Are Calisthenics Better Than Weight Training?

I want to talk about whether or not Jocko Willink was right about what he said regarding calisthenics versus weights. 

About a year ago, Jocko Willink had a podcast that had his take on calisthenics versus weights. Most people reading this blog know who Jocko Willink is. For those who don’t, I believe he is a former Navy Seal, has a supplement line, a podcast, and is pretty active in the fitness community. He also does the motivational speaking circuit. I think his products are pretty good.

When it comes to calisthenics and weights, Jocko says he likes them both. He says with calisthenics creates strength endurance, flexibility, and mobility out of it, and talks about how they are pretty natural movements. Specifically, saying “Things you do with your human body.” 


Being a bit knit-picky here, but weightlifting is done with the human body as well. That said, I think Jocko is accurate in saying calisthenics allow for a bit more mobility work to be done. The lighter load with the bodyweight movements help as well.

According to Jocko, weights obviously make people stronger, more explosive, and at a certain point, he thinks they can be more injury-inducing (he also states that lifting weights can also be less injury-inducing, using the example of substituting handstand push-ups with the use of lighter, more manageable dumbbells for pressing). Hard agree with weights can make you more explosive.

I look at calisthenics as bodyweight exercises. Things like push-ups, bodyweight squats, walking lunges, pull-ups, and stuff like that. I also believe, to a point, that plyometrics are actually a form of calisthenics. Saying this, I believe calisthenics can help people get more explosive if plyometric work is utilized.


To Jocko’s point that both calisthenics and weightlifting can cause injuries depending on the movement intensity, but at the same time allow for scaling of training, I believe is a fair point. The example being banged up or hurt, the load can be lightened with what is put on the barbell or the dumbbell held. Jocko seems to say that one isn’t necessarily better than the other depending on the scenario.

I did get confused at one point in the podcast because Jocko said he hurt his ankle and it hurt when he put weight on his back but he could do jumps. Huh? 


As an aside, the podcast video is in black and white. I wonder why that’s done. Does it give it an edge? Does it make it seem ‘tougher’? 

Now I think Jocko makes a great point about balancing both calisthenics and lifting weights for longevity. I think even young athletes training for sports performance both have value. Think about doing a back extension as a calisthenic movement when not using any weight.  


As the podcast progresses, Jocko makes a comment about the game’s level CrossFit athletes. He basically says athletes who can snatch a lot, clean a lot, deadlift a lot, and squat a lot will have an advantage. As long as the game’s level athletes practice their calisthenic movements (muscle-ups, pull-ups, handstand push-ups, etc.) they’ll be fine and do better with superior weight lifting strength. I absolutely, 100% agree. Athletes who do the strength movements with relatively heavy weights, even just conventional weightlifting movements, and are still practicing bodyweight movements, is exactly what transfer of training amounts to. Meaning an athlete like Jake Horst, a savage, who snatches double bodyweight, and practices the calisthenic movements, the power and strength from back squats and cleans will transfer over ultimately to any bodyweight movement. 

Recap

When talking about calisthenics versus barbell movements and resistance-based training, I think Jocko Willick is spot on. People really have to pick what will transfer best to their specific sport of training if an athlete and what transfer best to longevity for living. Ultimately, setting it up right will help lead to a healthier lifestyle. 


DANE MILLER

Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.

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