Crossfit vs Calisthenics: Which is Best?

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
September 28, 2022

Being among one of the most popular training methodologies out there, crossfit and calisthenics are often compared when exercisers are deciding what sort of fitness they want to get into.

One one hand, there are few disciplines as convenient as calisthenics - while on the other, crossfit is one of the best tools for developing all-around athleticism and health benefits. 

In this article, we’ll delve deeper into what makes these two training methodologies different, and which you should pick.

To put it in short however, the primary difference between crossfit and calisthenics lies in the source of training stimulus of each discipline, and the intensity of said stimulus. Crossfit will generally make use of fitness equipment and be of a higher intensity, while calisthenics requires little to no equipment and works the body in a less intense fashion.

What is Crossfit?

Crossfit is a training methodology developed for the purposes of improving the exerciser in all aspects of fitness, taking inspiration from various older disciplines like powerlifter training and athletic training. 

crossfit studio

Crossfit will often feature dynamic and explosive movements with a large range of motion meant to improve not only the muscular function of the exerciser, but also their cardiovascular function, mobility, athletic ability and sports-specific skills.

Who Should Do Crossfit?

Crossfit is most suitable for individuals seeking a balanced yet intense form of training, usually with the addition of free weight resistance exercises and a high tempo of training. 

It is particularly useful for prospective athletes, or those wishing to engage in intense and dynamic exercise that places a particular focus on dynamic movement, much like olympic weightlifting.

Benefits of Crossfit

The main benefit of crossfit is in its level of intensity, which will eventually result in subsequently as intense development if paired with proper rest and recovery. 

This means that a crossfit practitioner will eventually find that their muscle mass and physical strength improve at a pace that outshines other forms of resistance exercise.

In addition to this, crossfit is also structured in such a manner that exercisers are not overwhelmed, yet are provided guidance, either by a head coach or by whatever workout program the exerciser has chosen to participate in.

Finally, there are few training disciplines as effective at bodily recomposition as crossfit, of which combines bodyweight exercises, free weight exercises, aerobics, plyometrics and a number of other different kinds of exercises to form a cohesive workout plan - one that will burn fat, condition the body and build muscle effectively.

What is Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is a form of resistance exercise wherein one will leverage their own bodyweight so as to induce training stimulus, thereby developing their musculature. 

calisthenics park
Calisthenics Park

It is characterized by a lack of need for fitness equipment, large scale compound exercises and progressive overload in the form of exercise progression instead of volume or weight. 

This, in turn, will often require that the exerciser possess a moderate level of mobility and isometric muscular strength.

Who Should Do Calisthenics?

Calisthenics is the most appropriate training discipline for those without regular access to exercise equipment, or as a temporary source of resistance prior to progressing to free weight exercises.

It is also possible to combine calisthenics with other forms of exercise so as to make up for its shortcomings, integrating it into a larger workout plan. 

In fact, crossfit itself takes this approach, often including exercises like the push-up or pull-up in its daily workouts (WODs).

Benefits of Calisthenics

Calisthenics is arguably one of the safest training disciplines available, placing no more resistance on the exerciser’s body than its own weight and therefore having a greatly reduced risk of injury in comparison to other resistance workouts.

Furthermore, calisthenics is one of the few types of exercise that requires no equipment whatsoever, allowing practically anyone to perform it anywhere. 

It is especially useful for individuals on vacation, or those temporarily without access to a gym, as it can allow said individuals to maintain their level of fitness despite the circumstances.

Notable Exercises of Crossfit

Crossfit’s most notable exercises are often those that require significant power and explosiveness to execute, with the burpee or barbell snatch usually being incorporated into a workout session.

barbell snatch

The sort of exercises integrated into a crossfit workout will usually take inspiration from olympic weightlifting, meaning that any individual wishing to participate in crossfit training will need enough mobility to perform a full squat at the least, and be of sound enough health to withstand the explosive movements of a clean.

Furthermore, crossfit will also pair aerobic exercises with anaerobic exercises, and otherwise make use of whatever equipment that may be available; be it battle ropes, a treadmill or medicine balls, the variability of crossfit allows usage of all these items.

