In this article, you’ll learn the pros and cons of calisthenics.
If you have been following SOA for a while then you must be aware that SOA is completely dedicated to bodyweight training.
But I want to be honest with you.
As I mentioned in the article “How To Choose The Right Bodyweight Training Plan”, there is no perfect training plan.
Similarly to this, I could say that there is no ultimate training tool or form of exercising.
In short, that means that calisthenics might not be the best training methodology for you.
Huh? What are you talking about Todd?
Let me explain myself.
During the last few years, I have taught you how to burn fat, build muscle, increase strength, and more using only calisthenics.
However, that doesn’t mean that bodyweight training is always the best option or the best training method for the accomplishment of your goals.
With this post, I am going to give you an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of bodyweight training so that you can see if calisthenics is actually the method that is going to help you reach your goals in the fastest way possible.
The Advantages Of Bodyweight Training
In this section, I am going to make a quick list of the benefits of bodyweight training.
This is not a definitive list and, of course, more benefits exist.
Also, the benefits are sorted randomly and not in terms of importance.
Advantage #1: No Need For A Big Starting Investment
A great benefit of calisthenics training is that you need very little to no equipment for your training.
Needing no equipment means that you don’t have to buy anything expensive to start training.
Of course, as you become more advanced some equipment might become necessary (e.g. pull-up bar, rings, etc), but the investment is still minimal in comparison to weight training, in which expensive equipment becomes necessary later on.
(There are some weight training methods that also share the same advantage like, for example, sandbag training.)
Advantage #2: You Can Train Everywhere
A direct byproduct of the first benefit is that you can train everywhere since there is no need for access to special equipment.
This was one of the reasons calisthenics seemed such an attractive choice to me early on in my training.
Being able to work out anywhere you desire is a great privilege that few other forms of training offer.
This way it’s very hard to miss workouts due to circumstances (i.e. when traveling) and you can stay in top physical shape wherever you are.
Advantage #3: Target Multiple Qualities Simultaneously
When you progress into advanced calisthenics moves you are going to be challenged in multiple ways and not only in regards to maximal strength.
As a result, you are going to build strength, balance, mobility, flexibility, etc.
Also with calisthenics, you are going to build a lot of kinesthetic awareness, body control and be in better touch with your body in general.
Advantage #4: Learn Awesome Moves
This is the biggest reason I started to train seriously with calisthenics.
Seeing calisthenics legends like Hannibal The King back in the early youtube days, perform movements that defy gravity, was a very big inspiration for my training.
My motivation was beyond imaginable!
Now that I can do some of the advanced movements myself, such videos are even more motivating because they remind me of my progress.
I assure you that the feeling of achieving an advanced calisthenics movement is unique and amazing.
Furthermore, I haven’t met many people who don’t have respect for high-level calisthenics skills, regardless of the way they train.
Advantage #5: You Can Be More Creative
As you train with calisthenics you will be challenged to come up with new ideas on how to train.
This might be for various reasons.
Training in a new environment, for example, is always possible with calisthenics but most of the time you will have to come up with new ideas on how to implement your training in that new environment.
Calisthenics can also challenge your creativity when you are exploring new movements that you haven’t trained with before.
In addition, when you want to progress towards a new movement, many times you will have to come up with your own progressions. This is the main reason so many different bodyweight tutorials exist.
Take a look, for example, at these two single-arm pull up tutorials:
Both of these tutorials apply the progressive loading principle but use different exercise progressions.
While training for the one-arm pull-up, you may need to “invent” your own progressions or combine some already existing.
Advantage #6: It’s A No Excuse System
By combining the 1st and 2nd benefit, namely that you can train everywhere and with minimum equipment, comes a new benefit.
You have no more excuses.
With calisthenics, you can train right here right now.
No special equipment is missing and no special place is required.
If you want to train with calisthenics and you are not doing it, there are no excuses left for you. There is no one to blame except yourself.
Advantage #7: Ideal For Fat Loss
Calisthenics is one of the best training “tools” for fat loss.
I say this because calisthenics can be easily implemented into HIIT training, AMRAP circuits, MRT, etc.
These 3 methods are some of the best for fat loss and all of them require some bodyweight exercises to be in place.
If your goal is to lose fat fast, then there is no reason for you to avoid bodyweight training.
