The 4 Most Common Misconceptions About Calisthenics

December 07, 2015

calisthenics statue

It’s only a matter of time till I get another email today asking me:

Hey Todd, is it really possible to build muscle with a calisthenics workout?

Can I become strong with calisthenics or is it good only for endurance?

Of course, I don’t mind getting questions from you. In fact, I really enjoy helping you.

However, most of this type of questions are based on some years old misconceptions that aren’t true whatsoever and what makes me sad is that these misconceptions can stop people from training with calisthenics.

In this post, I am going to debunk some of the most common misconceptions about calisthenics training. Because, it’s impossible to cover all the misconceptions people have, there is going to be a section at the end on how to find and debunk misconceptions by yourself.

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The 2 Types Of Misconceptions

Most of the times, calisthenics athletes believe that misconceptions about calisthenics only come from outside the calisthenics community.

However, many misconceptions come from inside the community as well.

For this reason, the misconceptions presented are going to be divided into two groups:

  • Outsider misconceptions
  • Insider Misconceptions

Outsider misconceptions

These are the misconceptions that come outside the calisthenics community. They come mostly from other training disciplines (e.g. weight lifting).

The problem with these misconceptions is that they stop lots of people from training with calisthenics by making them believe that calisthenics training isn’t appropriate for the achievement of their goals.

Insider misconceptions

Unfortunately, misconceptions don’t come only from people who haven’t trained with calisthenics, they also come from inside the calisthenics community.

The main problem with these misconceptions is that they can keep people from exploring other training methods, it promotes dogmatism and can keep people training with methods that don’t lead to their goals.

The most important thing to understand is that all misconceptions are damaging no matter where they come from.

The 4 Most Common Misconceptions About Calisthenics

The misconceptions are going to be presented based on their theme. For each theme there is going to be an insider and an outsider misconception.

Misconception #1: Calisthenics & Muscle Building

bodybuilder

Muscle building is one of the most common reasons people start training nowadays.

So, it only makes sense that some of the biggest misconceptions are about muscle building.

When a beginner is about to choose a training method to reach his muscle building goals, he will see two basic misconceptions about calisthenics.

Outsider’s misconception:

“You can’t build muscle with calisthenics”

This misconception is quite easy to debunk.

First of all, if you make a quick search about calisthenics, you are going to come across some athletes that have incredible physiques. Such calisthenics athletes are:

These guys have developed a powerful and muscular body by training only with calisthenics. So, it’s quite easy to see that building muscle with calisthenics is totally possible.

Secondly, muscle building isn’t fixed to a particular training method and relies on resistance and using the right training parameters.

If you are interested in building muscle with calisthenics you can check out the following articles:

Insider’s misconception:

“You can become ‘big’ with calisthenics”

The insider’s misconception goes in the other end of the spectrum claiming that you can become “big” with calisthenics.

Many people are going to claim that this is true by showing as an example Hannibal the King.

Well, the truth is that Hannibal is, of course, muscular, but he can’t be considered big. If we compare him with a bodybuilder like Franco Columbu or a strongman like Marius Pudzianowski, we can see that Hannibal is as big.

Some may consider this to be an extreme example, but the main point I am trying to make is that you can never acquire the physique of a bodybuilder (or any heavy lifter) by training with calisthenics. Yes, you can build muscle with calisthenics, but your physique is going to develop into that of a calisthenics athlete and not that of a bodybuilder.

So, if your goal is to become really massive, at some point you will have to use weights.

Misconception #2: Calisthenics Training & Effectiveness

calisthenics push up

Some of the most common misconceptions about any training method are the ones concerning its effectiveness.

We are going to discuss here two misconceptions in regards to the effectiveness of calisthenics training.

Outsider’s misconception:

“Calisthenics training is only good for endurance”

This is one of the most common misconceptions about calisthenics training.

I believe that the origin of this myth lies in not knowing how to make calisthenics exercises harder. As such, once push ups or pull ups start to become easy most people would think of adding more reps and thus increase their endurance more than any other physical quality.

But increasing reps isn’t the only way to increase the difficulty.

You can instead make the exercise harder by manipulating the leverage or progress towards an advanced calisthenics skill.

By doing this, you can develop your maximal and explosive strength as well. A skill of strength is the front lever while a feat of explosiveness is the behind-the-back clap push up.

As you can clearly see, you can use calisthenics for more than endurance training.

Insider’s misconception:

“You can meet all of your fitness goals with calisthenics”

If you have only general fitness goals, like losing fat, becoming stronger and better conditioned, etc. calisthenics can help you reach them.

However, if your goals are more specific, calisthenics might not be the ideal training method or it might not even help you reach these goals.

What kind of goals are these, Todd?

As I said these goals are more specific.

For example, if you wanted to become stronger for the NFL, it would be far more effective to train with weights and exercises like sled dragging rather than calisthenics.

Misconception #3: Calisthenics & Leg Training

calisthenics pistol squat

Leg training is another area where there are a lot of misconceptions about calisthenics. The misconceptions are these…

Outsider’s misconception:

“You can’t develop strong and muscular legs with calisthenics”

This is one of the most common ways weightlifters “attack” calisthenics training.

Their main argument is that you can’t build strong and muscular legs with calisthenics because most calisthenics athletes have (the so called) chicken legs.

The problem with this argument is that you can’t judge the effectiveness of a method based on some athletes.

It is true that some of the calisthenics athletes “skip leg day” and the ones who don’t most of the times don’t want to build too much muscle in their legs. The main reason being that having more muscular legs is going to make advanced calisthenics moves harder to perform.

Their second argument is that you can’t load the lower body enough to build muscle and strength with calisthenics.

