Experts Explain Calisthenics vs Yoga: Differences, Pros & Cons, Best for Beginners

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More and more people are looking to workout at home.

And many of them aren’t interested in shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a “dream home gym.”

And why should they? You can get an incredible workout with just your bodyweight, anywhere, anytime.

Two of the most popular styles of bodyweight exercise are basic calisthenics and yoga.

But what are the differences between calisthenics vs yoga, and which one is a better fit for you and your goals?

You’ll be surprised how much calisthenics and yoga have in common — both challenge your body’s strength, endurance, and mobility, leading to much better overall fitness and an improved physique if you stick with them.

The biggest difference is that calisthenics is much more of a strength and conditioning workout, with the main goal to increase the difficulty and/or number of repetitions you can perform of movements like pull ups or push ups.

Yoga comes in many different styles — some build strength, others focus on mobility and flexibility, and others still are primarily focused on breath work and meditation.

CalisthenicsYoga
Goals:Strength & conditioningStrength, cardio, flexibility, breathwork, mindfulness & more
Costs:Find free workouts online or pay for an app, plus <$200 of accessories$10-20 per studio class or free YouTube workouts, <$200 of accessories
Best for:Building muscle & strength, efficient and cheap/free home workoutsCommunity and studio atmosphere, enhancing both physical & mental wellness

I spoke with a few personal trainers, yoga teachers, and other experts to explore the differences between calisthenics vs yoga and the pros and cons of each.


What is Yoga? 

Yoga is a fitness style that has a long history dating back thousands of years.

Originating in India, this practice combines various stances and movement patterns that help you gain flexibility and strength.

Depending on the style of class you take, you may get a very intense cardio or strength workout, or a more restorative experience.

Some of the most popular forms of yoga are: 

  • Vinyasa Flow 
  • Hatha Yoga 
  • Restorative Yoga
  • Power Yoga
  • Ashtanga Yoga 

Unlike calisthenics, the pros of yoga reach further than just physical benefits.

Yoga is also deeply spiritual and is often mixed with meditation during classes. However, the degree of how spiritual the practice is depends on the class or studio.

Many yoga studios have removed the spiritual part of yoga, focusing more on teaching only the physical part. 

(Want to learn more about which style of yoga to do based on your personality and fitness goals? Click here.)


What is Calisthenics?

We all know push-ups, bodyweight squats, and pull-ups.

While you may not be familiar with the name calisthenics, you most likely know the movements.

The exercises in this fitness style rely solely on your body weight, with minimal equipment. 

Originating from Ancient Greece, these workouts have remained popular because of their ability to improve physical performance quickly.

A great example is militaries leading strict calisthenics workout routines to get soldiers into shape fast during boot camp. 

When I asked Clara Roberts-Oss how she would define calisthenics, she said: 

“Calisthenics refers to any activity that uses your body as resistance to build strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance.”

Because you are only using your bodyweight, calisthenics is also less impactful on your joints than weightlifting.

If you use too much weight during resistance training, you can seriously injure yourself. 

With calisthenics, you are building muscle proportional to your natural muscular system and not using excess resistance.

Your joints, ligaments, and tendons will all be less impacted than when lifting heavy weights. 

Calisthenics is also excellent at building your overall conditioning and flexibility, along with pure strength.


Workouts & Effectiveness

When comparing the effectiveness of these two fitness styles, the most critical part is how hard you push yourself.

Both yoga and calisthenics can be modified for total beginners who struggle with basic bodyweight movements.

Can’t do a pushup? Start with a torso elevated pushup and go from there.

Can’t do a warrior two pose to full depth? You can shorten your stance and add a prop to stabilize your balance. 

Both calisthenics and yoga rely on mastering advanced maneuvers as your strength and technique improve. That’s where progress happens.

Let’s compare the workouts a little more closely.

Yoga Workouts 

If you’ve never taken a yoga class at the gym or studio you might think of it as just an easy, stretching workout.

Wrong!

While yoga may not seem like the ideal muscle-building workout, personal trainer Mo Jam, a personal trainer with WeStrive, says otherwise, noting: 

“Yoga focuses on endurance and muscle toning by holding poses with time under tension, which is a key component of any strength or hypertrophy program.”

To build muscle, one of the key factors is how long the muscle is under tension.

To get the most out of your yoga workouts, push yourself to keep a yoga pose without breaking your stance.

You will achieve better yoga results and develop an athletic physique.  

Yoga also stresses two different parts of your nervous system.

Clara Roberts-Oss gave a detailed breakdown of this interesting fact, saying:

“Yoga alternates between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system by working with the breath and various movement styles.” 

In a typical yoga class, you will go through sections of super intense exercise that will leave you feeling exhausted.

Clara notes that these moments during class target the sympathetic nervous system, noting that: 

“The sympathetic nervous system is otherwise known as fight or flight mode and is the state we’re in when we exercise or experience stress.”

