Calisthenics vs bodybuilding/gym training has been a debatable topic for a couple of years. Really, are calisthenic guys stronger than bodybuilders?
Yes, a calisthenics guy is stronger than a bodybuilder if both are in the same weight class. Because a calisthenics athlete has a higher strength to mass ratio than a bodybuilder due to their training methods.
But we can’t just neglect bodybuilding or gym training, saying calisthenics build a more strong body. Both pure calisthenics as well as pure gym training have their pros as well as cons. If our goal is to build a good physique we should be smart enough to select our workout routine according to our goals.
We’ll look for pros and cons of both calisthenics as well as body building and find out what you need to know initially, if you want to build a stronger body like a calisthenics guy.
Calisthenics vs Bodybuilding
Goals in calisthenics vs bodybuilding
Before we delve into which of these two disciplines is better, we must now be aware of the fact that they have different goals and employ different methods to reach those goals.
Pure calisthenic athletes aim to perfect certain movements and skills with little to no care how they appear aesthetically.
Bodybuilders don’t care about movements and skills unless they are a part of their posing routines.
Aim of calisthenics athletes is to move their body, their own body-weight through space. Bodybuilders aim to get the largest possible defined muscles.
Does calisthenics build muscle or strength?
Calisthenics mainly builds our strength along with our muscles to some extent. But calisthenics will not build muscles like a bodybuilder.
The reason for that is because bodybuilders use different weights as well as different gym machines to isolate and train muscle. Ultimately that will lead to pumping all of those muscle groups.
But we should keep in mind that all of the muscles in the body don’t need such training. Because we can categorize muscles in our body into 3 groups as prime mover muscles, stabilizer/fixator muscles and synergist or supporting muscles for a specific movement.
You can understand that if we try to unnecessarily train those fixator or synergist muscles same as the prime movers, that can lead to muscle imbalances at the end.
What does a calisthenics body look like?
You can build a defined good physique of a gymnast with calisthenics. It will have more functional strength than a bodybuilder as well as lean muscle mass than a bodybuilder.
Methods used for calisthenics vs bodybuilding
Let us explore the methods each of those use to achieve their goals.
Bodybuilder training has many variables and styles and while some advocate higher volume with less intensity – like Serge Nubret preached, others advocate high intensity and low volume, like Mike Mentzer famously claimed in his HIIT routines.
Both work in growing muscle, but individual experimentation will probably show what is best for them. So I would advise you to try different routines and stick to them for at least 3 months to half a year before trying something else.
A big plague of people new to the sport is constant changing of routines. But that’s a different topic.
Calisthenics athletes usually do very high volume due to consensus that body recovers quickly from body-weight exercises. Another reason is – when u practice for a movement – you need to do that movement a lot of times to become proficient in it. So volume is unavoidable.
Another interesting trait of calisthenics is most of the exercises are compound exercises, which means many muscles of the body work at the same time in executing the movement. Isolating specific muscles is not a thing calisthenics athletes concern themselves with.
Bodybuilders in other hand, often isolate muscles using machines, because they want to bring out little muscle to desired size.
Calisthenics athletes isolate only when doing supportive exercises like exercises for shoulder girdle stability. Or when they just wanna fix an imbalance.
Of course many calisthenics athletes sometimes isolate because they appreciate a more aesthetic physique but in general isolation exercises aren’t used by calisthenics to a high degree.
How strong will calisthenics make you?
With calisthenics you can build a stronger and controllable body that can do front levers & human flags on a bar, one arm push ups as well as planche and hundreds of amazing movements in space that are unthinkable for a normal person.
Diets used by calisthenics vs bodybuilders
Diet wise, again there are some noticeable differences. First of all, body builders eat more since they aim to develop a lot of muscle mass and muscle is metabolically expensive – meaning it requires a lot of nutrients and calories to build.
Calisthenics athletes can benefit from having a well thought of diet, but their caloric requirements are not that high. It’s not unusual for elite bodybuilders to have 7000 kcals per day when bulking.
Supplements using in calisthenics vs bodybuilding
When talking about supplements we need to address one important fact – professional bodybuilders, and sadly, many amateurs – use steroids.
Lately steroids have been more accepted in fitness communities but that doesn’t change the fact that it is “cheating”, since steroids modify human body to a degree that is not otherwise attainable.
Steroids have become so widespread even a lot of calisthenics athletes use them. In general terms I would say that between bodybuilding and calisthenics – bodybuilders are bigger consumers of steroids.
It is something that I hope changes soon, because I’ve seen too many young people who haven’t even optimized their diets, sleep schedule and supplements – trying to use steroids.
How much rest do you need after calisthenics workout?
Normally for calisthenics workouts like pull ups, muscle ups and push up variations that demands huge strain on muscles and joints, your body needs a 2 days (48 hours) rest before beating again those muscle groups.
Ease of access to calisthenics vs bodybuilding
What about ease of access? Let’s say you are new to bodybuilding or calisthenics and you want to get “into it”. How easy is it to start?
In this regard, calisthenics wins easily. For calisthenics you need your own body, a bar mounted to door frame or access to a public park, a chair or two, and you are set to go!
This is the beauty of calisthenics. And with these few basic items you can progress indefinitely. If you can get a Russian kettle-bell then you are even more future-proofed with your workouts.
Bodybuilding can be done with above mentioned items, but to truly become a bodybuilder you need a lot of different weights, you need a bench, maybe even some machines, ideally.
A bodybuilder needs a gym more than a calisthenics athlete. This is why calisthenics is an “entry drug” for many fitness enthusiasts that later choose to develop into bodybuilders, powerlifters etc.
Sustainability, health and longevity
Bodybuilding at its top level is not a healthy sport. There is no way around it. Use of steroids is prevalent and their cardio level is often really bad.
Human beings just aren’t made to carry 250 pounds or more of muscle at 5% body fat. Especially muscle that’s not developed for strength or usefulness, but sheer size.
I admire some golden and silver era bodybuilders, especially silver era, before steroids became widely accessible. They still had aesthetic and naturally attainable physiques. But lately bodybuilding became more experimentation with drugs than admiring human aesthetics.
Calisthenics wins again. On youtube you can find many videos of older gymnasts doing exercises well into their retirement. And since we are technically apes, mastery of our own body is natural to humans and should be practiced as a preferred method of fitness.
It’s also no wonder most military elites use chinups, pushups or burpees to gauge one’s fitness.
Calisthenics will always be King in real world applications of strength and endurance.
The only potential drawback of calisthenics is many people who do it forget about the importance of leg days or, implementing solid leg workouts.
A calisthenics athlete who knows the importance of leg strength and benefits of exercising legs is close to a complete athlete. It is no accident that most traditional martial arts books start with stances and leg workouts – the point is to build a pyramid from the bottom up.
Calisthenics vs Bodybuilding; What is best for me?
The benefits of calisthenics are long lasting and pleasing to the eye. It’s very easy to maintain a shredded look year round with calisthenics because it burns a lot of calories.
With gym training you can add more training to specific muscle groups and especially for the lower body.
So my advice is if you need to have a good physique, incorporate the best things in both training methods and create the perfect workout routine for your lifestyle. That’s what I’m also following.
End of the day good physique is the only thing we need, not the debate of calisthenics vs bodybuilding.
You can incorporate weights to your calisthenics workout if you are a calisthenics athlete or you can incorporate body weight training to your routine if you are a bodybuilder to create your dreamed physique.
Calisthenics is widely accessible and the basic movements are easy to learn. If one has good guidance, after initial training it is possible to advance by yourself, independently. Add a couple of weights to your training when you progress with basic calisthenics movement.
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Just remember to do your leg days : )