Strength Training: Bodyweight vs Lifting

Ways to increase your strength:

  • Bodyweight exercises like push-ups or squats, that require nothing but your body.
  • Free-weights, which requires some equipment.
  • Cardio work, such as running, to improve endurance.
  • Gym machines, which need a expensive equipment and are not as effective as bodyweight or free-weights equivalents.

Bodyweight Training

Bodyweight exercises are extremely convenient and effective. You don’t need any equipment or gym subscription, since you’ll be using your own body as your resistance.

Because they’re so simple, it’s easy to prevent injuries. If you’re new to strength training and still need some help with form on your exercises, bodyweight training is much more forgiving than most types of weightlifting.

Bodyweight exercises are also incredibly easy to modify to your ability level, whether you’re a recovering couch potato or world-class gymnast. They also allow you to develop better control and awareness.

You can build a great physique using nothing else but bodyweight exercises.

Free Weights

Free weight exercises are those done with dumbbells and barbells. Because they work your muscles and stabilizers, they’re great at building a strong, balanced physique.

These also help improve bone density, tendon strength and strengthen your metabolism.

Begin to see everyday movements as strength training opportunities. Every time you pick something up off the ground, you’re doing a mini-deadlift.

Specific exercises with loaded weights are ideal to strengthen muscular imbalances since it’s easier to target individual muscle groups; for this type of focus, free weights can be very efficient exercises.

If total-body workouts are more difficult for one area of your body, strengthen it with specific weighted exercises.

We’re often stronger with our dominant side, and specific, measurable reps and weights can quickly show you your relative strength per area of the body.

Weight Machines

Machines provide a specific range of motion and restrict your movements to avoid bad form. Because of this, they can be great for rehabilitation exercises. They’re also good for beginners. If you’re just getting into weightlifting, machines are a good place to start.

Machines can’t deliver the kind of full-body results you can get with bodyweight or free-weight exercises. Machines will typically isolate one muscle group, which is potentially dangerous as your strength builds up.

Once you have an observer (ideally a professional trainer) help you learn how to lift properly independent of machines, try to stop using machines your lifting engages your entire body, rather than a smaller, restricted area.

Dynamic Strength Training

Dynamic strength training is what happens in HIIT workouts, usually involving plyometrics, or quick, explosive motion.

These types of exercises engage your muscles explosively, at fairly light loads, effectively combining some plyometric concepts with the benefits of lifting weights.

Some examples include kettlebell swings and dumbbell cleans.

Weight Training Goals

We’ve covered the major weight training methods, but which one will work best for you? That depends on your goals. What is it you’re trying to accomplish most? Strength, size, or stability (endurance)?

Strength Focus

Training for strength is pretty simple. All you really need to do is focus on adding load and/or speed to an exercise. The simplest ways to do this are through bodyweight and free weight training.

No matter which type of training you choose, you will begin with light loads and slow speed.

Only increase difficulty if you can maintain proper form.

Your muscles will grow bigger as you increase the resistance, and recover properly from it through nutrition and rest.

To add load or speed

Bodyweight exercises

Load: Add static holds to your workout.

Speed: Incorporate plyometric exercises or perform movements faster once you have mastered form.

Weight Training Goals

We’ve covered the major weight training methods, but which one will work best for you? That depends on your goals. What is it you’re trying to accomplish most? Strength, size, or stability (endurance)?

Free weights

Load: Increase the weight on exercises, always keeping proper form

Speed: Perform movements faster at lighter weights

Two Sample Programs

Bodyweight Strength Training

The 8fit app provides fully customized workouts that adapt to you. Here’s an example of how a typical workout could look like:

Bodyweight (or pistol) Squats
3 sets of as many reps as possible

Pull-ups
3 sets of as many reps as possible

Push-ups
3 sets of as many reps as possible

Handstand Push-ups (or holds)
3 sets of as many reps as possible

Plank
3 sets of at least 20 seconds

Free Weight Strength Training: Sample Program

Front Squat or Back Squat
3 sets of 5 reps

Deadlift
3 sets of 5 reps

Flat Barbell Bench Press
3 sets of 5 reps

Standing Barbell Military Press
3 sets of 5 reps

How to Train for Size

To add size, often you need to eat more calories than you burn to support the muscle growth.

