After the announcement of my latest training plan, the Mindful Body Project, which is essentially using just your bodyweight I found my inbox flooded of your messages asking “is bodyweight training enough”? – Which makes me smile as just few years ago I had to write an article about the benefits of weight lifting – which by the way I still stand for.
It depends on what you mean by “enough,” of course, but the answer is generally “yes.”
Bodyweight training is a legitimate option for anyone interested in building a great physique, increasing their strength, improving their athletic performance, mobility, flexibility, and establishing excellent proprioception (mind-body-space awareness).
Advanced body weight exercises (i.e.: pistol squats, single arm push ups, muscle ups etc) require unmatched levels of full body tension and this is what you need for strength gains.
To paint you a picture, look at gymnast performances and bodies.
The trick with bodyweight training is knowing how to progress exercises – and I am not speaking about plank variations or increased number of reps, but progressive overload, increasing the degree of stabilisation required, or decreasing the amount of leverage you have.
Normal dips too easy? Move onto ring dips. Bodyweight rows with your feet up on blocks is a piece of cake? Try taking one foot off, then both.
To do that and do it well requires lots of patience and discipline.
This is part of the reason why most people opt for barbells over bodyweight training: it’s easier and far less humbling to add weights to a bar than remove leverage from a bodyweight movement. In many cases, to progress in bodyweight means learning an entirely new movement from scratch. It’s harder to quantify than weight training and easier to get stuck.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. The fact that the more advanced moves are so difficult to master demonstrates their effectiveness.
The one area where bodyweight training probably falls short is the lower body. Our legs and glutes are typically much stronger and much more difficult to challenge. However integrating plyometrics (jumping lunges/squats, broad jumps, box jumps, etc), single leg squats, and sprinting, especially hill sprints, can help. You may not get the same degree of hypertrophy without adding weights to your lower body work, but you can certainly get stronger.
Am I suggesting to ditch the weights, cancel the gym membership, and all go down to the park to train? No. The two can coexist quite happily. In fact, when I design the optimal program for strength, I’m typically going to integrate a mix of bodyweight training for the upper body and weight training for the lower body.
My point is: if you have no access to quality gym equipment, if you live next door to a park, if you fear weight training, or if you are just generally low on time or travel a lot, you can build an awesome body and get incredibly strong by solely using your bodyweight.