Which one is better calisthenics or gym?

Brain Gains: Calisthenics Versus Gym Training

The question of calisthenics versus the traditional gym training has always seemed weird to me.

Aren’t those two completely different beasts?

It’s like comparing oranges to apples.

Calisthenics aims to primarily build a body through a skill based approach, traditional gym training adopts a very lineair approach by building a ‘visually attractive body through the increase of weights’.


But I have to admit, there is some overlap.

If you are reading this you probably want to build some muscle.

Get a bit stronger.

And preferably look a bit more aesthetically pleasing for people you are attracted to. 


Building muscle follows the same basic principles, whether that’s through weights or by using your body weight and gravity as a way to increase the loads.

To say one is better than the other would be a very simple black-and-white representation.

Building muscle is just one thing. Looking better is another.


And then there are about a gazillion other end results related to the type of training you pursue. 

But when it comes to ‘training your brain’ you might find it easier to make a choice.

If you really want to know whether calisthenics is better than weights for your brain, you need to read THIS shit!


But first you need to ask the following question:

Why do I train in the first place?

On the most basic human layer, you train to survive and reproduce.

You want to look good on the beach for the girls and be strong enough to fight the bear on the beach that is trying to eat them.


What does this mean if we look human nature?

This implies that we want to: MAINTAIN AND IMPROVE bodily functions.


There are many, but specifically for this question I want to address 2 ‘major’ contributing factors for maintenance and improvement of the brain.




1. The Effect Of General Exercise 


You need to exercise to stay healthy and prevent our brain from shrinking too much (atrophy) and our body from losing function.

A 120 older adults were put through aerobic exercise training.

The results showed that just doing aerobic training led to increases in the size of the anterior hippocampus, leading to improvements in spatial memory (1).

Exercise training increased hippocampal volume by 2% (1).


What does this mean?

Those ‘old folks’ effectively reversed age-related loss in brain volume BY 1 OR 2 YEARS.

This means you have at least 1-2 more years to remember where you left your keys.

Which is pretty useful if you want to leave your home ;).



This is just an example of a study.

There are vast amounts of studies showing the importance of exercise on brain function and overall health (2).


Keep in mind that this study was done for just 6 months on old people.

Imagine what the compounded effect is, if you exercise properly your entire life on just the brain?

“You won’t become the next Einstein, but you’ll reduce the chance of becoming the next wallflower. Which is just as important.”


Key Takeaway: Yes, both gym training and calisthenics can be called ‘exercise’.

Although we can debate about this, we can generally conclude that from an ‘exercise point of view’ both are beneficial.

We cannot necessarily say that one is better than the other.

So the jury is still out on this one.

Which brings us to the next point…



2. The Benefit Of Learning New Stuff


Our body is a learning machine, we expand and grow through learning, whether that is mentally or physically.

That way we become better than our competition and in turn can expand our gene pool.

A research study on cognition had older people spend 15 hours a week for three weeks on learning a variety of new skills (3).

After this period they were compared to several control groups.

“Instead of comparing them to people who were couch potatoes, they compared them to people who were active and were having fun, but did not have the same mental challenge.”


The major difference?

One group engaged in cognitively demanding learning.

The other group did things that required less or no learning such as: watching movies or talking about past vacations.

This study showed 1 important thing:



Only the people who LEARNED new skills through a cognitively demanding process had significant gains in memory, which were maintained even a year later.

Now here is where the ‘fun and interesting’ part starts.

“Both training at the gym and calisthenics imply ‘exercise’, BUT the distinction lies in the LEARNING part.”

Here is where the ‘general calisthenics perspective’ beats training at the gym in the ‘fitness’ sense of the word.



Imagine walking in a gym and sitting on a comfortable machine.

What are you learning?

Very little. 


Because you can do almost any machine-like movement in that gym from day 1.

Doing a bicep curl, just leads to doing more bicep curls with more weight.

It’s like doing 1+1 equals 2 and repeating it over and over an infinite amount of times expecting to improve Einstein’s theory of general relativity.


It seems illogical doesn’t it?

Yet when it comes to training, we keep doing the same thing over and over.

You could get a much bigger bang for your buck. Why?


Just compare a bench press to a handstand push up.

You can do a body weight bench press, but you won’t be able to do a handstand push up. 

If you can do a handstand push up however, you can do a body weight bench press too. 

It’s just not the same beast.

A handstand push up has a higher transferability to other skills and it’s just one of many examples.

It starts with a push up, progresses into a handstand and ends in a handstand push up.


Instead of just doing 1+1 a billion times, you do 1+5 and then 5×5, etc.

By increasing the difficulty of each skill over time you become better not only at that skill, but also at other skills. 

If you can do a handstand push up, doing a regular push up becomes a piece of cake.

A tiny one. 


Key Takeaway: When it comes to cognitive learning, doing a handstand push up is not the same as doing a bench press.

To benefit your brain, you need to demand it to learn new stuff, especially in your exercise regimen.

Keep improving exponentially by increasing the difficulty of each skill.

There is always a next level…like a one arm handstand push up ;).


Calisthenics Versus Traditional Gym Training For The Brain


From an ‘exercise perspective’ both training at the gym and calisthenics have a wide range of benefits and it’s difficult to point out a winner.

From a ‘learning perspective’ however, calisthenics wins hands down, because it’s a more learning oriented approach.

You can only really progress to a high level by increasing neurological complexity.



By LEARNING cognitively demanding NEW STUFF.


Let me share a shocking fact:

“In 2017 more than 5 million Americans are suffering from Alzheimer which is the 6th leading cause of death and every 66 seconds a new person enters the pool.”

It’s basically ‘atrophy’ of the brain which affects the ability of an individual to perform every day tasks .

Like finding keys.


Although many factors contribute, the studies clearly show that both exercise and cognitively demanding learning can play a major role in maintaining and improving brain function and volume.

What does this mean?

Always keep learning new shit.

The good kind of shit!


Especially if you hate losing your keys.

Like exploring your limits.


don’t want to have a shitty brain at an old age.


Beast mode ON!


Now I’d like to hear from you:

Did you like this post?

Or maybe you have a question.

Either way, leave a quick comment below right now.




2 thoughts on “Brain Gains: Calisthenics Versus Gym Training

  1. Yeah Rich i like this post. Great facts! Thats why i like callishenics so much because its never stops. Much too learn and too do. And so many types off increasinf difficulties. And getting a lot off mental power in the progress. Still going strong. Greetings Lowie

    1. Hey Lowie,

      Haha, still being a loyal practitioner I can see! Always good to hear from you :D.

      Indeed it never stops, there is always a new level to discover.

      Keep up the good work my friend, stay strong and keep motivating the people around you.

      Beast mode ON!

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