You can be incredibly strong without looking “ripped”, but training is a crucial piece of the puzzle as well. Focus on adding volume over speed or load. Your ultimate goal is induce as much hypertrophy as possible, and then build that muscle back up. Because of this, free weights and machines are often most effective.

Sample routine: Build Bulk

Monday: Chest, Shoulders

Incline Barbell or Dumbbell Bench Press
– 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Fly Machine
– 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Seated Dumbbell Military Press
– 4 sets of 10-12 reps

One Arm Cable Lateral Raise
– 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Wednesday: Back, Arms

Bent-over Barbell Rows
– 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Lat Pulldowns
– 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Cable Curls
– 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Friday: Legs, Abs

Back or Front Squats
– 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Leg Curls
– 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Calf Raises
– 4 sets of 12-15 reps

How to Train for Endurance

Weight training naturally builds strength, but it can also build muscular endurance by focusing on more volume and less load. This is where dynamic weight training shines!

Sample Endurance Workout

Complete as many rounds as possible in 5, 10, 15, or 20 minutes; go for as long as you safely can until you’re winded.

Common Weight Training Myths

Myth: “It’s not possible to build muscle and increase strength with bodyweight exercises.”

Truth: It’s definitely possible! If there’s a will, there’s a way. Once you mastered the form, you simply need to increase the load of the exercises by changing the leverage to build strength. You can improve your power by working more quickly and by completing exercises at maximum effort. Increase the volume and up your calories to be sure your muscles have what they need to get bigger.

Myth: “Lifting weights will make you bulky.”

Truth: It is true that weight lifting can make you bulky, however, it depends entirely on the programming and caloric intake. Lifting weights isn’t necessarily what makes people bulky, food is what makes people bulky (whether they workout or not). For example, muscle gain training paired with high calorie intake will increase your muscle size. But, there are other goals that you can achieve by lifting weights — you can increase strength as well as muscular endurance without increasing the size of your muscles. There are also a number of health benefits from lifting weights, including stronger joints, bone density and postural alignment, just to name a few.

So, it is a myth that weight lifting alone makes you bulky, as food plays a major role in weight gain or loss. Although it’s true that some specific lifting weight programs are meant to promote muscle gain and increase bulkiness, food is what makes people bulky.

Myth: “Lifting weights is bad for your joints.”

Truth: Lifting weights can actually help strengthen joints! Lifting weights with proper sets of repetitions, makes the connective tissues that stabilize your joints stronger. However, if you have serious joint trouble, please see a physical therapist and don’t try to rehab yourself.

Myth: “All weight training will give you the same results.”

Truth: There are several functions that your muscles perform that can be improved through weight training. For example, your muscles can be strong, bulky, fast, powerful, agile or possess great stamina. It’s entirely possible to train specifically to improve each of these physical qualities separately.

Evidence-based research in the field of sports science clearly demonstrates that specificity has a big impact on results. With the proper amount of sets and reps, with the proper load, and with specific training technique, it’s possible to increase the volume of muscle (hypertrophy), increase strength, increase power and explosiveness (plyometrics), or increase speed, agility, coordination, and endurance of muscles.

Obstacles with Weight Training Methods

While the weight training methods we’ve presented today are certainly helpful, there are obstacles that we want you to be aware of no matter what goal you have or strategy you choose.

Bodyweight

It is difficult to increase resistance, but not impossible! You can do it by putting your body at a more disadvantageous position to increase leverag

Free weights

A gym membership or a purchase of equipment is necessary. Remember to have a sound strategy to get perfect form.

Machines

Gym membership is usually necessary for these as well, unless you are lucky enough to be able to afford them.

Dynamic

These aren’t always easy for beginners. They become especially difficult when working quickly under a time limit, and form can be an issue if you get too excited and hyperextend. Always do dynamic strength training mindfully.

Weight training does take some consideration, but it’s not rocket science. Use what you’ve learned here to kickstart your journey to better strength, size, or endurance as you like. 8fit is here for you, and we’ll continue to create customized plans to help you achieve specific goals.