Olympic Weightlifting or Calisthenics? Why You Should Do BOTH!

Olympic weightlifting and calisthenics: at a glance, they may seem like disciplines on complete opposite sides of the strength training spectrum. One involves lifting an external object through space, and the other involves moving your own body through space. If you’re a weightlifter who’s tried calisthenics or a calisthenics athlete who’s tried weightlifting, you’ll know that the types of strength demanded by these two training styles are very different. However, when we take a closer look at the skills that each of these training styles develops, we find that the two really do complement each other perfectly.

No matter what kind of athlete you are, one can always benefit from combining different types of training; no one wants to be a one-trick pony! I have always been a proponent of incorporating a variety of training styles to develop strength and skill across a broad array of disciplines. Regardless of what kind of athlete you are (or if you’re not an athlete at all), I believe that everyone can benefit from calisthenic training (find out why here). And likewise, while bodyweight training is what I specialize in, I’ve found that regularly practicing Olympic weightlifting has been a game-changer for my overall athletic development. So without further ado, here’s why YOU should consider incorporating both calisthenics AND Olympic weightlifting into your training regime:

1. You will become ALL KINDS OF STRONG

Who’s stronger: a weightlifter who can lift double their bodyweight but can’t pull up their own bodyweight, or a calisthenics athlete who can perform incredible feats of body control but can’t lift very much external weight? The answer is that both are strong, yet both could be stronger. Lifting a bar over your body and lifting your body over a bar both require great deals of strength, but the type of strength that each demands is entirely different (more on that here).

While weightlifting emphasizes maximum power output (i.e. lifting as much weight as possible), calisthenics places greater emphasis on body control and muscular endurance. With weightlifting, you’re lifting more weight for a shorter period of time; with calisthenics, you’re lifting only your own bodyweight, but often over a longer time span. By doing both, you get the best of both worlds—you become strong in ALL kinds of ways.

2. You will develop incredible STABILITY

What do overhead lifts and handstands have in common? Both demand not only strength, but also stability, particularly in the shoulders and core. However, the feeling of supporting and stabilizing an external weight overhead is very different from the feeling of supporting and stabilizing your own bodyweight. Weightlifting builds stability under a heavier load, whilst calisthenics builds stability under a lighter load, but in conjunction with body awareness and control. Thus, a regular calisthenics, yoga, and/or hand balancing practice can complement a weightlifting program (or vice versa) in that you’ll develop incredible stability (notably in the core and shoulders), regardless of whether you’re right side-up or upside-down!

3. You will make huge improvements in MOBILITY

As an athlete who mainly practices bodyweight movements, it may come as a surprise that I’ve struggled a great deal with mobility. However, if there’s one thing that’s helped me make dramatic improvements in my range of motion, particularly in the hips and shoulders, it’s Olympic weightlifting. Many think that lifting weights adversely affects mobility, but this is only true if the lifts are not performed through a full range of motion.

Olympic lifts require strength through a much wider range of motion than powerlifting or bodybuilding-type lifts. In fact, regularly practicing movements like overhead squats and snatches has done wonders for improving my hip and shoulder mobility, and even though I am a bodyweight athlete and not a weightlifter, these movements have become an essential part of my training.

4. You will develop explosive POWER

The majority of my calisthenic training revolves around hand balancing and strict, controlled movements — not exactly good catalysts for developing explosive power. As a result, explosive strength is an area I’m lacking in. This is where Olympic weightlifting comes in. Getting a heavy barbell from the ground to overhead can’t be done in a slow, strict, controlled manner; power and momentum are essential for driving the bar up.

While I’m certainly not and will never be the world’s greatest weightlifter, regularly practicing weightlifting has helped me develop the type of explosive strength that I don’t get from my hand balancing and calisthenics training. Of course, one can also practice explosive bodyweight exercises in the form of plyometrics to develop explosive power, but I find Olympic weightlifting to be an option that is just as, if not more, effective.

5. You will become an all-around BETTER ATHLETE

The main reason why I practice Olympic weightlifting along with my calisthenic training is that it makes me an a better athlete. It helps me improve in areas that directly complement my calisthenic training (namely mobility and stability) while helping me fill in the holes that my calisthenic training fails to address (namely explosive power). There’s a reason why CrossFit — “the sport of fitness” — combines both Olympic weightlifting and calisthenics. When it comes to developing as an all-around athlete, the two disciplines complement each other perfectly.

So if you’re a weightlifter, I encourage you to get on a bar, rings, parallettes, or yoga mat (check out my advice for beginning calisthenics here) and if you’re a calisthenic athlete, I encourage you to get on the platform! The gains await you!

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured image: @lind.slaaay on Instagram