Bodyweight Training is Overrated

bodyweight exercises, bodyweight

Running a gym for almost 13 years and being a trainer for 15 years. I’ve seen a lot of things…

Now, having trained over 5000 individuals, I’ve seen patterns and I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t for the majority of members who we’ve trained in our gym.

Some of these topics are potentially controversial. The sort of thing that you couldn’t state unless you had 100% conviction in your beliefs and had the data to back it up…

And one such observation is:

Bodyweight training is overrated.

And I guess I kinda always knew this, even as a newer trainer, as the whole reason behind creating an indoor bootcamp in 2010, was to have a “bootcamp” that wasn’t just bodyweight. It was something that could have progressive overload with increasing weights, and of course it wasn’t limited to the the weather that defines Langley, British Columbia.

Like you’ve probably heard of this fitness myth that kids shouldn’t lift weights because it will stunt their growth.

That’s false.

The only way you can stunt a kid’s growth is if the weight training somehow damages the epiphyseal growth plate inside the bone from doing something really dangerous that somehow breaks a leg bone.

Kids who strength train with weights with good technique progressively build more strength and lean muscle.

But what about gymnasts Josh? They’re short!

Yes, that’s true. Elite gymnasts that we see competing in the olympics or on the national level do tend to be short, but if you look at the total population there are many people that are as short.

See, what happens is people gravitate to things that they are good at. In addition to this, the people that started gymnastics as kids get too tall and eventually have to stop because they aren’t competitive anymore due to longer limbs and larger bodyweight, while the individuals that aren’t as tall, weigh less and remain in gymnastics longer as it’s a competitive advantage.

And an adult jumping into bodyweight training is not the same as a 5 year old kid starting gymnastics due to differences in relative strength (relative strength is strength relative to your bodyweight).

Let’s go back to our original point…

For kids, you’ve probably heard or seen everyone talking about doing bodyweight before they lift.
But a pushup for a kid that weighs 80lbs is far more stress than doing a dumbbell bench press with a pair of 10’s.
And from my experience, most people can’t do 5 proper full range of motion pushups (chest touching the ground), even adults.

So bodyweight training is:

  • More maximal loading on the joints.
  • More stress on the body.
  • Probably not the best thing to have kids or adults do more of.

It’s much more progressive to help build up stability in the rotator cuff and stimulate the chest and triceps by working with a 10lb dumbbell and moving slowly with tension and control. Then moving to 12 or 15lbs when you are ready for the next challenge… Doing a pushup that you can only do 2-3 reps of is maximal loading and a recipe for compensation patterns and injury over time…

Of course, there’s always a place for pushups in a well rounded fitness program. Doing an exercise like pushups for 10 reps is performing a movement you have control of and working at 75% of your maximum. That’s why we have an elevated surface in every station that members can do elevated pushups with if that is the right intensity for them (as we don’t want people doing pushups for like 2-3 reps all the time at 95% of their maximum.

Now let’s consider the pullup.

The pullup is overrated.

And this is coming from a person who is good at pullups. Like I randomly won this pullup challenge at Rugged maniac a few years back…

Only like 1% of people can do a proper full range pullup without shrugging their shoulders or compensating, so it’s more maximal loading, and its hard on the shoulders, and it’s really hard on the elbows.

Instead, there’s exercises using equipment like 1 arm rows, trx rows, or lat pulldowns with bands which are way better for your joints long term and you can load progressively as you get better.

How about lower body bodyweight training like lunges, step-ups, split squats, squats?

Those are great bodyweight movements and we have many people who are new to our gym who start with these movements, but the thing is, pretty soon you adapt and you need an added stimulus of weights to challenge yourself because just doing bodyweight for 6-12 reps is too easy!

So just doing bodyweight lower body will not suffice for the long term!

(It can be good in the short term for higher reps if you are on vacation and have no access to equipment though).

And upper body bodyweight training is overrated as most people are training near their maximum or even above their maximum if they can’t do 1 full range rep.

  • Chinups cause more shoulder and elbow issues than anything else
  • Dips can be an issue for a lot of people and most people shouldn’t do them if they have poor posture

And how you really going to train legs with no weight when you get pretty strong?

You pretty much have to resort to pistol squats which most people have issues with do due to strength, lack of range of motion in the ankle, and/or knee health.

And what constitutes bodyweight?

If you are using a piece of equipment that’s not a bar is that bodyweight?

Are nordics bodyweight? What about a 45 degree back extension? What about horizontal rows on a trx?

That’s all kind of subjective in my opinion as now we are needing stuff that is kind of bodyweight but with a piece of specialized equipment…

Keep your eyes out for an upcoming blog where we address the difference between upper and lower bodyweight movements in our programming and redefine the hierarchy of fitness!

And if you have any questions on this subject, I’ll see you in the gym!

Committed to your success,
Josh Saunders, BS, CSCS