Calisthenics vs. Weights: The Difference Is in Your Body

Calisthenics vs weights: woman doing a plank on her lawn

Calisthenics vs. Weights: The Difference Is in Your Body

Building strength isn’t just for competitive bodybuilders, weightlifters, or wrestlers. You need a strong body to help you get through your daily tasks, from climbing stairs or carrying shopping bags to picking up your child. Strong muscles help support your posture and stabilize your body, so you’re less likely to hurt yourself as you move through your day.

Two popular types of strength training are weights and calisthenics. Weight training uses external weights to create resistance while calisthenics uses your own bodyweight.

Let’s look at what strength training is, the differences between these two different types of exercise, and the pros and cons of calisthenics vs. weights.

What Is Strength Training?

Strength or resistance training is a type of exercise that’s especially aimed at building muscle mass. It’s distinct from aerobic exercise — or cardio — in that the goal isn’t to get your heart pumping and to burn a massive number of calories, but to build strength.

Incorporating resistance training in your workout has many health benefits. It supports your physical performance and mobility, as well as your cardiovascular health. As you get older and start to lose muscle mass, strength training helps keep your muscles strong, so you’re less likely to fall. And weight training helps to retain bone density too, so if you do fall, you’re less likely to break a bone.

Strength training also helps improve body composition as it increases the proportion of lean muscle to fat in your body. Plus muscle burns more calories than fat and building muscle also helps to speed up your metabolic rate so you continue to burn fat even while you’re resting.

So how do calisthenics vs. weights fit into this?

Calisthenics vs. Weights: The Difference

Calisthenics and weights are both forms of strength training and therefore help you build strength and muscle.

Weight training uses external props to create more resistance for your body to work against. Those props might be free weights like dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells, or you can make use of a weight machine. Deadlifts and bench-press exercises both fall in this category. 

On the other hand, with calisthenics you use your bodyweight to build and tone muscle. For example, you might do bodyweight exercises like these:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Sit-ups
  • Crunches
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Burpees

Benefits of Calisthenics vs. Weights

Calisthenics vs weights: couple lifting kettlebells

Both of these types of exercise help to build muscle, but they do it in different ways. Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of each.

Pros of Weightlifting vs. Calisthenics

Without a doubt, weightlifting helps you build strength and build muscle mass, which is why it’s so important for bodybuilding. During a workout, you break down your muscle tissue and as it repairs itself, it gets bigger and stronger. 

Weightlifting exercises focus on particular body parts or specific muscle groups at a time, while the rest remain fairly inactive, so you can choose what to work on during any given workout. For example, you might focus on your chest and stomach one day, then work on your quads the next day, and your triceps and biceps the day after that.

With weight exercises, it’s easy to start with light weights and then incrementally progress to heavy weights. You can also push yourself harder by increasing the number of reps you do.

Cons of Weightlifting 

On the downside of weightlifting, unless you have a home gym, you’ll probably need a gym membership to get access to the right equipment. And gym membership doesn’t usually come cheap, so your workouts will come with a price tag.

There’s also a risk of injury to your back or joints if you don’t follow the proper form or if you try heavy weights too soon. And if you don’t use each muscle in a range of ways, you may end up losing flexibility and developing a muscle imbalance. So make sure you consult a qualified personal trainer to help you understand how to use the equipment and the right techniques to build your body, not break it down.

Pros of Calisthenics vs. Weights

Calisthenics exercises are less about hypertrophy — or building a lot of muscle mass — and more about building lean muscle through a series of bodyweight movements.

One of the many benefits of calisthenics vs. weights is that you don’t need any special equipment, although a pull-up bar can be useful. You can do a calisthenics workout wherever you are, whether that’s in your living room or the local park. And many of the bodyweight exercises are easy enough — or can be modified — for even a beginner to manage.

Bodyweight training allows you to work out several muscle groups at the same time, so it’s more of a full-body workout and if you’re dedicated, you’re likely to end up with some excellent muscle definition. Bodyweight exercises also strengthen your core muscles, improve your posture, and help you build functional strength, as well as balance, mobility, and range of motion.

Cons of Calisthenics

Calisthenics training helps you build some muscle mass but not as much as weight training — if that’s what you’re after. It also tends to focus more on the upper body than the lower body, so you may end up with “chicken legs” unless you add some weight to your squats.

If you’re carrying extra weight, you might find bodyweight exercises particularly challenging. And if you have an injury, it’s more difficult to work around that as you’re using your whole body to hold a plank or do pull-ups, for example.

Finding ways to progress in your calisthenics exercises may not be as obvious as it is for weightlifting, but it is possible. For example, you could change the angle of your movement to make it more challenging, try to do it faster, or add more repetitions. Or raise your game by trying a handstand push-up instead of an ordinary one. 

To add an element of weightlifting, you could wear a weight vest or add resistance bands to your workout. And if you want to burn more calories, you could do your calisthenics exercises as part of a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine. 

The Importance of Nutrition

Man preparing a protein shake

Regardless of which combination of calisthenics vs. weights you choose to include in your workout routine, if you want to build muscle, you’ll need to make sure you’re getting enough protein. 

Protein provides your body with the essential amino acids it needs for muscle protein synthesis — also known as muscle-building.

If you’re working out intensively, you need at least two grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight every day. Whole foods like beef, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, quinoa, and chia are a good start, but it’s challenging to get enough protein from food alone.

To top up your protein intake, consider a high-quality protein supplement like Performix ioWhey Protein or Kaged Muscle Plantein. Both of these supplements contain Ingredient Optimized protein, which is scientifically proven to provide enhanced absorption so your body can utilize it more efficiently.

Calisthenics vs. Weights: Which Is Better?

Calisthenics vs weights: man doing a handstand on a cliff

The answer to this question depends on your fitness goals. If your goal is to build muscle mass, then you should include weightlifting in your exercise routine. But if you’re looking for all-around toning, balance, and coordination, calisthenics are the way to go.

But why even choose between calisthenics vs. weights? A combination of the two could be just what you need to keep your body in shape for your daily life as well as for your workouts.