Editor’s Note: The following is a post contributed to the FitnessFAQs VIP Community Blog by staff member JROSS. Check out his Amazon over at Jeremy Ross. With over 1,800 members, VIP Community membership is exclusive to owners of a FitnessFAQs training program. Find out more here.
Ancient Chinese philosophers believe that everything in the universe is balanced by opposing forces known as yin and yang. Think light and darkness, male and female, sun and moon, and so on. Although calisthenics training is results-oriented, you should equally be made aware of potential disadvantages and perceived pitfalls as well.
While I certainly don’t want to turn you off from calisthenics, it wouldn’t be fair to glorify calisthenics while neglecting to inform you of commonly expressed drawbacks. Thus, all I ask is that you keep an open mind regarding my list of 7 disadvantages of calisthenics training, and consider whether any sound familiar when you first got started with your training journey.
1) Forget About the Bodybuilder Look
See that huge monster with arms exploding out of his sleeves at the gym? You know who I’m talking about! That one guy stomping around the gym like terminator with stiff arms, bulging chest, and indefinite angry face. Yeah, that’s him; you can’t even look in his direction without the fear of being broken in half, or worse, crushed to death! Worse, the veins on his head are bigger than your arms! Well, I’m sorry to tell you folks, you’ll probably never look like that guy with calisthenics training.
By the way, why is he always carrying around a bottle of red fruit juice? Oh yeah, BCAA’s, heard of that…
Many folks start an exercise program with some type of weight-training with desires of developing huge arms, chest, shoulders and back. Thinking back, I don’t recall anyone saying, “Hey JR, wouldn’t it be cool to spend all this time in the gym and still have skinny arms?”
To the contrary, people lift weights for 3 primary reasons:
- Get bigger
- Get stronger
- Look good
Imagine the super-human physique of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; you will never develop muscles like Dwayne with only body-weight training, unless of course you increased the resistance by adding weight to your calisthenics training. Some may argue this, but I think you get the point
Although calisthenics training will undoubtedly increase both strength and size across your entire body, it won’t increase your muscle mass in a similar fashion to heavy compound weight lifting. However, calisthenics masters’ eventually incorporate weights into their body weight training routines, and the results are unprecedented!
If you want to get remarkably huge like the Hulk, you may prefer the yellow brick road to body building instead of the monkey bar road of calisthenics.
Perhaps you prefer lifting weights but would also like to incorporate calisthenics training into your routine to build a supreme physique without looking “too big.” If so, calisthenics is for you!
2) Say Goodbye to Cute Hands
Once you start taking calisthenics seriously, you will quickly realize how soft and weak your hands are. Sure, you may be able to type an impressive 200 words per-minute, but those beautiful hands stand no chance against the non-forgiving pull-up bar (evil laugh inserted here…)
After your first attempts at pull-ups, you’ll soon find yourself staring at your burning red hands as they carry the pulse of your heartbeat! It will hurt so bad you will wish you never tried it.
Why do you think so many people prefer to use the comfortably-padded lat-pull machines?
Many beginners flock to fancy gym gloves to mitigate the pain in attempts at hand preservation. This is where I say – take those damn weakling gloves off your hands and toughen up!
Wearing gloves simply just places an unnecessary artificial layer between you and the bar. Get rid of them! You need to build up your calluses and allow your hands to slowly adapt to the pain and eventually you will develop super-human grip strength.
Take playing guitar for example, how many musicians play music with gloves due to the fingertip pain with steel strings?
That’s right – none!
Your body is so freaking smart that it adapts to the stress and will automatically build calluses where you need them! If your hands could talk, they would say; “Holy crap that hurts! I need to put some thicker skin on my weak hands or else I’m going to bleed to death!”
I’m warning you, the callus building process sucks, but hopefully you will overcome this challenge for the betterment of yourself.
Simply put, if you want to do calisthenics, be prepared for the body’s necessary adaptation to pain. It hurts; but after some time, you will progressively build strong hands with calluses exactly where you need them, and fortunately as a byproduct, super-human grip strength as well.
Don’t worry, with proper maintenance, you can easily sand down your calluses once a week and apply lotion daily to keep those smooth hands. Trust me, your partner doesn’t want to be touched by nasty sand-paper palms, so do everyone a favor and take care of your hands. You may want to refrain from some clothing material during the healing process, otherwise you could unravel an entire sweater!
If you prefer to maintain weak grip strength and soft hands for the rest of your life, you might not like calisthenics that much. Are my hands beat up? Yes, of course they are. However, I keep my calluses maintained with good love and care, and hopefully you do too.
3) It’s Too Hard
After a grueling calisthenics workout, you’re going to feel as if you were hit by a bus! Calisthenics requires the majority of your muscles, ligaments and tendons to work in unison. By performing compound exercises, you will definitely be crawling out of bed the next day, and feeling soreness in areas of your body you didn’t even train!
Be aware, calisthenics training will certainly tax your nervous system as well, thereby making you more sore than perhaps you ever experienced with traditional weight training.
For example, you do curls and maybe experience some delayed onset muscle soreness (“DOMS”) in your biceps for the next few days. Calisthenics will definitely make your whole body hurt, amplifying DOMS to a whole new level! Be prepared for soreness beyond comprehension.
Equally important, your wrists, elbows, knees and essentially every joint in your body will freaking hurt! Seriously, you will find areas that you didn’t even know existed! For this reason, you will need to develop more awareness of anatomy and fine-tuning your ability to listen to your body’s rest and warning signals.
The times of mindlessly plowing through your workouts are over.
To be good at calisthenics, you will need to educate yourself immensely on anatomy, mobility, range of motion (“ROM”), stretching, recovery, nutrition, and everything in between. This is a huge learning experience and taking short-cuts will only lead to unsatisfactory results, and will make you injury-prone.
