If you’re reading this article, you probably already know about the tremendous benefits of calisthenics.
You know all about the importance of strength, balance and explosiveness - and you know that calisthenics are one of the best ways to go about building it.
However, one of the other draws of training this way are the “aesthetic” benefits, and many trainees flock to the bar because they see it as a way to attain a very specific “look” - a look that they believe is different from the kind of body produced by other training methods.
So, what’s the deal here? Do calisthenic exercises produce a different physical appearance than, say, bodybuilding?
Or is muscle just…muscle?
What Drives Muscle Growth
In order to understand the kind of body you can expect from your training, it’s important to understand what drives muscle growth in the first place.
Unfortunately, this is one of those aspects of fitness that’s just rife with misinformation. Many people (including those who should know better), are under the impression that there are “different kinds” muscle.
It’s the idea that, somehow, the muscle you grow as a result of powerlifting is different than the muscle you grow as a result of calisthenics.
Or the belief of some women who think that a routine of light weights will “tone”, while a routine of heavy weights will “bulk”.
In reality, this is completely false. To answer our original question, muscle is muscle is muscle - and there are any number of routines that will build it.
At the end of the day, muscle growth is the end result of stress (i.e. resistance training). Your body responds to this stress by repairing and rebuilding the muscles to be bigger, stronger and more resilient than they were before.
And in order to continue building muscle over time, this stress needs to be gradually increased in order for your body to keep producing a response (in the fitness world, this process is referred to as “progressive overload”).
Therefore, any intelligent workout plan that factors in progressive overload will build muscle - INCLUDING calisthenics.
HOWEVER - just because all of these routines build muscle, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up with the same look as a result.
Confused? Don’t worry, we’re going to clear this up.
Strength Vs Hypertrophy
Although all smart training programs build muscle, it’s important to note the distinction between strength and size (also known as “hypertrophy”).
This is a topic that’s still up for debate in the fitness world, but here’s a VERY brief summary - hypertrophy refers to the actual, physical muscle itself, and is the result of stress placed on it in the form of resistance training.
Strength simply refers to that muscle’s ability to perform work, and it’s impacted both by its size and amount of fibre, as well as the skill component (the neurological pathways build around the particular strength movement you’re performing).
The important thing to keep in mind here is that, while these are technically two different things (and certain training styles put more emphasis on one over the other), they significantly impact each other and overlap.
A strong person will be far more likely to put on muscle, and a muscular person will have a much easier time gaining strength. The two can’t be separated.
What Kind Of Body Can You Expect From Your Workout?
Now that we’ve covered the reasons why these workouts produce different physiques, let’s break down the aesthetic results and what you can reasonably expect.
Keep in mind, however, that these are generalizations.
All of us are built with certain genetic advantages and disadvantages. Some people are more prone to size over strength (and vice versa).
Some people put on muscle far more easily in certain areas than others.
And some people are genetically “gifted” freaks who can gain muscle and strength just by LOOKING at a bar - while others are “hardgainers” who have to fight for every inch they put on their biceps.
A Powerlifting Physique
Powerlifting training is a style that focuses specifically on the unrelenting pursuit of pure strength. Specifically, powerlifters seek to add strength in three key lifts - the bench press, squat and deadlift.
But while strength is the main goal, there is absolutely no doubt that training this way will add a significant amount of muscle mass.
What’s interesting about the powerlifting physique, however, is that a lot of the gains are concentrated in the legs, as well as the posterior chains (thick hamstrings, glutes and backs), simply due to the nature of the work being performed.
Powerlifting physiques are also characterized by a higher amount of body fat, since continuously consuming more calories is optimal for continued strength gains.
A Bodybuilding Physique
Out of all the training styles you can engage in, bodybuilding is by far the most focused on physical appearance (it’s called “body” building for a reason).
While most bodybuilders are no doubt strong, the main focus is all about muscular size.
But it’s not just how big you are - it’s how big you are in specific areas.
Most physique training in men focuses on building a wide back and shoulders, full rounded pecs, a slender waist, strong sleek quads and bulging calves - all while keeping your body fat as low as possible.
*Note - This applies to any “physique” training, and isn’t strictly limited to professional Mr. Olympia competitors.
A Calisthenics Physique
Finally, we have what you’re probably most interested in if you’re reading this - the calisthenics body.
Despite the fact that calisthenics primarily focuses on strength, coordination and balance, most people who train this way end up with a muscular appearance as a byproduct of all the work they put in.
Because calisthenics requires whole body strength, muscle distribution tends to be fairly even, with emphasis on the upper body and a very muscular core.
They also tend to be really lean, since less fat makes performing bodyweight exercises easier (try performing 10 reps of muscle ups before and after you lose 20 pounds of flab if you don’t believe us).
At the end of the day, aesthetics and attractiveness are all subjective.
But if one of your goals of training calisthenics is to improve your appearance, then good news. A proper, well-designed bodyweight workout will produce the kind of body so many people desire - lean, mean, muscular, and most importantly - balanced.