Advantage #8: Fantastic For Building Whole Body Strength & Muscular Development
When you perform bodyweight exercises, you typically work your body as a unit. The muscle works together in synergy to perform the movement.
Think of a chain.
When one link in a chain is weak, it makes the whole chain weak. With bodyweight training, the whole chain becomes strong because all the muscles work together.
Compare this to isolation exercises in bodybuilding.
For example, when you perform seated bicep curls on a machine.
The only muscle you are working on is the bicep.
The complimentary bodyweight exercise, the chin up, works the bicep, back muscles, abs, low back, and more.
Advantage #9: Train Your Core At Every Move
When you train with calisthenics your core is going to be challenged at every move.
This is great for developing a strong and functional core.
The Disadvantages Of Bodyweight Training
While most people that train with calisthenics tend to put emphasis on the benefits of bodyweight training, it’s important to know the disadvantages of it so that you can have a complete picture.
In this section, I am going to cover some of the biggest disadvantages of bodyweight training.
Disadvantage #1: It’s Hard To Isolate Certain Muscle Groups
When you train normally for strength or endurance, isolating muscle groups might not be an interest of yours.
However, if you want to target only a specific weak muscle or to rehab from an injury, one of the best options is to practice with isolation exercises.
Isolating muscle groups or weak spots is very hard to do with bodyweight exercises.
In this respect, weight lifting is superior to calisthenics as it allows you to isolate areas that require your attention quite easily.
Disadvantage #2: It Has Limitations In Leg Training
This is the biggest disadvantage of bodyweight training.
While calisthenics can help you build muscle and strength as well as resilient and strong joints in your lower body with exercises like the pistol squat, the shrimp squat, the dragon pistol squat, explosive pistol squats, etc, it’s very hard to develop maximal strength in the squatting pattern and to build hugely muscular legs (like a bodybuilder).
As you progress with more advanced movements you are going to target mostly qualities like flexibility, mobility, strength in extreme ranges of motion, balance, etc.
However, you can’t provide the glutes and quads with the same resistance you can do with weight lifting (e.g. with heavy squats).
I can’t tell you that weight lifting is superior to calisthenics in regards to leg training since calisthenics has clearly many advantages in the area that weight lifting doesn’t.
But, if your goal is to develop hugely muscular and strong legs (like a football player) weight lifting is a better option for you.
Disadvantage #3: It Can Be Hard To Measure
The difficulty level of some bodyweight exercises is very hard to measure with accuracy.
These lead to 2 drawbacks:
#1: Progressions Aren’t Intuitive
Most people give up on calisthenics training because they can’t figure out how to progress towards harder moves.
Unlike weight lifting in which you just put more weight on the bar, in bodyweight training, you will have to move gradually towards more advanced progressions.
Sometimes, figuring out these progressions by yourself can be very hard.
In addition, these progressions can be measured only in terms of difficulty and not in terms of actual strength gained.
Let me clarify this a little more.
In weight lifting, you are progressing very accurately by knowing how much weight you are putting on the bar.
In bodyweight training, you are progressing from a mastered move to a harder one, but it’s very hard to know exactly how much strength is required for that new progression.
It can be like adding 5kg or even 20kg.
For this reason, achieving advanced calisthenics movements usually requires more complex planning than weight lifting.
#2: It’s Hard To Reflect On Your Progress
Similar to the previous issue, in weightlifting, after a while you can know exactly how much strength you have gained from your workouts.
You can be, for example, 50kg stronger in deadlifts than before.
With bodyweight strength training, you can’t be that accurate.
You can only know how far you moved towards a skill or how many reps you have added to a movement.
If you can’t see how much progress you’ve made, it can be hard to stay motivated.
However, the most important area of measurement in any fitness system is how you feel and how you look.
These are subjective and (in my opinion) outweigh statistical measurements like reps, amt of weight, etc.
Disadvantage #4: Harder To Build A LOT Of Muscle Mass
While bodyweight exercises are super effective for building a very muscular body, it’s very difficult, or impossible to get the body of a competitive bodybuilder (think Arnold, Ronnie Coleman, etc.).
With weight lifting, you can keep packing on more and more weight and force your body to get bigger and bigger.
Really, there is no limit to the amount of weight you can put on the bar (except for what the human body can structurally take).
The “Chicken-legs” Case
The most common argument weight lifters use against calisthenics training is that calisthenics athletes have skinny legs.
Most of the time this is true.
