What Burns Fat Better: Lifting Weights Or Calisthenics?

What Burns Fat Better: Lifting Weights Or Calisthenics?

I recently got into a bit of a debate with my friend Kyle who was planning a cutting phase. He managed to build up about 5 pounds of muscle weight over about 8 weeks of intense training. 

But when he took some body-fat measures using a caliper, he noticed that his BMI had actually increased by quite a bit.

A lot of this is due to the large volumes of calories he needed to support the bulking phase, but what we seemed to disagree on was a solution.

I suggested some calisthenics at the end of training and instead of cardio days, while he wanted to focus more on weights.

Ultimately, I think we came to a good conclusion. 

What Are Callisthenic Exercises?

The simplest way to describe them is as bodyweight exercises. You may not know them by their technical term, but I’d wager any bet that you have done them to a certain extent on a regular basis. 

Basically, if you ever do ab crunches, burpees, push-ups, pull-ups or anything that involves using your own bodyweight to increase strain, then you’re more than equipped to do more of them.

The reason these types of exercises have become so popular is that you can actually get to some very high-intensity levels at a gradual pace. 

And, of course, you really don’t need much equipment at all. Certainly not extensive machines, and with a yoga mat and a pull-up bar these exercises are a very good option for building strength. 

Calisthenics Vs Weights

Obviously, form a basic setup and execution point of view, there are significant differences between calisthenics and weight training. But you should not be looking at these options as one or the other.

Both have very precise benefits even when it comes to losing fat as part of a weight loss program or cutting phase. 

Let’s take a closer look at how both will help with getting rid of fat cells.


For the most part, you will find yourself in a lower heart rate zone while doing bodyweight training. However, this lower heart rate zone will specifically target fat for energy.

But that fat will only remain gone if your overall energy output has been maximized to drain your blood glucose and glycogen levels.

And one of the best ways to burn a load of energy in a short space of time is…

Weight Training

When you lift weights with low reps for maximum muscle growth, you’ll burn off a lot more calories than through pretty much any other training method; at least when you compare it based on the amount of time spent exercising. 

The more important aspect to consider is that during a cutting phase, you’ll actually have a calorie deficit, which will also have an impact on your muscle mass. For most bodybuilders, that’s just not going to be an option.

So, by maintaining a certain amount of weight training, you can burn the calories needed and make sure you don’t start to lose some mass.

The Importance Of Intensity

One mistake that so many people do is they take a kind of half-hearted approach to cutting. They think that a bit of light cardio and less food intake will work just fine. 

The problem is that once you stop exercising, the remaining blood glucose will immediately be redirected to restoring some lost fat cells. 

I know, it’s one of the biggest struggles for anyone with specific BMI targets in sight. 

Whether you just do calisthenics or a combination with weights, you have to make sure that you plan in regular high-intensity periods into your training sessions. 

The result will be a reduced chance of fat cells being replenished. 

Planning Based On Your Goals

This is where I managed to come to an agreement with Kyle over the debate on which types of exercises are best suited for fat burning.

Essentially it all boils down to your end goals for your physical appearance. 

Cutting For Maximum Muscle Definition

As already mentioned, the big problem during a cutting phase is that it can quickly happen that you lose some muscle mass in the process. This is certainly why you should keep a cutting phase to no more than a week or two.

During this time, you should focus a lot of attention on high-intensity calisthenics that mainly target the body areas where you want to get rid of some fat. 

By their very nature, these are compound exercises which can play in your favor for muscle building as they tend to release more growth hormone naturally. 

You should also plan to spend between 40% and 60% of your time lifting weights with similar sets and reps as you do during a bulking phase. This will help maintain the muscle mass and burn off a load of energy.

Losing Some Unwanted Padding

For those that aren’t too concerned about losing some muscle mass, the best solution is to maximize calisthenics with a mix of low and high-intensity routines. At the lower intensity, you can make sure that you burn as much fat as possible.

The higher intensity times will burn as much excess energy as possible and ensure that your body doesn’t have the resources to replenish the lost fat reserves.  


So, when it comes to deciding between calisthenics and weight training to increase fat loss, the solution is most likely going to be a combination of both. My own experience has been very positive with this approach.

These days, I only plan for 5 to 7 days of cutting. It’s still a very intense training period, but in my opinion, it’s one of the most effective and results-driven things you can do.