Both calisthenics and weight training have very much in common. They are both types of strength training. But let’s take a more in-depth look at what separates them.
Is weight training and calisthenics the same thing? Weight training uses external weights like dumbbells and barbells and often involves isolated exercises. Compared to weight training, calisthenics uses your body weight and usually involves compound exercises. Both calisthenics and weightlifting can be used to develop muscle size, strength, and endurance.
Weight training, or weightlifting, and calisthenics have a lot of different pros and cons. Although they are different, they can undoubtedly be used to supplement, quite successfully at that, each other.
Let’s take a look at what makes each and every one of these so special.
What Is Weight Training?
Weight training is a form of physical exercise that incorporates the use of weights. The purpose of weight training is to develop the strength and size of the muscles.
This is achieved by manipulating and using various combinations of sets, reps, rest periods, exercises, weight, and training techniques. These combinations and variations are important.
There are numerous different techniques and methods for doing weight training that have a different effect on the muscles and our body.
In addition to that, depending on the type of equipment used, weight training can be separated into two main categories.
- Using free weights; and
- Using weight machines.
Let’s take a look at each one of these and what are their general advantages and disadvantages. As you see, even though they are very similar, they can have their specific purpose time to be used. Let’s take a look.
Training with Free Weights
Free weights training is considered training with dumbbells, weights, barbells, kettlebells, and any other type of weight that are not fixed to a certain place that you can pick up and hold freely.
There are some very good advantages to using free weights compared to the machines.
Free weight training is effective in building muscle mass. A study shows that free weights can be as effective as machines in building muscle size and strength. (1)
Free weights can be a lot easier on the joints and help with preventing injuries. The movements are way more natural. My own experience shows just that as well. After I injured my shoulder, I discovered that my shoulder was hurting me while doing any kind of barbell bench press. Doing bench presses with barbells fixed that.
Free weights are developing functional strength. Functional fitness refers to a type of training that translates to everyday activities.
Free weights can be used to fix any muscle imbalances in the body.
Free weights require a lot more muscle engagement in order to perform the movements and maintain the needed balance properly. You will find yourself using more muscles as stabilizers. This can come as a good thing as you will develop better strength in a wider range of motions. It can also potentially lead to higher energy use.
Weight Training with Machines
Using the machines laying around the gym, you can also build size and mass. Doing and learning how to do exercises on the machines is a lot easier for one.
Proper form is an important part of any strength training routine and is the first thing that we need to learn before picking up any more challenging weight.
Proper form will keep you away from injuries and will promote better results. And you want that.
Machines usually allow for the use of higher amounts of resistance weight.
Machines can be really good, some times, in isolating specific muscle groups. Although the more experienced lifters can do that with free weights as well. I, for one, have a better time focusing on individual muscles with free weights because they allow me to adapt the resistance by doing small and precise movement changes.
Also, machines may allow you to kind of go more easy on yourself. We all have some days that we just don’t feel like the energy is up there. For example, a pull-up will be a lot harder than a lat pull-down where you can adjust the resistance weight you use.
What Is Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a type of strength training. It focuses exclusively on movements done with your body. Calisthenics uses the body weight in order to create resistance for building and developing the muscles.
But calisthenics more than that.
I have been into calisthenics for the better part of the past 8 years and although having well-defined muscles, gaining muscle mass, and being lean are some things that everybody wants to have, calisthenics focuses more on performing various movements. Some of these movements are not done with the purpose to gain muscle mass. Rather they are viewed as achievement something that redefines the impossible.
Because of that, you will see a lot of the gymnastic movements done by people who are into calisthenics.
And one of the bonus things about calisthenics is that will make you incredibly strong. I noticed that when I started weightlifting. I was smaller than some of the really big dudes in the gym, but I was almost as strong if not more as them. I was really amazed at first.
A little fun trivia is that Calisthenics comes from the Greek words ‘Kalos‘ and ‘Sthenos.‘ Which mean ‘Beauty‘ and ‘Strength‘ respectively.
Can You Build Muscle with Calisthenics?
