The big limitation of body weight exercises

The body weight exercise fad seems to be slowly dying off. Still, there is no shortage of people peddling workout plans, if not elaborate training programs on DVDs for a dollar amount ending in a 7. The latter is a giveaway that a product is most likely crap. As there has been some discussion related to my recent post on body fat percentages, I would like to take a moment to highlight the one huge limitation of body weight exercises. It’s one that is so significant that it should keep you from pursing that kind of fitness regimen in earnest, if you want to gain some muscle. It kind of reminds me of when a pretty hot Russian girl hit on me some time ago. I did not bother with her because I realized that she is most likely connected to the criminal underworld. Just like I bailed back then, you should bail when someone tells you that body weight exercises are where it’s at.

The big problem with body weight exercises is that you don’t have enough weight to work with. You can increase your squat in the gym in small steps until the barbell bends. With body weight exercises, your squat will have little to no effect from a certain point onward. Of course, body weight gurus, or their followers, spout standard lines like “increase the number of repetitions”, “perform your exercises more slowly”, or “pick a more challenging variation”. None of that compares well compared to simply lifting heavier weights.

At that point, you tend to get two standard objections. The first is that body weight exercises target groups of muscles. Sorry, buds, but I get the same effect doing compound exercises. The other is that I should look at male gymnasts to see what’s possible with body weight exercises. Funnily enough, guys saying that never look like top-level gymnasts. By the way, the gymnasts you see excelling at the rings on TV have been putting in 30 or 40 hours a week for years. Heck, even on a much less competitive level, people put in a lot of hours. You may also look into related injuries because the rings can easily fuck up your shoulders.

My opinion is that if you do body weight exercises for anything more than getting toned, you are doing it wrong. If you want to build muscle, you will hit a ceiling pretty quickly. Even worse, though, is that you can arguably get better results in half the time if you just stuck to doing compound exercises with moderate weights. But if you really only want to get toned, do Ashtanga yoga. It’s fun, and, based on my experience, it blows your average body weight exercise workout plan out of the water.

25 thoughts on “The big limitation of body weight exercises

  1. I have spent a lot of time at the gym, but I was not aware there were body weight “gurus”, much less that somebody would say with a straight face that you can build muscle mass with body weight exercises. You can tighten up existing muscles, and you might end up with a pretty hard body, but your muscles just are not going to grow that much. A good test sample would be active military types. They typically do tons of cardio and lots of body weight stuff regularly, and they tend vary between thin and wiry and just toned. The only ones that are big, are doing strength training on the side.

    1. There is now a body weight cotton industry. Some people, like Mark Lauren, promote the idea that you can get buff without lifting weights.

  2. Good point, this is something I noticed as well. Since I’m a hardcore Karate practitioner I do both strength and agility training to complement dojo training. Training with weights is definitely superior to pure bodyweight training in firing up muscle growth. The way I’ve experienced it is that once you have achieved some decent muscle gain and you want to add flexibility, speed and coordination, difficult bodyweight exercises are a great tool to train your nervous system.
    In addition to that, some bodyweight routines are great for a general warm-up or to do in the morning to get the day started.
    But relying purely on bodyweight stuff never really got my muscles anywhere in terms of growth.

  3. Here are a couple of points that may be of interest.

    * 99% of workout dvds are shit, there is not secret to gaining muscle simply use good form whilst perfuming compound exercises (Body weight is compound too), workout regularly and keep your diet in check. Keep upping the weight preforming sets of 10-12 for hypertrophy 6-8 for strength.

    * You realise that you can add weight to callisthenics by wearing weight belts and vests and so forth once you hit the ceiling. Though you may have classified this as

    * There are guys such as Adam Raw and frank medrano who are in the top 1% of physiques who focus on callisthenics. A quick google search can find you a 100 more.

    Though with all this being said if you just want to look good the average gym noob will have an easier time just doing weights as it requires less functional strength. If you want functional strength do callisthenics.

    1. Or if you want to save time, use machines, then you don’t have to learn about proper form.

      I’m twice as big as the kids in my gyms grunting out their compounds because they read online that compounds are the shit.

    2. I’m not saying compounds aren’t superrior. I’m sure they are…

      – But you don’t need the superior method/option in order to get 80/20 results… in any sphere of life

      Downsides of compounds include, and are not limited to:

      – Much higher chance of injury (unless you spend a ton of time on mastering form)

      – Wasting more time on weight loading/unloading

      – Need to spend time to master good form…

      …With the same investment of time/effort you can master a whole new skill, like let’s say singing and picking up chicks in the karaoke

      – In some gyms you have to wait in line to do the compound (there might be just one squat rack)…

      … whereas with doing machines, it doesn’t matter in which order you do them… the x machine is busy, do the y machine and go back to x when it unbusies itself.

  4. Aaron, Mark Lauren may be lying about the buff part, but he can do some very difficult exercises which I bet the regular Lifter cannot pull off (because bodyweight strengthens your core). Generally if you aim for explosive strength, you should lift and if you want endurance then you should focus on bodyweight exercises. Bodyweight exercises have their advantages and should IMO not be written off that easily.

