I’m So Confused: Do I Do Weight Training or Bodyweight Training?

There is a question about bodyweight training that sometimes creates an agitation or conflict within the psyches of exercise aficionados. They think they have to do either weight training or bodyweight training as if each is a religion unto itself. They are not belief systems.

By Alex Miller

There is a question about bodyweight training that sometimes creates an agitation or conflict within the psyches of exercise aficionados.  They think they have to do either weight training or bodyweight training as if each is a religion unto itself.  They are not belief systems.

I personally do both weight training and bodyweight training.  The weight training enables me to better push and pull and move around weighty objects.  The bodyweight training makes me more efficient in moving and pulling and pushing my own body around.

Some Beneficial Features of Bodyweight Training:

1) Different types of flexibility exercises.

2)Pretend you’re in boot camp.

3)Only equipment is your body–you have no reason to not train.

4) Mountain climbers, crab walking, alligator walking are missing
link between strength and cardio.

5)  Beginners can do half squats, “knee” push-ups and arm hangs.

6) Increase the difficulty with one armed, one legged exercises, handstand pushups.

7) Core fitness to continue on with other training disciplines.

8)The world is your gym.

 In Favor of Bodyweight Training:

Some have described bodyweight training as being for muscular endurance (cardio) and not for strength but bodyweight exercises can be extremely challenging.  It doesn’t have to be only traditional push-ups and pull-ups and free hand squats.  All bodyweight exercises have a way of streamlining your body and movements and can transform you into being cat-like.

All of these types of exercises are what are called closed kinetic chain (CKC) exercises, that is, the main characteristic here is that the hand(s) for upper body movements and feet for lower body movements do not move; they are fixed in space either resting on or gripping some kind of surface.   The exercises are almost always multi-joint (compound exercises) meaning that more than one joint is used in their operation.  Some say bodyweight exercises are safer but anyone who has tried to learn planche push-ups too fast can attest to a painful rotator cuff injury so I would emphasize going slowly with some exercises.

This type of training is perfect for a group and boot camp scenarios in either a large room or an open air environment.  No one needs any type of equipment of their own except for perhaps chair or bar dips and a chin-up bar but dips and chins can be done in group assembly line fashion with no plates to be put on or taken off.  Everyone uses the weight of their own body.

There are bodyweight weight calisthenics for virtually every physical function you can think of whether it be twisting, pushing, pulling or jumping.  There are even total body mobility movements:  Alligator walking where you walk around belly down (prone) on all fours with your arms and legs stretched out and crab walking where you walk around supine on all fours with your belly up will strengthen you as well as work your heart.

Beginners to strength training can start off doing push-ups on their knees.  If they don’t have the flexibility to go completely down to the bottom for a free hand squat then they can start off with a half squat.  Can’t do a chin-up?  Fine, just hang down for as long as you can and keep trying to pull up.  Once in awhile do negative chins where, using a chair to get your chin to the bar, then emphasize going down slowly for one rep.  Before no time you’ll be doing multiple reps.

Want to make it harder?  How about trying one arm push-ups and one legged squats (called pistols)?  If you can perform a one arm chin then you are a beast and should be locked up.

Cons (against) Bodyweight Training:

Those who hate on bodyweight training say that you always lift the same weight and there is no objective way to quantify your strength.  You can always use a weighted vest or tie a weight plate around your waist but the argument still holds and wouldn’t your dips and chins then be classified as weight training?

You can mimic with body weight training virtually any movement you can do with weights and so exercise the same muscle groups.  There are, however, no such exercises equivalent to deadlifts, cleans and snatches.

Some Beneficial Features of Weight Training:

1)Easier to get pumped up muscles.

2)Confidence in moving furniture more easily.

3)Enables lateral movements into power lifting and weightlifting, bodybuilding.

4)Therapeutic using light weight for high reps.

5)Bragging rights to competitive fitness (I can squat more than you).

6)Deadlifts and Olympic lifts cannot be duplicated with any other exercise.

7)Your competition uses it.

8)Possible to get massively strong.

9)Olympic weight lifters are the fastest athletes and they have the highest jumps.

In Favor of Weight Training:

You will tend to get bigger muscles with weight training.  The reason behind this is relatively simple:  Let us call it counterweight adaptation, meaning, bodyweight exercises will tend to streamline your physique whereas lifting external weights will cause an equal and opposite adaptation response over time in which you’ll get bigger muscles to counter balance the weights being used.

Of course if you’re a woman, you may not want bigger muscles unless you are a female bodybuilder.

Hypertrophy in the form of significant muscle mass is relatively easy to achieve.  Keep the rep range of an exercise between 8-12, perform 3-5 sets and workout at least twice a week.  Throw in adequate recovery and nutrition, add a little bit of weight on the bar at regular intervals and you’ll get as much development as your genetics will allow.  The amount of weight you use is a direct substantiation to how strong you are.  If you are lifting more than 2 months ago you have gotten stronger.  Eat a lot of good food, lift heavy on squats, deadlifts, benches, presses and rows and you’ll get massively big and strong.

If you can do 100 push-ups you are certainly strong for yourself but if you can bench 300 lbs. you are strong for the world.  As a wrestler doing only calisthenics, you may be able to run circles around your competition but when your opponent (the weight trainer) pulls on you, you’d better be able to pull back against his force if needed.

There is a conception that weight training makes an athlete slower.  This happens only if you train slowly.  Among athletes of different sports, Olympic weight lifters constantly test as the fastest sprinters and highest jumpers because they train explosive power into their central nervous systems with the movements they master.

Friends and family will ask you to help lift the heavy stuff when they move.  They may reward your efforts with pizza.

Against Weight Training:

The haters of weight training say that you will indeed get bigger muscles lifting weights but you will also become slow and egotistical.  You will become a hypertrophic, protein-dependent, muscle bound ape with little aerobic capacity.


Unfortunately, gyms are full of gym rats that use up their time with only cosmetic exercises. After they pump up their biceps and chest and put a shirt on, one would think they were smuggling four cantaloupes.  They end up with a miniscule amount of real world functional strength.

Members of the bodyweight/calisthenic cult may tell you that many weight exercises are unstable because many are classified as open kinetic chain (OKC) exercises.  The more weight you put on the barbell, the more prone you will be to injury.


As was said at the beginning, the two systems of exercise are not two different belief systems nor are they two things of the same kind.  One is like apples, the other, oranges.   It’s good to be adept at moving and pushing around your own body weight as it is also cool to be able to move around heavy things.  Although I framed this article as a type of debate, there is, in actuality, no real substantive debate between weight training and bodyweight exercises.  You should think in terms of specificity and do both for what you need to do.

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