Are calisthenics superior to the average gym?
So many things to answer...
First: There's no such thing as functional movement or functional fitness. There is nothing more functional about a body-weight pull-up than there is about a barbell deadlift.
You should be able to do both anyway..but let's say hypothetically a golf cart tips over and lands on a small child nearby...are your calisthenics functional then? Nope..but my deadlifts are. This is why the term functional fitness could mean anything - and it therefore means nothing.
Second: You need to ask yourself what you consider superior. Do you mean superior as in potential strength gains?
If that's what you mean, then absolutely not. I would be 100% willing to put my powerlifting totals against any person in the world who exclusively practices calisthenics. If you don't train with heavy weights, your central nervous system will not adapt to them. Period.
Do you mean muscle gains?
Still no...ask yourself - which would build more muscle for a 200 pound male? 10 reps of a 225 pound bench press - or 100 pushups?
The answer is the bench press. Why? Because more reps at lighter weight does not mean more hypertrophy. Past a certain point, your muscles no longer experience a hypertrophy response to stimulus...they only increase in endurance capacity. You will always be able to build more muscle through resistance training with free weights.
So next superior criteria...do you mean endurance building?
Well...I suppose maybe calisthenics can help with endurance training? But I would argue that free weights are still superior if incorporated into an endurance program...If I can squat 400 pounds for reps, how much easier is it going to be for me to build up endurance against only the resistance of gravity?
The last criteria I can think of is equipment and accessibility. Yes...for this last criteria, calisthenics are superior. If you live out in the middle of nowhere and don't have any money to buy a home gym...calisthenics are superior to free weights because you can still actually do them.
In just about any other case? Weight lifting is going to give you a more desirable result for just about any fitness goal.
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