Both calisthenics and bodybuilding are popular forms of training that will result in significant strength and muscle gain. However, in the debate of calisthenics vs bodybuilding, each training style has some key differences that make one better than the other for certain people.
This guide will dive deep into the bodybuilding vs calisthenics debate by looking at the pros and cons of each as well as the type of physique that each training style results in.
Calisthenics vs Bodybuilding: Which Is Best?
If done properly, both bodybuilding and calisthenics can be used to gain muscle and strength. Let’s take a look at the two training styles.
What Is Calisthenics?
Calisthenics is a popular form of resistance training that focuses on primarily using your own body weight as resistance. With such a low barrier to entry, anyone can start doing calisthenics from their own home. Some popular calisthenic exercises include:
Another guiding principle of calisthenics is that you are constantly making progress, not just in terms of reps or sets but also by moving on to harder exercises. For example, movements like the handstand push-up, one-arm pull-up, and planche are all exercises that calisthenics athletes strive to do as they become more advanced.
Because these harder exercises require you to be strong across your entire body, calisthenics also has the benefit of leading to more balanced muscular development.
- Minimal equipment needs
- Focuses on strength, muscle gain, body control
- Develops the body in a holistic manner
- Progression can be more unclear
- Hard to isolate muscle groups
What Is Bodybuilding?
Bodybuilding is a form of training that is mainly focused on developing pure muscle size. Most bodybuilding workouts will focus on 1-2 muscle groups and isolate the muscle through the use of barbells, dumbbells, and gym machines.
In bodybuilding, there are very clear measures of progress. Progress can be measured in muscle size, strength, and total volume. Since you are using exact weights, it becomes much easier to see how you are improving week by week.
While bodybuilding usually requires a full gym, you can use many of the same principles in calisthenics training. For example, you can take the principles of time under tension and apply them to a push-up the same way you would apply them to a bench press.
- Easy ways to measure progress
- Can easily isolate muscle groups
- This can lead to rapid muscle gain
- Requires gym membership in most cases
- Risk of muscular imbalances
Benefits Of Calisthenics
Here are the key reasons why calisthenics training may be the right training style for you:
Learn Body Control
In many ways, calisthenics is the perfect beginner training program because you learn how to control your own body weight and feel your muscles. In reality, unless you can properly control your own body weight, you could argue that you have no business touching weights.
Not to mention, many calisthenics movements also have the added benefit of forcing you to develop proper mobility.
People often underestimate the amount of pure strength you can gain by just doing the basics like the dip and pull-up. At the end of the day, resistance is resistance. When you consider all of the ways you can make these movements harder, you should have no problems reaching your full strength potential using solely calisthenics.
In fact, there are many documented cases of calisthenics athletes easily benching 300 lbs + with no prior training thanks to the strength built with dips and push-ups.
Calisthenics can be performed with no equipment at all. However, if you are dedicated to the sport, it can be worth your money to invest in a few key pieces of gear. That being said, all of this gear is very basic and affordable. Even if you get all of the best calisthenics equipment, you would not be spending more than a few hundred dollars. Some of the popular pieces are:
You also have to consider that you could easily build most of this equipment even if you are not that handy. Also, many cities have calisthenics parks as well.
Benefits Of Bodybuilding
There are several key benefits as well:
Can Isolate One Muscle At A Time
With so many machines and free weights, it becomes very to isolate a muscle. If you have a lagging body part or simply want to focus on one area of your physique, there will be an endless list of exercises that you can do to achieve your goals.
Learn How To Lift Weights
In the case of free weights, lifting is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced. Learning how to do some of the more technical lifts like the squat, bench, or deadlift will lead to advanced motor control and muscle gain.
Lots Of Variation
Another great benefit to bodybuilding is the amount of variation that you can have. With so many options in terms of exercise selection, you can construct a given chest or back day in a thousand different ways.
Calisthenics Physique vs Bodybuilding Physique
The truth is that if you do either of these forms of training with proper form, you will develop an incredible physique. However, in general, there are some trends when looking at a calisthenics vs bodybuilding physique that you should be aware of. These are not hard fast rules, but you can generally see this when comparing athletes of either sport:
Calisthenics Athletes Are Leaner
Since you are using your own body weight as resistance, many of the more advanced calisthenics movements are really only possible if you have lots of muscle mass while being lean at the same time. Unlike exercises like the bench press where extra fat or mass makes the movement easier, being lighter by 5-10lbs can make an exercise like the dip or planche much easier.
Also, you have to consider that most calisthenics workouts also tend to burn more calories due to a higher amount of volume being done. This also leads to a leaner look.
Bodybuilders Have Bigger Legs
Again, this is not a rule put simply something that I have noticed. Since your legs are such a large muscle group, loading them using just your body weight can be a challenge.
In contrast, bodybuilders have access to a leg press, leg curl, etc which makes it much easier to work the legs.
Calisthenics Athletes Have Less “Weak” Bodyparts
Due to the nature of calisthenics, you cannot really progress until you have properly strengthened your whole body. For example, you have no chance of doing a one-arm pull-up unless you have developed strength in your core, bicep, forearm, and back.
Meanwhile, you can easily work around or just ignore weak body parts in bodybuilding since many machines can help bridge the gap by providing stability.
How To Pick Between Between Bodybuilding vs Calisthenics?
If you want to build a more balanced physique and really master your own body weight then you should go for calisthenics. In contrast, if all you are about is building muscle then perhaps bodybuilding would be the better fit for your needs.
That being said, perhaps the best approach is to combine the two. There is no reason why you cannot do calisthenic exercises in the gym or use some of the same bodybuilding principles in your own training.
Regardless of what style of training you pick, you should have no problems making steady gains as long as you stay dedicated.
Both bodybuilding and calisthenics have great benefits that lead to both being perfectly valid ways to train for strength and size. When it comes to picking one over the other, you just have to take a look at your goals and decide what you want to prioritize. If you want to check out and compare more training styles, take a look at our calisthenics vs CrossFit comparison.