Bodybuilding vs Calisthenics: Better together?

January 8, 2024 |

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Should you be building muscle with weights or bodyweight?

There’s always been competition between the two, and they’re both trying to take up your time. Bodybuilding and calisthenics are two of the most popular and appealing ways to train. They both transform the body, build more muscle mass, and make you stronger.

The main difference between bodybuilding and calisthenics is that bodybuilding typically involves the use of weights or resistance machines, while calisthenics uses only the weight of your own body. Both types of exercise have their benefits – with bodybuilding you can achieve greater muscle mass and strength, while with calisthenics you can improve your flexibility, balance, and coordination.

But there’s more!

Keep reading as we look at how these two training styles compare, what we like about each and the best approach for most people.

Types of Resistance: Weights vs. Leverage

The main difference between bodybuilding training and calisthenics is how you load the muscles.

Bodybuilding relies on weight training – a type of resistance training using external load from weights. This usually breaks down to barbells, dumbbells, and constant-tension machines like cable stacks.

On the other hand, calisthenics uses a combination of bodyweight and leverage. The loading is less obvious but easier to adjust on the fly by simply changing the body position. It also progresses by complexity as you replace easier variants with harder ones, like replacing a press-up with a decline press-up.

Bodybuilding vs. Calisthenics: Skill vs. Muscle?

The main difference in this type of loading is the balance of skill and muscle development.

Bodybuilding is less skill-focused but faster, focusing on muscles rather than movements. External loading is also easier to count and improve over time – driving the progressive overload that makes muscle growth and strength-building possible.

Callisthenics takes the opposite. Callisthenics has a more-accessible type of progression without any equipment, but it’s harder to record and plan for yourself – without a coach.

two women doing calisthenics

There’s also a greater focus – and demand – for mobility and control in calisthenics.

Bodybuilding has a lower entry barrier but doesn’t develop these factors unless you practice them deliberately. It’s a small change of direction but does offer another distinction between the two.

Bodybuilding Training with Weights

The best thing about traditional bodybuilding exercises with weights is that they’re fast, easy to start with, and offer clear progression. These make it a great way to start building a better body and improving your fitness and super accessible, even without a coach.

Bodybuilding also overlaps closely with rehabilitation, strength training, and other benefits.

This makes it one of the most popular and effective ways for the average person to get started – and it usually only takes a gym membership.

bodybuilder lifting weight

Bodybuilding training also focuses on other super important areas: diet, rest, and sleep quality. These are major factors in muscle growth and high-quality fat loss, making it a great way to educate yourself about your body as you progress and improve your physique.


  • Faster muscle gains
  • Easier to record and plan
  • Easier progression over time
  • It can be perfect for beginners
  • Supports better basic joint strengthening and isolation movements


  • Less focus on movement
  • Less skill-development
  • May overlook some important movements/muscles

Calisthenics Training with Bodyweight Only

The benefits of calisthenics training are a little more subtle than bodybuilding. It will still allow you to build more muscle – especially at the beginning – but it’s also a way to build better coordination, balance, and movement control. These are possible in bodybuilding but are lower priority.

Calisthenics training offers a wide range of movement- and skill-focused exercises. These are great for developing body awareness and body control, which are important for functional reasons and for building muscle.

Bodybuilding is typically lacking in these areas, leaving you with holes in your physique if you’re not careful.

Calisthenics is also lower load and uses less equipment, making it easier to train more often and with less time and investment.

However, the trade-off is that you have to be very exact with movement. You need lots of mobility to start well. It can be difficult to progress through movement complexity (unlike bodybuilding’s “add more reps, sets, or weight”).


  • More movement focused
  • More skill development
  • Better proprioception and opportunities for injury prevention
  • Focus on movements, and muscles develop better well-rounded


  • Less muscle growth, typically
  • Restricted access to some body parts (e.g., legs, back, and hips)
  • Harder to measure and progress without a coach

Bodybuilding vs. Calisthenics: Can You Use Both?

You can – and should – combine bodybuilding with calisthenics if you can. Both offer different benefits, and you can build muscle or reinforce skills with both. They work perfectly together for an aesthetic and well-prepared physique.

The real question is, why would you ever need to choose between bodybuilding and calisthenics? While we’ve discussed comparisons of the two, there’s no reason to exclude either.

Exercises like pull-ups, dips, and many-core exercises are calisthenics exercises. These are some of the most popular forms of bodybuilding training, and the addition of weight to dips and pull-ups can be one of the best ways to build muscle in the upper body.

man doing pull-ups

While calisthenics lacks effective choices for some muscle groups, it’s a great way to build more muscle, develop better coordination, and condition joints for the future. It’s also one of the best ways to put your muscles to use, build skills, and improve mind-muscle connection in functional ways.

How to Use Calisthenics for Bodybuilding

So how do you use calisthenics for bodybuilding?

You can take a few major routes to get the best out of your workouts, combining both the weight training of bodybuilding and the bodyweight exercise from calisthenics.

Choose good muscle-building exercises and fit them into your workouts to use calisthenics for bodybuilding. Focus on fitting them into your workout order based on how hard they are, with some as heavy exercises (like weighted dips) and others as light ‘finishers’ – like ring rows.

