Calisthenics vs Gymnastics: Muscle Mass, Strength, Injury Rates & More

If you don't know the difference between calisthenics vs gymnastics, don't fret. In this article, we are putting them face to face to see which is better and why.

Calisthenics and gymnastics are very similar. You can look at calisthenics as an amateur version of gymnastics, where the athletes started training at a later age, mainly with the goal of getting stronger and more muscular.

This is it in a nutshell.

However, in this article we are going in depth!

Keep reading if you want to learn:

  • What is calisthenics
  • What is gymnastics
  • Muscle building differences
  • Strength differences
  • Injury rates of calisthenics vs gymnastics

And more.

Let's get started.

What is calisthenics?

Calisthenics vs gymnastics: athlete doing a planche on parallettes

In its simplest form, you can look at calisthenics as bodyweight fitness.

Any exercise performed with the weight of your own body - from pull-ups, to crunches and jumping jacks - are considered calisthenics exercises.

However, the term is no longer as loosely defined.

When people talk about calisthenics nowadays, most of them think about gymnastics strength training (GST), which is a style of training with the goal of achieving gymnastics static skills, without the use of weights - something a lot of calisthenics athletes take pride in.

These skills include, but are not limited to:

  • Front lever
  • Planche
  • The human flag
  • Maltese
  • Back lever

This is calisthenics in a nutshell.

Most athletes doing this sport are epecially focusing on calisthenics bodybuilding.

What is gymnastics?

Gymnast on the pommel horse

As opposed to calisthenics, gymnastics is an official sport - and an Olympic one at that - where the athlete has to excel at different pieces of apparatus like gymnastics rings, pommel horse, floor, etc.

Gymnastics is not only limited to strength.

Furthermore, gymnastics is not just a hobby (although it can be).

There are hundreds, if not thousands of athletes worldwide who take part in competitions, make a living out of gymnastics, and have been training rigorously ever since childhood.

Most gymnasts excel in the following attributes:

  • Strength
  • Coordination
  • Endurance
  • Mobility and flexibility
  • Balance

No matter from what perspective you are looking, a gymnastics athlete will always outperform a calisthenics athlete.

Calisthenics vs gymnastics: muscle building differences

Calisthenics or gymnastics athlete doing pull-ups

This is something to consider in the calisthenics vs gymnastics debate.

In terms of the muscle building potential, they are very similar, since both calisthenics and gymnastics use bodyweight exercises as their main resistance training, and supplementing with weights to improve their weak links.

But let's see how desirable muscle mass is for each respective athlete.

Calisthenics and muscle building

Most calisthenics athletes will want to increase their muscle mass.

Given that this way of training is a recreational activity for them, as well as a passion, they like the added benefit of improved aesthetics as a result of their workouts.

Furthermore, having muscle mass doesn't mess with their performance too much.

And the reason for this is simple.

Calisthenics athletes do way easier strength elements in comparison to gymnasts.

RELATED: Read our article on calisthenics before and after too.

Gymnastics and muscle building

For gymnasts, things are a bit different.

The goal of every gymnast is to maximize their strength to bodyweight ratio. However, to maximize the strength their muscles can exert, they also have to increase the size of their muscles. Therefore, gymnasts are looking to build muscle up to the point of diminishing returns, when having more muscle is counterproductive for their goals.

And what is the goal of gymnasts?

To do their routines, which are mind bogglingly difficult, make them look easy, and move their body through space as effortlessly as possible.

Therefore, a lot of muscle can be detrimental to gymnastics.

Calisthenics vs gymnastics: strength differences

As far as strength is concerned, there can't be a debate regarding calisthenics vs gymnastics.

Both sports put a lot of emphasis on strength, and for both the strength to bodyweight ratio is important.

That being said, gymnasts will always be stronger than calisthenics athletes.

Being forced to get good at so many disciplines, gymnasts push their muscles and central nervous system through a lot of strain, making strength adaptations happen quickly.

Injury rates in calisthenics vs gymnastics

In terms of injuries, calisthenics wins by a long shot.

Is that even a surprise, though?

Gymnasts have to perform at such a high level and on so many different disciplines that it should come to no surprise that they get injured quite a lot.

What is interesting though is that the number of injuries is higher than most other sports, as you will see in the table below:


Number of injuries per 1000 hours


1.28 injuries / 1000 hours

Gymnastics (male)

8.78 injuries / 1000 hours

Gymnastics (female)

9.37 injuries / 1000 hours

Olympic weightlifting

2.4 - 3.3 injuries / 1000 hours


3.1 injuries / 1000 hours


4.5 - 6.1 injuries / 1000 hours

Highland Games

7.5 injuries / 1000 hours

These numbers were aggregated from different studies, and can also be found in the article where we compare calisthenics and weights. (1)(2)(3)

And as you can clearly see, out of all the athletes competing in their respective sports, female gymnasts are the most prone to injury, closely followed by male gymnasts.

Calisthenics wins the calisthenics vs gymnastics debate as far as safety is concerned.

Similarities between calisthenics and gymnastics

Now that we had a look at a few differences regarding calisthenics vs gymnastics, let's also have a look at some of their similarities.

These are the most prevalent similarities:

  • They are both mainly bodyweight based
  • Both disciplines have static strength elements as one of their defining characteristics
  • They both use high bars, parallel bars, and gymnastics rings
  • Both disciplines require more than strength for proficiency

We have to remember that calisthenics is an amateur form of gymnastics.

Therefore, you can expect the two disciplines to be closely related in certain aspects.


As you can see, as far as performance and level of professionalism are concerned, gymnastics is way over calisthenics. Being an Olympic sport, both athletes and scientists put a lot of effort into being the best, and, respectively, finding training principles that can make athletes better.

Calisthenics is backyard gymnastics, if you will.

With that being said, we don't believe there is a winner of the debate between calisthenics vs gymnastics.

For people who want to try the thrill of gymnastics but didn't have the chance to do so during childhood, calisthenics is a very good medium. It is fun, it has a growing community, and, most importantly, it gives you goals to strive for.