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Calisthenics Physique vs. Bodybuilding: Which Will Tone Your Body to Give You a Stunning Figure?

The calisthenics physique vs. bodybuilding debate sparks questions about which is better for a well-defined and toned body. Regardless, strength and endurance would be ideal. Read below to discover the differences dependent on your goals.

Our calisthenics physique vs. bodybuilding guide shows which is better for a perfectly toned body and stunning flab-to-fab benefits. You’ll know which resistance workouts will suit your physique goals. Let’s dive into the differences. 

Which Body Is Better: Gym or Calisthenics?

Using the calisthenics physique vs. bodybuilding debate to determine which body is better depends on your goals, but here are things to expect from this guide:

  • Calisthenics may improve weight loss (5, 17)
  • Calisthenics may improve functional strength (18, 19)
  • Bodybuilding may improve absolute strength (12)
  • Calisthenics with increased protein intake may tone and define muscles (8, 11)
  • Bodybuilding may help target specific areas (12)

Let’s get into the facts to realize which is better for your slim, lean, or toned physique goals. 

Is Calisthenics More Effective Than Bodybuilding for Women?

The calisthenics physique vs. bodybuilding results have different benefits. Let’s compare the two to determine which physique you want.

Calisthenics Physique vs. Bodybuilding for Beginners

Calisthenics vs. bodybuilding physique changes that are possible for beginners are plentiful. However, progression may be more challenging in calisthenics without progressive training. Still, calisthenics may be better for beginners who don’t need progression. 

A small study at Nippon Sports Science University in Japan compared muscle and strength gains in low-level bench presses to push-ups (10). Push-ups matching the load and repetition of low-load bench presses may similarly increase muscle gains and strength.

Additionally, a small randomized study comparing the bench press to squats found that both groups gained muscle mass with increased volumes (14). Also, another study found similar results when comparing bench presses to progressive push-ups (4).  

More research is needed to confirm how calisthenics can produce similar progressions, but current results are promising. Ultimately, calisthenics lets beginners progress with tempo, volume, and repetitions to benefit similarly to bodybuilders.


Calisthenics Physique vs. Bodybuilding for Fat Loss

An interesting randomized trial at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina compared the effects of resistance and/or aerobic training on body composition and fat loss among 119 overweight and obese individuals (5). 

Results showed that aerobic training alone or aerobic training with resistance workouts reduced body fat more than resistance training alone. However, resistance training alone and aerobic/resistance training increased lean body mass more than aerobics alone. 

The results of this small study indicate that combined resistance and aerobic training have the best outcomes for lean body mass and fat loss. This outcome is favorable for calisthenics, which is also aerobic.

A small study at the University of Mexico found that vigorous calisthenics produced a cardiorespiratory response similar to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) when measuring peak oxygen consumption during workouts (17). 

The study is small and more evidence would be necessary, but it shows promising evidence that vigorous calisthenics provides both strength and cardio simultaneously. It may also provide ways for women and men to progress their calisthenics workouts for fat loss.

Furthermore, a small laboratory study published by the American Physiological Society connected the dots between oxygen inhalation, metabolism, and weight loss (20). 

The research found that higher oxygen use may fuel fat metabolism to burn more energy. 

This study shows promise that vigorous calisthenics that combine cardio may also improve fat-burning and weight loss potential. 

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How Calisthenics vs. Bodybuilding May Further Help Weight Loss

Adding cardio calisthenics exercises, such as burpees or squats requiring dynamic motions may help. However, calorie deficits also count in weight loss. WebMD suggests a calorie deficit of at least 500 calories daily to lose 1-2 pounds weekly (1). 

General guidelines for people to lose weight include the following recommendations. Women are recommended to eat 1,200-1,500 calories daily and men 1,500-1,800 calories daily. Note, this is a very general guideline as there are many factors that play into an individual’s weight loss calorie targets including height, weight, age, genetics, activity level, among others. It is important to include lean protein to aid lean muscle mass growth while fueling your body with healthy calories from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

Secondly, you need exercise. Let’s compare calories burned in 30 minutes of doing calisthenics vs. bodybuilding exercises for someone who weighs 125 and 155 pounds, according to Harvard (2):

  • General weightlifting: 90 and 108
  • Vigorous weightlifting: 180 and 216
  • Moderate calisthenics: 135 and 162
  • Vigorous calisthenics: 240 and 306

You’ll burn more calories for a leaner, slimmer physique with calisthenics.

Read more: The Simplest Lower Back Calisthenics Guide for Beginners

Calisthenics vs. Bodybuilding Arm Wrestling or Human Flag Potential

Let’s compare calisthenics vs. bodybuilding in enhancing strength in specific body parts. You may be into arm wrestling or have the goal of being able to do a human flag with some strength training. 

A small preliminary study using lunges and squats, found that breaking sedentary time may improve functional strength and range of motion, also enhancing balance (18). Neuromuscular or skeletal muscle strength is pivotal to balance and functional strength. 

