Which is Harder to Learn: Calisthenics or Weight Lifting? (My Experience)

It is harder and slower to learn advanced bodyweight exercises like front and back levers, handstand and planche than to master weight lifting. But is it the better option? Let’s find out.

What you will need to learn?

  • What are the differences between calisthenics and weight lifting?
  • Why is calisthenics harder to learn than lifting weights?
  • How to learn calisthenics (fast and efficient)
  • How to learn weight lifting (without injuring yourself)
  • Why you have to combine calisthenics with weight lifting (best approach)

What are the differences between calisthenics and weight lifting?

Bodyweight training aka “calisthenics” is the art of using your own body weight in different positions against gravity in order to improve yourself and become stronger and bigger.

Lifting weights is another way of improving your physique by lifting heavy objects (mainly barbell and dumbbells) to gain straight and muscle size. You also can use a lot of machines as well.

The main differences are that:

  • You don’t mainly use any additional weights with calisthenics (only body weight)
  • The strength to lift heavy things you get from weight lifting is different than the strength you need to hold a planche or do a muscle-up
  • You may do calisthenics everywhere with very limited equipment to none required (you will need more equipment and different weights for regular gym training)

Why is calisthenics harder to learn than lifting weights?

From my personal experience I find it way harder to learn calisthenics because:

  • You have to completely control your entire body
  • You need to have perfect balance for a lot of the advanced movements
  • It takes weeks and months just to master one movement (it took me many failed attempts just to do my first muscle-up with bad form)
  • You need to have very strong core and well developed upper body to do basic exercises like pull-ups, dips and push-ups with proper form
  • It takes more time and attempts to learn properly a couple of seconds of holding a handstand than for example to do a squat with a barbell with good form

So prepare yourself for a longer and more stressful journey if you decide to learn advanced calisthenics instead of basic compound moves. 

How to Learn Calisthenics (Fast and Efficient)

The first basic movements I learned how to do properly with calisthenics were in this specific order:

  • Push-ups
  • Bodyweight Squats
  • Sit Ups
  • Dips
  • Chin-Ups
  • Pull-Ups

Once you can do a minimum of 10-15 repetitions for each one of the basic exercises with good form and slow tempo I recommend you to learn one of the more advanced moves. (You decide the order and the ones you want to learn)

Advanced movements:

  • Handstand
  • Handstand Push-Ups
  • Explosive push-ups with clapping
  • One-arm push-ups
  • Muscle-Ups
  • Front Lever
  • Back Lever
  • Planche
  • One-arm pull-up
  • Human flag
  • L-sit (for more than 30 seconds)
  • etc.

The learning time and effort for each movement varies but the logic behind is the same.

Start with the easiest form of the exercise you can find and try to do it again and again until you succeed. (do a bit of research to see how the progression goes and start from the basics).

Aim to have small improvements until you reach your goal.

Also focus on muscle groups and other skills that might help you achieve that faster.

Example: What worked for me when I wanted to learn muscle ups was a lot of pull-ups, chin-ups, push-ups and explosive pull-ups. I tried every other day a couple of times to do it. It was not easy and it took me about 2-3 weeks to do my first one. Now I can do a couple of them during my workouts.

How to learn weight lifting (without injuring yourself)

What helped me the most was to first learn how to properly do with perfect form the top 5 compound moves which are:

  • Barbell squat
  • Pull-ups
  • Deadlift
  • Bench press
  • Shoulder overhead press

In order to learn them safely I started with an empty barbell in front of the mirror and watched myself closely. (Watching a couple of Youtube explainer videos prior or having somebody with experience also helps a lot)

Quick Tip: When learning, aim to do all exercise very slowly and focus 100% on the form, not the weight you use. Once you master the form the weights will come. (Don’t worry)

Also I recommend you combine all those 5 exercises in one whole body workout and do it 2-3 times per week for maximum growth and strength gain.

Example full-body split:

  • Monday: Full Body Split (5 ex.)
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: Full Body Split (5 ex.)
  • Thursday: Rest  
  • Friday: Full Body Split (5 ex.)
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

Why you have to combine calisthenics with weight lifting (best approach)   

I personally got the best results when I combined weight lifting with calisthenics. If you have the ability to do that as well I highly recommend you to try it and see for yourself.

That way you don’t neglect your lower body (it’s way harder to train legs properly with calisthenics) and you also build great balance, and develop upper body strength except for lifting heavy things.

You get all the benefits from both types of training.

Example workout program:

  • Monday: Calisthenics
  • Tuesday:  Full Body Split (5 ex.)
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Calisthenics 
  • Friday: Legs
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

Example calisthenics workout: push-ups, dips, sit-ups, plank and chin-ups

Give it a thought and try it next week. See what happens!

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