Calisthenics Vs Weightlifting

In the last 5 years, I’ve gained muscle, got abs, been in the best shape of my life and then lost it all and went through the whole process again.

I’ve trained for years in heavyweights, CrossFit and calisthenics, actually in that exact order.

I’ve constantly worried about which one does the best for my body.

Weights helped me gain muscle at a quick rate.

Crossfit left me feeling powerful and strong.

Calisthenics had me feeling all of the above and more in touch with my body.

But, which really did the job?

Why Weightlifting Full Time SUCKS

guy lifting barbell weights

Since the young ages of 13 I’ve been lifting weights, I used to have a home gym and at around 15 I started going to the gym 3 times per week training with heavy weight.

After a few years of doing this, I was in what appeared to be amazing shape, the abs, nice chest and good size biceps, yet I spent most the week with muscle recovery pain and had already at 18-years-old developed injuries to my right shoulder, knee and both feet.

Was the way I looked worth the long-term damage I was causing my body?

Personally, for me, it wasn’t!

However, I don’t think weightlifting always has to be bad, it’s amazing, it’s just extremely unforgiving if you’re not listening to your body, practicing good form, having lots of recovery and sleep and most importantly not warming up.

Why Calisthenics SUCKS

guy doing push ups

So, after some off-time, I tried out calisthenics using the Bar Brothers program (great place to start) and I fell in love.

The workouts made me feel powerful and I got real life usable strength, picking people up felt easy, my body felt light and my cardio was incredible.

However, the workouts where intense, so intense I questioned my ability to stick to the calisthenics way of training.

I also felt weightlifting gave me more calculated results and had an issue with the amount of weight I was losing.

So, if you want a ripped six pack, lean muscle and to lose weight calisthenics is amazing.

However, if you struggle with weight gain and want to bulk up and have a bigger muscular physique, calisthenics just doesn’t do it.

The Real Truth (Verdict)

After completing the Bar Brothers course I went and decided to change things up, looking at my results I put together a list of pros and cons and the outcome was the single best mix of exercise I’ve personally experienced in 10 years.

I mixed calisthenics and bodyweight training with the healthiest aspects of weightlifting.

I would mix kettlebells, dumbbells and barbells into my training sessions and I created workout plans that looked like this:

Upper Body Circuit:

  • 15 Push-ups
  • 10 Kettlebell shoulder halo
  • 8 Pull-ups
  • 10 shoulder press (with dumbells)
  • Dimond push-ups

Rest 3 minutes and then repeat 5 times.

Warning: I built up to this, I’d recommend you start at a lower rep count as this workout can get intense.

I’d do different versions of this with different exercises usually with 50-50 calisthenic and weight exercises.

Mixing Weights, Calisthenics & Crossfit

stack at weights at the gym

There’s something deep about lifting light-medium weights, doing bodyweight exercises and pushing your cardio while training.

You’ll be losing weight while gaining muscle and mobility and ontop of that you’ll be saving time.

My workouts very rarely go over 30 minutes, so per week I train around 2 hours, instead of when I used to do weight lifting and I’d train for around 5 – 6 hours per week.

Training less than half the time and getting better results, really does feel amazing and is the reason I recommend combining the best and healthiest parts from all these types of exercise.

Just try it, you’ll feel like an animal and learn your exact fitness level.

What Type of Exercise I Avoid

weight machine

So, I stay away from failure sets (excluding 1-2 training sessions per month) and I avoid all kinds of weightlifting machines, anything that isn’t free weight or compound movement I stay away from.

Why I avoid isolating weightlifting machines

Using free weights allows you to build core muscle and full body strength.

This stops muscles over developing and keeps your body in proportion and lowers the chance of injury.

What else I stay away from

Advanced bodyweight exercises that look like gymnastics.

When this chances of injury increase I stop.

I instead try to perfect the exercises I already know:

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Dips
  • Squats
  • Various Kettlebell/dumbbell exercises

I do this by slowing down each rep, being mindful of my form and breathing.

I then add weights (using the weighted vest on bodyweight exercises) at a slow rate.

Doing this allows me to keep improving without having to push my muscles and joints with the more crazy exercises, I’m looking at you handstand push ups.

Do I Recommend Heavy Weight?

Yes and no.

Personally, I think train light, train hard and use your whole body.

Heavyweights are unnatural and should be done once or twice per month as a way to go to failure and add muscle mass, any more than that is overkill.

This is my own logic and everyone is different.

I know loads of healthy, strong weightlifters, however, my experience hasn’t been healthy and personally I find myself getting more injured when lifting heavy, I also find recovery time goes up and personally I feel weaker compared to how I felt while training with a mix.

How Many Days Do I Workout?

Recovery is important and over exercise has negative effects on the body and can actually decrease your muscles.

I’ve found the best routine to be 2 days on, 2 days off, I then try to sleep at least 8 hours every night.

On my off days I practice yoga (sometimes), go on long walks/hikes and occasionally do some more intense cardio.

I also make sure I’m having enough protein and health fats every day to aid recovery.

guy doing push ups on kettlebell weights with text saying calisthenics versus weightlifting

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