Calisthenics Vs Lifting Weights – Pros, Cons and Which Is Best for Your Fitness Goals

calisthenics vs lifting weights

The world of strength training often feels split between two camps: Team Calisthenics and Team Weights.

But which camp should you pitch your tent in?

This article outlines everything you need to know when it comes to lifting weights and calisthenics. We discuss the pros and cons of both, and most importantly, find out which reigns supreme for specific fitness goals.

Whether you want to build muscle, burn calories, or increase strength… we’ll help you decide between calisthenics and lifting weights.

Quick Summary

  • Building Muscle? If you’re looking to maximize muscle size, lifting weights takes the gold.
  • Strength? Calisthenics grants functional, real-world strength. Lifting weights, on the other hand, is the champ of raw power and brute force.
  • Burning Calories? It’s a close call and ultimately depends on the specific workout but lifting weights might just take it.
  • Mobility and Flexibility? Calisthenics is often the poster child for flexibility and mobility, but don’t discount weightlifting, especially when compound movements are in the mix.

Calisthenics – TL;DR

Calisthenics focuses on using one’s body weight as the primary resistance force. Common exercises include push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and lunges. Due to the fact you’re moving your body through various planes of motion, there’s an increased focus on functional strength, flexibility, and coordination.

The aim is to progress to new movements and exercises. For example, once you’ve mastered push-ups, you might consider progressing to pike-push ups.


  • Requires little to no equipment.
  • Improves flexibility and balance.
  • Can be done anywhere.


  • Progression can be challenging.
  • Might not be optimal for hypertrophy.

New to Calisthenics?

Check out our latest guide on calisthenics for beginners. We provide example exercises, a workout plan and discuss common mistakes to avoid.

Lifting Weights – TL;DR

Lifting weights, often called resistance or strength training, primarily uses external weights like dumbbells, barbells, and gym machines to challenge and build muscles. It’s all about adding resistance to movements, pushing muscles to adapt and grow stronger and bigger over time.

Lifting weights isn’t just for powerlifters and Olympic weightlifting… everyone can benefit from it by selecting suitable weights for their existing fitness level.


  • Clear and structured progression.
  • Targeted muscle development.
  • High potential for muscle hypertrophy.


  • Requires equipment or gym access.
  • Risk of injury if done incorrectly.

Calisthenics Vs Lifting Weights for Specific Goals

Building Muscle

Calisthenics: Calisthenics is a great way to build a solid foundation of muscle strength. While it can indeed build and tone muscle, pushing the boundaries of hypertrophy becomes a challenge as you progress.

Lifting Weights: Lifting weights is the clear front-runner for maximal muscle growth. With the flexibility to add incremental weights, it ensures your muscles are constantly challenged, leading to increased muscle mass. It’s also easier to isolate specific muscles too.

Head-to-Head: If you’re looking to maximize muscle size, lifting weights takes the gold. However, calisthenics is a respectable contender, especially for those seeking a more natural muscle tone.

Burning Calories

Calisthenics: Incorporating rapid, full-body movements, especially in high-intensity circuits, calisthenics ensures you’re always on the move, burning calories as you flow from one exercise to the next.

Lifting Weights: Heavy lifting not only demands calories during the act but also creates an ‘afterburn’ effect. As you pack on more muscle, your resting metabolic rate increases, turning you into a calorie-burning machine even on lazy days.

Head-to-Head: It’s a close call and ultimately depends on the specific workout. Calisthenics offers an immediate high-intensity burn, but weightlifting, with its long-term muscle-building benefits, might edge it out in the calorie-burning department.


Calisthenics: Leveraging bodyweight exercises like push-ups or pull-ups creates a strong core and functional strength, assisting in daily tasks and various athletic activities. Our calisthenics chest workout, for example, also shows how you can create an effective strength workout for specific muscle groups without weights.

Lifting Weights: Want to move mountains… or at least heavy furniture without breaking a sweat? This is your ticket. Progressive weight increases mean you’re perpetually enhancing your strength.

Head-to-Head: Calisthenics grants functional, real-world strength. Lifting weights, on the other hand, is the champ of raw power and brute force.

Impact on Joints

Calisthenics: The natural movements of calisthenics are usually kinder to the joints. However, like any exercise, improper form can lead to strain.

Lifting Weights: Weightlifting, if done correctly, can fortify the muscles around joints, offering protection. But, if you bite off more weight than you can chew, it can be taxing on the joints.

Head-to-Head: Calisthenics tends to be the gentler choice, but weightlifting, when done with proper form and gradual progression, need not be something to fear.

Athletic Performance

Calisthenics: For sports or activities that demand agility, balance, and a quick change of direction, calisthenics, with its full-body workouts and coordination focus, is the MVP.

Lifting Weights: In games where raw strength reigns supreme, weightlifting is the go-to training regimen.

