Calisthenics vs Weights
Calisthenics vs weights: which of these two types of exercises can help you lose weight faster and build muscle in the shortest amount of time possible? Recently, weight lifting and strength training has become all the rage. However, are weights really all they are cracked up to be? In the calisthenics vs weights debate, which one comes on top for you?
Calisthenics vs Weight: What is the difference?
Weights or weight lifting is quite self-explanatory. It is a type of strength training that uses weights for resistance. Weight training can be performed with free weights, such as barbells and dumbbells, or by using weight machines. These weights stress muscles, causing them to adapt and grow in strength (8).
Calisthenics on the other hand, do not involve weights. This practice is also known as bodyweight training so that calisthenics form resistance training with the use of your own bodyweight. Unlike weight lifting which has gained popularity in recent years, calisthenics have been around since the late 19th century and early 20th century (1).
Benefits of calisthenics vs weights
Before you decide whether to go hardcore with weightlifting or rather switch to calisthenics, it is best first to know the (2) pros and cons of each.
Pros of calisthenics
Here are some reasons why you might want to consider doing more calisthenic exercises
1. They are relatively safe
When it comes to calisthenics vs weights, use of bodyweight for exercise is considered to be quite safe for everyone irrespective of age and level of fitness. As long as you have the correct form for every exercise, you can do them without the worry of injury.
2. They are quite cheap
Gym equipment can be quite expensive. When working with weights, you will have to buy equipment such as barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and more. Since calisthenics just require your body weight and gravity, you do not need to spend a dime on and fancy equipment. Also, you end up saving money on a gym membership.
Most people will do their bodyweight workout from basically anywhere. Be it at a park or at home, you can easily find time to get in a quick workout session. With 30 minutes to spare and some space around you, you can get a full-body workout. You can even get in a quick session during vacation.
4. Balance and coordination
Since calisthenics require you to be mindful of your body rather than some equipment you are holding, you will end up building better balance and coordination.
5. It is easy to find simple workouts
When starting a workout regimen, it can be quite daunting to figure out which workouts to choose. The best thing about calisthenics is that it has multiple easy to follow exercises that result in a workout of more than one muscle group. You can quickly build a fun and simple yet effective routine with a few moves.
6. Compound workouts
As stated above, bodyweight workouts can easily target multiple muscles in one move. This is beneficial for busy people who would still like a full-body workout but are too busy to dedicate 1 to 2 hours each day.
When it comes to the cons of calisthenics, there seems to be only one. Since you just require body weight, you can not get any more resistance to the workout other than what your body provides you.
Pros of using weights or weightlifting
1. Weights are an investment
If you have the money for it you can buy weights which you can use freely at the comfort of your home.
2. Access to a trainer
The best thing about going to the gym is that you are surrounded by multiple trainers and experts at any given time. You can approach them, and they can show you the best way to use these weights and get the most out of them.
Cons of weights
1. Higher risk of injury
Without access to a trainer, it is much easier to hurt yourself when using weights. Lack of proper form and added weights can cause serious harm to your muscles.
2. Weight machines workout one muscle group at a time
This means that if you are looking to do a full-body workout, you will have to spend an eternity at the gym.
Gym memberships, free weight or machines, and trainers can be quite costly, and not everyone has the luxury to afford them. This could discourage many people from working out.
4. Not as convenient
To establish a good workout routine and muscle growth, you need to be able to work out easily and from anywhere. If you are used to using weights or going to the gym, some situations can seriously impact your progress. For example, when you go on vacation, finding a gym for a week or two can be quite a hassle, and most people would rather not bother. On the other hand, a pandemic, like the one that the world is currently going through, can seriously affect your access to a gym.
In this instance, benefits of calisthenics vs weights, the latter seems to fall short of calisthenics due to access, costs, convenience, and safety factors.
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Calisthenics vs weights bodybuilding: Which one works better?
The first thing to realize in the debate about weights vs calisthenics muscle growth is that, both bodyweight workouts and using free weights will help you build muscle. However, when choosing which workout to do, you first need to consider what your fitness goals are, as each exercise works differently for each group of people.
For example, bodyweight exercises and lifting weights both will help with building muscle strength and enhancing muscle endurance. However, weight lifting goes a step further. i.e, weights are better when it comes to building muscle mass and targeting specific muscles.
Adding some extra weights to your routine as opposed to just using your bodyweight puts some extra strain to your muscles, which in turn makes them struggle to sustain and adapt to this weight for the next workout session. Strength training damages your muscles and breaks them down, forcing your body to repair them. The repair process leads to muscle growth, resulting in bigger and stronger muscles.
That being said, when it comes to calisthenics vs weight loss bodybuilding, weights are better when used by anyone who wants serious gains such as wrestlers, or competitive bodybuilders and weightlifters (2).
Which one burns more fat? Calisthenics vs weights for fat loss
Whether you are lifting weights or just doing bodyweight workouts, both of these two options will help your burn fat during the exercise. The difference, however, comes in what happens to your body after the workout session is done.
