Weight Lifting vs Gymnastics | Best Way to Build Muscle?

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Weight lifting is perhaps the most common form of exercise for one trying to build muscle. But is it the most effective? Calisthenics (body weight movements) is a another powerful way to build muscle. In this article we will discuss which one is the best muscle building methodology!

1. Calisthenics

Calisthenics is the term used to describe body weight exercises. The basic body weight exercises include body weight squats, pullups, pushups. Then there are upper body variations such as diamond pushups, chin ups (under arm grip), clap pushups, handstand pushups, prison pullups and more.

gymnast muscles

Gymnastics are some of the strongest and most muscly athletes on the planet, yet their routine doesn’t require any time spent in a weights room. That means zero bench presses, dumbbell curls and so on. Gymnastic movements are also classed as calisthenics. Surprisingly, gymnasts do not even want to build muscle. Their goal is to be achieve exceptional levels of strength, yet weigh little. This combination results in them being able to lift their body weight as comfortably as possible. Thus, their muscle is a side effect of the massive strength feats they complete.

Due to male gymnasts possessing huge muscles on such small frames, some skeptics without much knowledge may question drug-use for their muscle development. Taking muscle building drugs, would in fact, decrease a gymnasts performance, due to the unwanted weight gain. Typical examples of gymnast exercises that require incredible strength include the rings and pommel horse.


Why are gymnasts so big?

All gymnasts do not possess equal builds. Those that do not compete on the rings/pommel horse do not have the same amounts of muscle mass as the ones that do. The big gymnasts are the ones that train full time as opposed to ones that train part time. This can lead one to believe that the training frequency and volume in which the pros train can significantly affect muscle growth. Professional gymnasts typically train for as much as 35 hours a week. That is a lot more than a typical weight lifter in the gym. This is on average almost 6 hours a day if including a rest day.

They don’t train to failure – unlike average weight lifters. Training to failure i.e. pushing yourself until you cannot complete another rep of that exercise is considered effective for building muscle in weight lifting.

This is because in the weight lifting world, the idea is to fatigue the muscle as much as possible – thinking this will result in the muscle growing back bigger. However, gymnasts adopt the opposite approach. As they train for several hours each day, they need to be at their peak each session. This wouldn’t be possible if they fatigued their muscles as much as possible, to then come into the next session with sore muscles or with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).

Other benefits to Gymnast training

. Calisthenics doesn’t require investing money, whereas weight lifting requires equipment (sometimes expensive) or paying gym membership fees.

. Gymnasts do not typically ‘bulk and cut’ in the way that weight lifters or bodybuilders do. This means that their nutrition is less complex, plus they can stay lean all year round.

. Gymnasts are very functional. Weight lifting increases strength but in set movements that are unlikely to be replicated in the outside world. I.e. a bench press position would rarely come in to action. However, with gymnastics because they are training without machines, dumbbells and minimal equipment, plus engaging all of their muscles in each of their movements – this makes their strength more applicable to the outside world.


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Disadvantages to calisthenic training

If, for example, your biceps aren’t growing at the same rate as your chest, you can simply add more isolation exercises such as bicep curls that will specifically target that muscle to help balance out your physique. As calisthenics and gymnast movements are mainly compound movements, working multiple muscle groups, it makes it difficult to isolate certain muscles with this training.

Replicating the muscles of gymnasts may take a while even with the same training as them. Pro gymnast muscles haven’t grown overnight and can take many years for them to grow like this – similar to weight lifting.


Overall, I do not think one type of exercise is significantly better than the other. However, there are certain principles that gymnasts follow in contrast to weight lifters – that are better for building muscle. For example, not training to failure is one that clearly benefits the gymnasts, in terms of recovery and functionality.

Consequently, this allows gymnasts to spend more time performing muscle building exercises, rather than having to rest to prevent overtraining.

Do you know any gymnasts with big muscles, let me know your thoughts below!



Gymnasts train upto 6 hours each day :



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