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Resistance training, aka strength training, is the use of resistance for building strength, muscle, and anaerobic endurance.
Strength training can help build bone density and muscle. It can also help improve the health of your joints and help burn calories. (1)
Any fitness program must include some form of strength training to help boost your fitness and overall well-being.
Many people associate strength training with lifting weights. But you can also use your body to create the required resistance.
The results from using weights like dumbbells and barbells or your body weight would be very different. But it is your goals that would determine which is better. Thus the calisthenics vs. weights debate may or may not give a clear-cut answer.
Read on to help you decide where you stand in the calisthenics vs. weights and which option can help you to achieve your fitness goals.
Calisthenics vs. Weights – Explaining the concepts.
Calisthenics involves using the weight of your body for muscle strengthening, endurance, and flexibility.
On the other hand, weight training uses weights like dumbbells and barbells to force your muscles to contract under tension to build strength, growth, power, and endurance.
Calisthenics vs. Weights – What are the benefits of calisthenics
Calisthenics involves using your body weight for exercises. You will not need any special equipment, but you can use such calisthenics equipment as pull-up bars, suspension straps, and resistance bands to help make the exercise more or less challenging.
You can use calisthenics exercises to target virtually all the muscles in your body. Such exercises include
Calisthenics exercises can improve your coordination, balance, flexibility, and endurance.
Low barrier entry
You don’t need any expensive equipment for calisthenics.
You can do all exercises without any gym equipment, and you can do them without a gym membership. Thus there is no barrier to entry, and you can exercise anywhere and at any time, so long as you have enough room for the movements.
Anyone, irrespective of their fitness levels can start their fitness journey with calisthenics and go on to achieve some good results. That is not the case with weights. We know of many fitness enthusiasts who shy away from barbells for many reasons, including the possibility of injury.
Bodyweight exercises are versatile and easy to modify. Your level of imagination is usually the barrier.
What is necessary is to understand how your body behaves and moves.
It could, for example, be more challenging to execute the single-arm version of an exercise than the two-handed version.
You can target multiple muscles together.
Many bodyweight exercises are compound exercises. They can target and build many muscles simultaneously. With many muscles moving at once, your body can burn more calories. The result could be a well-toned lean body.
Much safer to do
Calisthenics is generally the much safer option of the two. While it is possible to twist a joint, for example, during calisthenics, that possibility is rare. You only need to get the form right, making the risk of injury very low.
On the other hand, using weights can put so much pressure on your joints and muscles, leading to a high incidence of injury.
Limitations of Calisthenics
You build muscles by applying resistance to that particular muscle. The higher the resistance, the higher the possibility of increasing muscle mass. That is not easy to do with just your body weight.
One particular area that is very challenging to build with calisthenics is your leg muscles. Thus many opt to use calisthenics for the upper body and turn to such explosive movements as barbell deadlifts for the lower body,
Calisthenics vs. Weights – What are the benefits of using weights
Working with weights involves lifting some weighted object, either free weights or machines, and using that as a form of resistance to challenge your muscles.
Exercises such as curls, presses, and extensions are all possible with weights.
Ease of progression
You can progress from one level to another without difficulty. You will usually do that by increasing the weight you intend to lift. Doing so will make the exercise more challenging and help speed up the results.
Possibility of isolating muscles
Using weights in your training can help isolate muscles and make it possible to target and build just one or group of muscles without involving others.
Limitations of using weights
Using weights for your fitness training has quite a few limitations.
High Barrier to Entry
Training with weights will require some level of investment. You will need a gym membership or some capital to acquire the necessary gym equipment. Either of these could leave a big dent in your bank account.
Higher Injury Risk
Lifting weights can be very risky. You can drop the weight on your foot, pull a muscle, damage a ligament, etc. That is not the case with calisthenics. Thus many regard calisthenics as the safer of the two.
It is possible to do your calisthenics anywhere and at any time. This is not the case with weights. You can’t, for example, carry your barbell to the open fields to train on a lovely morning. But you can do calisthenics outdoors while enjoying the morning breeze.
Calisthenics vs. Weights – Which can help burn calories
Calisthenics is better at burning calories, which can help burn body fat to help you lose weight quickly.
The reason is you move a lot when doing calisthenics.
Such movement forces your body to use more energy, forcing it to burn more calories to replace the lost energy.
The more energy your body dispenses, the more calories it will burn. The more calories you burn, the higher the possibility of losing more weight.
You can use calisthenics in High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which is one of the best ways to burn calories and body fat.
Lifting weights will burn calories, but not at the same level as in calisthenics. It is also worth noting that building lean muscles increases your basal metabolic rate, which is the ability of your body to burn calories when it is at rest.
Thus it will be good to support your calisthenics with some weight training if your goal is to lose weight.
Calisthenics vs. Weights – Which can help build your muscles
Weights are the ones to go for if your goal is to build strength and muscles.
It is much easier to increase the pressure on your muscles to help make them bigger or increase mass with weights.
You can build strength and muscles with bodyweight exercises and support the effort with such calisthenics equipment as resistance bands and suspension trainers. But you may not get the results you need very quickly.
Calisthenics vs. Weights – Which is better
As we stated earlier, there is no straightforward answer.
Each form of training has its strengths and weaknesses. Your fitness goal will be the determinant factor.
For many exercisers, combining
the two will be the best option. That will give you the best of the two worlds.
You will prioritize calisthenics and add some weight training sessions if your goal is to lose weight or improve your overall fitness.
On the other hand, you should place more emphasis on weight training and support that with calisthenics if your goal is to build your muscles.
You can opt to do both types during the same training session or on different days.
It is worth noting that both types will add resistance to your muscles. Thus there should be enough rest between your training sessions to allow your muscles to heal and recover.
Whichever combination you go for can help you to achieve your fitness goals if you combine your training with the relevant pre-workout meals and post-workout meals. You can never reach your fitness goals if you ignore your diet. The two go together.
It is always better to consult a fitness coach or a medical practitioner when you are not confident with any decision.
Final words from LiveLIfe
Calisthenics vs. weights, are you still wondering which one comes on top? If you are, then you will not be the only one.
Our advice is to consider your goals if you are still in the middle of the calisthenics vs. weights debate. Your style of training, where you want to do your training sessions, your level of finances, the time you can allocate for training, and where you would like to do your training sessions can influence your final choice.
Calisthenics vs. weights – our choice?
Both are excellent forms of training and should play a role in your fitness regimen. What you want to achieve through your fitness training should determine which one you emphasize.
- Wewege MA, Desai I, Honey C, et al. The effect of resistance training in healthy adults on body fat percentage, fat mass and visceral fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2022;52(2):287-300. doi:10.1007/s40279-021-01562-2
- Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012;11(4):209-216. doi:10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8