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Is Calisthenics A Good Workout To Lose Weight?

Working out is a popular method to lose some extra weight. One of the options you have is calisthenics, is it good for weight loss?

Calisthenics has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to losing weight. Calisthenic exercises can certainly help you lose weight but how good are they compared to other workouts?

What is calisthenics?

Calisthenics a collective name for bodyweight exercises with the goal of building muscle.

If you do a workout like running, you are using your bodyweight but not with the goal of building muscle. That means running is not considered to be a calisthenic exercise.

Some examples of classic calisthenics exercises are pushups, pullups, squats, and lunges. Different exercises will have different effects on weight loss but they all have some common advantages and disadvantages.

Cardio versus HIIT versus muscle building

All forms of exercise can be divided into 3 main categories. These 3 categories are cardio, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and muscle building. In terms of what parts of your body they impact you can bucket cardio and HIIT together.

Each workout will inevitably use both your cardiovascular system and muscles. However, usually one of the two really stands out.

The way cardio and HIIT help you lose weight is slightly different from how more muscle helps you lose weight. One or the other can be better depending on the situation.

When you start with calisthenics it will mainly be a muscle-building workout. After that slowly but surely you will have to spend more time doing calisthenics to keep seeing muscle growth. Ultimately it becomes more a sort of cardio workout.

woman doing lunges as calisthenics exercise

Muscle building

Muscle building helps you burn more calories by increasing muscle mass. How much you weigh is an important factor of how many calories you burn each day. That’s how many weight loss plateaus happen, you lose some weight and you start burning less calories with the same habits.

Building more muscle helps you add healthy weight. A certain amount of muscle also burns slightly more calories than the same amount of fat. This means that by spending a little time building muscle you can increase the amount of calories you burn 24/7.

By doing calisthenic exercises that focus on your biggest muscle groups (legs, back, shoulders, and chest) you can get a good amount of muscle mass growth initially.

Doing muscle building exercises with extra weights will allow you to build more muscle in a shorter amount of time.

Cardio and HIIT

Cardio and HIIT help you burn more calories by increasing the intensity and quantity of movement right now.

This makes those kinds of exercise great for short term energy usage. The flip side of the coin is that once you stop doing these kinds of exercise the extra calorie burning will stop fast.

HIIT is basically cardio but faster. So depending on your tempo you are doing one or the other. The higher the intensity of the exercise you are doing, the more calories you burn.

HIIT can also cause something called “afterburn”. This is basically having an increased metabolism for a while after you stopped the exercise.

After a while calisthenics becomes more of a cardio workout.

Do this for long term weight loss

So cardio and HIIT are good for fat loss in the next hour or so.

For long term weight loss muscle building can be a lot more time and effort efficient.

You can also do both. The extra muscle will help you get more out of your cardio workout.


Often people forget that your choice of exercise isn’t only about how efficient the calorie burning is.

Calisthenics is great to start working on long-term weight loss but if you don’t like it, chances are you won’t keep doing it. In that case, you might want to choose a different workouts or exercises.

woman enjoying calisthenics exercise

How many calories are burned doing calisthenics?

You have to keep in mind that the amount of calories burned by exercising depends from person to person. Things like age, weight, activity levels,… influence it.

That being said, there are still approximations for how many calories you can burn doing calisthenics. You can also see the calories burned for different kinds of exercises to see how all the workouts compare.

The following numbers are an estimation for a 155-pound person doing the exercises for 30 minutes (1).

  • Calisthenics (moderate): 167 calories
  • Calisthenics (vigorous): 298 calories
  • Water Aerobics: 149 calories
  • Stretching (Hatha Yoga): 186 calories
  • Stair Step Machine (general): 223 calories
  • Rowing, Stationary (moderate): 260 calories
  • Bicycling, Stationary (moderate): 260 calories
  • Elliptical Trainer (general): 335 calories
  • Running 5.2 mph: 335 calories
  • Jumping rope: 372 calories
  • Swimming (breaststroke): 372 calories

The thing with these numbers is also that the more intense and the longer you do your exercise, the more calories you will burn. These measurements are great to get an estimation but you can’t rely on them being the exact same for you.

The amount of calories you can burn with calisthenics is good. Certainly when you are still in the phase that you can see great muscle growth with it.

These numbers only represent the 30 minutes during the workout. It’s hard to measure exactly what the long term weight loss effects are of the extra muscle you build.

How long does it take to see results from calisthenics?

One pound of body fat is about 3500 calories (one kg +-8000). How long it takes to see weight loss results from calisthenics will also depend on the amount of calories in your diet.

One person might eat more than the other. This might make it so they need to exercise longer or more intense to see the same weight loss results. You can even lose weight without exercising so there are many factors that influence it.

30 minutes of vigorous calisthenics a day could help you burn an extra 2980 calories in 10 days which is about 0.85 pounds of body fat. 30 days 8940 calories and so on…

Keep in mind that losing weight too fast can be harmful. In general, a 500 calorie deficit per day is considered to be a healthy weight loss rate.

Because of the muscle you will gain from calisthenics your weight might not move that much. That does not mean you are not losing fat. If you lose inches but not weight when you start doing calisthenics you are most likely gaining muscle weight and losing body fat weight.

man seeing results with calisthenics exercises

Should you do calisthenics for weight loss?

The advantage of calisthenics is that you don’t really need any equipment to do it. That means no gym membership and no driving to your gym everytime you want to build muscle.

The disdavantage of calisthenics in terms of weight loss is that you need more time to build muscle mass compared to lifting weights in the gym. From a certain point it will be hard to build more muscle because you always use the same amount of weight. From that point on, other cardio workouts might help you lose more weight.

All in all, calisthenics is a decent workout at the start of your weight loss journey. However, soon you won’t see that many weight loss results from it. Once that happens you will benefit more from shifting your focus to weight lifting workouts or more intense cardio workouts.

Keep in mind that the things you eat stay important no matter what exercise routine you’re following. It’s hard to out-exercise a bad diet.

How often should you do calisthenics?

Muscle building exercises are not always about doing them as often as you can. The way you build muscle is by first breaking muscle down with a weight lifting exercise. And then letting your body repair the muscle with a little extra on top.

Depending on how fast you recover you could do calisthenics 2-4 times a week in the initial phase. Once you start to see diminishing muscle building returns your body might recover faster from the same workout. From then on you can do calisthenics more often.

Does calisthenics make you lose belly fat?

Losing belly fat is more about losing weight overall than doing a “targeted” workout. Since calisthenics can help you burn a nice amount of calories they can help you lose belly fat as well.

5 of the best calisthenic exercises for fat loss

Calisthenics is still a big collection of exercises. Some are better for more weight/fat loss than others. The most time-efficient exercises will be the ones that focus on your legs, back, chest, and shoulders.

Here are x examples of good calisthenic exercises for fat loss:

  • Pullups (wider grip will work your back muscles more)
  • Pushups (placing your hands further apart works your chest more)
  • Handstand pushups (most people will benefit from doing the handstand against a wall)
  • Lunges
  • Squats

All these exercises have small variations. You don’t have to worry about these variations to be able to see weight loss and fat loss results. The basic ones will be enough for most people.


Matt Claes

Matt Claes founded Weight Loss Made Practical to help people get in shape and stay there after losing 37 pounds and learning the best of the best about weight loss, health, and longevity for over 4 years. Over these years he has become an expert in nutrition, exercise, and other physical health aspects.