For those in the fitness world, you may know that the battle between calisthenics and weight lifting has been raging for some time. The arguments for and against each strength building method are a source of huge debate. However, if you are anything like me, you might not actually know what calisthenics are! Let me explain.
The word calisthenics comes from the ancient Greek words kalós, meaning beauty, and sthénos, meaning strength. The word simply describes a form of strength training exercise which uses only body weight as resistance.
Weight lifting and calisthenics are both forms of strength training. The difference lies mainly in the fact that calisthenics does not generally require any equipment, and equipment is certainly not essential. Weight lifting on the other hand requires free weights, such as dumbbells or weight lifting machines in order to complete the exercises.
Calisthenics includes real body movements such as pulling, pushing, bending, jumping and swinging. The exercises can be energetic and provide the body with a cardiovascular workout at the same time.
Weight lifting involves just that, lifting weights. Various body parts are engaged to complete the lift, and the amount of weight can be controlled and changed easily, unlike calisthenics where the weight remains constant, as the weight of the body.
Calisthenics has many benefits. For one thing it is very convenient. There is no equipment to haul and it can be done anywhere that there is enough space to stretch the body. This also makes it free! It is easy to fit into a daily schedule as trips to the gym can be eliminated. For these reasons, calisthenics are frequently used in schools and military.
Calisthenic exercises work on core strength, and include the full body in a work out. This means that it is a great way to condition the whole physique.
Performing body weight exercises also reduces the risk of injury substantially compared to weight lifting. The body also recovers faster after each session, especially when heavy weights are used in the alternative.
This makes a calisthenic regime more sustainable over time. The movements are usually rhythmic and follow the body’s natural range of motion. This means that ‘real’ strength is developed, the kind of strength that is useful in daily life. Muscular development is also more natural looking, with long, lean muscles.
Co-ordination, balance and agility are also developed through calisthenics. With some of the movements, for example the plank (described below) real concentration is required to hold the position, meaning that the mind is also brought into this full-body exercise.
Yoga could certainly be considered a form of calisthenics, and that is a great example of holistic exercise, which requires focus and an opportunity for meditation as a part of the workout. This is further enhanced by the ability to take the exercise outside into nature. With calisthenics there is almost no limit to where you can perform your workout, meaning that the sunrise could easily become your backdrop.
Scientific research has been conducted into the benefits of calisthenics for older ladies, and the conclusions have been favourable, as seen below:
Four month regular calisthenics enhanced physical fitness and parameters of quality of life such as physical functioning, bodily pain, general health perceptions, vitality, social functioning, role limitation of emotional, role limitation of physical, mental health in elderly women.
Calisthenics is limited by the fact that the amount of weight is restricted, limited to the weight of the body. This means that it doesn’t build muscles as quickly as weight lifting. If that is your goal, then you may need to incorporate both techniques into your training.
When compared to calisthenics, weight lifting can help to build bigger, stronger individual muscles much faster. The resistance can quickly and easily be increased. The amount of weight can also be varied throughout a workout.
This also means that lighter weights can be used at the beginning of a fitness journey, when body weight is too much.
There are a number of limitations for weight lifting, for one thing it is inconvenient. It is difficult to travel with free weights to make a work out mobile. When it comes to the large machines the exercise is restricted to the gym only.
There is of course an option to create a gym environment at home, but this requires a large amount of space and a large investment of money.
From a health perspective, weight lifting comes with an increased risk of injury when compared to calisthenics. The weights lifted can put huge strain on the body, and tension in areas such as the back. The result of weight lifting over time can be tightness, stiff joints and general soreness. Many weight lifting exercises focus on one individual area at a time, and this means that the full body is not incorporated.
Flexibility can be impaired by developing specific muscles and not engaging others. This can result in the conundrum where the muscles are bigger, but the overall strength is not increased.
The movements required for weight lifting can be repetitive and it is typical for them to be done mindlessly, simply yanking the weights over and over, without concentrating on the action, nor engaging the mind.
Calisthenics and weight lifting, while sounding similar on the outset are very different, and appeal to different people. It could be said that neither is better, as it depends entirely on what you are looking for. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, and it is of course possible to combine the two.
For me personally, I like the fact that calisthenics can be considered holistic. It uses natural body movements to build a natural physique and is more sustainable over time. There are many difference exercises to try, without the need to purchase equipment. This keeps the work outs interesting.
What are your thoughts? Are you a weight lifter? Or do you incorporate a variety of methods into your exercises. Are you interested in starting calisthenics? We would love to hear from you.
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