Plyometrics vs Calisthenics: Which is Best?

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 6, 2022

Among the various classifications of bodyweight exercises, few are as frequently used as that of plyometrics and calisthenics - two highly intense training disciplines with distinctly different end goals.

While seemingly similar at first glance, both plyometrics and calisthenics actually involve different methods of inducing training stimulus, and are catered towards distinctly different demographics as well.

To summarize these differences, plyometrics is a high-impact power-based bodyweight training modality, whereas calisthenics is a low-impact strength-based bodyweight training modality.

What is Calisthenics?

Calisthenics refers to a wide range of different bodyweight exercises that usually make no use of any additional fitness equipment, with the main goal of such exercises being the development of the exerciser’s muscular strength and size.

calisthentics upper body back

When looking into the specifics of exercise categorization, we can also see that calisthenics is further broken up into multiple different types of bodyweight exercises, each with their own characteristics that set them apart from the other calisthenics sub-categories. Plyometrics is occasionally considered one among these.

Calisthenics are frequently found in practically any genre of physical training, including bodybuilding, athletic training and even certain portions of physical therapy.

Advantages of Calisthenics

Calisthenics are arguably the most convenient form of resistance training available, with a very low bar of entry and no equipment requirement until the later stages of calisthenic training.

Furthermore, there are few forms of resistance exercise as effective at inducing isometric muscular contraction as calisthenics, especially in a compound recruitment pattern as is often the case with many calisthenics exercises.

Disadvantages of Calisthenics

Ensuring linear progression over long periods of time can be difficult with calisthenics, as is also the case with actively recovering from an injury - both of which are hampered by the often compound nature of calisthenics exercises.

In addition, there are not many calisthenics movements that can directly lead to power or speed-based developments in an athlete, with the few that are actually capable of doing so being of an advanced difficulty, such as the muscle-up or pistol squat.

Notable Calisthenic Exercises

The most commonly encountered calisthenics exercises are also the most basic; the push up, bodyweight squat, and the pull up are just a few examples of these fundamental calisthenic movements.

bodyweight squat

Often, these exercises are swapped out for more difficult or weighted varieties once the exerciser has reached a point in their training where no further development can be accrued from their performance.

What is Plyometrics?

Plyometrics is a form of bodyweight exercise with a particular focus on explosiveness and power, usually involving large dynamic movements that recruit numerous muscle groups so as to maximize the intensity of the exercise.

plyometrics

While it can be difficult to differentiate plyometric exercises from calisthenic exercises, a good rule of thumb is that plyometrics workouts will often involve an explosive jumping movement or similar exercise that derives power from the lower body.

Advantages of Plyometrics

Plyometrics are particularly adept at expending calories and building sports-specific skills that may be needed by an athlete, two advantages that make such exercises particularly useful for a wide variety of different exercisers.

In addition, plyometrics are considered to be far more engaging than other forms of bodyweight exercise, both in terms of psychological engagement and physical exertion. This conditions the participant to such levels of intensity, as well as ensures that they do not grow bored of their workout.

Disadvantages of Plyometrics

The main disadvantage of plyometrics is in the high level of impact and stress that the joints of the body endure throughout a plyometrics workout, with the knees and ankles receiving the greatest amount of impact due to repetitive jumping and landing.

And, just as the higher intensity of plyometrics can also be an advantage, it can also hamper or even potentially injure exercisers who are unprepared for such a level of exertion. 

This means that novice exercisers, individuals with a history of injury or those who are already fatigued should perform plyometric exercises with caution.

Notable Plyometric Exercises

The most common plyometrics exercise is the box jump, of which is considered the poster-child of plyometrics.

box jump

However, quite a number of other exercises frequently seen in athletic training are also considered to be plyometrics exercises, such as the clap push-up, the squat jump, high knees and jumping jacks - all of which excel in their own respective roles within a workout.

Impact and Stress Differences of Plyometrics and Calisthenics

As was covered briefly earlier, one of the main disadvantages to plyometrics is in its significantly damaging impact to the joints and bones of the exerciser’s body, something that is otherwise minimized or not present during calisthenics exercises.

This can mean that individuals with a history of injury, or those who otherwise have poor joint health should avoid the more damaging exercisers of plyometrics, and instead seek out low impact calisthenic movements.

Alternatively, exercisers can also make use of padded mats and similar impact-cushioning materials that make plyometrics more friendly to the joints of its practitioners.

Athletic Compatibility Differences of Plyometrics and Calisthenics

Though both calisthenics and plyometrics are effective at developing certain aspects of athleticism, plyometrics are particularly useful for the majority of athletes due to the power and explosiveness-based nature of plyometric exercises.

This will allow the athlete to carry-over more of their training advancements to real life sports or other athletic activities that require such skills, especially if the athlete is participating in a sport that normally requires explosiveness, such as basketball or boxing.

In comparison, the sports carry-over of calisthenics is somewhat more limited, as it primarily develops the strength and isometric muscular endurance of the athlete instead - physical aspects that are not as widely used in sports as explosiveness and power.

What can be ascertained from this distinction is that the compatibility of either training modality will depend, based on what sort of athlete is performing the exercises. 

Rock climbers, bodybuilders or other types of athletes that require muscular control and endurance will benefit more from calisthenics, whereas combat sports athletes and those requiring high rate of force development will benefit from plyometrics instead.

Muscle Mass Development of Plyometrics and Calisthenics

Quite a number of factors go into the stimulation of muscular hypertrophy, with aspects like time under tension and resistance intensity being among the most important.

While both plyometrics and calisthenics are not necessarily performed for the purposes of developing muscle mass, they are not in fact comparable in such a regard, as calisthenics greatly outpaces plyometrics.

Due to the high intensity and explosiveness of plyometric exercises, it is unlikely that the exerciser will be able to perform high volume sets, or place their muscles under a significant length of time under tension - two major causes of muscle mass development.

In comparison, calisthenics not only excels at both of these types of training stimulus, but is also more likely to produce a higher level of resistance due to the fundamental nature of most calisthenics exercises.

As such, for bodybuilders or those wishing to improve the size of their muscles, calisthenics is the more appropriate choice.

In Conclusion

To put what we have learned from this article into perspective, we can see that the primary distinction between plyometrics and calisthenics is simply in the explosiveness of their movements. 

Other aspects that normally define a training modality such as source of resistance, equipment usage or even target demographic are otherwise the same between calisthenics and plyometrics, and as such choosing between the two is more of a situational choice, rather than a general one.

For power-based athletes or those who can withstand the impact and intensity, plyometrics is the better choice - while bodybuilders or those seeking muscular strength and size may wish to pick calisthenics instead.

References

1. Eraslan L, Castelein B, Spanhove V, Orhan C, Duzgun I, Cools A. Effect of Plyometric Training on Sport Performance in Adolescent Overhead Athletes: A Systematic Review. Sports Health. 2021;13(1):37-44. doi:10.1177/1941738120938007

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. Faigenbaum AD, McFarland JE, Keiper FB, Tevlin W, Ratamess NA, Kang J, Hoffman JR. Effects of a short-term plyometric and resistance training program on fitness performance in boys age 12 to 15 years. J Sports Sci Med. 2007 Dec 1;6(4):519-25. PMID: 24149486; PMCID: PMC3794493.

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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