Calisthenics vs. Weightlifting: Which one is Best?

Calisthenics vs Weightlifting

Unlike our post on the differences between calisthenics and CrossFit, there are actually a ton of differences between Calisthenics vs Weightlifting that we have to get into.

They both focus on strength, but in different ways, and based on different terminology.

Calisthenics is how you become Bruce Lee, while weightlifting is how you become young Arnold Schwarzenegger. There’s more to it than that, but you get the picture, so, we’ll start there.

Weightlifting uses external weight and resistance, or external forces, to help sculpt your body and bring it to its maximum strength potential. Maximum strength is extremely different from relative strength.

Relative strength is what you get from calisthenics, which is where you only use your body weight to train your muscles. Your total muscle gain and strength is relative to your size/weight.

Both are great, but there’s some hidden differences between the two (apart from the obvious).

Let’s dig into them, starting with the way you have to supply nutrition depending on which path you choose.

The Nutritional Difference: Calisthenics vs Weightlifting

You have to bulk up to be a bodybuilder. We all know that.

calisthenics lifting weights

That means more full calories; none of that empty stuff. More calories, more nutrients, higher grocery budget to boot. It’s a daily requirement to stay bulked up, otherwise you let those muscle atrophy at an alarming rate.

With calisthenics, your body is only going to get so big and bulky. Nutrition is actually a bit easier, because there’s likely going to be about 20-30% less mass when you reach your goal.

If you had a specific bodybuilding goal where you’re beefy and strong, and a calisthenics goal where you’re lean, cut and chiseled, they’re going to have completely different nutritional guidelines and journeys to get you there.

They’re also going to cost different amounts of money, and over time, it adds up to be a lot.

With calisthenics, you can get away with less calories so long as you pack in ample nutrition. In either instance, you can’t just cram hollow calories in.

Actually, with bodybuilding, you can have a day or two with hollow calories or where you’re not bulking up, and you have mass to burn and return.

With calisthenics, once you start losing muscle, there’s less of it, so it’s going to degrade your progress a lot faster.

When considering Calisthenics Vs Weightlifting you have to consider above.

Calisthenics Vs Weightlifting: Primary Differences

So let’s compare:

Training Flexibility

Weightlifting, by its name, is limited to lifting weights. Every now and again, you’ll also be using your body as a weight, but it’s usually just external weights to increase your maximum strength.

Calisthenics is flexible because you don’t need any gear to get started, so we’re going to have to say that it takes the cake on this category. Calisthenics requires no equipment, though some does help, but weightlifting by nature requires weights.

Just to be literal for a moment, you’re also going to be more flexible from calisthenics than you are from weightlifting.


Muscles from Free weights

Weightlifting is basically seeing how many sets you can do, how many reps you can do, but always trying to push the envelope to get further.

With calisthenics, you still try to go further, but in a different sense. You’re trying to pus those current muscles, redefine your current maximum endurance. With weightlifting, you’re building more muscle, which is very tiring for your body.

That means that you’re not necessarily optimizing the muscle that you’ve already built.

Calisthenics is all about endurance. Gradual improvements over a long period of time for positive, long-term changes that you want to see in yourself.

You may hit a point where you plateau with calisthenics, but that’s okay; that’s maintaining. After you get that shredded core that you want, it’s all about maintaining it and testing your endurance.

Weightlifting is about bigger movements, calisthenics is about slower, more concise movements. See where your preferences take you.

Physical Strength

Physical Strength

This one is a no-brainer, but there’s a curve to it. Weightlifting will increase your muscle size, and will eventually make you bigger and beefier than you could ever be with calisthenics.

So yes, weightlifting will obviously make you more physically strong here.

But at a loss of agility. At a loss of balance, in some instances.

Since calisthenics focuses on core muscle groups, it’s training those same muscles over and over again. They get pretty rock solid. They don’t exceed a certain limit, but you’re lighter, meaning you can move faster. It’s a trade-off.

Calisthenics focuses on dense muscle, so you can be ridiculously stronger than you look, but it has a ceiling on it.