But that doesn’t mean that it has to be this way.
You can build muscular legs with calisthenics you just won’t be able to build the same amount of muscle like a bodybuilder.
Also, most competitive calisthenic experts try to keep the least amount of muscle on their bodies but have the maximal amount of strength.
Less muscle means you weigh less so it’s easier to perform advanced moves like the front lever).
As you can see the effectiveness of a tool is totally related to one’s goals and a certain disadvantage might have an advantageous effect on your goals.
Beware Of The Bodyweight Cults!
Now that you know the benefits and disadvantages of bodyweight training I would like to talk about one of the biggest problems in the calisthenics community.
This problem is the bodyweight cults.
There are various groups online that train only with calisthenics and disregard all other forms of training as ineffective and inferior without even trying them.
It’s very easy when you invest a lot of time and effort into one training “tool” to get attached to it and try to defend it at all costs.
I have been there and it’s not a good position to be in as it limits your perspective and your training opportunities.
Do I use only bodyweight exercises?
But that doesn’t mean other systems aren’t as effective (or more effective depending on your goals).
Of course, such cults exist in other training communities as well and it’s not a problem related to calisthenics only.
The best way to avoid being too attached to a single tool is to educate yourself more on different systems.
Resistance Is Resistance
Strength training is resistance training and if you want to get stronger you just have to apply the progressive loading principle.
That means that as long as you increase the resistance you are going to get stronger, whether you are training with calisthenics or weight lifting, or other forms of training.
The only difference is in the way the principle is applied.
Train in Accordance To Your Goals
So, what should I do Todd?
Should you train with calisthenics or with weight lifting?
This depends largely on your goals.
The main reason I included the benefits and disadvantages of calisthenics training was so that you can have the whole picture and be able to make the right choice depending on the goals you have right now.
In the “How To Choose The Right Bodyweight Training Plan” post, I included a simple goal-setting process.
If your goal is to get as big as humanly possible, then weight training is the best option for you.
If extreme calisthenics skills inspire you and you want to achieve them, then bodyweight training is the way to go.
If you just want to get fit and you already have access to weights, there is no reason to abandon them completely for bodyweight exercises.
Instead, you can combine different training “tools” and reap the benefits of all of them.
There is no doubt that calisthenics training is a very effective and efficient way to get stronger, build muscle.
Nonetheless, no method is perfect and the same rule applies to calisthenics training.
I hope with this article you’ve got a fairly good idea of the benefits of calisthenics training and where it stands in accordance with your goals.
Here are some bonus links for you if you’d like to take a deeper dive into calisthenics.
- Start the 30 Day Calisthenics Workout Plan (Plus FREE PDF Download)
- Complete Calisthenics Progression Guide (Beginner to Advanced)
- Al Kavadlo: One of my favorite calisthenics experts (and genuinely nice guy!)
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Calisthenics Better Than Weights?
It really depends on your goals.
If you are looking to become the next Arnold, you’ll want to stick to weights.
But if you are looking for functional strength, a lead body, and overall health, calisthenics are a perfect training plan.
Is Calisthenics Cardio?
Cardio exercise is a type of training that works your cardiovascular system.
So you could have calisthenics-based cardio or weight-based cardio.
For example, running, elliptical machines… even jumping jacks are all cardio-type exercises because you are not using weights and improving your cardiovascular health.
Is Calisthenics a Sport?
Calisthenics just recently has become a sport.
It’s incredible to see the evolution of this simple training methodology and morph beyond an underground “street workout” movement.
Now it is a worldwide sport with competitions across the globe.
Check out the World Calisthenics Organization for more details.
Is Calisthenics Hard?
Hell yeah! Calisthenics can be extremely difficult!
Just check out the hardest push-ups of all time, 100 hardest bodyweight exercises of all time, or the 25 hardest ab exercises.
Is Calisthenics Good For You?
Calisthenics improves your strength, endurance, mobility, muscle mass and helps you lose fat.
It’s one of the most effective types of training of all time.
Not only that, they are amazing at helping you stay injury-free since you are using your own body weight.
How are you going to apply the information you learned in this post?
Is calisthenics training the fastest way to reach your goals? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.
– Bodyweight Todd
Sweet web site, super design, real clean and apply genial.
Excuse me my friend, perhaps this beneficial for us.
