Answering the Million-Dollar Question: Calisthenics or Weights?

Jennifer E. Engen

In terms of bodybuilding and strength training, we often get the million-dollar question: Is calisthenics or weights training better? The answer is, why choose when you can do both?

In order to understand how you could practice calisthenics and weights training together for many advantages (that we will discuss later), we first have to understand the difference between the two.

Calisthenics

Calisthenics in Greece. Lemur12CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Your grandfather might be using the term to refer to physical exercise. Calisthenics is low-resistance exercises that use your body weight rather than other equipment like barbells or machines like cable triceps bar. Thus, it is also known as bodyweight training. Usually, these low-resistance routines are used as a warm-up or cool-down before a sport (say, running) or other fitness routines. It could also be its own workout, by doing many repetitions for each move to help build muscles and develop endurance. Some of the well-known calisthenic exercises are:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Chin-ups
  • Sit-ups
  • Planks
  • Lunges

P.S. If you want to know Brandon Webb’s Navy SEAL calisthenics workout, he shared it here.

Weight Training

Sgt. Aaron Angulo, Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, pulls his energy inward during the deadlift segment during the regional Best Warrior competition for Army Medicine.

As the name suggests, weight training, as defined by True Fitness, “is a type of strength training that uses weights for resistance. By creating stress to the muscles performed with free weights (e.g., barbells and dumbbells) or by using weight machines, these exercises will enable muscles to be activated and get stronger.” (as in the opposite of calisthenics.)

Proper technique and correct form are fundamental while performing these weighted routines, as incorrectly performing them may result in sprains, strains, fractures, or other painful injuries. It is also advised that there should be personal trainers who will guide beginners to learn the proper techniques and use of different kinds of weight equipment. They could also help you formulate a program that suits your needs and goals.

Some of the common weight exercises are:

  • Goblet squat
  • Weighted hip thrust
  • Overhead tricep extensions
  • Hammer curls
  • Dumbell rows
  • Bench press
  • Deadlift

Going back to the question, which is better?

The brief answer is that neither is better than the other in terms of keeping you fit and healthy. Unless, of course, you have a specific goal like muscle gains, slimming, toning, improving your overall health, and the likes.

Calisthenics isn’t going to give you a sculpted bodybuilder’s physique. Weight training, when done excessively and incorrectly, could pose risks and injuries to the muscles, joints, and spine. It could even result in disproportionate body shape (Have you seen someone with buffed arms and shoulders but have chicken legs?) So how about combining both?

Flexibility and Strength

With calisthenics, you can improve both your body strength and flexibility. Combine it with weighted workouts, and it would help enhance the size and quality of skeletal muscles.

Agility and Stamina

Your fast-twitch muscle fibers are triggered whenever you lift heavy weights. These muscle fibers help you with your speed and power. On the other hand, calisthenics is perfect for providing muscular and aerobic conditioning.

Relaxation

Exercising increases oxytocin levels, one of the happy hormones that promote positive feelings like pleasure, happiness, and even love. Lifting heavy weights helps control aggression while sweating during calisthenics workout helps get rid of stress.

Will you incorporate calisthenics and weights training into your routine?

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