If you’re not serious about learning everything there is to fine tune your body, then perhaps calisthenics is not right for you. Why not give it a try though? Where to go, FitnessFAQs of course! (shameful plug).
4) Social Butterfly
Going to the gym is like meeting up with your friends at a coffee shop. It’s a social happy hour during the week after a crappy day at work. To the contrary, calisthenics training requires self-motivation and a tremendous serving of self-discipline.
If you’re lucky, you will find someone with similar goals and motivation to exercise with.
However, for anyone seriously attempting calisthenics, be prepared to do lots of homework and solitaire exercise – outside of a typical gym environment.
No more flexing biceps in the mirror in front of the chick in yoga pants. She doesn’t care anyway, she thinks that guy is creepy.
The amount of dedication required and willpower to exercise alone may be a turnoff for someone who prefers a nice comfortable, air-conditioned gym with a bunch of like-minded friendly folks constantly checking their phones.
If that’s you, you may not like calisthenics.
But before you make a decision, take a good look if the gym is working for you, or if you are simply feeding into the gym monster sucking you dry of your ultimate human potential.
5) Progress is Slower
So many people are impressed with calisthenics and immediately drawn in after witnessing ‘power-moves’, such as the muscle-up, Olympic ring holds, Human Flag, and Hand-stand holds. While those moves are certainly worthy of praise, you should know it takes months, if not years to eventually master them all!
Unlike calisthenics, traditional weight lifting provides tangible and quantifiable results in strength. For example, you may start with curling a 20lb dumbbell, then eventually graduate to doubling that weight to 40lbs in a matter of months! These results don’t always progress in a linear fashion in weight training either, though it’s much easier to track progress.
Calisthenics, on the contrary, forces you to slow down and master the basics before you can graduate to the next level. For example, if you can’t even do a single pull-up, you won’t find yourself doing 20 strict pull-ups in a matter of months. It takes valuable dedication and time. The Great Wall wasn’t built in a day was it? Well neither will your body. Stick in for the long haul – and understand that progress takes time.
Fools rush in, and the same adage applies for calisthenics training. Muscle fibers and tendons require time to adapt to the loads placed upon them and develop strength to handle the resistance. The same principle applies for weight lifters; however, it takes much longer for the weekend warrior to see progress in calisthenics vs. weight training.
If you think you can jump right into calisthenics and be able to perform acrobats like in the Cirque-du-Soleil, you are in for a rude awakening. The artists of Cirque-du-Soleil have many years on you, and by the way – they do calisthenics for a living!
See also: Gymnastics Strength Training Benefits
At this point, I would like to share one of my all-time favorite books with you, The Road Less Traveled , by M. Scott Peck. M.D.
If you haven’t read Scott’s book yet, you’re in for a healthy dose of critical life lessons. To explain, Scott enlightens his readers in understanding the most difficult things in life are avoided by the masses, whereas a handful of dedicated, disciplined, and attentive people embrace difficulty and live a more meaningful life – hence the title of his book.
Simply stated, Scott proclaims that life is difficult and full of suffering. Despite life’s unavoidable suffering, it is how we react to life that makes the difference.
The question you should ask yourself, “Will I take the road less traveled? Will I be the lion or the sheep?”
The road to mastery of calisthenics is not an easy road to take. It’s bumpy, has detours, road closures, will get you lost, but you will eventually make it to your destination. Don’t exit this road for the super highway – for you will simply find yourself lost in traffic. Take the scenic route, and enjoy the journey.
6) Most Will Give Up
Let’s face it, statistics continue to show that a greater percentage of people quit their exercise programs before reaching their goals. In fact, over 97% of people will quit before becoming masters of the particular skill they are learning. While this may sound alarming, think of the difficulties involved in becoming a master at anything. For example, how many people can play a few notes on a guitar, but will never “master” the guitar?
Before you create any self-defeating thoughts, you should be proud that you are on the journey of betterment – a true step towards becoming part of the 3% of people who stick with life-long commitment of becoming the best version of themselves.
You see, in order to understand how to avoid quitting, you need to first understand the principle of quitting all together. We all see the droves of new gym members in January with new year’s resolutions, only to taper off around March. As long as you stay dedicated and remain consistent with working hard, you will see results, and avoid the quitting plague of the masses.
I know you’re not a quitter – that’s why you’re here on FitnessFAQs (another shameful plug).
7) Seems Too Easy on the Surface
I’ll be honest with you; calisthenics will kick your but at first! But then, after several weeks of – say push-ups, you will soon discover how much easier the push-ups through adaptation.
You may stop and think, but JR, you just said how freaking hard calisthenics is – what gives?
Let me break it to you. You will eventually start breezing through all your calisthenics exercises and finish in record time! That said, you need to make it harder, challenge yourself, keep pushing the boundaries.
While finishing a tough workout in record time may seem like a proud moment, it is ironically one of the disadvantages of calisthenics. You see, the exercises are not getting easier – you are simply getting stronger! Once the body adapts to the loads given, the body only works as hard as the mind wills it. As a result, you quickly become complacent without even realizing it, and fail to progress and develop the strength needed for more advanced moves.
To close, I’m sure you realize by now that calisthenics is not for everyone. Fortunately, you love it – that’s why you are here reading this long form topic. Importantly, there is no single right path to the perfect physique. While many of you love calisthenics, many more will dislike it and prefer weights, or cardio, etc. The point is, take a different perspective and understand being dogmatic for any particular modality is not the way either.
Be well and keep training!
Thanks again for reading, and keep this article in mind next time someone tells you how much they love lifting weights over calisthenics; now you know the why…