Another small Italian study found calisthenics improved posture, indicating further functional strength benefits (19). More research is needed, but current evidence supports how calisthenics may enhance multiple muscles to improve strength functionally. 

Functional strength may help you perform everyday movements or specific goals like the human flag. Would it enhance strength in your arms for arm wrestling?

Bodybuilding may improve absolute strength with isolated workouts. An interesting study by the Bulgarian Sports Academy indicates that targeted exercises result in absolute strength in specific areas (12). Powerlifters have even more absolute strength than other bodybuilders. 

Powerlifters are Olympic-level sportsmen who push maximal weight attempts on deadlifts as one example. The powerlifting men isolate muscles with isolated workouts to gain greater absolute power in their upper and lower body than other trainers (12). 

Bodybuilding may enhance absolute strength with targeted workouts to improve your chances of winning an arm wrestling match. However, calisthenics can help with core-related bodyweight exercises and movements such as the human flag.


Can You Get Ripped With Just Calisthenics?

Calisthenics physique vs. bodybuilding male goals may be to bulk or gain muscle mass. The same goals may apply to women who wish to rip and tone their upper arms, buttocks, or thighs. Either way, can you get ripped with calisthenics to tone the areas you want?

First, understand how muscles grow. A physiological review at the University of New Mexico suggests injury may result in muscle growth (8). Your body activates cells to repair tissue once tears appear in muscle fibers, often resulting in proliferation and increased fibers. 

Pushing muscles to fatigue under enough stress will cause the physiological response to occur naturally. Furthermore, resistance training can stimulate growth hormones to enhance fat metabolism and trigger lean muscle mass growth. 

Muscle growth follows a higher muscle protein synthesis rate over muscle protein breakdown through multiple biological functions, including exercising muscles until fatigued and stimulating protein synthesis. Let’s discover how you can achieve both. 

A Palmer College of Chiropractic review found that eating protein before and after resistance exercises can promote protein synthesis (11). Just 25 grams of complete protein with all essential amino acids before workouts can stimulate protein synthesis for muscle growth. 

The Cleveland Clinic states that complete proteins have all nine essential amino acids and are found in seafood, poultry, eggs, beef, pork, and dairy (3). Whole-sourced tempeh, soy, tofu, edamame, and miso proteins are good sources for vegans. 

Alternatively, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends eating more than 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily to maintain muscles or growth (13). Also, a protein-carb source could stimulate the growth hormones for added synthesis (7). 

A protein shake with fresh fruit or veggies for healthy carbs could help you tone and grow muscles while doing calisthenics. Finally, use progressive calisthenics to grow muscles if you want a well-defined butt or stronger-looking arms (14, 4). Increase reps or volume. 

Alternatively, you could use props to progress calisthenics. A dip station, gymnastics rings, pull-up bars, resistance bands, or weights can help you gain defined mass.

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Does Calisthenics Give You a Good Physique?

The calisthenics physique vs. bodybuilding definitions show obvious differences. Calisthenics trainers often have lean yet strong bodies, whereas bodybuilders typically have bulkier physiques. That said, it depends on what you consider a good physique.

Calisthenics with cardio or vigorous calisthenics may burn more fat and reduce your body mass index for a leaner look, but you also need lean muscle mass (5, 17). The Collins Dictionary defines lean muscle as a strong, sleek, and healthy body definition (9). 

Calisthenics is excellent for maintaining lean muscle mass. The Mayo Clinic states that you lose lean muscle mass naturally as you age and recommends strength training, including bodyweight exercises (16). 

It is important to focus on preserving or gaining lean muscle mass in healthy aging. 

Anyone seeking functional muscle growth and a stronger body definition must enhance lean muscles but may use isolated exercises to support growth in specific body parts (12). A woman seeking a lean, healthy, and perfectly toned body may use calisthenics. However, a woman seeking more tone and definition may instead use bodybuilding.


Calisthenics vs. Bodybuilding Which Is Better?

The better option between a calisthenics physique vs. a bodybuilding body depends on your fitness goals. Let’s see the advantages and disadvantages and focus on a few tips. 

Read more: Calisthenics Shoulder Exercises: Techniques and Workouts

Calisthenics vs. Bodybuilding Pros and Cons

The calisthenics vs. bodybuilding pros and cons originate from the facts above. Summarizing them could help you choose a calisthenics physique vs. bodybuilding benefits.

Calisthenics Pros

  • You can strengthen your physique with calisthenics using no equipment (10, 14, 4).
  • You have a higher chance of burning fat with vigorous calisthenics (5, 17).
  • You could progress calisthenics to advanced bodyweight skills and exercises with functional strength (18, 19).
  • Vigorous calisthenics burns more calories than bodybuilding (2).
  • Calisthenics with complete proteins can help you define toned muscles (8, 11).

Calisthenics Cons

  • You can’t easily isolate muscle groups with calisthenics(6).
  • Progressing calisthenics may require exercise props (14, 4).

Bodybuilding Pros

  • You could easily progress in bodybuilding techniques, which is essential (10, 14, 4).
  • You could isolate specific muscles with weightlifting (12).
  • Bodybuilding could help you grow absolute strength (12).
  • You might motivate yourself more with bodybuilding in social gyms (15).

