Why Calisthenics Is Often Better Than Barbells for Aesthetics (especially if you’re natural)

| by Truth Seeker |

Reason 1: Calisthenics Indorses Leanness, Barbells Promote Bulking

According to the dictionary definition, an aesthetic physique is one that’s pleasing to look at. The condition requires a combination of decent muscle mass and leanness. If you have one without the other, the impact on the spectator suffers.

If you’re in “bear mode”, you have the size, but you also have the big gut and possibly the double chin – features instantly robbing you of attractiveness points. If you are ultra-lean but have no muscle mass, you look like a malnourished cadet.

Bodyweight training encourages people to preserve or acquire leanness. When you lose fat, pull-ups, dips, push-ups and the rest of the calisthenics movements instantly become easier since you’re meeting less resistance. Therefore, calisthenics athletes who are practically amateur gymnasts stay away from bulking to avoid gaining lard.

Conversely, the world of barbells is filled with stories of people reaching scary bodyweights in the name of moving heavier weights. Why? Because heavier men lift larger barbells. Hence why strength standards are categorized by bodyweight.

The relation between one’s bodyweight and the weight on the bar creates a direct incentive for many lifters to remain fat – an instant aesthetic killer.

Reason 2: Positive Mental Reinforcement

What are the most common tips that naturals receive when their barbell numbers stall?

  1. Eat more (bulking)
  2. Eat even more (ultra-bulking)
  3. Switch to a different routine (train harder) while eating a lot more.

The results? Grotesque. Many strength permabulkers increase their body fat levels to unhealthy and unaesthetic percentages (25%+) in order to pick up more weight and reach some arbitrary numbers burdened with the task to make them “real men”.

As a bonus, the promised muscle gains aren’t there either because naturals cannot build a lot of muscle in the first place. Most people who bulk heavily end up fat or skinny-fat despite spending a lot of time in the gym torturing their musculature. The most frequent outcome is natty depression – a condition that deserves a separate post.

Meanwhile, bodyweight brahs enjoy positive reinforcement because their numbers are skyrocketing without painful and pointless force-feeding.

When your pull-ups go from 5 to 20, and your abs begin to show, you smile.

When your bench press is stuck at 195lbs even though you’re gaining weight every week, and your gut calls you fat every time you tie your shoes, you get depressed.

Reason 3: More realistic expectations

Most naturals spend a lot of their “enthusiastic years” contemplating men who are clearly on steroids. As a result, we get conditioned to looks and strength numbers that are practically in another galaxy.

If you go on YouTube, you will see many guys benching 315, 405, 500 and even 600 while showcasing 20-inch arms or more. Some may say that roid-powered accomplishments have no effect on you once you’re “enlightened”, but it’s not true, is it? They affect you subconsciously even when you know the inner mechanisms of the industry.

The first reaction of a natural is to deny the obvious and continue dreaming. You say to yourself – “they may not be natural, but this doesn’t mean that I can’t get close to their numbers.” And then you start the perpetual search for the perfect program. Sadly, none of the training templates get you to the miraculous metamorphosis.

The toxic comments of people who were lifting more than you when they were five years old aren’t helping either. You begin to hate yourself for failing to satisfy the criteria even though the odds were against you right from the start. Therefore, in a sense, barbell training stimulates direct self-hatred.

Of course, the bodyweight world can stimulate an inferiority complex too. Many specimens are doing exceptionally advanced gymnastic skills that require years of dedicated practice and a specific body type. Good luck doing movements like the iron cross when you have the wingspan of a basketball player.

However, the bodyweight basics are more than achievable for naturals and potent enough to produce decent results. Most men could get to 15 pull-ups and 20 dips in a row fairly quickly. Then, you can progress to more advanced movements like the muscle-up and weighted dips and chin-ups.

Another bonus factor is the natural status of many bodyweight trainees. Not all of them are natty but many are. The heavyweight bros who look like bodybuilders are enhanced, but the vast majority of the regular guys aren’t. Hence why you are more likely to meet fellow natty souls among the bodyweight gangs than in the bodybuilding and powerlifting circles.

Reason 4: Upper body focus

Hate it or love it, males are heavily judged by their upper bodies. Developed arms, back, chest and shoulders would do a lot more for your aesthetics than a set of tree-trunk legs. When you add six-pack abs, even if they are not razor-sharp, your levels of aesthetics improve significantly in comparison to the force-fed squat and deadlift specialists who confuse their big guts for “overdeveloped abdominal muscles from pressing too hard against the weightlifting belt”. Sure, brahs.

Calisthenics is upper body specialization and will build up the “second floor” fairly well.

A long time ago, the bar crew the Bar-barians issued the following challenge to become a member:

40 dips, 20 pull-ups, 50 push-ups, 5 muscle-ups in 10 minutes

Finding someone who can complete the above with good form without noticeable upper body development would be difficult. Somewhat ironically, their current requirements are even more ridiculous.

There’s Nothing Wrong with Barbells

Barbells are not inferior to calisthenics. The shortcomings, in this case, come from the corrupt muscle industry and the mentality that the lifting community has been showcasing.

Barbells make programming easier and produce aesthetics bodies too.

Also, you cannot get a truly thick back without lifting weights as no bodyweight exercise hits the spinal erectors sufficiently. Front levers, back bridges, planches…etc. cannot produce the back thickness that comes from weighted back exercises e.g., deadlifts, non-supported barbell rows…etc.