Okay that all sounds nice and dandy but can calisthenics actually build muscle? After all, a great many people are to point out that bodyweight exercises are significantly inferior in building muscle mass. I should know. I have heard it a million times.
First, through calisthenics, you will acquire a lot of strength. There is just no other way around that. And with strength comes mass. You will gain muscle mass. But there is a catch.
Don’t expect to get like the really big buff dudes we see in the gym. The ones that are resembling most of today’s bodybuilder’s physique.
What calisthenics will give you is really dense looking lean muscles; it will provide you with an athlete-like physique. People used to as ask me if I was an athlete or perhaps a boxer.
Who Is Calisthenics For?
Calisthenics and bodyweight exercises, in general, are suitable for everyone regardless of age. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old if you are skinny or overweight. It can do you good regardless.
You don’t need any previous experience with physical training to get into bodyweight training, too. I know it because this is how I started. I paid a lot of attention to my form, to how my muscles worked, and what was expected from me to do. I do realize though that this is not going to be as easy for everyone as it was for me.
After all, this is why we have training and fitness instructors to keep an eye on us and keep us away from danger and offer proper guidance. I always considered fitness instructors the original (OG if you will) self-improvement mentors.
Is Calisthenics Safe?
Calisthenics is generally considered as safe as any other type of physical training. If done and performed correctly, bodyweight exercises pose no danger. However, there are certain things that may increase the risk of developing an injury like:
- Training too much;
- Having poor form; and
- Doing exercises that are too difficult.
Which One Is Better: Calisthenics or Weight Lifting?
With all that comes the eternal question which one is better. Oh, boy. This is like having two opposing football teams argue which team is better.
I have been into calisthenics ever since 2011 and into weightlifting since 2015, and I can attest that both have advantages and disadvantages. They are equal. The is no best. They both will do a lot of great things for you. So it depends on what you want to achieve.
For Muscle Mass
Both calisthenics and weights will build muscle.
However, calisthenics does have its disadvantages, and sooner or later, you will hit a plateau. Yes, there are a lot of different exercises, and there will always be a different and harder variation to an exercise, but there are certain limitations that you will not be able to surpass.
Weight lifting, on the other hands, is all about building muscle mass. If all you care about is getting as big as possible, then this is the route to go.
Calisthenics will make you big, muscular, lean, and looking like an athlete. And weightlifting will make you even bigger, bulkier and more heavy looking.
For Better Progressive Overload
Both weightlifting and calisthenics will give you results relative to your effort invested.
There is not a clear winner here.
This will be true, especially for beginners because in the very beginning you will always see the quickest results.
Another thing to consider is which lends its self to the easier application of the progressive overload principle. Here things also can get a bit tricky.
Overall weightlifting is a bit ahead in my book when it comes to progressive overload. You can quickly adapt the weight to your needs. The barbell feels a bit heavy? Okay, get rid of a few plates, or place another plate. Quick and easy. You can also play around with the range of motion, rep times, rest time, and so much more.
When it comes to progressive overload in calisthenics, sometimes you may find it hard to move from one exercise to another that easy. Almost every single movement has a harder and easier variation, but many people may not know them. You can also play around with rep and rest time. Overall things a little more tricky here, but still very doable.
This is a tough question.
Both calisthenics and weightlifting are difficult; they all have a learning curve. For a beginner, there will not be much difference between learning how to do a pull-up and learning how to do a deadlift with proper form, for example.
They all will require the time invested.
And one more point here is that a training session is not supposed to be easy. You need to adapt your training to push you to the very limit.
Another thing that will be important to many; it was for me back then, is convenience. Which one is best for beginners or for people that don’t want to invest too much money. Money was an important factor for me back then since I was still in university.
Weightlifting will require you to have weights, you either buy them or get access to them by going to the gym. Either way, you will need some money to invest in that.
On the other hand, bodyweight exercises use nothing more than your body. You just need a little piece of free ground to do push-ups for example, and nowadays there are a lot of parks where you can get free access to pull-up bars and dip stations.
