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Calisthenics vs. Weights

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Calisthenics vs. Weights

Calisthenics exercises allow you to work out against your body weight as opposed to using weight machines. Calisthenics exercises include push-ups, pull-ups, and crunches, as well as more advanced gymnastics.

There's often a debate between calisthenics vs. weights, as to whether working out again your bodyweight is a substitute for weight training and bodybuilding techniques!

Calisthenics is proven to be an effective way to build muscle, especially when you start to incorporate pull up bands into the exercises to improve your technique and offer further resistance.

In this article, we take a look at the best calisthenics exercises that will work as a substitute for lifting heavy weights!

Can you build muscle with calisthenics?

Calisthenics body exercises will help you build muscle. Working out against your body weight is an effective way to build strength.

You can build big mass and muscles while also ensuring you are weight training for weight loss. This activity allows you to tone and define your muscles, which gives you a more natural look. When it comes to bodyweight vs. weights, this natural look is often a winner for calisthenics fans!

But calisthenics also has many other benefits over traditional weight training routines, such as using weights or machines while you're at the gym. Here are the best benefits of calisthenics exercises:

  • Learn how to lift and control your bodyweight
  • Build muscle mass
  • Improve strength, fitness, and stamina
  • Gain functional strength for day to day movements
  • Improve posture, flexibility, and mobility
  • Workout from anywhere (you don't need a gym)
  • Complement your weightlifting routine
  • Avoid injuries

Calisthenics and resistance bands

Resistance bands can seriously help you improve your calisthenics game. They can take the strain as you work on your technique and work on building up a base layer of muscle. Or they can add resistance to make bodyweight exercises even more challenging.

Here are our favorite calisthenics exercises that you can perform with resistance bands. We suggest starting with the basic exercises first. Only when you can comfortably perform multiple reps should you move onto the more advanced exercises.

Basic calisthenics exercises

#1 Assisted pull-ups

Pull-ups are a classic bodyweight exercise and often serve as a test of personal strength by trainers. Calisthenics is all about being able to control your body weight, and if you can't pull your body weight up, you aren't going to get very far. For beginners, pull-ups are the best way to start building muscle with calisthenics. 

Pull-ups are challenging, but you can use a resistance band to ease you in. A pull up assist band will support your weight and allow you to build the technique and muscle mass that you need over time. Eventually, you'll be able to do pull-ups on their own, but the resistance band will still allow you to improve and increase the number of pull-ups you can carry it in one go!

For this exercise, you'll need a sturdy pull up-bar and a long pull up assist band. Try to complete as many repetitions as you can in one go. 

  1. Loop a resistance band over the top of the pull-up bar, then loop it through itself to secure it.
  2. Place your body into the pull-up position, with your hands firmly on the bar above you.
  3. Step into the resistance band, using either your knee or your foot to hold you in place.
  4. Lift yourself lightly off the ground and allow the band to take the strain.
  5. Pull yourself up to complete a pull-up.
  6. Lower yourself and repeat

#2 Resistance band-assisted dips

As with pull-ups, a resistance band can also help you build the required muscle strength to perform dips. This exercise requires you to lift your body weight above two parallel bars. It's an excellent calisthenics exercise that targets and works your triceps and pectorals and your back and core muscles.

Again, like pull-ups, it can be challenging to master when you're first starting out. You can also help train your muscles and perfect the technique using a long, looped resistance band to assist you. The band will take the strain and allow you to build strength as you work towards being able to perform more dips in one session.

For this exercise, you need a pull up assist band and two parallel bars. 

  1. Tie or loop a resistance band, so it's fastened across the parallel bars (you can hold one end with your hand if you need to).
  2. Stand so the resistance band is in front of you and place your hands on either bar.
  3. Step into the band with your knees, so the band takes your bodyweight.
  4. Push up and raise your body until your arms are straight.
  5. Bend your arms to lower your body as far as you can (aim to get level with the bars).
  6. Push back up and repeat.

#3 Banded push-ups

Push-ups are another classic calisthenics bodyweight workout that will help you build your chest, back, and arm muscles. Push-ups are one of the most effective exercises you can practice regularly, so we highly recommend them!

Most people know what a push-up is, but it's essential to get the proper form to work the right muscles. A long resistance band can help you keep your back straight through the exercise if it's looped over your shoulders. A light resistance band won't add too much resistance, but you can make the exercise more difficult as your fitness improves by using more resistive bands.

