body does on a daily basis.
Physical training can stimulate the brain’s plasticity and growth of new neural connections.
Improved Mood and Motivation
There is no denying that physical training has been associated with improved mood and energy levels.
However, there is a more subtle psychological effect, and this is the fact that you will feel good about yourself.
Just like anyone bench pressing 225 lbs will feel great about themselves knowing that you can do a number of muscle-ups or pull-ups will do a lot for your self-worth.
An Excellent Way to Relax and Reduce Stress
Physical training produces endorphins, which are known to have a variety of different beneficial effects on the body.
Endorphins can reduce stress, improve sleep, and reduce anxiety.
Calisthenics is a great way to have some fun time training, breath some fresh air, and can even be borderline meditative, given the right circumstances.
Overall this is a great way to unwind after a long day at work.
Good for Fat Loss
Calisthenics exercises can be great not just for building muscles and strength but also for losing fat.
Almost every calisthenics exercises will incorporate the use of two or more muscles. Many of the exercises are so tough that they will get your heart pumping pretty quickly.
Calisthenics can easily be combined with cardio and even in on itself considered a form of cardio.
Calisthenics is a very easy and readily available way to increase your calory expenditure during the day and reduce your body fat percentage.
Cons of Calisthenics
I have been doing calisthenics for more than eight years and strength training for more than 6. Even though calisthenics is my all-time favorite way of training, there is no denying that it does have some cons.
The different cons are listed randomly and not in any particular way.
Difficulty Isolating Muscles Groups
If I had to pick one thing that I don’t like about calisthenics, that would be this.
The majority of calisthenics exercises are compound movements. Compound movements incorporate the use of two or more muscle groups.
For example, during a pull-up, you will be using your back, traps, forearms, and biceps. You cannot really isolate one of the others.
This creates a lot of problems if you want to isolate one muscle for some reason. Maybe you want to grow your inner biceps (the biceps has two heads; an inner and an outer head).
Perhaps you can play around with the width grip of your chin-ups, I admit, but you cannot go around the fact that you will be training your back and other muscles in the process.
You will have a lot more difficult time focusing and isolating the inner biceps.
I like developing the right body proportions, and I have spent hundreds of hours studying what are considered the perfect body proportions. And despite calisthenics being so close to my heart, there is no way I can deny that you cannot do everything with just calisthenics.
I do fully understand that this will not apply to everyone; however, the vast majority of you will be training outside. There is a reason why calisthenics are also known as street workout.
Although this may be seen as a good thing as well, depending on how you look at it, it can also be a very big downside, too.
I have been training calisthenics for many years now, and I can safely say that I have seen almost everything.
I have been training in both scorching heat and freezing cold. I have been out training in temperatures ranging from 14 to 100 Fahrenheit (or -10 to 37 or so in Celsius).
I have trained more times than I can count in the pouring rain. That’s why I even have rain gear for training. One time, I had to run for a cover because a hail storm caught me training in a park.
You will be at the mercy of the elements, and this can be a huge con. Not everybody will have the necessary motivation and discipline to not miss any workouts despite what the weather throws at you.
Say goodbye to the beautiful and soft hands.
The pull-up bar, rings, and almost everything else will give you rough, battle-hardened hands. You will end up having so many calluses on places that you did not think is possible.
During the summer, the bars may be super hot and during the winter freezing cold.
Of course, a solution to this may be the use of gloves, although I do not recommend it.
The one thing that separates the calisthenics is the unique exercises and movements. But they can have certain cons.
While some exercises are very easy and readily available, like the push-up, others may be very hard to do correctly. Some of the exercises in calisthenics can be highly skill-based or require a lot of strength and power.
Some exercises can be so difficult that it may take a solid year of training before achieving them like the planche or even the muscle-up.
The thing is that in order to do these exercises, you will need to break them down to easier supplementary movements. Doing these will allow you to increase your strength step by step until finally achieving your goal.
The disadvantage here is that not everyone will be able to find out what are the easier movements and techniques. Compare that with weightlifting, where to make the exercise easier, you just remove some of the weights.
There is no way you can remove the weight when doing pull-ups.
It Is Not Easier Than Weightlifting
A lot of people may consider calisthenics to be easier. Or maybe that in order to do calisthenics you don’t need any knowledge.
Everyone knows how to do a proper pull-up, right?
Well, I have been working with people for several years, and I would argue that this is not true. Just as you need knowledge and experience to do a proper bench press, you need knowledge and experience to do a push-up.
Even though there are no barbells and weights involved, bodyweight exercises can be dangerous if performed incorrectly.
One of the biggest and most consistent gripes that everyone has with calisthenics is the problem with leg training. Legs are one of the biggest muscles in the human body. And to train them, they require the use of heavier weight or resistance.
Your body can provide only so much.
Even if you have never trained your legs, you may be able to 20, 30 even 50 bodyweight squats. High reps can help but only to a certain extent. What you need is enough resistance so that you can do fewer squats (given you want to gain muscle mass, of course).
One of the best exercises is the pistol squat, but it is still not enough. Frequently, I would recommend training your legs with weights in order to make your training more effective.
Not Optimal for Muscle Mass
Yet another problem with calisthenics is that it is not the best way to build muscle.
Don’t get me wrong. You CAN build muscle with calisthenics, but weightlifting is hands down the best way to do it.
You can get things a lot more organized and consistent with weightlifting and combining that with the ability to do isolation type of exercises, you can get the best possible results.
Calisthenics, because of its nature, just lacks in this department. You will harder time properly isolating some of the smaller muscles.
Frequently you will not be able to reach the necessary intensity to really push certain muscles into the hypertrophy range.
May Be More Difficult for People That Weigh More
Think about it.
If we get really technical and nitpicky about it, yes, there is a difference between calisthenics and bodyweight exercises. But in its most basic form, these two can be considered the same thing.
You use your weight to create resistance for your muscles.
But what happens when you weight more?
Granted, bigger people will have technically bigger muscles. In a way, the bigger muscles will compensate for the higher weight. But that is not always the case.
Sometimes you can be bigger as a result of a higher fat percentage. And fat is not a muscle; it does not give you strength.
As a direct result, calisthenics may be a bit more difficult for overweight people. Even when it comes to basic exercises like pull-ups and push-ups.
For more information, check my articles on this topic:
- Are pull-ups harder if you weigh more?
- Are push-ups harder if you weigh more?
The Progress Is Slower
One of the downsides to calisthenics is that progression comes slowly.
For example, while doing weightlifting, you will be able to see progress much quicker. This week you may be doing dumbbell presses with 45 lbs, and after two weeks, you may be able to do with 50 or even 55 lbs.
Even though the progress is less, it is there, and you can see it.
While with calisthenics, it may take more time to develop the necessary strength to really notice the difference.
If you are struggling to do even a single pull-up today, it may take two weeks before doing your first real pull-up.
This may be very discouraging for many. It is not uncommon for people to just give up after training just for a while.
This is why I discourage certain thoughts like, “How much time does it take to do X?” The time it has taken somebody else may be entirely different compared to the time you will need and vice versa.
It is good to have a certain idea of what to expect; however, do not give yourself any false expectations.