Exercise if known to boost your metabolic rate. It is even advisable to increase your metabolism throughout your workouts (4). As we have seen above, working out can help with muscle growth and our bodies, muscles tend to burn more calories than fat, even when we are not working out.
Bigger muscles help boost your basal metabolic rate – the rate at which you burn calories while at rest. In light of this, weight lifting is better than calisthenics when trying to lose fat. This is because lifting weights will keep your metabolism high for a period of time long after you are done with your exercises (5).
However, all is not lost if you are a lover of calisthenic exercises. You can still use weights or resistance bands to do your bodyweight workouts to give your muscles that extra push to breakdown even more, thus boosting your BMR after the session.
Weights vs Calisthenics frequency: Can you do them every day?
Calisthenics – Whether you are doing them to build muscle or as a form of cardio, you still need to rest your muscles. You cannot do calisthenics 7 days a week, as this will lead to overtraining. You should always give your body 24 to 48 hours of rest each week to allow your muscles to rest and repair themselves (3).
Weight lifting – The same rules apply in this one. Everyone should take up to 48 hours each week to rest and repair their muscles (6). However, weight lifting comes with some additional limitations. It is advisable not to work out the same muscle groups two days in a row as this can lead to injury. If you do the upper body on Monday, switch to your lower body on Tuesday. Even with this, you will still need to have a rest day or two during the week.
How to start calisthenics
If the above benefits of calisthenics vs weights have convinced you to give bodyweight exercises a try then there’s no time like the present to get started. Here are some great beginner calisthenics workouts to do at home and no equipment is needed for you to start with (7).
Walking lunges (and other lunge variations) strengthen the leg muscles as well as the core, hips, and glutes.
- Stand with your feet roughly hip-distance apart. Keep your torso upright and tall, core engaged, your shoulders back and chin lifted, and look straight ahead.
- Take a wide step forward with your right foot and plant it roughly two feet ahead, allowing your left heel to lift naturally as you step forward. You may want to put your hands on your hips, and elbows bent at 90-degree angle as you take each step.
- Keeping your core engaged and upright, breathe in and bend both knees lowering your back knee toward the floor. Stop just before it touches down.
- Breath out as you press firmly through your right heel and extend the right knee as you rise to stand and you lift your left foot from the ground, swinging it forward to plant it about two feet ahead of your right foot. Avoid leaning your torso forward from your hips as you take this step.
- Continue stepping forward with each lunge, alternating sides as you do. Set a timer for yourself and try doing this for 5 to 10 minutes
- Finish your set by bringing your back foot to meet your front foot on the final lunge.
Everyone knows that sit-ups are great for your core muscles
- Lie on your back on the floor or a bench. Bend your knees and hook your feet under the couch or heavy suitcase. You could also ask someone to hold your feet for you.
- Put your hands on the sides of or behind your neck. If you choose to place them behind your neck, be sure not to pull on your neck.
- Bend your hips and waist to raise your body off the ground or bench.
- Lower your body back to the starting position.
- Try doing this 10 to 15 times for one set.
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Burpees are a full-body calisthenic workout that targets muscles in your arms, chest, quads, glutes, hamstrings, and abs. Not only do they build muscle, but they are also great as weight loss exercises.
- Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart
- Squat down with your back straight and your hands on the floor between your feet.
- With your weight on your hands, kick your feet back so you’re on your hands and toes, and in a pushup position.
- Do one push-up before jumping your feet back to their starting position.
- Push strongly from this position in a direct jump up, reaching your hands straight over your head.
Burpees are considered a pretty hard workout even by gym veterans. If you are a beginner, here are somethings you can do to make this exercise easier
- Omit the push-up entirely or do it on your knees.
- Instead of jumping, just stand and stretch your hands in the air
You will be targeting your pecs, deltoids, triceps, and the core.
- Get on the floor on an exercise or gym mat on all fours and position your hands slightly wider than your shoulders
- Extend your legs back so that you are balanced on your hands and toes. Keep your body in a straight line from head to toe. Avoid sagging in the middle or arching your back.
- Brace your core by contracting your abs and tightening your core by pulling your belly button toward your spine.
- Inhale as you slowly bend your elbows and lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle.
- Exhale as you begin contracting your chest muscles and pushing back up through your hands to the start position. Don’t lock out the elbows; keep them slightly bent.
- Repeat this 10 to 12 times for one set
If this is too hard for you, opt to do the push up on your knees instead of straightening your feet all the way. For the vertical version, you could also do an inclined push-up where instead of going to the floor, you can do the same movement by leaning on a couch or table with your hands in push up form, at a distance that is suitable for you.
Pistol squats target the muscles in your calves, hamstrings, quads, hips, and glutes.
- Begin by standing with your feet together and parallel – about shoulder-width apart.
- Extend one leg in front of you, as straight as you can, with your heel hovering off the floor. Raise your arms straight out in front of you.