1. Isolation is possible in calisthenic
This is like close push-up that more emphasis on our triceps and close grip pull-up for more intense biceps training.
But as we know, only train our triceps more intensive, then our other anterior chain muscle will suffer because of disproportion, so better training with simple-compound exercise instead of using isolation.
2. There is still many leg training
Boring by common squat, try using the advanced pistol or advanced dragon pistol, perhaps sprint and power jump progression then using the kip-up and the flip. By these, strength, power also flexibility and endurance with conditioning as additional, we’ll get those aspects for our legs.
3. Of course callisthenic is intuitive
We could decide what exercise is right for our level by manipulating bodyweight distribution, change leverage and many other aspects.
4. Wanna bulking muscle, that proportionally built?
Free-weight bodybuilding will make our tendos and joints suffer because muscle developed faster, faster than our joints and tendos may endure. Use muscular system calisthenic system, our point of view in this case will be changed.
For good and almost-complete source of massive ancient calisthenic, may use following books.
Convict Conditioning Series (1, 2 and 3)
Raising The Bar
Pushing The Limits
and many other books published by Dragondoor.com
Thanks. Sorry if it is not pleasing.
Keep strong and post other informative and beneficial article.
I can solve your problem my friend !!!
Simply go for weighted Calisthenics 🙂 You will enjoy both of the worlds 😉
Wonderful article Todd!
I’ll still chose calisthenics. Firstly, because I believe that it’s way more cool doing a planche from a 20 feet high forklift truck or doing a one handstand than squatting a hundred pounds.
I started training when I was 14. You said chicken legs, I was chicken arms, chicken neck, and a chicken attitude. I wanted to make some changes, and of course, I went with the crowd. Joined the gym, I started doing weights. I ended up damaging my left shoulder badly doing super heavy shoulder presses. I had to stop training. I felt stupid, and beaten. Okay, weight training was different, imagining myself to be someone like Martyn Ford; but it did injure me. But then I found bodyweight training! I still remember sitting in the park after my physiotherapy sessions looking at some dudes doing tricks on the monkey bars. One of them climbed to the top, did crazy handstands! They were strong, impressive and shredded. I came home and did some research. I spent days watching people like Hannibal, Frank Medrano and Brendan Myers on YouTube. Then at last after my shoulder improved, I started training complete bodyweight 🙂 Of course all the rest and break had made me a bit fat and all, so its good I got to start from scratch. I got an account with you guys, subscribed for your emails, striving to gain stronger, tougher and better each day! Still need to work on things like muscle ups and typewriter pull ups, but with your website and its wonderful contents, I’ll be there soon. Cheers Todd!
You’re the Boss!
P.S. I do pullups from literally every bar I see xD
Thanks for sharing your story, man. I’m really happy you found our content helpful. Keep it up!
I’m impressed with this post… especially since this blog is all about bodyweight exercises.
You objectively weigh the pros and cons of body weight training without being attached to a specific dogma.
It’s impressive in an industry where people tend to put others down to validate themselves.
Thanks Raza! You da man! Keep me posted on what’s going on in your world!
Just like you, I have a dedicated bodyweight training blog. Well this is a very informative post. I was once into weight training turned calisthenics and isometrics training fan due to injuries. One of the problems that I’m having now is a painful knee which I think a drawback of hard leg training using weights in my earlier years. I can do as much as Hindu Squats but my knee is so painful. I think this is a side effect of my heavy training years which makes me a less functional strength buff. I packed on size of unusable muscle, now, i just want to stay lean so I continue my bodyweight only training. Thanks to this blog for some new ideas.
Hey Jose, yep I’m on the same page. My injury was in my shoulder and I still have to be conscious to rehab and keep it flexible.
Can’t see a bodybuilder performing a pistol or a crow pose, I’m sure he’d fall flat on his face. They even have a tremendous difficulty to do a proper squat…
So true Nuno. They are focusing on as much mass as possible. Not overall health and vitality.
Wow! a rare balanced and lucid synopsis. Bodyweight exercise can be useful, but bodyweight training has become the new cult.
True Dale, some people have taken this too far.
Your article was very informative and well written. I appreciate your dedication to a healthy body which can be accomplished using different training methods although I think calisthenics significantly lessens injury potential. I use both but continue to be amazed by the flexibility that calisthenics offers. Thanks.
Yeah, I know a lot of folks that use both and swear by it. Keep up the great work!