Calisthenics vs. Weights: A Beginner’s Guide

It’s not a secret that to improve your strength; you have to exercise. But which workout do you choose? Strength or resistance training is

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It’s not a secret that to improve your strength; you have to exercise. But which workout do you choose? Strength or resistance training is most often associated with weight lifting, but there’s more than one way to build strength. Calisthenics, or using your own body weight, is also an effective way to build muscle. Although both weight lifting and calisthenics build strength, they yield different results. Which method is best for you ultimately depends on your goals. This article will provide a comparison of calisthenics and weightlifting to help you decide which one is better for you.


Calisthenics requires using your body weight to perform and exercise. No special equipment is needed. You may need a pull-up bar for some exercises. The most familiar bodyweight exercises are push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, squats, and lunges.

Calisthenics is convenient and affordable. You don’t need to buy special equipment or go to a gym. You can do these exercises anytime, anywhere. These exercises are also easy to modify, so they are an excellent choice for beginners, but they do take some awareness of your body, creativity, and practice to get good at them. When you choose to do calisthenic exercises as your primary strength training method, you have to constantly modify them according to your fitness level. For example, beginners may need to do push-ups on their knees. Once strong enough, you can move to doing them on your toes. Eventually, you might need to do them with one arm to continue making strength gains.

©Frank Medrano

The major benefit of calisthenics is that the exercises are all compound exercises. This means that each exercise uses multiple muscle groups at once. Because the exercises are compound and require large amounts of movement, they allow you to burn many calories in a short amount of time. This, of course, leads to lower percentages of body fat and increased muscle tone. Calisthenics also improve flexibility, coordination, balance, and endurance.


Weightlifting, as the name implies, involves lifting weighted objects for resistance. Repeatedly lifting the weight challenges your muscles and builds strength. Weightlifting can be done in two ways. Either with free weights or on a resistance machine. Examples of weightlifting exercises are shoulder presses, leg presses, bench presses, and bicep curls.

When compared to calisthenics, strength progression when lifting weights is more linear. When an
exercise gets too easy, you increase the amount of weight you’re lifting. Weight lifting for strength also makes it easier to isolate certain muscles. Concentrating the load on one specific muscle helps you to increase the strength of particular muscles, rather than the whole body at once.

Is Calisthenics or Weight Training better?

The answer to which strength training method is better depends on your individual fitness goals.

If strength is your goal, weight lifting is probably better in the long run. It’s simply easier to overload certain muscle groups by lifting weight. It’s the principle of overloading the results in muscle growth, and subsequently, muscle strength. Don’t get the idea that calisthenics doesn’t make you stronger. The compound movements of calisthenics require a great deal of strength. With the proper techniques, you can add more resistance to increase muscle size and strength. However, if your primary goal is strength building, weight lifting is the better option.

Calisthenics is better than weightlifting for burning calories. If weight-loss is your goal, calorie burn is essential. Because calisthenic exercises require a lot of movement, they need more energy and put your body into calorie-burning mode. The more calories you’re able to burn, the more weight you will lose. Calisthenics is easier to incorporate into more vigorous cardio workouts as well. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or circuit training are great workouts to incorporate calisthenics into to increase your calorie burn even further. Weightlifting in isolated movements doesn’t burn a lot of calories. It will contribute to overall weight loss because muscle helps you to burn more calories at rest. But if losing weight is your primary goal, weightlifting won’t be enough on its own.


There are ways to combine calisthenics and weightlifting if you want to reap both methods’ benefits at the same time. You can do a combination of calisthenics and weight training on the same day or do calisthenics and weight lifting on alternate days to focus on one method at a time. Both techniques build strength and provide muscle resistance, though, so avoid overtraining. Particularly with strength training, it’s important to allow the muscles you train a rest day before working them again.

Take-Home Message

If you still can’t decide between calisthenics and weight training, consider your goals and lifestyle. Calisthenics uses your bodyweight, incorporates compound exercises, and requires lots of movement. It’s better for weight loss and muscle definition.

Weightlifting uses external weights, like dumbbells. It isolates specific muscle groups to increase muscle size. When done routinely, weightlifting is better for strength and muscle gains. The following list can help you decide which one is best for you.

Calisthenics is the best choice if:

  • you want to work out at home or don’t like commuting to the gym
  • you prefer working out with a minimal amount of equipment
  • you wish to gain functional strength
  • you are an absolute beginner and need to start with the basics

Weightlifting is the best choice if:

  • you have access to a gym or set of equipment
  • you are willing to learn to use proper weightlifting techniques
  • your goal is to build more muscle mass than might be possible with calisthenics
  • you want to isolate specific muscle groups

You should choose both if:

  • you want a well-rounded, strong body
  • you like variety in your workout routines
  • you go to the gym but also enjoy flexibility for busy days

Ultimately, the best exercise is the one you will do on a regular basis. If you don’t own a set of dumbbells or don’t want to travel to the gym, calisthenics is a fantastic option for at-home, no equipment workouts. If you already own dumbbells or visit the gym, weightlifting might be your choice. Combining both is always an option to see significant benefits.

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