Bodybuilding Cons

  • Bodybuilding typically requires investment at the gym or in equipment at home.
  • Women may prefer sleeker, leaner, and more defined physiques (5, 17).
  • Bodybuilding doesn’t have the same range of motion benefits (18).

Calisthenics Physique vs. Bodybuilding Tips

Finally, the Mayo Clinic recommends 2-3 strength training sessions lasting 20-30 minutes weekly to maintain lean muscle mass, while resting muscle groups for at least 24 hours before another workout for a specific group (16). 

Carefully follow suggestions on bodybuilding with isolated exercises for specific muscle groups. Muscle tears are important in growth, but rest helps the physiological repairs to gain and protect lean mass (8). Also, rest for 24-48 hours between calisthenics workouts. 

For more calisthenics guidance:



  • Why Calisthenics Is Superior?

Calisthenics is superior for women because of the fat-burning potential and weight loss benefits (5, 17). Also, it’s superior for beginners who want to start with functional strength, balance, and endurance before attempting bodybuilding (10, 14, 4, 18, 19)

  • Can Calisthenics Increase Testosterone?

Yes, but within limits. A clinical trial from Ball State University shows promising testosterone results for men practicing calisthenics (7). The study examined multiple hormone changes during calisthenics workouts after individuals enjoyed protein-carb supplementation. 

One purpose of the study was to determine whether proteins and carbs could enhance protein synthesis after calisthenics, which it did. Additionally, testosterone rose significantly after workouts. However, testosterone declined after individuals took supplements again. 

  • Can You Bulk With Calisthenics?

Calisthenics can certainly help you bulk muscles and grow lean muscle mass. Eating protein before and after resistance training can encourage protein synthesis (11). Meanwhile, protein synthesis is one of the cornerstones of bulking muscles (8). You ultimately need a higher protein synthesis rate compared to protein breakdowns to bulk with any training. 

Eating complete proteins enhances protein synthesis and bulking with calisthenics  (8, 11). Adding healthy carbs to proteins can further enhance protein synthesis and muscle building (7). Finally, progressing calisthenics to a vigorous, cardio-style workout encourages more oxygen intake for metabolic rate and hypertrophy (20).

  • Is Calisthenics Harder Than the Gym?

Calisthenics is harder than the gym because it’s more difficult to progress with bodyweight exercises. For example, push-ups must match the load, volume, intensity, and repetition of low-load bench presses for the same results in muscle strength and growth  (10). 

The Bottom Line

The calisthenics physique vs. bodybuilding debate puts to rest any uncertainties and shows numerous potential benefits for women or beginner men. A calisthenic physique could mean a lean, toned, and slim figure. However, this could also mean stronger, more balanced, and being able to endure tougher workouts. Go for a calisthenics physique before bodybuilding. 


This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. Caloric Deficit: What to Know (2023, webmd.com)
  2. Calories Burned in 30 Minutes of Leisure and Routine Activities (2021, health.harvard.edu)
  3. Complete vs. Incomplete Proteins and Examples (2022, health.clevelandclinic.org)
  4. Effect of Progressive Calisthenic Push-up Training on Muscle Strength and Thickness (2018, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  5. Effects of Aerobic and/or Resistance Training on Body Mass and Fat Mass in Overweight or Obese Adults (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  6. Health Benefits Squatst (2023, webmd.com)
  7. Hormonal Responses to Consecutive Days of Heavy-Resistance Exercise With or Without Nutritional Supplementation (1985, pubmed,ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  8. How Do Muscles Grow? (2004, unm.edu)
  9. Lean Muscle Definition and Meaning (n.d., collinsdictionary.com)
  10. Low-Load Bench Press and Push-Up Induce Similar Muscle Hypertrophy and Strength Gain (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  11. Nutrition and Muscle Protein Synthesis: A Descriptive Review (2009, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  12. (PDF) Relationships Between Body Dimensions and Strength Abilities in Experienced Olympic Weightlifters, Powerlifters, and Bodybuilders (2020, researchgate.net)
  13. Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance (n.d., acsm.org)
  14. Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  15. Running on a Social Exercise Platform: Applying Self-Determination Theory to Increase Motivation to Participate in a Sporting Event (2021, sciencedirect.com)
  16. Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier (2023, mayoclinic.org)
  17. The Acute Physiological and Perceptual Responses Between Bodyweight and Treadmill Running High-Intensity Interval Exercises (2022, frontiersin.org)
  18. The Effect of Breaking Up Sedentary Time with Calisthenics on Neuromuscular Function: A Preliminary Study (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  19. The Effects of a Calisthenics Training Intervention on Posture, Strength, and Body Composition (2017, researchgate.net)
  20. Why Is it So Hard to Lose Fat? Because it Has to Get Out Through Your Nose! An Exercise Physiology Laboratory on Oxygen Consumption, Metabolism, and Weight Loss (2021, journals.physiology.org)
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