  5. I wouldn’t be surprised if professional gymnasts did some weight lifting on the side, similar to how basketball players do squats to improve their vertical jump.

  6. @alek, could you specify exactly what you’re doing? Maybe even with a bodyshot of you? On the forum perhaps?

    I’m really curious about what you’re saying because I’m reaching a point where I’m wondering how much more muscle I still want to gain. My goal is basically zac efron’s physique.

    Which bodybuilding coach did your friend work with? I’ve worked with 3dmj and I’m very positive about them.

    1. I remember you saying to always lift more whight but is their a certain ammount of sets you do?

      I’m just baffled by what you’re saying.

    2. What are you baffled by?

      It’s very simple. <BIf you lift more today than you did last year, you'll have more muscle. Why do you want it to be more complex than that?

      All that bullshit about this or that arrangement or sets or this or that order of exercises is just nitpicky bullshit where you’re missing the Forrest for the trees.

      What workout do I do? Whatever one is fun for me that year. That’s it. The progression of weight is the 80/20. Why do you need it to be more complex than this?

      Why the fuck are you showing me a picture of some actor, like what the fuck does that have to do with anything.

      There is no “get a body like zac efron” program. Do you think there’s a specific magical order of sets that produces a “zac efron body”? Whereas if you keep progressing on a different workout it will produce a different kind of body? Like what the heck seriously.

      Dude… It’s very simple

      – Look at the physique that’s your goal

      – Is that guy’s level of muscularity within the 80/20 range of natural development

      – If yes, just keep progressing until you get to that level of development

      “Progressing” is damn fucking simple. If you’re lifting 45 pounds on exercise y. Next time lift 47 pounds, next time 49 etc… Keep doing this until you can’t do it anymore. It’s fucking simple. Why do you need it to be more complex?

  7. Take it easy buddy, it’s just a question.

    It just comes across as verry little time investment, that’s all. I get that if you lift more you get sttonger, like seriously?

    I’ve just never seen anyone do something like that. The only people I know who do such workouts with results only do it to maintain the physiques they’ve already developped.

    I’m not wanting to make things more complex, that’s you’re opinion.

    1. I get that if you lift more you get sttonger, like seriously?

      It isn’t about strength, it’s about muscle gain.

      The only people I know who do such workouts with results only do it to maintain the physiques they’ve already developped.

      So you ACTUALLY believe that you can lift twice the weight you lifted (from when you began), yet have the same amount of muscle? Like actually get stronger without growing muscle? That’s ONLY possible on steroids. Natural muscles HAVE TO GROW in order to become stronger.

      (yes routines focused on strength grow muscle less than routines focused on muscle growth even for the same strength gain pound for pound bla bla bla bla)… But we’re talking degrees od difference.

      This is what happens when people are stuck on the 20/80 (the stuff that makes 20% of the difference).

      Just making sure you

      a) Pick any popular routine (3-4 times a week at 40-50 mins)
      b) Let’s say you just make sure to lift more on your chest exercises each time…

      This will result in you having a bigger chest. In fact, your muscle growth will be 80% as good as someone who’s found the “perfect routine”.

      It just comes across as verry little time investment

      What is it that’s a “little time investment”. You believe that what I said I do… i.e. 3 times a week at 45 minutes isn’t enough time investment?

      Are you actually serious? You’re not even kidding? This isn’t even like some far-out thing.

      Even most bodybuilding magazines/communities and blogs are rife with recommendations that a natural can’t utilize more than 45 minutes of effective intense muscle hitting. This isn’t like some fringe idea, it’s quite widespread.

      This is the first thing I got in google when i just googled how long naturals should train for

      It’s not exactly a fringe idea, i have no idea why you find it to be shockingly short…

      If you’re a natural (not on steroids) and training much more than 45 minutes, then you’re not really training all that intensely, you’re probably fucking around.

    1. Well, eating a ton to keep progressing is important. Moreso than exercising imo

      That’s stupid. Only true if you’re on steroids.

      – If you’re an average guy, you’re already eating enough to fuel natural growth. How do wek now this? Because the average guy is at 15-20% bodyfat.

      – The only time you need to “eat a ton” to progress is if you looked like this before joining the gym

    2. Well saying “ton” is quite undefined and relative.
      Hardcore gym guys only eat chicken with rice every 3 hours which is very ridiculous .

    3. It sounds stupid to you because you had problem with cutting down extra weight.

      Some people on the other hand have opposite problem – they don’t eat enough calories and then conclude that they lack genetics for muscle growth.

    4. Some people on the other hand have opposite problem – they don’t eat enough calories

      Hence why I threw in that picture. There are guys who don’t grow due to lack of nutrition, they look like this when they join the gym:

      – 95% of guys joining a gym are either skinny fat, fat, or average
      – None of them fall into the “weak and frail and needs to eat more” category
      – Ok, you got those 5%, they exist, they’re not the average guy, so shouldn’t be making a generalization based on them

      and then conclude that they lack genetics for muscle growth.