For Muscle Isolation
With calisthenics, you will be incorporating multiple different muscles almost with every exercise you do. These are known as compound exercises.
While with weightlifting, you will be able to isolate different muscle groups easily. Do you want to train your middle deltoids? You can do that easily with a set of dumbbells. Not so easy to isolate them with a bodyweight exercise though.
This, as you can see, can be both advantage and disadvantage.
On the one hand, calisthenics will make you overall stronger it will develop a lot of muscle groups that otherwise get neglected.
On the other hand, with weightlifting, you can address specific muscles and fix some imbalances or weak spots that you may have. Also, you can easily separate different muscle groups and thus avoid overtraining them.
Can You Do Both Calisthenics and Weight Training?
You can successfully combine both calisthenics (bodyweight exercises) and weight training.
I have been doing that for more than several years now, and it can definitely be done. However, there are certain limitations and things that you need to consider in the first place.
Despite being both being somewhat different, they can be successfully combined if considering the pros and cons of each. You just have to really consider your own preferences.
The Workout Plan
You need a workout plan that is especially built around your main goals.
It took me many years of training and adapting until I was able to properly structure my workout plan in order to provide me with the results I wanted to see.
You too need to be thinking out of the box, ready to experiment and adapt in order to find what works best for you. That way, you will be able to better understand and anticipate how your body will react to the different stimuli and how you can structure your workout program to induce the desired results.
The Resting Time
If you want to successful mix them, you need to make sure you give your muscles enough resting time between each training session. Otherwise, you are risking to get into overtraining or even get injured due to overuse.
Your lifestyle also will affect your recovery time, energy levels, strength, and so much more than that. This includes the food you eat, how well you sleep, the quality and quantity of your sleep, stress levels, and more.
Also, there is no reason to overdo it. Don’t forget that you also need to have some social life outside the gym or playground. I used to have such a period where all I would do is train. Train in the park, train at home, train everywhere and think about training all the time. Yeah, a breakup can do that to you. But you know what?
It is counterproductive. You are running the risk of injuring yourself due to not giving yourself and your body time to recover. And this is just what happened to me. And it would happen to anyone.
Can You Do Calisthenics and Weight Training the Same Day?
Calisthenics and weightlifting can be done in the same day; there is no reason to worry about that. But there is a little caveat here. Let me explain.
First, what I mean you can do them on the same day is that you can mix some exercises quite easily. For example, when I train back, I always do a pull-up, maybe some chin-ups if I feel like it and muscle-ups. I have found out that lateral pull-downs are just not as effective as the old and trusty pull-ups.
Since bodyweight exercises can frequently be harder, as they will incorporate a lot more muscles during each movement, you may want to start with them first. This is why I always start with my pull-ups. If I start doing some barbell rows, and deadlifts, there is just no way that I will have the energy left in my muscles to do pull-ups or muscle-ups at the end of my workout.
You also have to consider the muscles that you will train with your calisthenics training. Let’s say that you decide to do a lot of muscle ups with your back training today. That’s great. But muscle ups will hit your triceps and chest a little bit too. And if tomorrow you are doing triceps you will be training them again the second day in a row. You don’t really want that happening. And what happens if the day after that you do chest? This means that again, your triceps will be trained to a degree for a third day in a row.
Do you see what is the pattern here?
This can happen with other muscle groups as well. The bad thing is that we frequently might not feel that we are overtraining certain muscles in our body until it is too late and get injured.
This is my biggest concern here.
What matters is your priorities. What do you want to achieve? What motivates you more? Do you want to bench 225 or do you want to do 10 muscle-ups in a row? Do you want to barbell row 200 lbs or do you want to do 20 pull-ups in a row? Do you want to do a massive overhead barbell press you do you want to be able to do a front lever?
Do you want to be big bulky and super muscular or do you prefer lean and athletic body?
All of these matter. All of these will ultimately affect how you structure your training program. I have been going back, and forward between calisthenic training and weightlifting and I can tell you for sure one thing. When you focus more on one, the other suffers and vice versa.
Maybe getting the best of both worlds is not always that easy as it seems to be.