If you’re looking for a fun new way to exercise, you may have already come across the CrossFit vs. Calisthenics debate. Which method is better for building muscle? How effective are they at losing weight? What other health benefits can they offer? These are all common questions used to compare the two. So we’ve decided it’s time to get some answers.
First, it’s important to say that both options are great forms of exercise that are able to support hypertrophy and fat loss while challenging your body to learn new skills and perform at its best. So whether you’re reaching for a pair of the best cross training shoes (opens in new tab) or make your way to a pull-up bar, you probably have an effective and enjoyable workout ahead of you.
But now to business. What discipline wins in a good old-fashioned faceoff? To settle this debate and help you decide how you want to exercise, Fit&Well spoke to Gus Vaz Tostes (opens in new tab)Trainer at Wit Fitness (opens in new tab)and CrossFit athlete Zack George (opens in new tab)who earned the title of Britain’s fittest man in 2020.
We also considered what the science says and looked at relevant studies in each discipline. So keep scrolling to find out who takes pole position when comparing CrossFit vs. Calisthenics.
Gus is a training director and trainer at London’s CrossFit gym WIT, where he shares his 15 years of health and fitness experience with members. After playing soccer for most of his youth, Gus went to university to study physical education. It was there that Gus understood the positive impact of fitness on people’s lives.
Since then, he has been committed to helping people transform their lifestyle through fitness. Playing sports, competing in CrossFit, and working with people of different levels and goals have made him eager to continue learning and helping people achieve all of their goals.
CrossFit vs. Calisthenics: Which training methods are there?
Whether you’re exploring CrossFit for beginners (opens in new tab) or a CrossFitter contemplating calisthenics, it’s important to define exactly what these two training methods actually are.
“CrossFit is simply described as constantly varying, functional movements performed at relatively high intensity,” says Vaz Tostes. “It’s a training method that combines weightlifting (barbell, dumbbell, and kettlebell exercises), calisthenics, and cardio.”
On the other hand, Vaz Tostes says he likes to describe calisthenics as something close to street gymnastics. “It’s very similar to Olympic gymnastics in that it includes pull, push and handstand sequences that are very commonly seen in the Olympics.
“It originated in parks but has now moved to gyms and group classes. It’s a very accessible training method because you’re only using your body weight. But if possible, you’ll need access to a pull-up bar and some parallels.”
CrossFit vs Calisthenics: Building Muscle
Both CrossFit and calisthenics are able to help you build lean muscle mass because they put mechanical tension on your muscles — one of the prerequisites for strength gains, according to a review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (opens in new tab).
Simply put, tension is any force that stretches your muscles, like lifting weights or doing a push-up. “Both practices are effective for building muscle,” says CrossFit athlete Zack George. “However, with CrossFit’s wide variety of movements and strength-based exercises, you can accomplish more because you have access to heavier weights.”
He acknowledges that the control required to master many calisthenics moves requires a lot of core and upper body strength, but adds that CrossFit’s use of weights allows trainees to utilize the principle of progressive overload.
This technique states that once an exercise becomes easy at a certain weight, you can increase the load and challenge your muscles to adapt to that heavier stimulus.
Zack George is a CrossFit professional athlete who owns CrossFit BFG in Leicester, United Kingdom. He started fitness at an early age, became a personal trainer at just 16 and was named Britain’s Fittest Man in 2020.
As a physically stronger CrossFit athlete, Zack’s biggest struggle was the gymnastics moves, so he turned to calisthenics training to up his game in that area.
CrossFit vs Calisthenics: Weight Loss
Our experts agreed on this question as well. “CrossFit is best [for weight loss]says Vaz Tostes. “The cardio portion of CrossFit contributes to weight loss due to the amount of calories you burn, while calisthenics does not.”
A study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism (opens in new tab) Journal found that learning how to create a calorie deficit, where you burn more calories than you consume in a day, is necessary to lose weight. The intense nature of CrossFit is likely to burn more calories per workout, helping you achieve a calorie deficit.
However, there is another crucial factor that is even more important to consider if weight loss is your goal. “To lose weight, the main principle is that you have to be in a calorie deficit, so the most important factor to consider is your diet,” says George.
“CrossFit involves high-intensity conditioning and exercise, which increases your metabolism and therefore your energy expenditure; it is the more effective of the two (for weight loss) – but only if your diet is right.”
CrossFit vs Calisthenics: Cost
Calisthenics is all the rage when it comes to cost. It focuses on bodyweight exercises, so you don’t need any equipment — just some floor space — and you’re good to go. You can add equipment like a pull-up bar if you want to do exercises like reverse rows or muscle-ups, but these are optional.
On the other hand, joining a CrossFit box (the term CrossFitters use to describe their gyms) requires a monthly membership fee. This gives you access to classes, coaching, and specialty equipment like barbells, sleds, and medicine balls.
“Of course, you can also train CrossFit on your own,” says George. “But since there are a lot of complex and highly skilled movements involved, it is highly recommended that you take classes or have a personal trainer to teach you how to perform everything to avoid injury.”
CrossFit vs Calisthenics: Benefits
A 2019 review article published in Sports Sciences for Health (opens in new tab) found that CrossFit training can improve cardiovascular endurance, endurance, strength, flexibility, power, and balance, making it an excellent option for increasing your overall fitness.
George says it has the ability to work every muscle in your body, and many participants become hooked thanks to the community element of a class workout.
Meanwhile, calisthenics offers the enticing opportunity to master your bodyweight with minimal impact on your bank account. That was the finding of a 2017 study published in the Isokinetics and Exercise Science journal (opens in new tab).
“Calisthenics training is a viable and effective training solution for improving posture, strength, and body composition (increase in muscle mass and decrease in body fat) without the use of larger exercise equipment,” the researchers concluded.
CrossFit vs Calisthenics: Disadvantages
CrossFit is sometimes associated with higher injury rates because the training is more intense and technical movements like snatches and muscle-ups are included.
However, when we researched whether CrossFit is bad for you, We have found that you can mitigate this risk by using scaled versions of the movements that are appropriate for your ability level and having access to quality coaching.
A disadvantage of calisthenics is that it is limited by the resistance you can create with your body. “Although calisthenics can help you build a good base by controlling your own body weight, once your body adjusts to that weight, you won’t be able to build much more strength unless you will.” heavier,” says Vaz Tostes.
However, there are a wide variety of increasingly tricky calisthenics moves you can learn to keep challenging your body. For example, from a pull-up to a muscle-up or from a push-up to a handstand push-up.
CrossFit vs. Calisthenics: Verdict
When it comes to CrossFit vs. Calisthenics, both offer a variety of benefits and can help you get in top shape. Our experts said that CrossFit has put calisthenics at the forefront of muscle building and fat loss, yet calisthenics offers a more accessible and affordable workout option.
“If you don’t like going to the gym, have no interest in lifting weights or doing cardio, and prefer to work out at home, then calisthenics is probably for you,” says George. After all, you don’t need a gym or equipment to learn the handstand.
“…CrossFit, on the other hand, offers a lot more variety and a wider range of fitness, including mastering your own bodyweight – like calisthenics – as well as weightlifting and metabolic conditioning.”
“Aerobic is much better for you as it involves cardio while calisthenics doesn’t. You can train calisthenics with other people, but CrossFit is more specifically known for training in classes and has more of a community element, which is a big reason why it’s so popular.”
Vaz Tostes agrees. “Calisthenics is for those who love to learn new tricks and have little or no access to a gym while building a lot of strength,” he says. “But if you want to challenge your body in all areas of fitness, build strength, increase your VO2max, condition and become more skilled, CrossFit is the best form of exercise for you.”