What’s BMI mean? How do I get rid of bat wings and loose skin? How can I lose weight while wolfing down Ben & Jerry’s and bingeing on Game of Thrones?

Personal trainers get these questions, and more daily. I’m still looking for the answer on the Ben & Jerry’s question–I’ll get back to you on that one. But one good question we get asked a lot is: Are bodyweight exercises enough to be fit and toned?

The answer is: yes, no and maybe. The only way to answer that is to know what your goals are. Bodyweight exercises are great for beginners and advanced athletes alike, but the further along you are on the fitness chain, the less important bodyweight exercises become.

Perfect for Noobs

For those just beginning their fitness journey, bodyweight exercises can be enough. Bodyweight training is a great way to strengthen the core, learn proper form and range of motion, stabilize the body, burn a ton of calories, and the best part–NO equipment needed. Our trainers at Flex15, have some great bodyweight workouts that you can do at home.

Not only can you do them at home, but you can also do them in the park, at a hotel, at the pool (and in the pool) or in your backyard. Sometimes I lunge down my hallway for a little extra leg toning.

Having options of when and where to workout is important for a beginner because just getting into the habit of working out is the first step to long-term success.  Consistency is the number one habit of fit people. Literally, nothing is more important than just showing up day after day, week after week and month after month.

A simple, yet effective, bodyweight workout is often the best way to get a person who has had difficulty sticking to a routine on track. This is especially true for overweight and obese clients. Bodyweight exercises can be enough for them to get a good base of fitness before moving on to more challenging movements.

Jack LaLanne and wife Elaine

Not Your Mama’s Workout

Way back in the ’70s and ’80s when I was a kid, my mom would exercise to the Jack LaLanne show.  The show was basically Jack doing a lot of talking and some low-intensity exercises like toe touches and windmills. My mom exercised along with Jack for years. She never got very fit, let alone ripped or shredded.

There are several benefits to having bodyweight movements in your training program. Bodyweight training requires lots of core strength and stability and is easy on the joints. It allows for full and natural ranges of motion and translates well to functional movements, and it does not require expensive equipment!

You can get faster and stronger using bodyweight exercises.  Gymnasts, who are extremely fit, use a high volume of bodyweight work in their training programs. The issue isn’t whether bodyweight training will make you fitter; the real question is whether bodyweight training ALONE is enough for fitness.

The concept of progressive overload is central to strength and fitness. Progressive overload is a fancy way of saying that muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones all respond to the stress of exercise by getting stronger and tougher.  A stagnant program, one that doesn’t vary the resistance being lifted over time, will create plateaus.

Put simply, if you always do Jack LaLanne like my mom, twice a week, you will only improve for a short time, after which you will cease to see any fitness gains or weight loss.

This is where problems with bodyweight-only training plans arise. Because bodyweight movements by definition don’t vary the weight being lifted, it is difficult to achieve progressive overload. There are ways to increase the intensity of bodyweight movements to increase strength gains—progressing from a standard push-up to a decline push-up, for example or a bench triceps dip to a ring dip.

You can also play with the number of reps or the tempo of the movement being performed that place a greater stimulus on the body—but there comes a point in all bodyweight movement progressions at which resistance must be added in order for improvement to continue.

So What’s Next?

So you’re ready to add some external resistance to your bodyweight training. Do you go join the gym and hop on the machines and just go for it?

Joining a gym is a good idea for sure! Here at Flex15 we have great workouts that incorporate resistance training with bodyweight movements. But you can also add some resistance at home, even if you have little space or money. Get yourself some exercise bands.  They come in all strength levels, from beginner to advanced.

They are light, cheap and easy on the joints. They are a great stepping stone. And even for advanced lifters, they are a great tool to have when you travel or just want to try something different!  They can give you a deceptively hard workout.

Eventually, to keep progressing, you will want to add some traditional weight training to your fitness program. Even with bands, it’s easy for females to develop muscle imbalances. Usually the chest and triceps become strong and the back suffers from a lack of proper overload.

Bodyweight Training Is NOT Enough

Bodyweight training is one of the many ingredients necessary for a successful strength training program. And while bodyweight movements help people develop better core strength, better postural stability, and body awareness, alone they are not enough to produce good results.

External forces that create an overload for muscle and bone growth are the most effective protocols for developing strong, fast, and powerful bodies. If you primarily use bodyweight movements, make sure you keep progressively overloading yourself so will continue to see progress.  Either increase the difficulty of the movement being performed or add external resistance.

Come join one of our classes to see if we can help you transition from bodyweight to loaded exercises!

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