Is Bodyweight Training Enough?

Good news for anyone who’s ever wondered if bodyweight training is enough: it ABSOLUTELY is!

You can be active and hit the home gym even if you don’t have any equipment. Bodyweight training utilizes compound movements like planks, which unites all the major muscles groups for a full-body workout. Some of the biggest draws to bodyweight training are that it is inexpensive and suitable for any fitness level. Whether you’ve just got bitten by the fitness bug or you’re invested in self-improvement, there’s a bodyweight training program for you.

However, with all this bodyweight hype, you may still wonder if it is enough for every home gym rat. Can you meet and exceed your toning, bulking and weight loss needs with just the meat on your bones—or do you need to mix in a little weight to help push you over the finish line?

Let’s dig a little deeper and figure out if bodyweight training is right for you.


What is Bodyweight Training?

Bodyweight training is self-explanatory—using your body’s own weight as resistance to torch calories and get into shape. These are the most common exercises associated with bodyweight training:

  • Calisthenics: An old term that’s the underpinning of just about every training program. Calisthenics is about using your bodyweight to perform compound movements like lunges, jumping jacks, planks, pullups, pushups or squats to build total body strength.

  • Plyometrics: Are high-impact exercises that rely on explosive push, pull or jumping movements—also known as stretch-shortening cycle (SSC)—for a more effective workout. Akin to calisthenics, you’ll find many of these exercises woven into HIIT workouts. Plyometrics aim is forcing your muscles to perform at max force, via your stretch reflex (think box jumps); the stretch from lengthening your quads (bent knees) and shortening (contraction with the second jump) produce an explosive movement. 

  • Bodyweight Training vs. Resistance Training: What’s the Difference?

    At face value, the difference between bodyweight and resistance training is simple: weights. To have resistance, you need dumbbells, weighted vests or any piece of gym equipment; as compared to just your bodyweight. Easy enough. The next question is: is one better than the other?


    Bodyweight Training

    Bodyweight training is about working your muscles in tandem in a way that challenges your body enough that you continue to burn calories and build muscle.

    But for the exerciser wanting to get really developed muscle definition or bulk up, bodyweight training alone may have a short shelf life without at least some equipment (like a Step Riser or Challenger Bars) to help you use gravity to provide more resistance.

    Take the decline push-up, for example, as shown below.

    By using a step riser, you’re working slightly different muscle groups than a standard push-up, putting more of a load on the anterior deltoids (front shoulders). Thus, gravity gives you extra resistance for this muscle group without you haven’t to technically use additional weights.

    It’s also important to mix things up as much as possible to avoid hitting fitness plateaus. Shy of hiring a personal trainer, try a subscription to BR+, which features tons of bodyweight workouts for all fitness levels. Sign up for a free month trial of BR+ now. No risk!


    Here are some huge benefits of bodyweight training:

      • Less is more: You can condense a lot of killer moves into a short time period and still experience some serious gains—hence, why we love HIIT.
  • Hello, EPOC: HIIT and EPOC go together like workouts and cooldown stretches. HIIT is a great way to crank up your ol’ ticker for continued calorie burning long after you’ve put your sneakers away.
  • Suitable for Anyone: Whatever your fitness level, bodyweight training can complement any exercise routine. Bodyweight training for beginners is about building strength while for novice and beyond it’s good to mix into your training schedule, just be sure to perform more challenging movements like clap push-ups for best results.
  • Flexibility & Strength: It’s not just strength that you’ll build by leveraging your bodyweight, it also improves flexibility, balance and core strength. By virtue of the fact you’re relying on compound movements, you’re improving your range of motion which will make your muscles more flexible. This will help your balance and engage and tighten up your core—especially when doing push-ups or planks.
  • Prevents Injuries: Our bodies are designed for movement so when we engage our bodies in regular activity, the flexibility will help protect you from injury. In fact, if you’re injury-prone or require rehabilitation it’s recommended you save the weights for later and start off with (or stay with) bodyweight training. 


  • The drawbacks to bodyweight training and why it shouldn’t be the ONLY exercise you do throughout the week are:

  • Overtraining: You don’t want to learn this one the hard way, trust us. Once you’ve earned yourself the beginner’s badge of excellence and started on your fitness journey—check out our How to Build a Fitness Routine for more details—you can no longer rely exclusively on HIIT. You want to dial back the HIIT from 4x a week to 1-2x a week and mix in some strength training, and of equal importance, rest, functional training and active recovery days.
  • Not as Effective on Lower Body: Bodyweight training often falls short on creating lean mass in your legs—the largest muscle group. Without question doing squat reps and lunges are tough but at some point, without added weight, you’ll plateau because your glorious glutes are so powerful that they crave a good challenge.
  • Limited Progressive Overload or Hypertrophy: Following along with the last point, after you’ve been training while, bodyweight training alone may not be enough to burnout your muscles. Your muscles, like your mind, are always learning and evolving, so at some point, your ever-evolving bodyweight exercises will fail to exhaust your muscles. No progressive overload means stagnation, and that means no gains. The same can be said about hypertrophy; you want bulging muscles then you’re going to need weights to tucker out those biceps.

  • Resistance Training

     

    Weight training, strength training, resistance training—whatever you call it—is all about toning and gaining lean mass. (And remember: just because you train with weights doesn’t mean you’ll get huge, especially if you’re a woman. Women lack the hormones to gain bulk easily.) 

    However, if you really want to develop more defined muscle and transition to a more advanced fitness level, then you’re going to need more than just your bodyweight; you’re going to have to challenge your body with weights.

    When you put pressure on a muscle doing reps, this burnout will break down the muscle and during recovery, it'll regrow stronger and bigger than before. Yes, you can do this with bodyweight workouts, but again, you’ll eventually plateau. So if your ultimate fitness goal is to tone, familiarize yourself with progressive overload: overtime, increasing your reps and or weight for stronger muscles.

    If your goal is to look like The Hulk or Arnie back in his heyday, on the other hand, you’ll want to achieve a state of hypertrophy which means more reps, less weight and less time in between intervals.

    We could go on and on about the perks of resistance training but suffice it to say that if your fitness goals include getting crazy definition or bulking up then bodyweight training is not enough on its own. You’re going to need a couple of days a week dedicated to weight training.


    The Sweet Spot

    We’ve covered a lot of the fundamentals on both bodyweight training and resistance training but what we really want to nail down is how beneficial both are when used together. There is a sort of harmony between bodyweight days and weight days. Independently they both work towards building full-body strength but together, synergistically, they can accelerate your fitness expectations. Bodyweight training improves flexibility, builds core strength and overall endurance while resistance training builds more lean muscle mass..

    Ultimately, whether bodyweight training is enough for you depends on your fitness goals. Figure out your why—weight loss, toning, bulking or being active—and then build your fitness schedule around your goal; for some bodyweight will be enough, while for others it won’t be.

    For beginners that aren’t interested in gaining a ton of lean mass, bodyweight training is made for you. But for those of you that want to up your home gym game and want superhero definition and strength, then you’ll need both bodyweight and resistance training each and every week.

    Ready to get started?


    Bodyweight Workout Playlist

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