This argument can be true depending on the muscle group. It’s true for example that you can’t load the quad muscle as effectively as with weight lifting, however, there are more than enough bodyweight exercises that can help you strengthen and build muscle in your quads.

Furthermore, this argument is false in regards to the hamstrings, which can be effectively loaded with advanced movements like the harop curl.

If you are interested in building strong and muscular legs with calisthenics, you can check out some of the following articles:

Insider’s misconception:

“Calisthenics is as effective as weight lifting for building leg muscles”

The main argument supporting this claim is that there are lots of advanced calisthenics leg feats. Some people go as far as to claim that calisthenics is even superior to weight lifting in lower body training because of that.

To begin with, calisthenics and weightlifting load the lower body in completely different ways. As such, it’s hard to compare their effectiveness.

In weightlifting, you master a basic pattern (e.g. squatting) and then progressively load this pattern. As a result, you are going to strengthen the muscles associated with that pattern.

In calisthenics, after you master a basic pattern (e.g. squatting), you move on to a more advanced pattern (e.g. pistol squat) that other than more strength requires also more balance, stability, mobility and control. As a result, your balance, stability, mobility, control and strength will increase. But your strength gains won’t be as much as with weightlifting.

So, weightlifting can be more focused towards strength while calisthenics targets lots of physical qualities.

So depending on your goals, you should choose one of the two methods or even better combine both.

Misconception #4: Calisthenics & Body type/Bodyweight

Bodytypes

Since calisthenics training is based on your own bodyweight and body type, many people are influenced by this and make wrong assumptions.

Outsider’s misconception:

“Calisthenics are only for lightweight and short people”

It is, of course, true that being lightweight and having short limbs can help you achieve advanced calisthenics skills faster, hence the body type of Olympic gymnasts. But this doesn’t mean that calisthenics training should be limited only to people with a favorable body type.

In fact, the heavier you are the better calisthenics training is for you.

What? Have you lost your mind, Todd?

Let me explain…

If you are a heavyweight athlete, bodyweight exercises are going to offer more resistance for you and thus you are going to get stronger without having to reach very advanced moves.

You are essentially going to get more value out of bodyweight exercises.

Here are some “big people” who perform calisthenics despite their height or weight:

Insider’s misconception:

“With hard work all skills are achievable regardless of your weight or height”

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people claiming that all skills are achievable with hard work.

This misconception can motivate and inspire some athletes to train harder. However, being not true, it can lead to frustration when someone can’t reach his goals.

Why is it false, Todd?

The truth is that some advanced skills are going to be out of reach for some people.

I don’t want to be negative, but there is a reason why most top level gymnasts have similar body types.

Of course, you can never know someone’s potential, but if you have the body type and weight of Shaquille O’Neal, advanced calisthenics skills are going to be hard for you and some skills impossible.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t train for the achievement of advanced skills, you will just have to keep in mind that some of the skills despite the hard work might be out of your reach. This can be kind of tricky and you should be careful not to use your weight or height as an excuse not to work hard.

How To Spot Misconceptions

pondering man

Todd, how can I know if something that is being told about calisthenics (or any other training method) is a true or false?

Spotting out misconceptions is easier than you might thing. You just have to be a little more focused than usual when you read/hear new information.

First of all, when you come across a statement, you should ask:

  • Is this true?
  • What is the evidence?
  • Do the arguments make sense?
  • Is the conclusion justified by the arguments?
  • etc

Secondly, and most importantly, if the statement seems to be true. you should try to counter and disprove the statement. Here are some of the things you can do:

  • You could start looking for evidence that is contrary to the statement. This evidence can be videos, studies, etc.
  • You could “attack” some of the basic arguments with your own arguments.
  • See if you can reach a different conclusion.
  • Etc.

This whole process might seem to be a lot of work, but after you use it for some time, it becomes a second nature. In addition, the results that come from this practice are worth the effort.

Finding & Correcting Your Own False Conclusions

Lastly, I would like to talk a little about the misconceptions and false conclusions that you might reach by yourself while training.

It’s only common sense that as you train more with calisthenics, you are going to reach some conclusions in regards to it. Some of these conclusions are going to be correct and others will be false.

The right conclusions about training are going to help you make correct training decisions. On the contrary, false conclusions can potentially mislead you.

So, finding out and correcting false beliefs is an essential process for effective long-term training.

The process of testing your own conclusions is similar to testing any conclusion (like the above).

The difference is that you will have to reflect from time to time on your own view of calisthenics and training in general.

Based on my experience, finding and correcting your own misconceptions is harder than correcting those of other people.

Conclusion

push up

Some of the misconceptions mentioned in this article have been around for quite a while.

I used to believe some of them as well and it took me a while to figure them out.

I hope that with this article any misconceptions you may had about calisthenics are now gone, or at least challenged.

Did you use to believe any misconception about calisthenics?

Are there any very common misconceptions I forgot to mention?

Post your answer in the comments section below.

I would really like to converse with you.

– bodyweight Todd

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Show/Hide Comments (5 comments)
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5 Comments
  1. Todd Cody Aguilario

    Yes, I believe in these misconceptions and this article helps me a alot. I will be starting proper calisthenics as soon as I have my necessary equipment. For now, I only perform push-ups.

    I hope someday could guide me what to do so that I could have a better results someday. I just turned 26 and I guess it’s not too late for me.

    Thanks Todd, from Todd

    Reply
  2. Tom Jukes

    I’ve always found it funny that calisthenics “haters” will say you can’t get strong with calisthenics, but if you ask them to do any of the higher level calisthenics moves/exercises, they’re too weak to do them 😉

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Tom,

      Absolutely true. You can’t argue with physiques. If you can do a flag, you’re strong, there’s no way around it.

      – Todd

      Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Thanks!

      – Todd

      Reply
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