What is the Difference Between Calisthenics and CrossFit?

What Is The Difference Between Calisthenics And CrossFit?

We all go through workout phases.

Eventually, when we’re in our prime, the machines and rowing get to be a bit monotonous. We want something different.

Then you look at the last decade of calisthenics and CrossFit, and how they’ve not only grown in massive levels of popularity thanks to YouTube and other forms of user-generated media, but they’ve become something else.


Calisthenics vs CrossFit has become the Sox vs the Yankees. It’s insane.

We’re here to drop some facts and get everything straight.

Let’s talk about the real differences between calisthenics and CrossFit, from an outlet that just wants to help you get in shape no matter what method you choose.

Comparing Calisthenics and CrossFit per Category

So let’s compare them:

On Muscle Development

Muscle Building both

Both build strength.

Both help with aesthetics.

Are they equal?


In this category, calisthenics is going to take the cake.

It focuses on compound and complex muscle development. In short, it targets muscles for thorough, in-depth exercise.

With CrossFit, a heavy measure of your success is based on a time attack mentality (which is where most CrossFit pitfalls come from). You build muscle with form, not speed.

Would we all love to brag about being able to do 200 push ups in ten minutes? Sure, but it’s just that: bragging rights.

I can guarantee that those 200 push ups weren’t done in proper form.

Calisthenics uses your own body weight as an entire gym. Every movement you do with calisthenics can be done without equipment.

While you use more equipment with CrossFit, many of the exercises don’t build more muscle than a calisthenics workout would. The resistance is different (whether it’s from ropes or lifting tires), but with your own body weight, it’s consistent.

The main difference here is form, and form is everything.

Calisthenics comes with cooldowns and beginner level workouts for a reason. It’s aimed to help you train at a pace and in movements that best sync up with your body and current capabilities.

In short, calisthenics develops muscles in a more thorough, albeit it slower way.

It works deep, while CrossFit kind of works from the outside in. You can be wicked strong before those aesthetics come in when you start from the core of your muscles (calisthenics) and work outward.

On Complexity

CrossFit is actually pretty simple to pick up and put down.

While calisthenics is also simple, I’d have to give complexity (or rather, a lack thereof) to CrossFit.

You can walk into any gym, and someone is just jived to help you figure out the movements and get you thrown into the mix with other people.

Boom. Frying pan approach. You’re in, you’re working out, you’re encouraged to continue.

Calisthenics has a lot of movements that graduate to tougher, more complex movements. It isn’t enough to do a handstand, now you have to do handstand pushups or walk 50 yards on your hands.

While those are good, core exercises that help you tremendously, that doesn’t mean that they’re not hell to get through. CrossFit is pretty easy to just jump right into.

Now, when it comes to beginners, these two genres of exercise are on the same playing field. Entry-level exercises and workout plans are straightforward, and easy for you to do right away.

One subsection of complexity that I have to give to calisthenics is that you don’t have to have any equipment, and that’s pretty simple, right? But it’s because there are no pieces of equipment that the later stages of working out through calisthenics can get a bit complicated.

Starting out, both are simple to get into, you just have to look at the long game and see what you want to be doing in six months to a year.

On Injuries

Calisthenics Safety

Calisthenics is probably one of the safest ways to work out.

There are no external forces at work outside of gravity.

If you can’t do leg raises, that’s okay: that’s your body telling you that it isn’t ready. It can do that because it’s being the weight in this scenario. A pair of dumbbells aren’t going to tell you anything, you know?

You’re very aware of your body while doing calisthenics. With CrossFit, it’s far easier to get injured for this reason, but also for another key point that I cannot stress enough.

CrossFit is about speed. It’s about getting extra reps done, more push ups, and faster rope swings all in better time frames.

We’re never warned to stop walking with scissors, only to stop running with them.

Doing things too quickly will kill your form and open you up to more injuries. Doesn’t matter how fit you are, you are more likely to be injured while trying to rush through an exercise.

You will endure less injuries and hazards solely from doing calisthenic workouts over CrossFit workouts. Steady wins the race.

On Balance

Balance of muscle development

This is a tough one.

On one hand, I’ve seen some people incorporate speed tightrope walking into their regimen. That’s pretty flipping intense, if you ask me.

Calisthenics focuses on compound muscles and core movements. Those all help improve balance, no matter what skill level you’re at.

In this category, I would have to give balance to calisthenics. You’re starting from the inside and working out. It’s not about aesthetics, at least not right away.

It’s a slower build, but you’re improving many different muscle-based skills (of which, balance is one) all at the same time. A tide that raises all ships, if you will.

Now, before we move on, I want to clear something up. Muscles help control your balance, but they do not solely decide how you balance.

The input your eyes send to your brain actually does that. That, and the control centers in your ear, the vestibular system.

So what do muscles have to do with all of that?

Well, your eyes are taking their own input, but if you can’t right yourself, you’re going to trip your vestibular system and feel the ground give out beneath your feet.

Picture it like this. If you were doing a handstand, you would be relying on your muscles to help you balance yourself.

Sedentary people can’t just flip into a handstand at will. You’re relying on muscles before your vestibular system is even tripped and tells your brain, “Hey dude, we’re falling.”

So training your muscles will help you use your reflexes before you even initiate your vestibular system.

You can still trick yourself into thinking you’ve lost balance based on visual input, but calisthenics helps you train the muscle you need to steady yourself and not trip or lose your balance.

On Speed

Cross Fit Tired for fast workout

This is the tortoise and the hare. Calisthenics is going to take longer to get you where to need to go, but brings in serious, long-term results with long-term commitment.

CrossFit is the hare. Run fast, get tired, do it all over again.

I don’t feel exhausted or winded when I complete a calisthenics workout, but I will admit that CrossFit is going to get you to a threshold of being able to do a large number of push ups before calisthenics is going to get you there.

Like we talked about—it’s all about form. Speed without form isn’t really worth much at all.

You can do faster workouts with CrossFit, but you can do proper workouts (and eventually match the same CrossFit numbers) with calisthenics.

We can’t deny that CrossFit allows you to do some pretty incredible things in a short amount of time, it’s just not as complex or compound as calisthenics. In my opinion, it’s not the long-term exercise regimen that you should be opting for.

Can You Train Calisthenics and CrossFit Simultaneously?

Cross Fit Programs

You can, but you’re going to be pissed tired at the end of the day.

Calisthenics focuses on your own bodyweight and using yourself as an anchor. You don’t need to go to a specialized place to perform the exercises.

On the other hand, CrossFit gets you into a group mentality and helps keep you motivated. It focuses on muscle building but through different means. It also includes cardio.

Personally, I recommend doing one or the other. If you’re trying to cut out some major weight, both brands of exercise help with that in their own way. They’re both low-barrier entry, in a sense.

If you’re going with calisthenics, work in some cardio in the middle (for weight loss). If you’re doing CrossFit, you should add some additional complex, compound muscle exercises.

Different Workouts for Different Body Types and Goals

Whether you’re doing Calisthenics or Crossfit, the point is getting out and moving, and keeping proper form no matter what you do. If you’re not keeping proper form, you’re risking injuries.

Find out more about other workout types and information that can help you sculpt your physique, and develop a regimen that you not only benefit from but actually enjoy every single day of your life.

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