Gymnastics Vs Calisthenics – What’s the Difference?

calisthenics vs gymnastics

Posted On April 20, 2020

Gymnastics and Calisthenics have some overlap for sure, but they also have some important differences. Gymnastics is the much bigger sport. This goliath of a sport originated in ancient Greece, however it’s not until 1774 that it found its modernisation in Prussia.

Calisthenics Street Workout, on the other hand, is a relatively new sport. In fact, even in the fitness community today, many people could not tell you exactly what it is. They know it’s body-weight training, but how does it compare to gymnastics?

Similarities between gymnastics & calisthenics

It’s true, calisthenics has adopted a ton from gymnastics. You will find many of the same skills in calisthenics as you do in gymnastics. Both calisthenics freestyle and statics have elements of gymnastics.

Statics (also known as static holds or isometric holds) are positional freezes. An overwhelming majority of these come from gymnastics. Planche, back lever, front lever, maltese and Victorian are all gymnastics skills.

Similarly in Calisthenics Freestyle, athletes use many gymnastics skills. Back hip circles, pull overs and even gienger comes from gymnastics. Unlike the statics adopted from gymnastics, many of the calisthenics dynamic elements are somewhat different than their analogues in gymnastics.

Calisthenics also harnesses 2 gymnastics apparatuses – the high bar and the parallel bars. These icon pieces of equipment give calisthenics athletes the ability to play with the same skills as gymnastics athletes.

Differences between gymnastics & calisthenics

It doesn’t take a trained eye to tell calisthenics and gymnastics apart. Despite calisthenics harnessing the basics of gymnastics, there are a ton of differences between the 2 sports.   

1. Different environment

The obvious difference between calisthenics and gymnastics is the environment. Gymnastics is done indoors in a safe, soft gymnasium littered with mats. Calisthenics is done outdoors with no safety nets. The equipment in gymnastics is nice and soft and pliable. Calisthenics is practiced on solid metal bars that have zero give to them.

This environment creates a reduced appetite for risk in most calisthenics athletes as there’s less room for error. This, along with the unrestricted competitive rules and variation in calisthenics set ups, has facilitated creativity in the calisthenics community.  

Each calisthenics park, gym and set up is different. This allows athletes to adapt and think outside the box. Much like parkour and free-running, calisthenics involves are a lot of improvisation. Skills are often put together on the spot – you don’t think so much, it just happens.

In gymnastics routines are meticulously planned and put together. This gives them a sense of perfection, but at the same time they feel rigid, linear and predictable. Calisthenics allows for a ton more variety and rule bending, and this only adds to the spectacle! 

2. Different equipment

Out of all the gymnastics equipment, calisthenics athletes only use the high bar and the parallel bars. Even these differ. Calisthenics parks do not have professional calisthenics equipment, nor are they standardised.

The gymnastics high bar is thin stainless steel bar that bends under weight. The calisthenics bar is steel as well, but is completely inflexible. This makes it more difficult to generate momentum and re-catch the bar. 

Gymnastics parallel bars are made of wood and have significant give to them. The calisthenics parallel bars are again steel and are inflexible.

Gymnasts use gymnastics rings. In calisthenics, gymnastics rings are also popular, however they are not used in the same way. In gymnastics they are used as any other apparatus, whereas in calisthenics they are a supplementary strength tool and are excluded from the competitive scene.   

3. Different skills

Calisthenics moves are safer, but they instil the same kind of jaw dropping amazement in on-watchers. This is the result of calisthenics practitioners inventing their own unique moves, moves that most people outside the sport have never seen. Often these moves are ‘dirty’ and most gymnasts would smirk at them – but they look damned awesome, and at the end of the day, who cares if your toes aren’t pointed?

Some iconic skills that exist in calisthenics but not in gymnastics are the human flag, 360 bar spin and shrimp flip. There are a ton more variations that are specific to particular calisthenics set ups as well. This helps equalise the playing field, as a lot of gymnastics skills are inaccessible to calisthenics athletes due to a lack of safety precautions. 

4. Different competitions

Gymnastics is choreographed perfectionist sport. Toes need to be pointed, legs need to be straight and together, every movement needs to have purpose. Judges give points based on very specific criteria.

Each move is designated a certain amount of points, each mistake is deducted a specific amount of points and each routine needs to have specific elements. This in turn creates a funnel effect where there is an optimal routine that gives the highest amount of points which incentivises gymnasts to choose particular skills.

In calisthenics, technique is still important, but the criteria is not so pedantic. In fact there is a certain amount of street cred that dirty tricks get. There is a fine line between cheating moves and smashing out dirty moves that is part of the calisthenics street workout community. 

The judging criteria is also different in calisthenics. Nor skills, nor deductions have predetermined points designated to them. In fact judges gives points arbitrarily and subjectively based on factors like uniqueness, difficulty, creativity and technique and overall crowd pleasing effect.  

Conclusion

There are a ton of difference between the elitism of gymnastics and the freedom of calisthenics. This reflects in the types of skills, the communities and the way the sports present themselves on the world stage. Gymnasts use equipment that’s generous and specifically designed for gymnastics. Calisthenics athletes – through practising at calisthenics parks using non-specific equipment – gain greater translatability in different environments. 

Written by Vic

Melbourne-based Personal Trainer, Calisthenics Athlete and the Founder of Street Workout St Kilda. Super passionate about bodyweight training and the art of movement.
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