Looking to get in shape? Find that elusive curve to your biceps? Or just lifting your notebook-stuffed backpack without toppling over?
The perfect workout comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s different for everyone. That being said, you’ve probably considered going to a gym. You’ve probably heard people boasting about how much they can bench press (*cough* my cousins *cough*) or sharing various weight-lifting P.R.s.
However, especially after the pandemic hit, bodyweight workouts began to gobble up the limelight. No more gym! No more equipment! People began doing “calisthenics,” a fancy term for exercises like pushups, squats and planks. No COVID-exposure necessary: all you need is yourself. But can bodyweight exercises really hold up against weight training? More importantly, do they get results? Let’s compare the two.
Getting started (Winner: Both)
In general, people enjoy the straightforwardness of weight training. You walk in and are greeted by rows upon rows of equipment and machines: there are dozens of options and difficulty levels laid out for the intrepid exerciser.
Richard Tidmarsh, strength coach and owner of Reach Fitness London, told Men’s Fitness, “Going into a gym and seeing the weights and the cable machines is almost like ‘follow the yellow brick road.’”
On the other hand, athletes may find themselves lost with just a yoga mat to guide them on their bodyweight journey! That being said, some quick research on YouTube and Darebee.com can help you find a workout within minutes. Personally, I’ve found the sweet spot with a mix of the following YouTube channels:
Beginners can start with Group HIIT, which offers exercises for all fitness levels and “cat-cow” along with Yoga With Bird. If you’re looking for some intense but rewarding YouTube regimens, take a look at MadFit, which focuses on whole-body home workouts (and includes light dumbbells from time to time), and Sanne Vloet, who offers not only pilates workouts but dietary and lifestyle advice.
And if you’re looking for some heart-stopping exercises (be warned!), try exercising with Pamela Reif and growingannanas, two women who power through dozens of pushups and squat jumps while smiling all the way through. Or pack on some muscle with Bullyjuice and Funk Roberts, who offer more male-oriented workouts.
Note: Although most of these channels are geared towards home workouts that don’t require equipment, they usually offer weighted workouts for those looking to use their dumbbells and resistance bands.
Cost and convenience (Winner: Bodyweight)
As stated previously, bodyweight workouts require very little outlay. Theoretically, you could drop this article and start doing push-ups on the ground — that’s a bodyweight workout! Calisthenics, yoga and pilates are great for beginners who are uncertain about making a commitment to gym memberships or purchasing equipment. Many bodyweight workout aficionados have, at most, a pair of trusty sneakers and a yoga mat. Since bodyweight workouts can be done at home, introverts can sweat their hearts out without having to come into contact with another human creature. Win-win.
Targeting muscle groups (Winner: Weight training)
According to Kristen Nunez at Healthline, “the concentrated load [of weight-lifting] can make it easier to increase the size of specific muscle groups.”
It should be no surprise that hanging ankle weights on your legs will isolate your leg muscles, or shoulder-pressing a barbell over your head will build strength in your shoulders. Therefore, people searching for those “ripped biceps” may be better off doing arm curls with their favorite dumbbell.
Overall physique (Winner: Bodyweight)
Calisthenics focuses more on whole-body movements, appealing to those who want a toned physique overall. It’s often called more “functional” since it involves a larger range of motion and improves flexibility. The infamous plank, for example, involves one hovering over the ground in a semi-pushup stance. It focuses on one’s core, which one tenses to keep themselves steady, forearms, which keep the body lifted from the ground, and the shoulders, neck and back. Talk about a well-rounded workout!
Bulking and calorie-burning (Winner: Weight training)
In a twelve-week study done by two identical twins, in which one (Hugo Turner) did weight training and the other (Ross Turner) used his own body weight, Hugo Turner had the most impressive results. Even in non-weighted tests, such as pull-ups, the weightlifter was able to improve his performance by a startling 185%.
Tidmarsh, the aforementioned strength coach, said, “Huge gains like this are part and parcel of a weighted training program.” The best thing about weight training: it makes everyday activities feel much easier. Personally, after doing weighted arm workouts for a few weeks, my backpack felt so much lighter that I thought I forgot to pack something.”
As Tidmarsh put it, “You get yourself strong, so that when you haven’t got weights you feel light.”
Not only that, the increased muscle mass that comes from weight-lifting helps burn more calories. Muscle is calorically expensive. In brief, if you have more lean muscle, then your body will burn more calories throughout the day—even if you’re just reading a book!
Least risk of injury (Winner: Bodyweight)
Going back to the twins’ study, Hugo Turner (the weightlifter) noted that he felt more aches and pains. As weight-lifting involves less movement than burpees or pushups, his flexibility also took a toll. His results were not unexpected: putting so much extra pressure on muscles for an extended period of time causes inflammation and a phenomenon called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
At the same time, Ross Turner, the bodyweight twin, said, “I was very much pain-free.”
Take the burpee, for example. Although in this bodyweight move, one leaps in the air, kicks back to a plank, sinks down into a pushup, then rockets back up for another go, the whole body is invested in keeping the move going. Since work is distributed over a large group of muscles, there is less chance of overexerting a particular muscle.
“The ability to run, crawl, jump, balance on one foot, push and pull-up are critical to maintaining health,” Andy Speer, a Peloton Tread instructor, said. “Bodyweight training develops body control and keeps your joints healthy.”
Both bodyweight workouts and weight-lifting are excellent strength workouts that can improve the quality of your daily life. Weight-lifting gives faster results, in terms of muscle and brawn, but bodyweight exercises are more convenient and pose less risk of injury. You should consider the unique benefits of both workouts and choose one or the other depending on your goals. Or, incorporate a mix of both, and get the best of both worlds! Just be sure not to overdo it. Any form of exercise can do wonders for your health, and no one sport, training regime, or technique is better than all the others. As long as you show up and put in the work, you’ll achieve your dreams. That goes for any goal, no matter if it’s to be happy in your skin or to finally lift your history textbook without crying.