CrossFit vs Calisthenics: What’s Best for You?

What’s a pudgy middle-aged guy like me supposed to do to get fit? Clearly, walking from the sofa to the fridge to grab snacks wasn’t working. And neither was taking the elevator rather than stairs to go up and down two-story buildings.

Two options were Crossfit and calisthenics.

  • Because calisthenics depends on body weight, it doesn’t require special equipment, can be done anywhere, and costs nothing. But it’s incredibly monotonous, doesn’t improve endurance, and unless you attend classes, which are scarce, you won’t know how to do the movements correctly.
  • Crossfit can only be done in a class at a specialized gym with specific equipment, which adds to the cost. But a watchful coach ensures you do the movements correctly, each workout varies to add interest, and the movements include calisthenics, endurance training, and weights, to work all aspects of the body. This is what I chose eventually.

Let’s take a closer look at CrossFit vs Calisthenics to see which is best for you.

What is CrossFit?

According to the official website, Crossfit is exercise:

“that can be used to accomplish any goal, from improved health to weight loss to better performance. Crossfit workouts are different every day and can be modified to help each athlete achieve their goals. The workouts may be adapted for people at any age and level of fitness.”

CrossFit Benefits

When I signed up to a Crossfit gym, more commonly known as a box, the coaches took me through a beginner’s week where I learned basic movements from calisthenics, such as air squats and push-ups, to more complex Olympic lifts, such as cleans and snatches.

This ensured that my movements were effective and that I didn’t hurt myself. Even endurance movements that I thought I knew, such as running, required adjustments for maximum fitness.

Eventually, I was allowed to attend regular WODs (Workouts of the Day). It didn’t matter that my fellow WOD buds were highly fit athletes, pregnant women, senior citizens, or people with disabilities. We all did the same class with scaling to accommodate different abilities.

One person could be jumping on a 30-inch-high box, another on a 24-inch-high box, and a third stepping up on a 3-inch-high weight plate.

If you’re interested in starting out with CrossFit, I suggest you try one workout at each of several different boxes. Most facilities will allow you to attend, often for free, if you tell them you’re searching for the right box.

  • Each will have its own personality, you may have to go through several to find the one that works for you.
  • Figure out how attentive the coaches are to you throughout the workout. Do they make recommendations based on your fitness level?
  • Ask if they have any discounts on monthly fees. Many give financial breaks to students, first responders, couples, and families.

What is calisthenics?

Calisthenics covers all those body weight movements you and I used to do for PE class in elementary and high schools: push-ups, sit-ups, air squats, jumping jacks, jumping rope, lunges, and other kinds of gymnastics.

  • If you were lucky, the teacher would take the time and show you how to do each exercise carefully, so you wouldn’t hurt yourself.
  • If you weren’t so lucky, like me, the coach assumed you knew all this stuff already and would just yell at you if you did it wrong.

You generally don’t need any equipment because you depend on your own body weight. However, there are a few gyms out there that focus on calisthenics. They’ll typically have rigs for more advanced gymnastics, such as dips or chin-ups.

To start with calisthenics, you simply draw up a list of movements and how many of each you want to do. If you’re unfamiliar with an exercise, there is no shortage of videos, websites, and other online resources to tell you how to do them properly.

How are they different?

You can do calisthenics anywhere and anytime, typically by yourself. Because no one is watching you, you have no idea if you’re doing a movement ineffectively or incorrectly.

Crossfit typically incorporates calisthenics into the WODs but also includes weight training and endurance exercises, such as rowing and running. It can only be done at a specially equipped gym in hour-long classes that are led by one or more coaches who require certification.

Occasionally, I could test myself against other Crossfitters in the yearly Open where scores from participants worldwide are tallied and ranked. More advanced enthusiasts can participate in city, state, national, and world competitions where prize money and endorsements await the winners.

How are they similar?

Both Crossfit and calisthenics work on multiple parts of the body to improve strength and flexibility. They improve overall fitness by working all body parts and can be effective in helping to lose weight especially when done over a long period of time at moderate levels.

What’s better about CrossFit?

Crossfit vs Calisthenics: Which is Better

Crossfit includes all the calisthenic exercises but also adds weight training and endurance components. The combination helps you build strength, flexibility, power, and endurance more quickly. Each WOD is purposely different to improve overall fitness.

Coaches often come up with new and exciting ways to perform the same exercise. They create the WODs to complement each other, so you never have to worry about coming up with your own workout.

This variety makes the classes interesting and has kept me coming three times a week for the past ten years.

The coaches are always there to tell you how to improve and whether you need to increase the intensity or scale it down. Their presence helps to minimize injury and ensure that your workout remains effective.

Because multiple trainees attend the same session, the Crossfit experience fosters camaraderie and mutual support.

It’s not unusual for those who come first in a WOD or competition to cheer on whoever is remaining. The emphasis on a lifestyle that includes nutrition has many Crossfitter socializing together after the workout and away from the gym.

What’s better about calisthenics?

Calisthenics requires nothing more than a small space and your own body. It costs nothing and eliminates the need for bulky and expensive gym equipment.

While you can attend a class or group session, in most cases, you work out solo. This enables you to tailor your workout to fit your exact needs and goals.

Who should try CrossFit (and why)?

Crossfit is tailor-made for those who have money and who prefer to work out in a group setting and like the social atmosphere that mutual effort entails. I particularly enjoy the support that I get from my fellow Crossfitters and the instruction provided by the coach.

This fitness style emphasizes structure and puts the workout planning in the hands of an expert, so all you have to worry about are the movements themselves.

If you’re a competitive individual, you can measure your effort not only against your past performance but also against others in your gym and in local, state, and international contests.

Who should try calisthenics (and why)?

Calisthenics Benefits

If you prefer to do workouts by yourself and have no budget for fitness, calisthenics is a better choice. The regimen is made for planners who like to control every aspect of their exercise.

If you find it difficult to set aside regular periods each week for a workout, you can do calisthenics in short spurts throughout the day whenever you find the time.

Tim Rollins, Editor

About boxletes was created by a team of CrossFit athletes and fitness enthusiasts who love to share information about the best CrossFit boxes, workout gear and equipment, and fitness and nutrition tips.

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