Who in their right mind would go to the gym to do body weight training?! Who on earth would pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars to go to the gym and train with weights?!
You’ve probably heard this conversation before between two fitness fanatics. One loves the feel of actual weights in their hand, and the fight against resistance outside the body. The other swears point blank that weights are bad for you and body weight is the only way to go. Both are convinced they’re right and won’t listen to a word the others are saying. But I’m not one of those people. I’m not going to take sides. I think both of them are important and if you don’t have both of them in your workout, to varying degrees, you’re probably not getting the most out of your workouts. As I said, I’m not going to take sides, but I’ll attempt to highlight some of the benefits of each. We’ll start out by looking at body weight training.
Body Weight Training
Body weight resistance training, or calisthenics, as it’s called these days, is all about moving your body through space in a strong, stable, powerful manner. Typical body weight exercises include the pushup, the pullup, the body weight squat, the handstand pushup, the plank and the leg raise. Each of these exercises involve training your body to move in the way that God created it to move. For the pushup, you’re learning to contract your chest muscles, stabilize your core and lower your body to the ground before ascending again. For the leg raise, your learning to contract your core and hips and lift your legs in front of you in the air.
Great for Beginners
Body weight exercises are great for beginner athletes. If you’ve never really done weights before, and you don’t feel strong enough yet to try and lift things outside of your body, body weight training can help prepare you to get there. For example, if you wanna prep yourself for the barbell back squat, you might start off with doing a few sets of 10 – 20 reps of body weight squats to practice the correct form and learn how to tighten your legs and core. Then when you get to actually putting weight on your shoulders, your body will be more familiar with the movement, and it’ll be easier to then add weight onto the squat.
Body weight exercises are also really good if you’re wanting to stay flexible and agile. One of the much criticized flaws of weight training is that, because it’s putting unnatural stress on your body, your muscles have to adjust the way that they contract to compensate for the weight, and as a result, they become less flexible over time. You can easily see this with a lot of pro bodybuilders. Ask them to do a handstand or to bend over backwards and they’ll probably just fall in a heap on the ground. This is because they’ve trained their muscles to move in specific ways, and they’ve lost some flexibility and agility as a result.
Body weight training is also very inexpensive- both in terms of money and in terms of time. In fact, you don’t really need any equipment at all to have an effective body weight workout- maybe just a bar or a ledge that you can hang from. You don’t need to buy a gym membership or have a room set aside in your house as the “weight training” room. You can do most body weight exercises anywhere and at any time. You can use your lounge, your backyard, heck you can even use your bathroom (I’ve actually seen guys do handstand pushups on the toilet bowl- you just have to be good at holding your breath lol)!! And because you don’t need a designated place to workout, you probably won’t spend as much time working out if you’re doing body weight exercises. This is great for you business professionals with hectic work schedules!
As you can see, body weight training has lots of benefits. I haven’t given you an exhaustive list, just some of the main benefits. Used properly, body weight training can be great for maintaining flexibility, building strength and saving time and money. Now let’s have a look at weight training.
Weight training is all about building strength and power by lifting heavy objects around you. Typical weight exercises include the squat, the deadlift, the barbell row, the bench press and the clean and jerk or variations of those movements. Although it’s not quite as natural as body weight training, weights (particularly free weights) are also natural movements. For the deadlift, your training your body to correctly lift heavy obstacles around you. This translates directly into being able to pick up heavy boxes or bend down and pick up your kids. For the bench press, you’re learning to contract your chest and tricep muscles to push things powerfully away from you, like one of your mates when he’s being an idiot lol.
Great for Incremental Gains
Weight training is great for progressive strength building. I said earlier that body weight training is great for beginners, but I was referring specifically to basic body weight exercises like the pushup and the pull up. Since you can really increase the weight on your push up by 1.25 kg increments, in order to increase strength through body weight training, you have to do harder variations of the same exercise. So, for example, if you go to the stage where push ups are really easy for you, then you might move on to incline pushups or one-arm pushups. But there’s quite a gap between these advanced moves and their more basic variations. With weights, however, you can gradually increase the resistance almost indefinitely, and continue to get strong at the same movements. It’s very motivating when you can go to the gym and add on a couple of kilograms to your max squat or deadlift almost every time you lift. It’s not quite the same when doing body weight training.
Build Strength in Core Movements
Weight training is really good for getting strong at certain movements. So if you’re trying to increase your vertical jump or get closer to dunking a basketball (I respect that by the way), progressively increasing the resistance on your squat is going to have an almost direct correlation with improvement in your vertical jump. If you’re trying to build out your shoulders, then steadily making gains on the overhead press is going to cause muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth) in your shoulders. Depending on the kind of movements that you’re doing, weights can help you to get really strong at them.
Weights Are Great If You Aren’t in Shape Yet
Another benefit of weight training is that you don’t really have to be in great shape to use them. What I mean by this is that, to do a proper pull up, you need to have the back and bicep strength to move your whole body through space. If you’re just starting out, though, this might be an almost impossible feat. Instead, you might start with the dumbbell or barbell row, or the lat pull down machine and then steadily increase the weight until you’re capable of lifting the equivalent of your whole body. With weight training, you can be extremely overweight, and still be able to lift fine. I’ve seen lots of guys that are 40+ kgs (100 pounds) overweight that can still do plenty of exercises with weights. But if you asked them to get down and do 10 pushups, they’d probably really struggle.
Weight training is great if you’re not in the best shape at the moment, or if you’re wanting to make small, incremental gains over time. It’s also very useful if you’re trying to get really strong and powerful at a few core exercises.
Body Weight or Weights?
I’ve explained to you some of the benefits of body weight training and some of the benefits of weight training. At the beginning of this article, I said that I think both different types of resistance training have their place in your workouts, and if you’re not using both, you’re probably not getting the most out of your workouts. What do I mean by that? Well, for starters, weight training (especially free weight training) is essentially adding external resistance to body weight movements. So for the squat, you’re doing a body weight squat, but you’re also adding weight onto your shoulders. For the bench press, your doing a push movement from your chest (much like a push up) but adding weight to the equation. If you’re not doing these basic movements, I wouldn’t have a clue how you’re even working out?!
A Mixture is Often Best
There’s also some exercises that can’t be easily transferred from weight training to body weight training and back. For example, it’s really difficult to come up with a body weight movement that works your upper traps (behind the neck muscles). You’d have to do something like an upside down pull up (not that easy to do by the way!) in order to work those muscles with a body weight exercise. But you can easily target those muscles with weight training. On the other hand, you just don’t get the same kind of strength from using the lat pull down machine as you do from doing proper body weight pull ups. You should use a mixture of body weight training and weight training to get the most out of your workouts. Obviously, if you’re pressed for time though, there’s nothing wrong with doing a few pull ups and squat jumps at home. And, by the same token, if you’re quite overweight, you might struggle to do push ups and pull ups, so weight training will probably work best for you.
Body weight training and weight training both have a place in your workouts. For some people, body weight training will be more beneficial for them based on what they want to get out of it. For some people, weight training will be better. It’s up to you and what you’re trying to achieve. But by incorporating both of them to varying degrees, you’ll find you can get more out of your workouts and can achieve your fitness and health goals faster.
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