How can I optimize barbell training for aesthetic purposes?

The key factor is to avoid unhealthy bulking for the sake of lifting more weight. If that condition is met, all anti-aesthetic bodies are neutralized for the most part.

You may also have to introduce more upper body volume to your routine because many barbell programs tend to be focused on hip dominant lifts.

Why is bulking so ineffective for naturals?

Bulking as a natural = getting fat. Why? Because the synthesis of protein within the body is limited and cannot be accelerated by overloading yourself with food and supplements. Steroid users, on the other hand, enjoy intensified synthesis of protein. Their ability to build muscle quadruples; the extra food that they consume goes into muscle-building rather than fat storage. Even roiders who don’t lift can build a significant amount of muscle mass (more).

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  1. mattsk1

    This artilce resonates what I said before about just doing pull ups, push ups and sprint uphill being more effective then you would think.

  2. PMS

    Great article. For the vast majority of natty men (95-98% of them) bodyweight movements should comprise the bulk of their training.

    Maybe start with one barbell movement per session(if that): a row, press, deadlift zercher squat but then focus on pull ups, dips, olympic ring work, standing ab wheel roll outs, bike riding, sprints, jumps etc.

  3. Mk

    And for those like me, who still want nice legs, there are tons of very challenging bodyweight leg exercises.
    I’ve always done a mix of weights and bodyweight training but as I get older and care less and less about how much I or anyone else lifts, I’ve been focusing more and more on just body weight stuff.
    I feel great, I like how I look even better, I have less injuries and feel less beat up, I feel more athletic and can work out anywhere. Yes, weights still have their place but bodyweight is where it’s at. The only gym I go to is the boxing gym, I can’t see myself ever going back again in my life to a “normal” barbell and dumbbell gym. After boxing plus all the bodyweight stuff I, do a regular gym just looks and feels useless and boring.

  4. Eric

    A big benefit of bodyweight training is the lack of ability to add weight. Without the option to increase weight, lifters are forced to a) improve mind-muscle connection and b) do more reps. As most people not under Rippetoe’s spell have realized by now, lifting as heavy as you can isn’t optimal and training like a “bro” actually works pretty damn well. As long as you’re using enough weight to offer some real resistance, volume and pump chasing will build more muscle than Starting Strength-style training. At least, that has been my experience.

  5. Zagor

    Volume after a certain point stops to provide any additional stimulus for muscle growth. If you can do a set of 30 of something, that won’t be able to male you grow further.
    Anyway, why would’t you be able to ads weigth to bodyweigth exercises? To all of the basic bodyweigth stuff like pull ups and dip (even pushups) it easy to add weigth using a belt or a backpack.
    Actually, during this covod 19 situation i discovered the power of weighted pushups, they are truly a triceps and chest builder powerhouse

  6. James

    One thing often missed when comparing Bodyweight exercises to barbell is that Bodyweight has a much much lower injury rate.

    The amount of people i have heard of with destroyed shoulders etc etc from benching never heard it once from push ups.

    Also i wouldnt worry about weight making body mass..If thats what your after. There was a study that said something along the lines of any reps to failure below 50 reps will cause growth.

    Add to that you can also do slow reps, 1 arm push ups all sorts of options to increase the effort and time under tension if you want.

    1. Brett

      I stopped doing bench press now.

      Only doing incline push ups, dips and military press.

      Push ups are amazing for the chest and very healthy for the shouldes unlike bench press.

  7. Goldust

    Personally I always got better results from bodyweight training. Despite all of the lofty promises of the many weight lifting routines that I tried over the years I never once “grew like a weed” and all of the claims that you would put on “slabs of muscle” never materialized.

    It was always the same. Some initial progress before the gains would plateau and stagnate. Once my body weight hit a certain point (which must be my natural limit) for every five additional pounds that I would gain at least 3-4 of it would be in the way of fat. And what’s even worse is the fact that as I started getting older the heavier weights were really doing a number on my joints and lower back.

    I’m just doing a bodyweight routine now and actually look and feel better than I ever did when I was lifting instead.

  8. Swabbie

    It’ cheaper too – no gym membership, no (or minimal) equipment
    And much less time consuming – no going/driving to/from the gym, you can workout from home or in a nearby park with bars

  9. Boyo

    Completely agree with everything in the article. I was a gym warrior for almost a decde, but I switched to calisthenics 2 years ago and I won’t be going back to gym any time soon.
    Reasons, way less injuries, way more fun, way less ego and way more aesthetics. I actually look forward to every new training session now.

  10. thotdestroyer

    excellent article. I resonate with a lot of things you’ve said in articles and stopped chasing the barbell strength and instead switched over to calisthenics 3-4 days a week, walking 1 hour on my off days (no more HIIT), and doing one day a week complete fast has changed my face so much due to all the fat loss, actually started getting attention from women I like instead of being a gymcel.

  11. Lucas Costa

    For those who don’t want to use steroids, calisthenics are a great way to achieve muscles, those who says that It is easy to do the exercises , always forget to use slow movements, complete range of motion, an also use Momentum with legs in pullups, or arch lower back in dips and push ups, for exemple, If calisthenics was unneffective, all military, police officers, firefighters, would not use It, this type of training have 2500 years of history, If you know How to do, you Will get stronger, If you are fat, you Will need to be even stronger .

  12. Ompu

    Reason 1 is such bullshit I don’t know where to begin

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