Once the intense portions of the yoga practice are over, you will switch to a more relaxing and meditative state.

Clara stating this relaxing portion of the class targets: 

“The parasympathetic nervous system, shifting the body into rest and digest mode, where we feel more grounded, clear, calm, and at ease within ourselves.” 

Calisthenics Workouts 

Like yoga, there are a lot of different types of calisthenics workouts to choose from.

You can choose between a HIIT workout that incorporates calisthenics movements, to build cardio and conditioning, or complete a strength-style calisthenics workout with sets going to failure and long rest periods.

A HIIT style calisthenics workout would have you jumping between short bursts of pushups, squats, burpees, and more, while resting only 10-30 seconds between sets.

A strength calisthenics workout would have you perform anywhere from 3-8 sets of a particular exercise to failure.

Just remember, calisthenics workouts only focus on the physical part of fitness and will improve your strength quickly.

Personal trainer Mo Jam compares the feeling of calisthenics to weightlifting, saying: 

“Calisthenics is similar to getting a “pump” attitude where a person would be ready to knock out some challenging reps and push themselves to reach a certain “high” during a workout.”

There is nothing better than calisthenics workouts if you are looking for a straightforward and efficient workout at home without much equipment.

Once you know the basic movements, you can quickly come up with a workout at any time and get great calisthenics results


Cost, Equipment & Convenience

You don’t technically need any equipment or classes for both fitness styles, but there are some things you can do to get better results. 

In yoga, it is more standard to take a class (either online or in a studio or gym) and follow along with an instructor.

For beginners, it’s best to learn at a studio to learn proper form and stay motivated. 

Yoga studios usually have a rate of $10-$20 per class and have classes scheduled throughout the day to fit your daily routine best.

At a yoga studio, you may also need to bring equipment. Some of the essential pieces of equipment are:

  • Yoga mat
  • Yoga blocks
  • Yoga straps 
  • Yoga bolsters 

Most studios will offer loaner mats, blocks, and towels — but eventually you might want to buy your own.

You can easily get everything you need for your yoga practice for under $200.

In calisthenics, you won’t find group fitness classes labeled with the name ‘calisthenics class.

However, you will find variations of calisthenics labeled boot camp, HIIT, or total body strength workouts. 

These classes can be taken online, through an app, or you can attend them at your local gym or boot camp studio.

For many people, one of the pros of calisthenics classes online is the convenience.

At any time, you can choose from thousands of calisthenic workouts online to follow. 

There is no equipment required to get started with calisthenics workouts, but some pieces of equipment will widen your choice of exercises.

Some of these pieces of equipment are: 

  • Pull-up bar 
  • Dip stand  
  • Weighted vest 
  • Parallette set 

With these pieces of equipment, you can perform any calisthenics workout and target your entire body. 

Both calisthenics and yoga require little more than a yoga or exercise mat to get started, though a few accessories may come in handy down the line.

The big difference is that yoga is best done in a studio, especially as a beginner, for maximum impact.

Calisthenics is a better option for quick and efficient workouts at home, making it the slightly more economical choice.


Is Yoga or Calisthenics Better for Beginners? 

When comparing the two fitness styles, one of the most notable differences is the complexity of each style.

Personal trainer Mo Jam highlighted this important difference:

“Another difference is the complexity of their respective exercises. In calisthenics, most of the exercises are popular movements that have many variations in the sport; some of these are push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and planks.

“Movements in yoga are stable like a warrior pose or dynamic like a flow of downward dog to chaturanga, or laying down and focusing diaphragmatic breathing techniques.” 

Many beginners are more comfortable starting with calisthenics because they are familiar with the movements at a basic level.

We are often taught many of the basic movements of calisthenics in school as kids — plus the workouts are generally simple, efficient, and easy to do from home — so it can be easier for total beginners to get started this way if they’re new to working out.

Additionally, Calisthenics helps you build a strong base that will translate into all other forms of exercise.  

However, if you struggle to stay motivated when working out, joining a yoga class and attending some beginner classes may be the better choice.

You’ll get attention and form corrections from a highly qualified instructor and make some like-minded new friends — the supportive atmosphere will keep you coming back again and again.

(Learn more about yoga motivation and calisthenics motivation here.)


Wrapping Up 

Yoga and calisthenics both have a long history of delivering excellent results with only your bodyweight and limited other equipment.

In fact, you could easily argue that yoga is a form of calisthenics.

However, beneath the surface, there is more to yoga than calisthenics. Yoga is a fitness style that also helps improve your mental well-being.

Calisthenics focuses only on the physical aspect of fitness — and in that regard, it’s extremely efficient and effective.

So, If you are a beginner looking to get started with fitness, basic calisthenics workouts can be a great option.

If you are looking for a more fulfilling type of practice, yoga will improve your physical and mental wellness significantly.

The great thing about these styles having limited equipment is you can do both regularly with ease. So, try out these fitness styles and build a functional and strong body! 

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Hope this helps!

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