For this exercise, you need a long resistance band. If the exercise is too strenuous, you can go down onto your knees and complete partial push-ups to build strength and technique. 

  1. Loop a long band over the top of your shoulders and hold either end in your hands.
  2. Adopt the push-up position on the floor.
  3. Keep the ends of the bands firmly in place underneath your hands.
  4. Lower your chest to the floor then push back up to the start position.
  5. Repeat.

Intermediate calisthenics exercises

#4 Front levers

The front lever is an intermediate calisthenics and weight training exercise that looks awesome if you can pull it off. It also seems incredibly difficult if you're just getting started with bodyweight training, but it is an attainable goal!

You need a strong core and strong arms for front levers, so make sure you've worked on your push-ups and pull-ups consistently. A resistance band can help you take the strain, allowing you to focus on the correct technique and body posture.

For this exercise, you need a long resistance band and training bars.

  1. Loop a resistance band to training bars above you, so it forms a harness that will hold your body weight.
  2. Place your body between the band and the bar and hold onto the bar above you.
  3. Lower your body into the resistance band, so it takes your weight, and your arms are straight.
  4. Lean back and raise your legs into the air at the same time.
  5. Keep your legs straight and keep raising until your back is parallel to the floor.
  6. Hold for as long as you can.

#5 Back levers

Back levers are more advanced than front levers, as you are required to place yourself into an inverted hanging position. The result: you'll be hanging off the ground, with your body straight, while facing the floor.

It's a daunting move, but with good core strength and a resistance band, you can focus on getting the technique right. With good technique and a little confidence, it's a move that you can quickly pick up to impress your friends!

For this exercise, you require a long resistance band and training bars.

  1. Loop a resistance band to training bars above you, so it forms a harness that will hold your body weight.
  2. Invert your body between the bar and the resistance band.
  3. Use your core and legs to raise your body until it's parallel with the ground.
  4. Use the resistance band to hold your weight and support you, like a harness, through the movement.

Advanced calisthenics exercises

#6 Muscle-ups

Muscle-ups are an advanced technique, but one that can help to improve your posture, your core muscles, and your overall body strength.

It looks impressive, but the reality is that if you can do more than ten pull-ups in a row, then you can probably complete at least one muscle-up.

You can use a long resistance band to hold your body weight as you work your way towards completing a muscle-up, too.

You need a long resistance band and a pull up bar for this exercise.

  1. Loop a long resistance band over the pull-up bar and into itself (as you do for an assisted pull-up).
  2. Place your hands on the pull-up bar above you, step into the resistance band to take your weight, and hang with your arms completely straight.
  3. Pull your body up until you are chest-level with the bar.
  4. However, rather than lowering your body, continue pushing up until your core is level with the bar.
  5. Lower fully, then repeat.

#7 Iron cross

The iron cross is an incredibly advanced gymnastics exercise that takes a lot of body strength to pull off. This exercise can take years to train up to, so don't expect to hold it for long when starting with calisthenics.

You can use a resistance band to take your body weight, but you still need exceptional balance and flexibility to hold the pose.

For this exercise, you need two gymnastics rings and a long resistance band.

  1. Tie a resistance band between two gymnastics rings.
  2. Hold the rings and step into the resistance band with your feet, so it holds your bodyweight.
  3. Lift yourself off the ground and push out with your arms until they are completely extended and parallel to the floor.
  4. Hold.

Calisthenics vs. weights: is there a winner?

It depends on what your goals are. Many bodybuilders will argue that you can't build as much muscle with calisthenics as lifting weights. That's only true if you're seriously into advanced bodybuilding techniques and need to develop extraordinary muscles!

For most people, calisthenics offers an excellent way to build muscle, and exercises such as pull-ups, dips, and push-ups will be able to match weight training efforts - especially if you're using resistance bands.

You don't need expensive weights or gym equipment, either! You can use calisthenics to lose weight, build strength, and build more natural-looking muscles.

Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

Katherine is a CrossFit expert with humble origins. Starting out on a ranch, ever since she was nine, she spent most of her life roping and competing in team roping. After finding bodyweight exercises interesting she sought after a career in CrossFit and dedicated her life towards achieving the body of her dreams. Today Katherine is a personal trainer that loves to travel the world and change the lives of her clients.

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