Head-to-Head: Your choice hinges on your athletic goals… calisthenics for nimbleness and agility, weights for raw power. Top athletes will likely use both.

Flexibility and Mobility

Calisthenics: Given its foundation in body movements like stretching, reaching, and twisting, calisthenics naturally promotes greater flexibility and mobility. Movements like deep squats or bridges encourage a greater range of motion and can improve joint health.

Lifting Weights: Weightlifting, when done in isolation (think bicep curls or leg presses), might not offer the same level of mobility. However, compound exercises like deadlifts or squats, when performed with full range, can also foster flexibility.

Head-to-Head: Calisthenics is often the poster child for flexibility and mobility, but don’t discount weightlifting, especially when compound movements are in the mix. A combo of both can be the key to staying limber and strong.

Cost and Equipment

Calisthenics: One of its standout perks is that it requires minimal to no equipment. All you need is your body and perhaps a park or playground bar. It’s a budget-friendly option for those hesitant to invest in gym memberships or home gym setups.

Lifting Weights: Generally requires a more significant initial investment… be it through a gym membership or purchasing weights and equipment for home workouts. The variety of equipment, though, allows for diverse exercises targeting specific muscle groups.

Head-to-Head: If budget constraints or minimalism are your thing, calisthenics offers a great workout option. But for those seeking targeted muscle workouts and have a bit more to invest, weightlifting could be your perfect match.

Learning Curve and Accessibility

Calisthenics: While basic exercises like push-ups or squats are accessible to most, some advanced moves like handstands or muscle-ups can be challenging and require practice and progression.

Lifting Weights: Starting with weights requires understanding the proper form to prevent injuries. While there’s a learning curve, especially for complex lifts, many find it easy to track progress with incremental weight increases.

Head-to-Head: Both have their challenges. Calisthenics might feel more intuitive but can get trickier at advanced levels. Weightlifting requires initial learning but offers clearer progression paths.



  • Cost-Effective: No need for fancy gym memberships or expensive equipment. Your body weight is the only resistance you’ll ever need.
  • Functional Strength: The movements in calisthenics mimic everyday activities, making it a top choice for improving daily functional fitness.
  • Flexibility: Complementing strength with flexibility, exercises like deep squats and lunges encourage a greater range of motion.
  • Anywhere, Anytime: Whether you’re in your living room, a hotel room, or a park, you can get your calisthenics workout done.
  • Adaptable: From beginner movements like basic push-ups to advanced ones like planche push-ups, there’s always room to progress and challenge yourself.


  • Limited Progressive Resistance: As you advance, you might find it challenging to continue increasing resistance as you would with weights, which could potentially hinder muscle growth.
  • Advanced Moves Require Skill: While impressive, moves like handstands or front levers need time, patience, and often guidance.
  • Can Be Repetitive: Without mixing up routines or adding variations, the exercises can become monotonous.

Lifting Weights


  • Targeted Muscle Development: You can zero in on specific muscles or muscle groups, allowing for symmetrical and targeted growth.
  • Clear Progression: With the ability to increase weights incrementally, tracking progress and setting goals becomes more straightforward.
  • Potential for Maximal Muscle Growth: Heavy weights and progressive overload mean serious muscle gains for those who seek them.
  • Variety: With a myriad of equipment and exercises available, workouts can be diverse, targeting various fitness aspects.
  • Bone Health: Lifting weights has been shown to improve bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.


  • Costly: Whether it’s buying equipment for a home gym or securing a gym membership, initial costs can be steep.
  • Risk of Injury: Incorrect form, especially with heavy weights, can lead to serious injuries.
  • Less Mobility: Pure weightlifting might not offer the same mobility benefits as calisthenics.
  • Space and Equipment: Not as convenient as calisthenics, you’d need space and, of course, weights to get started.

Pros and Cons

Both calisthenics and lifting weights have their unique merits and drawbacks. It’s a matter of personal preference, goals, and lifestyle that will determine which path (or combination of both) works best for you.

Combing Calisthenics and Lifting Weights

Why settle for one when you can have the best of both worlds?

Combining calisthenics and lifting weights can optimize your workouts. By blending the functional benefits and mobility of bodyweight exercises with the progressive resistance and targeted muscle growth from weights, you cultivate a holistic fitness approach.

It not only adds variety, reducing workout monotony but also ensures a balanced muscle development, enhancing both strength and flexibility.

For instance, start your routine with calisthenics for a warm-up, focus on weight lifting for muscle growth, and wind down with stretching movements from calisthenics for recovery and flexibility.

Bottom Line

In the faceoff between calisthenics vs. lifting weights, there’s no clear winner.

Calisthenics offers flexibility, functionality, and is budget-friendly, while lifting weights promises targeted muscle growth, clear progression, and bone health benefits.

Your choice should align with your fitness goals, preferences, and lifestyle.

Ultimately, we think blending the two is the best option and allows you to challenge your muscles in new ways each workout.

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