Get the Skinny on Body-weight Training

posted by Tim Birkey on Thursday, October 24, 2019

For centuries human beings have been in search of the most effective methods to train the body. Over the years some methods have evolved, some have vanished and some, although occasionally abandoned and overlooked, have stood the test of time.

Bodyweight training is one of the simplest methods of training and conditioning known to humankind. History shows bodyweight training was the most often used training method of ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. Fast forward to today and bodyweight training is still used as a component of training America’s modern military.

Simply said, bodyweight training is any exercise that uses your own bodyweight to provide resistance against gravity. These can include calisthenics which include, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, pushups, sit ups, lunges, etc., plyometrics or jump training and yoga, just to name a few. These exercises are most often performed in a circuit style program.

As with any modality of exercise, bodyweight training has some distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Bodyweight Training

Training with bodyweight exercises helps to improve relative strength. Relative strength can be described as how strong you are in relation to your bodyweight or how strong you are pound for pound. Bodyweight training develops core stability and joint stabilization relative to your bodyweight. Increased relative strength also improves your ability to perform daily tasks such as walking, running and going up and down stairs.

Bodyweight training requires no machines and little equipment. Most machine-based strength equipment is open chained in nature and allow for single joint movements, strengthening one muscle or one joint at a time. Machines are often difficult to adjust and fit due to varying individual anatomies. 

Bodyweight training on the other hand is distinctive to your anatomy; there is not a need to fit or adjust to a machine. Most bodyweight training is also close chained in nature, performed with your feet on the ground. These exercises are often more functional movements that strengthen several muscle groups at once.

Because bodyweight training requires no machines and little, if any equipment, bodyweight training can be performed anywhere and anytime and without the costs of a gym. This accessibility and versatility allows workouts to be done while travelling and is also ideal for those of us who are on a limited budget.

Bodyweight training has proven extremely beneficial for the elderly. Older individuals taking part in bodyweight training benefit through increased mobility, increased bone density, improved sleep habits, decreased depression and reduced fall risks. Bodyweight training may even assist in decreasing or even preventing cognitive decline as they age.

Disadvantages of Bodyweight Training

You can and will get stronger utilizing bodyweight workouts, that is not up for debate. The underlying issue is whether bodyweight training ALONE is enough to optimize and promote the IMPROVEMENTS in muscular strength.  

Many experienced lifters may perceive bodyweight exercise as too easy. For example, an individual who is able to bench press or squat nearly 2x their bodyweight would find pushups or bodyweight squats very simple.

On the other hand, a novice lifter may find bodyweight exercise too difficult and may be apprehensive about adding bodyweight exercise to their routine.

The biggest problem that arises from solely utilizing bodyweight training is stagnation. With bodyweight training the resistance you are training with (your bodyweight) remains somewhat constant over time. This creates plateaus in physiological adaptations. Put simply, if you always squat 150 pounds for 3 sets of 10, three times per week, you will only improve for a short amount of time, after which you will cease to see any positive strength gains.    

The Takeaway

Bodyweight training is one of many components necessary for a successful strength and conditioning program that when properly manipulated can produce favorable results in both physical strength and stamina in many populations.

However, externally loaded movements (machines, barbells, dumbbells, etc.) are needed to create a stimulus for maximized strength development and muscle and bone growth beyond just training with bodyweight.

In the end, both bodyweight training and weight training are beneficial. Using both training methods in a properly designed program will yield optimal results and a stronger more resilient you.


Harrison, Jeffrey S (April 2010). “Bodyweight Training: A Return to Basics”. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 32 (2): 52-55.

Estes, C., & Estes, C. (2019). Why Bodyweight Training Isn't Enough — Volt Blog. Retrieved 22 October 2019, from

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About The Author

Tim Birkey

Tim Birkey is an exercise specialist with Spencer Hospital’s Athletic Enhancement service. A certified strength and conditioning coach, tim earned his master’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa, where he also served as assistant strength and conditioning coach for UNI Athlet ... read more