      The reason they conclude they lack the genetics for muscle growth is because they’re impatient. I’ve been working out for a whole 2 months and I don’t like batman yet!?!?!? omg, i must lack the genetics. It takes a year to gain a noticeable muscle gain.

      But WAIT i started eating a lot, and I gained mass

      – You gained fat and pump. (unless you’re part of those skinny & frail five percent).
      – When you start eating more, you look bigger, because when you eat more
      –> You can get more pumped
      –> You are gaining muscle (not more muscle than if you eat normal, the same amount)
      –> You are gaining fat

      The combination of those 3 things make it look like you’re gaining muscle faster… It’s just an illusion. If you performed a dexa scan, you’d find the muscle growing rate was similar between the two (the mirror is lying to you).

  8. From personal experience I can say that I was stalling hardcore even when eating ‘enough’ (lifts weren’t increasing or they were quite slowly). Only once I started eating more than is ‘natural’ for me did I see some results (and even then I gained more fat than I wished for, but I guess you can’t avoid that). Was about 20% bf like you said before that.

  9. The biggest limitation of BWE is that most people are only fooling around and doing it wrong. If you can perform single arm pull ups, pushups and squats, you will definitely look athletic. You won’t be big, but you sure will look better than 99% of people on the planet (without paying for a gym membership).

    1. I agree in principle. However, I would like to hear more about getting to a single-arm pull-up by just doing body-weight exercises. This most certainly takes an extraordinarily long time compared to working with weights.

    2. One can do standard bodyweight exercises with loaded backpack and progressively add more weight. Sure, BWE is misnomer in that case but that is beside the point.

      Movement pattern somehow feels more natural than in exercises with barbell. I’d be willing to bet that chance of injury is much lower too.

  10. you will definitely look athletic. You won’t be big, but you sure will look better than 99% of people on the planet (without paying for a gym membership).

    If that’s the main advantage of BWE, it’s a pretty lame one.

    You can actually buy adjustable dumbells and keep them under your bed. You’d achieve the same or better physique without having to pay for gym memberships either.

  11. Cliffs below.

    Lol not sure if serious, coulda swore Sleazy was a skinny who did yoga to “maintain tone.”

    Even says don’t use bodyweight exercises unless you want to get toned. First sign of a newbie right there, saying “get toned.”

    For someone who doesn’t have as much experience lifting, you shouldn’t be giving out advice. Lift a barbell or two for a couple years and then talk, we have enough “gurus” to sift through.

    1. Bodyweight exercises are fine for bulking. Gaining muscle is just the act of putting your muscles under enough tension for your level and eating enough to gain size.

    Should read that from your suggested links more brah and spend a year or two lifting before dishing your advice. At least put a disclaimer at the beginning of your fitness posts.

    And you ever heard of Pavel Fortress, Bar Brothers, Frank Medrano? Dudes are aesthetic and only do bodyweight workouts. I stick with barbell/dumbbells for the most part because I like the simplicity of progression and not having to worry about learning a new form for a lift when I get stronger, but if someone wants to do calisthenics and can get the same results, more power to them.

    2. The fuck you mean by get toned? You only look “toned” when you are at a low body fat composition and have muscle to look big at such a low body fat. You said that in your other article already, A+. Yoga’s going to help with either bulking or cutting? F-.

    Just lol at stating yoga being better than bodyweight exercises for gaining muscle. Last I checked, nobody got aesthetic and built 30+ lbs of muscle doing yoga. Otherwise I’m sure you wouldn’t even be starting lifting in the first place brah since you would already be built from it. Logic much?

    Doing sets of muscle ups > holding a pose. Jimmies rustled at this guru dishing pointers to people who are new as well. Ask not what Sleazy’s advice is, ask: Does he even lift?

    Bonus: “Alek Novy” said: “Or if you want to save time, use machines, then you don’t have to learn about proper form.”

    That’s just cute.

    “Alek Novy” said: “Like actually get stronger without growing muscle? That’s ONLY possible on steroids.”

    Fucking lol. How stupid is this guy and how does this blog exist? Brb skinny dude in this video is stronger than OP:

    – Bodyweight exercises work and compounds work, neither are special, as long as enough tension (for your body) is put on muscles, one will gain muscle. Do what you like but with discipline.
    – Yoga does not help gain muscle (not enough tension). Fucking fail.
    – OP/Sleazy is a newbie, should not dish advice.
    – Alek Novy is a dipshit who seems to have a real problem when asked to explain his own bullshit theories to people. At least it’s funny.
    – Both OPs are probably skinny and struggle to fit in with the big guys.
    – OPs are phaggots.

  12. As someone who did 5 years of heavy-weight lifting and has moved to Calisthenics this year I can say four things:

    – My injuries, aches and pains have virtually gone.
    – My testosterone is through the roof, as the workout program I’m on involves extremely primal exercises, at a very intense pace.
    – My strength and power is the highest it’s even been, in terms of pound for pound.

    And as someone who trained in MMA and TaeKwonDo for 2 years I can say that a good Calisthenics workout, virtually mirrors what the Average amateur MMA fighter does and look at them guys.

    Just my opinion, everyones body and goals are different.
    Thanks for the article, Oli.

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