Calisthenics might make your stronger in the beginning, if you were going against another beginner that was getting into weightlifting, but that’s because the way they break down their body and rebuild it takes time to see major results.

In the beginning, calisthenics wins, but in the long-haul, weightlifting reigns supreme.

Weight Loss

Calorie Afterburn Effect

Weightlifting will put you into something called the afterburn effect, at which point your muscles are still producing heat and recovering from muscle lactation.

Your body is rapidly burning through calories to make this up, and it can continue to do so for up to 36 hours.

Work out for an hour, burn calories for a 36-hour dropoff. That sounds pretty freakin’ good.

Calisthenics on the other hand will still help you burn calories after the exercise is done, but since the weight (your body weight) is something that your body can handle, it doesn’t go into overdrive like this. It burns those calories for a lot less time.

There’s some more differences to point out, though. You can weightlift less and burn more, but you have to give your body time to rest or you’re not going to do yourself any favors.

With calisthenics, you can do this every single day and continuously burn off calories without having to take a break. You don’t have to skip a day.

Do you fall out of routines easy? Because a daily habit is something that once you develop, you stick with it. If you can only weight lift every other day, is that going to be good for you?

In short, weightlifting has the potential to burn more calories and thus shed more pounds than calisthenics.


Lean Body with no weight lifting

This can come down to a matter of opinions, really. What is more aesthetically appealing to you: bulky and beefy, or lean and chiseled?

You can have a herculean body while being bulky, or a shredded core without having that extra meat on the bones.

Calisthenics focus on relative strength, meaning it will train the muscles in your body in accordance with the weight it receives to resist against—which is also the weight of your body. It’s like two objects colliding, and meeting in the middle without moving.

This can be a great place to be, don’t get me wrong. You continue calisthenics and nutrition, and you maintain a lean, sexy body that you can be proud of.

But if you want a more Hulk-like look, you have to take that extra step and go into weightlifting. Relative weight training is only going to get you so far.

Figure out what you deem to be more aesthetically appealing, and opt for that. It’s impossible to say which road will be harder for you, so let’s just assume that they’re both going to be tough as nails (because they can be).


Hulk Like Muscles

Mass is going to be a big factor in your decision.

Do you want to be massive, or are you okay with a lean, chiseled body?

That’s basically the biggest difference between calisthenics and weightlifting. The funny thing is, some calisthenics will include weightlifting even though it’s not core to the methodology.


Because calisthenic athletes aren’t snobby or stupid, there’s no rivalry; they know the benefits of weightlifting.

Then there are those who mainly weightlift, and want to incorporate calisthenics into their regimen. Using your own body as a natural weight and for resistance is something that most other exercise methods include, just not as the primary way that you do things.

So it’s hard to balance the two, but sometimes they spill over. The more calisthenics you do, the leaner you get. The more weightlifting you do (backed by proper nutrition), the bigger you’re going to get.

Equipment used Calisthenics Vs Weightlifting

Around these parts, we like to put a lot of emphasis on bodyweight workouts, but believe it or not, equipment, even if minimal is an important part when working out in either of these aspects.

Sure, bodyweight workouts require minimal to no equipment, but Essential to any routine of course is the pull-up bar. Having this and a floor space to work off of will provide you ample opportunity to breakthrough and make strides.

With weightlifting, you will have a higher barrier to entry, but you could use makeshift items or little to no-cost items like a medicine ball, large rocks, chairs and tables. Of course you have to have the space for a squat rack or a power tower.

Again, this comes back to, the below.

Which is Right for You?

Calisthenics Vs Weightlifting, it’s starting to be an age-old discussion, Calisthenics gets more complex, whereas, with weightlifting, you know what you’re getting into—bigger weights.

They both have their place, but because of the differences in how they train your body, you’re going to have to pick one and stick with it.

Lean and easier to optimally supply nutrients to, or bulky and beefy with a higher caloric and nutrient intake? It’s up to you. Find what works best for your lifestyle, and what is required to reach the results that you want to see in your own physique.

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