Weightlifting vs Calisthenics: Which is Right For You?

It’s probably the most important question that most people who want to get strong ask themselves: should I do calisthenics or lift weights? Granted, it’s a great question. The type of muscle and body you build for each discipline can be quite different. Of course, the exercises you do for each are quite distinct from each other as well. That’s why one discipline can appeal to one person and not the other, and it should go without saying that one isn’t better than the other. But, which would be best for you? Let’s find out which option would suit you, or, if there are even better options out there.

First Off: What Are They?


Calisthenics is strength training using only your body weight; no equipment is required. Thus, you’ll also hear calisthenics being referred to as body-weight training. The focus of calisthenics is mostly on functional fitness in areas such as strength, balance, endurance, speed, coordination, and flexibility. Exercises revolve around real body movements.

Most Popular Exercises:

  • Pull-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Pushups
  • Squats
  • Dips
  • Lunges
  • Planks
  • Crunches
  • Jumping jacks
  • Muscle-up


Weightlifting is the act of using weights to build muscles. Common equipment include free weights, barbells, weighted bars, dumbbells, weight plates, and machines. Of course, there are a ton of different types of machines, such as the leg press, lat pull down, cable machines, and more. In weightlifting, you progressively overload muscles to create micro-tears in the tissue, which rebuilds itself over time making you stronger.

Most Popular Exercises:

  • Squats
  • Deadlift
  • Bench press
  • Overhead press
  • Barbell pullover
  • Rows
  • Leg press
  • Cleans, jerks, and snatches
  • Weighted body weight exercises

What’s Great About Calisthenics?

Probably the biggest advantages of calisthenics are the level of convenience and ease it offers. You can practically work out wherever, whenever, and with no equipment needed. Think about it. You can drop your phone or take a second off the computer right now and do ten pushups, sit-ups, crunches, or lunges. This makes calisthenics amazing for the person who is too busy to go to the gym, and is also the more cost-effective option. Since most exercises revolve around using your body weight, most of them can be done for free or next to nothing.

But besides being cheap and super convenient, calisthenics also doesn’t carry as much risk of injury as weightlifting does. Using only your body weight to exercise means you can avoid unnecessary stress on the joints and ligaments and even make them stronger. Besides being generally safer, you can also improve in areas that you normally wouldn’t be able to lifting weights, such as balance, stability, and coordination.

Calisthenics also builds more natural looking bodies. Since there are no weights involved, you don’t build as much muscle meaning you can keep lean and toned. Since calisthenics is based on real body movements, you gain functional strength that you can use in everyday tasks.

There are also tons of exercises you can do, all with variations which can focus on different muscles and can increase the difficulty. For instance, a normal pull-up is done with your hands gripping the bar about shoulder length. However, you can do a wide pull-up with your hands further apart to engage more of the back muscles and shoulders. Or, you can do a closed-grip pull-up with hands closer together to focus more on the arms. You can do a clapping pull-up. You can even do a one arm pull-up if you wanted to! The possibilities are literally endless.

Not to mention, many exercises engage multiple groups of muscles simultaneously, which offers even more convenience and practicality. Yoga can even be considered a form of calisthenics.

However, that’s not to say that calisthenics doesn’t have its disadvantages.

Cons of Calisthenics:

  • You don’t build muscle quickly
  • You can’t increase resistance which can cause you to plateau
  • It takes lots of time to master certain exercises
  • You can’t target specific muscles
  • There are hundreds upon hundreds of exercises which can make it seem complicated
  • You are limited to only your body weight
  • You must start off with your body weight, which might be too much for some people
  • All the ladies and gentlemen can’t ooh and ahh at your great body like at the gym

What’s Great About Weightlifting?

All of the good things we had to say about calisthenics doesn’t mean weightlifting should be neglected, however. Weightlifting has its own benefits that make it worthwhile for a large number of people. If you want to build bigger and stronger muscles quickly, weightlifting will be the best way to do it, bar none.

In calisthenics, you build muscle at a slower rate. That’s because doing exercises that only involves your body weight means you aren’t overloading the muscles, which is crucial for building stronger muscles. In weightlifting, what you are essentially doing is causing micro-tears in your muscles by overloading them with weight. These micro-tears heal in a couple of days, but they become stronger and more resilient, which means you become stronger in effect. Repeat the process consistently and you’ll see amazing gains at a faster rate.

Weightlifting is also generally deemed easier (in the sense of being less complicated) than calisthenics. You don’t have to master a bunch of exercises and their multiple variations in order to get a good workout in. It’s as simple as adding more weight or resistance to your exercises to improve. This makes weightlifting a great option for people who enjoy routines while also being able to grow stronger doing it.

Besides that, weightlifting is great for focusing on specific muscles. Want to work out your biceps? Do curls. Want to work on your triceps? Bench presses. Want to get stronger glutes and quadriceps? Do leg presses. Being able to target and isolate muscles, and repeat these exercises as much as you want means you can build strength for whatever part of your body you want indefinitely. So for those who want supernatural bodies, weightlifting is the obvious winner.

But now that you’ve learned what weightlifting does well, let’s learn about what it doesn’t do too well.

Cons of Weightlifting:

  • You aren’t as flexible
  • It’s easy to irritate joints
  • You can’t work out multiple groups of muscle at the same time
  • Weightlifting consists of a lot of repetition, which isn’t what some people enjoy
  • The strength you build might not be used in day-to-day tasks
  • You can only work out in a gym or with equipment at hand
  • There’s a higher risk of injury
  • Gyms aren’t cheap, and a home gym can be just as expensive

So obviously, there isn’t one discipline that reigns supreme over the other. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. But wait a minute! You don’t have to choose only one discipline, you know. I may have said that one style isn’t better than the other, but I also never said that you had to pick one or the other. No one’s going to stop you from incorporating a little of both into your workouts. There are no calisthenics or weightlifting police that will force you to stick to one discipline and one discipline only. In fact, for a large number of people, this can be hugely beneficial and in most cases would be considered the best option. But whatever you do choose, as long as you’re getting stronger, that’s all that matters.


This article was written by Athlete Audit, a website dedicated to reviewing athletic shoes and helping you to find the right pair for your sport.


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