Pull-ups are one of the best ways to build a better V-taper and improve the width of your back. It’s a powerful lat-building exercise that also works the biceps, grip, and other scalp muscles simultaneously.

Chin-ups are slightly easier and have a bicep focus that can also be useful. The focus on arms can make it easier and help you build bigger guns, making it a popular choice for building the whole upper body.

Dips are one of (if not the) best chest exercises – they’re a full-range exercise that makes the best of stretch-mediated strength exercise. This makes them one of the fastest ways to build muscle in the chest, shoulders, and triceps – even more so with added weight.

Ring push-ups and ring rows are some of the best exercises for building full-range bodyweight strength – and tons of muscle mass.

They’re perfect finishers for developing well-rounded strength and muscle mass around the shoulder joint, especially after heavier exercises like bench press and weighted dips.

Calisthenics core exercises are some of the absolute best.

Bodyweight core training is a staple, and the use of exercises like hanging leg raises and L-sits.

You can also build to other advanced calisthenics exercises that can transform your core. Again, you can add small amounts of weight but will be able to develop excellent core stability without any equipment.

Bodybuilding vs. Calisthenics: Our Verdict

Bodybuilding is our favorite when compared to calisthenics for sheer directness.

Bodybuilding is a more direct route if it’s muscle growth you want. It’s a simple and more accessible way to get into shape, improve your body composition, and progress in your own goals.

The measurability of strength training with weights, the focus on a diet that comes with bodybuilding, and the education process are all really big benefits.

Calisthenics exercises can be really useful, but they’re harder to get into at a technique level, harder to plan and progress and slower to build muscle mass.

Bodybuilding doesn’t offer as much of a time-intensive and technically-limited approach.

It’s far simpler to slowly add weight to a bar or dumbbell than working through the progressions of calisthenics – especially without a coach.



Body Shape


Bodybuilding: For building strength and improving your fitness Calisthenic bodies offer an exaggerated V-taper but weak lower body
  • Pull-ups
  • Push-up
  • Burpees
  • Jumping jacks
  • Jump squats
  • Lunges
  • Planks
  • Sit-ups
Calisthenics: For building muscle mass and improving the overall strength of the body Bodybuilding offers upper and lower body development
  • Bench presses
  • Deadlifts
  • Dumbbell raises
  • Overhead presses
  • Barbell squats
  • Bent-over rows
  • Skull crushers

Bodybuilding vs. Calisthenics: FAQs

Calisthenics Body vs. Gym Body

Calisthenics bodies offer an exaggerated V-taper but a weak lower body, while bodybuilding typically offers upper and lower body development.

Calisthenics is notoriously poor for lower body development, and some muscle groups (like the hamstrings and lower back muscles) are difficult to develop with just bodyweight. Bodybuilding has a more well-rounded approach to the physique with more options for training with weights.

Are Calisthenics Trainees Stronger than Bodybuilders?

Calisthenics trainees are not usually stronger than competitive bodybuilders – though they have better coordination and strength-endurance in some movements. Training calisthenics will make you stronger, leaving significant weaknesses, especially in the lower body and lower back muscles.

Calisthenics will make you strong in some key positions, but it’s hard to compare the strength between calisthenics and bodybuilding. Which is strongest will depend on the test of strength used.

Should Bodybuilders Do Calisthenics?

Bodybuilders should practice at least some calisthenics exercises like dips, pull-ups, ring exercises, and core exercises. These bodyweight variants are great for building stronger muscles and joints, keeping the body healthy, and building a well-rounded physique.

They’re also great options in most workout programs and offer a chance to build movement quality – something that bodybuilding often has a narrow view of.

Why Do Bodybuilders Hate Calisthenics?

Most bodybuilders don’t hate calisthenics or its trainees – there’s a pretty good relationship between the two. Typically, people don’t hate calisthenics but individual practitioners or trainees who have a bad or one-size-fits-all attitude towards training.

Hate is not the right word; bodybuilders and calisthenics practitioners might see each other’s training styles as silly. It does not often become a matter of hate.

Is Calisthenics Good for Skinny Guys?

Calisthenics is good for skinny guys because they will be able to get stronger and develop more quickly than heavier guys.

The smaller body weight makes calisthenics much easier, and skinny guys can develop basic and intermediate skills more effectively (because it requires less strength to support their smaller body weight).

Calisthenics is one way of gaining upper body muscle mass. Still, it won’t be as rapidly effective for “bulking” as bodybuilding or other weight-training methods, which have fewer limitations on progress (like complex skills or balance) and more total-body muscle growth (especially in the lower body).

Final Thoughts

Bodybuilding is more direct than calisthenics for muscle growth, but calisthenics offers different benefits like skill development.

The two can work together perfectly and overlap in areas like the pull-up and dip and simpler exercises that build skill, joint health, and great muscle together.

If you respect what each training style is best at, you can make the best gains by combining bodyweight and calisthenics. Remember that you’re only going to lose out on gains at the extremes of either, where muscle mass is a hindrance, or the skill demands of calisthenics are too high.

For most people, the answer to Bodybuilding vs. Calisthenics is both – taking the best benefits of both for yourself and your body.

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