The celebrities that we’ve come to know and love through our favourite TV program have it. That girl we always see running laps and doing push-ups at the park has it. The guy that you often see training so hard his shoulders almost pop out of his shirt? He does, too.
Who wouldn’t want the sleek, flexible & well-defined physiques that you see on your feed? In threads? In your favourite movies? Alternatively, maybe the physical aspect that arises from ones dedication to fitness comes second to you, and you’re more interested in learning skills, becoming mobile & mastering your body.
Whatever it is that drives you, we all want to progress towards our goals as fast and as safely as possible.
Is Calisthenics Better Than Weights For Athletes?
To answer this question we first need to ask another question…
What is the athletic endeavour?
If we need to expand our knowledge regarding a certain field of science, we study that specific field. When we need to become more adept at playing the piano, we play the piano more often. To progress our fluency in a particular language, we narrow in on that specific language and learn the nuances.
It’s the same with any athletic undertaking. Often when we need to discover how to become better at something, we just need to look at the law of specificity.
So, let’s answer a few questions such as:
Is calisthenics better than weights for athletes?
Is calisthenics better than weights for weight loss?
What is safer, calisthenics or weights?
Is calisthenics healthier than weights?
Law of Specificity
For every athletic endeavour, there will be specific exercises that you can perform which will help you to become a better and more effective athlete. Here are a few simple examples.
To build power & strength in the arms, quick feet, and a strong core, perform the following.
Push-ups (explosive push-ups for power) 10x each
Jumping Lunges 10x each
Hollow Body Hold 45 seconds
High Knees 45 seconds
Rest for 1 minute, repeat 5x
To build a strong back and shoulders, explosive feet, and a strong core, perform the following.
Pike push-ups 10x each
Jumping Squats 10x each
Hollow Body Hold 45 seconds
Boots to Glutes 45 seconds
Rest for 1 minute, repeat 5x
In general, calisthenics has more heart rate elevating exercise options, when compared to weight lifting. So if cardiovascular conditioning is helpful in the sport of your choice, calisthenics should be your go-to.
Result: For athletes, a mix of the athletic sport in question + calisthenics is best.
Is Calisthenics Better Than Weights For Weight Loss?
We’ve all heard that weight loss is 90% diet & 10% training, and there’s definitely a nugget of truth to this principle, but the impact that your training has on your weight loss should never be discounted.
The simple fact is, the higher your body’s metabolic rate is, the more energy you will burn.
If you’ve ever heard of the term basal metabolic rate (BSM), you will know that this is the energy that your body burns when it is at rest. To elevate your BSM, and hence burn more energy, you must perform more “activity”.
In pursuit of simplification, let’s say there are two activities that you can burn energy through.
Cardio & Resistance Training
It is true that during a 30 minute cardio based workout you will burn a higher amount of calories when compared to a 30 minute resistance based training session. The beauty of a resistance-based training session though, is found in its effect on your metabolic rate. For hours after an effortful resistance training session, your body will exhibit an elevated metabolic rate, continuing to burn more energy long after you’ve finished training.
When it comes to resistance training and maximising weight loss, you may want to recruit as many muscle fibres as possible during your training session. This can be achieved by performing a higher number of compound exercises, as opposed to isolation exercises.
The fact is, there are compound exercises in both calisthenics and weight training.
In weight training, the three moves dominated by power-lifters (dead-lift, bench press & squat) are great examples of multi joint (compound) exercises. These intense exercises can stress the body to an enormous limit, but if you don’t like these exercises in the gym, then you’re probably more likely to be found performing single joint (isolation) exercises.
In calisthenics, most exercises will be multi joint (compound) exercises. This is largely because the body itself is the weight, and any exercise that is performed will be inherently more complicated. This can be observed more easily if you visualise advanced calisthenics moves such as the planche, front lever, back lever & l-sit, amongst others.
All in all, a mixture of resistance and cardio is best for weight-loss. Whether you train with weights or if you train calisthenics, opt for compound movements to maximise weight loss and use isolation exercises to focus on your weak points.
Result: For weight loss, either resistance training option is fine. Pair it with cardio for maximised gains.
What Is Safer, Calisthenics Or Weights?
For a lot of us, safety can be of paramount importance. If safety is critical to us, then it can govern how and why we make all of our life decisions. From a simple activity such as walking across the street to extreme sports such as sky-diving, any movement we make can be performed dangerously, or safely.
While you do have the ability to perform both calisthenics or weight-lifting dangerously, one can be considered objectively safer than the other.
In weight-lifting you have the ability to stack +6 plates for your back squat, dumbbell press a load that is far outside of your 1RM, or drop a weight on your foot and crush a few of your toes.
In calisthenics you have the ability to perform movements incorrectly and possibly injure yourself. That’s why we propose that you train with a knowledgeable trainer first, before going it alone.
On the plus side, calisthenics movement patterns force your stabilising muscles to work more, which is better for joint and overall body health. Not only that, but many exercises will increase your mind-muscle connection, promote mobility, hand-eye co-ordination and proprioception.
Result: In terms of safety, calisthenics wins this round.
Is Calisthenics Healthier Than Weights?
For a long and healthy life a person may need many things.
Good sleep hygiene
A strong heart
Mobile & strong muscles
…and that’s just scratching the surface.
When it comes to overall health, there can be no clear winner between calisthenics and weights. For most people, you should simply do what keeps you coming back for more. Find something that keeps you interested and gives you that feeling of accomplishment when you’re finished.
If you want to push yourself to reach loftier heights in any sport or field of knowledge though, you will need to push past those self-imposed limits. No champion ever enjoyed every second of the grind.
Result: In terms of healthiness, it’s a draw. Physical activity of any description is paramount to living a long and healthy life.
For me, I trained weights for a long time before I finally found calisthenics. Ever since then, calisthenics certainly fit the bill for me, but I also find myself in the gym switching it up from time to time. My training background began in the Royal Australian Navy and for the first ten years of my fitness journey, I had a good mix of calisthenics & weights.
If you have limited knowledge about how the human body functions & how to train it towards your goals, making any training decision can be quite daunting. Using machines like those made by Technogym, Cybex, Life Fitness & Hammer Strength can be an easy way to navigate the complexity of training.
If however, you want to learn how your body works and be able to train hard no matter where you are while learning awe-inspiring skills along the way, calisthenics is by far the superior choice.