Which is better, bodyweight exercise or weights?
The argument between bodyweight exercise enthusiasts and weight lifters has raged on for years. BW exercisers say that when you lift heavy weights over a long period of time, it ends up destroying your body.
But weight lifters point to well established research and say, “You can’t get bigger when you lift just your own body weight. You need to progressively overload the muscle with weights.”
So who’s right? Is one system really better than the other?
Well, it depends on your goals.
If your goal is to get as big as humanly possible, and to be able to lift as much weight as possible, then weight lifting will be the better path for you.
If your goal is to develop whole body strength and specific skills such as the handstand, planche, or front lever, then bodyweight exercises will be a more effective method.
Of course you can also cross train. Do a little of both and get the best of both worlds. But that’s outside the scope of this article. We’re talking about the areas where bodyweight exercises are a better choice than weight lifting for your specific goals.
Let’s get right to the list. Drum roll please…
9 Reasons I Choose Bodyweight Exercises Over Weight Lifting
1. Builds “Whole Body” Strength – When you use bodyweight exercise as a tool to build strength, you typically choose exercises that involve the whole body. The supporting muscles are used as synergists to help you perform the movement. There are exercises in weight lifting that have a similar effect, but not as many.
2. Harder to Get Injured – One of the biggest reasons I like bodyweight exercises more than weight lifting is that they dramatically decrease the likelihood of injury. When you use a certain amount of weight as your determining factor for your set, it becomes very easy to go too far. When you rely on ability (as in BW exercise) as your determining factor, it’s much more difficult to injure yourself.
3. Allows For Tremendous Creativity – Now obviously this one is up for argument (and I certainly welcome it). But bodyweight exercise allows for tremendous creativity when it comes to combining movements together to create a “flow” or kata. That’s essentially what yoga is: a flowing combination of bodyweight exercises. The flowing nature of this type of movement can help the practitioner to reach a meditative state that rejuvenates the mind and body.
4. Improves Your Balance – I used to teach Tai Chi. The number one reason that older people joined my class was because they wanted to improve their balance. Balance is one of the fastest things to go as we age, and we really must use it or lose it. Lifting weights may help to maintain your balance somewhat, but safe weight training doesn’t put you in the sort of positions that challenge your balance like bodyweight exercise does.
5. Greater Convenience – This is one of the most common and well known benefits of bodyweight training. No matter where you are or where you go, you always have your own body. And so you never need a gym to train. Just drop to the ground and start banging out some push ups!
6. They Sometimes Seem To Defy Gravity – Moves like the planche, front lever and human flag seem to defy the very existence of gravity. Want to amaze your family and friends with these moves? They’re all trained with bodyweight exercise.
7. Strengthen The Core With Every Move – A strong core will help prevent injury in your low back and other areas of the body. 99% of the bodyweight exercises you perform will be strengthening the core as a stabilizer muscle.
8. Improve Flexibility While You Build Strength – I certainly don’t subscribe to the “muscle bound” fear that many women (and some men) have about lifting weights. And I know plenty of body builders who are actually very flexible. The key difference is that bodyweight exercises will help improve your flexibility without additional stretching. Take the Diver Bomber, for example. When you’re going forward and backward you aren’t just building strength. You’re also working through a wide range of motion for your shoulders, spine and hips.
9. Much Less Expensive – This is a no-brainer. A gym membership costs around $55/month on average, which amounts to $600/year. And even if you go the home gym route, you still need to purchase heavier and heavier weights as you get stronger. How much does it cost you to use your own bodyweight? Nothing at all.
There are many more reasons why bodyweight exercises are better than weight lifting, but these are my Top 9.
Now, I want to state once more that I am NOT saying weight training is bad or ineffective. It’s incredibly effective for building strength.
My point is that resistance training is resistance training, whether you’re pushing your bodyweight against the ground or raising a bar away from your chest. You don’t need a gym membership to get in shape.
And depending on your goals, sometimes bodyweight exercise can be much more effective than slinging iron.