Like any form of resistance training bodyweight exercise is a great method of burning fat, building lean muscle and improving strength. Is it the holy grail of strength training? Nope, but nothing is. Resistance is resistance whether it comes in the form of weight plates, kettlebells, bands or your own bodyweight. The magnitude of resistance applied to the muscles, the number of muscles stimulated and how the resistance is moved will determine the training effect derived.
Whilst I am a huge proponent of bodyweight exercise I am also the first to admit it's not without its drawbacks. In this duo of articles I want to examine the primary advantages and disadvantages of bodyweight training, beginning with the negatives.
PROGRESS IS NON-LINEAR
When using barbells and dumbbells you can progressively overload any given exercise with small, incremental increases in weight. This makes it easy to stay in the desired rep ranges of a particular workout as you get stronger. Using bodyweight exercises you can achieve a similar overload effect by adjusting the biomechanics of a certain movement. A simple example would be performing a push up on a progressively shallower incline. The lower you go, the greater the load on your working muscles. In theory this sounds good, but in reality it is far from perfect. Progress tends to be non-linear which basically means the leap from one exercise variation to the next can be bigger than your current strength levels allow. For sure you can use things like weighted vests to help bridge these gaps but its certainly not as simple as adding plates to a bar.
BODY DIMENSIONS CAN WORK AGAINST YOU
When you start using more advanced bodyweight progressions the difficulty stems from putting joints and muscles into disadvantageous positions. For certain individuals with long levers this reduction in biomechanical advantage makes some bodyweight exercise progressions extraordinarily difficult. Granted this is not a problem unique to bodyweight training as even when lifting weights different body types will tend to excel at different movements but it is a challenge nonetheless.
LIMITED LOWER BODY STRENGTH CHALLENGE
It is perfectly possible to maintain strong, fit and healthy legs using nothing but your own bodyweight. However if you are interested in maximising your lower body strength potential you are probably going to have to look beyond bodyweight training. This is where bars, dumbbells, and kettlebells can come into play.
MOVEMENTS ARE HARDER IF YOU ARE HEAVY
Fairly obvious. Performing a pull up is going to be a lot harder if you are carrying too much extra timber. Of course, there are easier progressions of every exercise which even the heaviest among us can perform effectively but for certain individuals other forms of resistance training might be a better entry point, particularly in the realm of upper body exercise.
END GOAL CONFUSION
Would you train like Rafael Nadal if you wanted to enjoy a weekly game of tennis with your friends? Probably not. It would be overkill and you would likely hurt yourself. Sounds ridiculous yet in the world of bodyweight training this is exactly what many people end up doing. I love watching elite gymnasts at work, the feats these folks perform are simply insane. However, lets not forget a lifetime of dedicated training has gone into producing these skills under the guidance of world class coaches. Like any elite athlete they take their body to the edge of its capabilities and flirt with injury on a regular basis. If performing these skills is your end-goal then absolutely go for it. But for those of us who just want to look good and feel good pursuing advanced gymnastic moves may not be the wisest (or safest) course of action when a diet of simpler bodyweight exercises and progressive overload will do.
That’s it for the negatives, in the follow up article I will counter this one with the positives!