If you’re looking for a fun new way to train, you may have come across the CrossFit vs. Calisthenics debate. Which method is best for building muscle? How effective are they for losing weight? What other health benefits can they offer? These are all common questions used to compare the two, so we decided it was time to get some answers.

First off, it’s important to say that both options are excellent forms of exercise, capable of supporting hypertrophy and fat loss while challenging your body to learn new skills and give the best of themselves. So whether you’re looking for a pair of the best cross training shoes (opens in a new tab) or head to a pull-up bar, it’s probably an effective and enjoyable workout waiting for you.

But now, on to business. Which discipline wins in a good old-fashioned face-to-face? To settle this debate and help you decide how you want to train, Fit&Well spoke with Gus Vaz Tostes (opens in a new tab)training manager at Wit Fitness (opens in a new tab)and CrossFit athlete Zack George (opens in a new tab)who in 2020 won the title of UK’s Fittest Man.

We also considered what the science says, looking at relevant studies in each discipline. So scroll down to find out which takes pole position when you compare CrossFit to calisthenics.

Gus is the Training Manager and Coach at London CrossFit Gym, WIT, where he brings his 15 years of experience in the health and fitness field to members. After playing football for most of his teenage years, Gus went on to college in sports science. There, Gus understood the positive impact fitness has on people’s lives.

Since then, he has been committed to helping people change their lifestyle through fitness. Playing sports, competing in CrossFit, and working with people of different skill levels and goals made him eager to keep learning and helping people achieve all of their goals.

CrossFit vs calisthenics: what are the training methods?

Whether you are looking for CrossFit for beginners (opens in a new tab) or a CrossFitter considering calisthenics, it’s important to define precisely what these two training methods really are.

“CrossFit is simply described as constantly varied functional movements performed at a relatively high intensity,” says Vaz Tostes. “It’s a training methodology that mixes weightlifting (exercises with dumbbells, dumbbells and kettlebells), gymnastics and cardio.”

On the other hand, Vaz Tostes says he likes to describe gymnastics as something akin to street gymnastics. “It’s very similar to Olympic gymnastics, thanks to the inclusion of pull-up, push-up and handstand sequences that you see very often at the Olympics.

“It was born in parks, but it has now moved to gyms and group classes. It’s a very accessible training methodology because you only use your body weight. But, if possible, you would have need access to a pull-up bar and some parallels.”

Man lifting dumbbells

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CrossFit vs Calisthenics: Muscle Building

Both CrossFit and calisthenics are able to help you build lean muscle by putting your muscles under mechanical tension, one of the prerequisites for gaining strength, according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. (opens in a new tab).

Simply put, mechanical tension is any force that stretches your muscles, such as lifting weights or performing push-ups. “Both practices are effective for building muscle,” says CrossFit athlete Zack George. “However, with CrossFit’s wide variety of strength-based movements and exercises, you can do more because you have access to heavier weights.”

He admits that the control needed to master many calisthenics moves will require a lot of core and upper body strength, but adds that using weights in CrossFit allows users to take advantage of the principle of progressive overload.

This technique says 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 professional CrossFit athlete, owner of CrossFit BFG in Leicester, UK and was named the UK's Fittest Man of 2020

Zack George is a professional CrossFit athlete who owns CrossFit BFG in Leicester, UK. He got into fitness early on, becoming a personal trainer aged just 16, and was named the UK’s Fittest Man of 2020.

As a physically taller CrossFit athlete, Zack’s biggest challenge was the gymnastic movements, so he turned to calisthenics training to help improve his game in that area.

CrossFit vs Calisthenics: Weight Loss

Our experts were also united in their answers to this question. “CrossFit is the best [for weight loss]”, says Vaz Tostes. “The cardio part of CrossFit helps with weight loss because of the amount of calories you burn, whereas calisthenics doesn’t have that.”

A study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism (opens in a new tab) journal revealed that learning to create a calorie deficit, where you burn more calories than you consume in a day, is necessary for weight loss. The intense nature of CrossFit is likely to burn more calories per session, 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 basic principle is that you have to be in a calorie deficit, so the main factor to consider is your diet,” says George.

“CrossFit includes conditioning and high-intensity workouts, which increase your metabolic rate and therefore increase your energy expenditure; it’s the more effective of the two (for weight loss), but only if your diet is right. “

CrossFit vs Calisthenics: Cost

Calisthenics is the big winner when it comes to cost. It’s centered around 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 perform exercises like inverted rows or muscle-ups, but these are optional.

On the other hand, joining a CrossFit box (the term used by CrossFitters to describe their gyms) requires a monthly membership fee. This will give you access to classes, workouts, and specialized equipment such as dumbbells, sleds, and medicine balls.

“You can, of course, train for CrossFit on your own,” says George. “But since there are a lot of complex movements and great skill, it is strongly advised to attend classes or have a personal trainer who will teach you everything to avoid injuries.”

Woman working out on an exercise bike

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CrossFit vs Calisthenics: Benefits

A 2019 review article published in Sports Sciences for Health (opens in a new tab) found that CrossFit training can improve cardiovascular endurance, endurance, strength, flexibility, power, and balance, making it a great option for improving your overall fitness.

George says he has the ability to work every muscle in your body, and many participants get hooked through the community element of a classroom workout.

Meanwhile, calisthenics offers the tantalizing opportunity to get your body weight under control with minimal impact on your bank balance. That’s the conclusion of a 2017 study published in the journal Isokinetics and Exercise Science. (opens in a new tab).

“Calisthenics training is an achievable and effective workout solution for improving posture, strength, and body composition (increasing muscle mass and decreasing body fat) without the use of major training equipment. “, concluded the researchers.

CrossFit vs Calisthenics: The Cons

CrossFit is sometimes associated with higher injury rates due to the more intense nature of its workouts and the inclusion of technical moves like the snatch and muscle-up.

However, when we explored whether CrossFit is bad for you, we have found that you can mitigate this risk if you use movement scale versions appropriate to your level of ability and have 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 gets used to that weight, you won’t be able to build much more strength unless you get heavier. “, explains Vaz Tostes.

There is, however, a wide range of increasingly tricky calisthenics moves you can learn to keep challenging your body. For example, going from pull-up to muscle-up or from push-up to handstand push-up.

Group performing a plank

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CrossFit vs Calisthenics: Verdict

When it comes to CrossFit versus calisthenics, both offer a host of benefits and have the ability to help you get in top shape. Our experts said CrossFit has pushed calisthenics to the fore when it comes to building muscle and losing fat, but calisthenics offers a more accessible and affordable workout option.

“If you don’t like going to the gym, aren’t into weight training or cardio, and prefer to work out at home, calisthenics is probably for you,” says George. After all, learning to do a handstand isn’t something you need a gym or equipment for.

“…CrossFit, on the other hand, offers a lot more variety and a wider range of fitness, including mastering your own body weight – like calisthenics – as well as weightlifting and metabolic conditioning. .”

“Aerobically it’s much better for you because it incorporates cardio, unlike calisthenics. You can train calisthenics with other people, but CrossFit is more specifically known for training in the classroom and has more of a community element, which is a big reason why it’s so popular.”

Vaz Tostes agrees. “Calisthenics is for people who like 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, VO2 max, condition, and become more skilled, CrossFit is the best form of training for you.”