Gymnastics and Callisthenics as words have their origin in ancient Greece and both have common descriptions referring to body weight exercise and physique. As a sport, gymnastics is the well established multi-event Olympic Discipline which uses a wide range of specialized equipment, whereas callisthenics is quite a new activity/sport that adopts parts of the Gymnastics’ principles with less specialised and fewer pieces of equipment required. Pull-up bar/rack, p-bars/dip station are usually all you will see during callisthenics competition. .

With increasing popularity of callisthenics and their athletes showing off more and more advanced strength skills, many people wonder about the difference between callisthenics and gymnastics in terms of training approach leading to such results. You probably already figured out that doing endless push-ups and pull-ups won’t lead you to skills like planche or front lever.

Gymnastics Strength Training Vs Calisthenics Strength Training

What makes gymnastics strength training different from callisthenics routine ? Is one better than the other ?

Giving a long history of gymnastics and its input to development of optimum principles for building and increasing bodyweight strength, I think it’s fair to say that gymnastics is the authority here. Arguing that callisthenics figured out their own unique method to develop skills like planche or the front lever would be like saying that Crossfit was a pioneer in functional high-intensity circuit training.

@Osvaldo Lugones Calisthenics – ONE ARM FRONT LEVER

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not trying to slag off callisthenics. Some of these bar athletes are beasts and I can only dream of getting half as strong as them. But the truth is that if you put one of the competitive gymnasts in one of these bar competitions, you can watch the field getting destroyed without question. Comparing the strength of a calisthenic athlete to a gymnast’s strength (especially one that specialises in ring routine) who lives and breathes body weight training from the age of 3 and does it as a career, does not even make sense here.

The main difference between the two would be not only in the required level of dedication and time spent in training but also in the approach to the development of these skills. Calisthenics simply adopted some of the principles of the gymnastics workout, only in a little bit sloppier way. Saying this, many of these sloppier bar routines have their own flavour and look really cool. It’s a little bit like breakdancing. It’s cool, it requires a lot of skills and hard training and has its own art and style in it. But, a trained eye will easily notice that many breakdancing routines are much easier versions of gymnastics moves.

Strict Approach

Gymnastics Strength Training Vs Calisthenics Training - What is The Difference
@Uknown V-SIT

Gymnastics simply puts the highest demand on the most difficult form of exercise. Many people consider this strict form only as aesthetics and often even fail to tell the difference. However, this difference can be huge. For example, performing locked elbows planche vs even slightly bent elbows could be like squatting 200 kg parallel vs ass to the grass.

Step By Step

Muscle endurance, strength, power, tendon and ligament conditioning, mobility, flexibility… All these factors have to be developed in the right order and to the required standard without taking any shortcuts. The solid foundation does not only lead to the highest form of a given strength skill but also minimises the risk of injuries.

This is where you often see many calisthenic athletes missing on their form. Bent knees and elbows, arched backs, lack of shoulder flexibility and unnecessary injuries. You can easily see a significant part of the training being missed here. One can’t simply take shortcuts and expect to achieve in much lesser time something that takes a genetically gifted individual many years of 20 – 30 hours a week of hard training.

Don’t take it literally. As the enthusiast, you don’t have to follow the exact life of the competitive gymnast to achieve side lever, v-sit, or handstand. But, the principles of prerequisite exercises still apply to you and can take time to master. Yes, it can be boring at times, but building foundation requires dedication and needs even longer and more careful approach in individuals starting later in their life.

Obviously, I’m generalising here by pinpointing these differences in training. Not everyone has the same mindset and approaches the body weight training routine the same way. You can already see many callisthenics athletes performing some skills to the very high standard. Yes, there’s no doubt that many of this top athletes spent quite a bit of their life pursuing the career in gymnastics, but it doesn’t change the fact that callisthenics managed to form its own trademark that gains in its popularity. With world championship events taking place all over the world, I think it’s very fair to label it as the competitive sport.


Is one better than the other? For training specific strength and other skills, I can say without a doubt that principles of strict gymnastics approach is much healthier for your body and in the long term will result in the superior strength gains. Don’t confuse here gymnastics approach with training like a gymnast. Competitive gymnastics is another realm which like any professional sport has its cons as well.

I would not go too deep thinking whether your body weight workout falls into gymnastics or callisthenics’ category. Training planche, backflips or other skills for your own goals, certainly does not make you a gymnast. There’s no point here in labelling your training. Call it whatever you want, just follow the most proven and safest practices.


  1. “But the truth is that if you put one of the competitive gymnasts in one of these bar competitions, you can watch the field getting destroyed without question.” Now lets look at a gymnast and a calisthenics athlete, who both invested the same time in their sport, and think through this “bar war” again. I, as a calisthenics athlete, beat the hell out of my friend who is a national gymnastics champion when it comes to pull ups. And I have only been doing it for 2 years. See where Im going? Calisthenics is simply the most natural way of functional training biomechanically, there is basically no weak point since you are able to work on each and every muscle in your body in an effective manner, whereas in gymnastics there are mainly pushing movements with minimal legwork. The amazing thing is that they are still able to do at least 20-30 pull ups right off the bed, which is an indicator for insane bodyweight strenght, but the truth is calisthenics is way more versatile because you are doing it for yourself with an own training program arranged by yourself, which means you can put in just as much effort as you want, and get the results for it, not mentioning the minimality of thechnical movements since the whole sport is based on pure bodyweight strenght. High five for all the gymnasts out there!

  2. I don’t know about your friend but you can’t compare strength and skill levels of callisthenics athlete to an Olympic gymnast. Even though you could train a simple movement like a pull-up and perhaps become better at it than some gymnasts, overall they are on the level that you will never achieve unless you are genetically predisposed and started your training at the age of 2. I am a climber and I can do many more one-arm pull-ups than some of my gymnast friends but generally, my strength, flexibility, agility and power are inferior on every level.

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