A lot of gym coaches and trainers would have you believe that lifting weights is the only way to get bigger and stronger. Other fitness experts argue that bodyweight training is a better way to train. So if you’re looking to start a new fitness routine, which one of these methods should you adopt?
Let’s look at the facts. Bodyweight training is less strenuous on your joints and moves your body through more natural ranges of motion. The exercises that require you to use only your body weight as resistance improve your core stability, athleticism and overall strength levels immensely because they do not restrict your movement. Exercises such as one-arm pushups and one-arm pull-ups require incredible total body strength and will train your physique better than an isolating movement such as a bench press.
Lots of people look down on bodyweight training because it is often associated with low resistance, high-repetition training. Lots of gym rats scoff at bodyweight exercises because they look at them as excuses to move lesser poundage. But if you look at gymnasts and martial artists, their physiques are a testament to the power of using only your bodyweight as resistance.
A lot of people start training bodyweights and then give up midway because they don’t have a proper program design. Most people think that these exercises are only a few sets of pushups and chin-ups. They stop training because in their minds, they’ve bought into the notion that muscles can’t be built without lifting heavy dumbbells. Admittedly, by themselves, a few sets of pushups and pull-ups won’t help you build a muscular physique. But there are dozens of advanced variations to every exercise that will keep you challenged for months or even years to come.
For example, the simple pushup progresses into the one-arm pushup, which then progresses to the planche pushup. The simple chin-up progresses into the one-arm chin-up. A simple headstand will eventually progress into a handstand pushup, which will build shoulder strength and size better and faster than any shoulder press. By the time you’re able to pull off these advanced variations of vanilla bodyweight exercises flawlessly, you will have incredible strength and core development, the likes of which you probably think are impossible to achieve. The biggest guys in most gyms, who squat with ungodly amounts of weight, aren’t able to pull off a single rep of pistol squats.
Bodyweight training is anything but easy. It’s easier to go to the gym, grab a pair of dumbbells and start doing military presses for your shoulder than it is to perform handstand pushups. But working up to the point where you’re able to do one of those properly takes tremendous strength and dedication. This is another reason why people don’t prefer to train with their bodyweight – there is nowhere to hide. The first time you look at a video on YouTube of someone doing one-arm pushups flawlessly, you’ll probably be tempted to try it. When you fall flat on your face in the middle of the first excruciating rep, you’ll probably not look at bodyweight training again. This is where your discipline and determination comes in. You have to stick through the tough times to hone your body into a muscular specimen.
Another reason why most people don’t prefer to train with their bodyweight is that it is difficult to track progress. In addition, as you get bigger, the bodyweight exercises get progressively tougher. It is easier to keep track of the weights you lifted in the gym last week since you get immediate feedback about your strength if you’re able to lift more in the gym this week.
Science supports the effectiveness of bodyweight training over other methods. Most fitness experts agree that pushups are more effective for pectoral development than bench presses. Chin-ups will build bigger biceps than dumbbell curls. Leg raises will build stronger, harder ab muscles than endless sets on ab machines. If you educate yourself about the proper progression routines for bodyweight exercises, you will see that they are better for building functional strength and athleticism than lifting weights in the gym.
This is not to say that traditional weight lifting is completely useless. There are a few basic compound movements that offer tremendous strength benefits. Exercises such as squats and deadlifts are fantastic full-body exercises that should be included in every fitness routine. A fully-rounded fitness routine should include a combination of bodyweight exercises and traditional weight lifting to make sure you gain the maximum benefits of both disciplines.