- Which is better for building strength in beginners, Bodyweight or Free Weight Exercises?
- What is the difference between free weight and bodyweight exercises?
- Should a beginner start with bodyweight or free weight exercises?
- Can a beginner build muscle with just bodyweight exercises?
- Is only bodyweight training enough to build strength and muscle?
- Why are bodyweight exercises harder than free weight exercises?
Including bodyweight and free weight exercises into your training routine is a great way of building strength and muscle for beginners.
Both forms of exercise require you to use your muscles against resistance to strengthen and grow your muscles.
In the case of free weights, it’s mostly dumbbells and barbells with plates, and using your body weight as resistance is called Calisthenics.
But if you are just starting out, which exercises are the most optimal for building strength?
Are only bodyweight exercises enough or do you need free weights for additional resistance?
In this post, we’ll explore both types of training styles along with their shortcomings and benefits.
Which is better for building strength in beginners, Bodyweight or Free Weight Exercises?
Although both bodyweight and free weight exercises should be part of a sound muscle-building program, technically speaking, Free weight exercises i.e., exercises that include the use of external weights such as Dumbbells and Barbells, allow you to load movements with more weight thus allowing you to progressively overload and eventually get stronger.
The key concept here is “Progressive Overload” i.e., the ability to increase the weight, frequency, or number of repetitions in your strength training exercises.
This is much harder to achieve in Bodyweight exercises compared to Free weight exercises for most people especially beginners.
Therefore, most beginners should stick with Barbell and Dumbbell based exercises along with some simple bodyweight exercises, rather than a strict bodyweight or Calisthenics workout routine, to build a solid baseline strength level.
What are Free Weight Exercises
Exercises done with the help of weights that are not attached to anything i.e., “free” such as dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells or any other external objects used to create resistance to gain muscle can be called Free weight exercises.
Common free weight exercises done at the gym are:
- Barbell Deadlifts
- Barbell Squats
- Bench Press
- Kettlebell Swings
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Bicep Curls
Benefits of Free Weight Exercises
- Ability to target specific muscle groups
- Can measure progress based on varying weights
- Load simple body movements with external weights
- More exercise choices for lower body
- Easier to apply progressive overload
- Most free weight exercises don’t require complex coordination
What are Bodyweight Exercises
Bodyweight exercises are those that a person can do with the help of their own body weight to create resistance in order to build strength and increase muscle mass.
Some very common bodyweight exercises you can do on the spot without equipment are
- High Jumps
Benefits of Bodyweight Exercises
- You can do them anywhere, even in your bedroom
- Need minimal equipment; a pull-up bar is more than enough for most people
- You can save money on gym fees and training equipment
- Improves overall body balance, control, and coordination
- Can be easier on your joints than free weights
- Uses multiple muscle groups at once
What is the difference between free weight and bodyweight exercises?
Here are the main differences between Free weight and Bodyweight exercises:
Free weight exercises are easier to progress
It is way easier for beginners to make progress on free weight exercises rather than bodyweight exercises.
It is especially recommended for overweight individuals to start out with light weights before moving on to bodyweight exercises.
Bodyweight exercises are affordable and convenient
Bodyweight exercises by their nature require minimal equipment (except maybe a pullup bar) and can be done anytime, anywhere without the need to spend a lot of money.
Free weight exercises will require you to have a gym membership or at least a home gym with the necessary lifting equipment which will cost you a lot more.
Free weight exercises build more Strength and Muscle
Free weight exercises have more potential for you to get stronger and muscular as it is much easier to apply progressive overload.
More difficult to progress on bodyweight exercises as you will need much more complex movements to increase resistance for muscle growth.
Bodyweight exercises are less likely to cause injuries
Bodyweight exercises are easier on your joints, as long as you are not overweight or obese, and are easier to recover from than lifting weight.
Free weight exercises tend to be riskier if you don’t know what you’re doing and lifting weights beyond your strength capability can cause damage to your joints and ligaments in the long run.
Should a beginner start with bodyweight or free weight exercises?
Even though bodyweight exercises can be a great way for beginners to build strength and muscle, how much you weigh (bodyweight) and your current fitness level will determine whether you’ll be able to do common bodyweight exercises like pushups, squats, pullups.
An overweight individual will not be in a condition to handle their body weight and will need to rely on free weights like dumbbells to strengthen their muscles first.
Someone who is unfit won’t be able to do pushups. They should first do dumbbell bench press at lighter weights in order to build strength in the necessary muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps) then attempt doing full-body pushups.
This approach can be applied to other exercises as well. Free weights allow you to perform movements at lighter weights (most gyms have at least 1 kg dumbbells) and can be easier to perform at the beginning compared to bodyweight exercises which require more balance and coordination.
Can a beginner build muscle with just bodyweight exercises?
Bodyweight exercises can definitely build muscle if you are just starting out. You should focus on maintaining proper technique, increasing repetitions (reps), trying different variations of the same exercises and overall being consistent with your workout routine.
Technically speaking, for an untrained individual, any sound workout routine involving bodyweight and free weight exercises complemented with a good nutrition plan is enough to build strength and muscle.
Along with building muscle, doing bodyweight exercises will help you develop better body control and coordination, increase stamina and endurance, strengthen your bones, tendons and ligaments.
Is only bodyweight training enough to build strength and muscle?
Bodyweight training alone won’t be enough to build strength and muscle after a certain point in time.
Since bodyweight movements by their nature don’t vary the resistance being lifted, it is challenging to achieve progressive overload in your workouts, which is a central concept in the field of strength and conditioning.
Even though you can increase the intensity of bodyweight movements to increase strength gains, eg. Going from a normal pushup to a pause pushup or decline pushup, there will come a point where you will stagnate with these movements and won’t be able to perform variations necessary for progressive overload.
Eventually, you’ll need to incorporate some number of external weights to improve on certain exercises E.g., Weighted Chin-ups, Weighted Dips.
Additionally, you’ll need to perform bodyweight exercises at different tempos, paused reps, etc. to exert more mechanical stress on the muscles.
Also, one area where bodyweight training can be ineffective after a certain point of time is for lower-body muscle groups (Quads, Hamstrings, Calves).
Why are bodyweight exercises harder than free weight exercises?
Bodyweight exercises can be challenging for most people for the following reasons:-
If you are a beginner and just starting out with exercising, you might not be as conscious and connected to your own body.
Bodyweight movements require you to be aware of the position and movement of your body in relation to muscles and joints.
Control & Coordination:
Most free weight exercises are simple body movements that you can load with more weight to build strength.
Bodyweight exercises tend to become more complex in terms of movement and coordination and require you to be at an advanced level.
Making modifications or changes to bodyweight exercises is much harder than on dumbbell and barbell-based exercises.
It is an essential part of strength training to change up and perform variations of exercises, after a considerable time, for the body to remain stimulated.
It is important for beginners and people just starting their fitness journey to understand that getting some kind of physical activity, whether it be through bodyweight or free weights, is better than getting none at all.
But it is sufficient to say free weight exercises are better at building overall strength, especially in the lower body, and are easier to make progress for most people starting out.