- Keeping your core tight and spine straight, bend your standing leg to lower your body while continuing to extend your other leg in front of you. Keep the foot of your standing leg flat on the floor
- Continue the bend through your standing knee as far down as you can while aiming to keep your extended leg parallel to the floor. Straighten your standing leg to return upright, keeping your extended leg straight.
- Do this 10 to 15 times on one leg and then switch sides.
For a beginner, do not try going all the way down to the floor. Try doing this in front of a chair or couch. You can also use a wall for balance
It is also known as the spider crawl and is an amazing workout that targets multiple muscles including those in the shoulders, chest, upper back, triceps, quadriceps, calves, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, and abductors.
- Get down on the floor in the start of a plank position with your hands on the floor shoulder-width apart, arms extended, shoulders positioned directly over your hands, and legs behind you, feet hip-width apart.
- Push the toes of your left foot into the floor. Raise the right foot off the floor and externally rotate the leg. Contract your core and glute muscles, keep your back flat, and bring your right knee to the outside of the right elbow. When your knee gets close to your elbow, squeeze the core muscles.
- Extend your left arm out in front of you, palm on the floor, while your right knee comes towards your right elbow.
- Staying low to the ground, alternate your bent knee and hand as you walk/crawl forward
- Continue this pattern, alternating right leg with left leg, until you “walk” the desired distance.
- Set a timer for how long you wish to do this crawl for.
This is a great calisthenic workout for your deltoids, biceps, triceps, chest, obliques, core, quads, hamstrings and hip abductors.
- Begin in a traditional plank position with your shoulders directly over your hands and wrists.
- Be sure to keep your back flat and your butt down, maintaining a neutral spine – do not curve your back or sag your hips.
- Engage your core and lift up your right knee, bringing it toward your elbow (or as far as you can). Return the right knee back to the starting position as you simultaneously drive your left knee up toward your left elbow
- Return to the starting position and continue switching legs as you pick up the pace. It should feel like you are running in place in a plank position.
This is an incredibly powerful exercise for your core muscles.
- Lie on your back, on the floor and raise your legs to a 90 degree angle with the floor.
- Spread your arms straight out to your sides for support. Remember to brace your core and breath throughout this exercise
- With your legs together, rotate your legs to one side, stopping short of touching the floor. Rotate to the other side.
- Do this for 10 rotations on each side.
Can you build muscle with only calisthenics?
Yes, you can. All workouts, with weights or not, can build muscle. However, calisthenics build more natural looking muscles. If you want to look super ripped like your favourite bodybuilder, you will have to add weight to your workout routine.
Can you lose weight with only calisthenics?
Yes, you can. Bodyweight workouts will burn fat and help you build lean muscles. You can make bodyweight exercises harder by using resistance bands or incorporating them in a HIIT routine (high-intensity interval training) to help burn more calories during and after the workout.
Calisthenics vs weights vs machines – Which one is best
This depends on your goals. If your end goal is to build strength, coordination, mobility, flexibility, and overall body control, then calisthenics are for you. There are even more advanced calisthenic techniques that you can learn along the way to help with this.
For better muscle growth and mass, weights could be the answer for you. Bodyweight exercises build lean muscles while weights help you bulk up. In the case of weight machines, we can see that these are also good for muscle growth, but they go a step further as they help in muscle isolation. Isolation is good for weak or recovering muscles.
Why calisthenics is more beneficial than weights or weight machines
Calisthenics is better than weights or weight machines because of how ‘ready to do’ they are. You do not need to spend money on equipment or a trainer to do a simple bodyweight routine. With a good internet connection, you can easily create a list of videos to stream for multiple calisthenics exercises to do in your living room.
The Bottom Line
In the calisthenics vs weights debate, calisthenics seem to have more benefits than just weight lifting. They are more flexible, have more variety and yet similar to weights, and can be made harder using certain advanced tricks. However, we can make a case for saying that weights are still needed in a workout routine. They help burn calories faster and build more muscles than what would be achieved by just bodyweight workouts.
With all this being said, please consider your age, health, and overall fitness before attempting and exercises listed above. If you are still confused about what option would work for you, make an appointment with an unbiased professional to explore your options. Also, be sure to speak to your doctor and get a check up especially if you have any underlying health problems.
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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. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Benefits of Calisthenic Exercises (2019, webmd.com)
- Calisthenics vs. Weight Lifting (2020, livestrong.com)
- How Often Should You Do a Calisthenics Workout? (2019, livestrong.com)
- How to Boost Your Metabolism With Exercise (2019, webmd.com)
- Metabolism: Popular Myths And 9 Easy Ways To Rev It Up! (2019, bodybuilding.com)
- Should I Lift Weights Every Day? (2019, livestrong.com)
- The no-gym full-body calisthenics circuit (2016, menshealth.com)
- Weight training: Improve your muscular fitness (2018, mayoclinic.org)