Notable Exercises of Calisthenics

Calisthenics is simply the practice of performing exercises with only the bodyweight as a source of resistance. It is so commonplace, in fact, that practically any intermediate or novice level workout likely has a calisthenics exercise present within its programming.

push up

The most notable calisthenics exercises are that of the push-up, the pull-up, and the bodyweight dip; all dynamic compound exercises that leverage the exerciser’s own body weight against gravity, creating training stimulus that induces muscular hypertrophy and strength adaptations.

Crossfit or Calisthenics for Bodybuilding

Though both crossfit and calisthenics are capable of inducing muscular hypertrophy and therefore increasing muscle mass, it is crossfit that wins out in such purposes. 

This is due to the usage of resistance other than the exerciser’s own bodyweight, allowing such methods like progressive overload, isolation of muscles and specificity of training stimulus to take place. 

This is difficult to achieve with calisthenics, as there is only so much the exerciser can do to continue linear progression.

Furthermore - apart from the novice levels of training - calisthenics will often require dozens of repetitions per set in order to achieve the same level of exertion as crossfit or other training disciplines, taking up more of the exerciser’s time and creating inefficiencies in their workout.

Crossfit or Calisthenics for Athletes

Both crossfit and calisthenic practitioners can be considered athletes all on their own accord. 

However, for the training methods needed in other kinds of athletic activities, it is once again crossfit that shows more promise due to the highly dynamic movements and variability involved in its performance.

While calisthenics can indeed be quite useful for the development of isometric strength and mobility, crossfit covers more aspects of athleticism and as such is far more beneficial for the majority of athletes - especially since crossfit also trains isometric strength and mobility as well.

Luckily, if you are trying to choose between crossfit and calisthenics for the purposes of improving athletic ability, there is no need to come to a decision. Crossfit readily incorporates calisthenics as a major part of its workouts, adopting the athletic benefits of such exercises as well.

Crossfit or Calisthenics for Weight Loss

For exercisers seeking improved fat loss, it can be said that both calisthenics and crossfit are of approximately equal potential - that is, unless performing crossfit workouts that involve significantly more aerobic exercise. In such a case, it is crossfit that is considered to be superior.

Generally, both calisthenics and crossfit expend the same amount of calories per hour due to the similarities in tempo and approximate heart rate between the two.

However, where crossfit outpaces calisthenics is in its variability of movement, incorporating such exercises like jumping jacks or burpees; all of which burn a significant amount of calories due to their function as aerobic movements.

Final Thoughts

For those with access to fitness equipment, crossfit. Otherwise, calisthenics is perfectly fine for aiding in your weightloss goals.

To sum up the contents of this article, we have seen that calisthenics and crossfit are two distinctly different disciplines of training, with crossfit occasionally incorporating facets of calisthenics and therefore making it the more useful discipline in nearly every situation.

This isn’t to say that calisthenics is an ineffective training methodology however, as calisthenics is both convenient to perform and highly effective at building specific aspects of physical fitness. 

Individuals without access to equipment, those who wish to perform impressive bodyweight feats or lifters wishing for greater isometric training stimulus can all benefit from calisthenics.

If still unsure of which discipline you wish to subscribe to, our advice is to try both types of training and see which best fits your lifestyle and goals.

References

1. Thomas, Ewan & Bianco, Antonino & Mancuso, Esamuela & Patti, Antonino & Tabacchi, Garden & Paoli, Antonio & Messina, Giuseppe & Palma, Antonio. (2017). The effects of a calisthenics training intervention on posture, strength and body composition. Isokinetics and Exercise Science. 25. 1-8. 10.3233/IES-170001.

2 TSOURLOU, THOMAI1; GERODIMOS, VASILIS1; KELLIS, ELEFTHERIOS2; STAVROPOULOS, NIKOS1; KELLIS, SPIROS1. The Effects of a Calisthenics and a Light Strength Training Program on Lower Limb Muscle Strength and Body Composition in Mature Women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: August 2003 - Volume 17 - Issue 3 - p 590-598

3 Claudino JG, Gabbett TJ, Bourgeois F, Souza HS, Miranda RC, Mezêncio B, Soncin R, Cardoso Filho CA, Bottaro M, Hernandez AJ, Amadio AC, Serrão JC. CrossFit Overview: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Med Open. 2018 Feb 26;4(1):11. doi: 10.1186/s40798-018-0124-5. PMID: 29484512; PMCID: PMC5826907.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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