Which is right for you: bodyweight workouts or weight training?

Bodyweight and weight training are both forms of resistance training, which uses your muscles to overcome a factor working against them — usually weight. This facilitates the growth of your muscles or, when performed in a circuit style fashion, can help you lose fat. But which of the two is right for your exercise needs? Read on to help make your mind up.

What is the difference between weight and bodyweight training?

Weight training

Weight training uses external weights like dumbbells, bands, barbells and kettle-bells to provide a resistance. While this is commonly performed using a combination of relatively small weights, it is also possible to undergo a weight training regimen that far exceeds your bodyweight — the heaviest ever female squat, for example, is 273.5kg. Common gym movements like barbell squats, deadlifts and lateral raises are also types of weight training, and are extremely beneficial for both gaining strength and muscle growth


Bodyweight workouts can be tailored to either cardio or muscle-building. They grow muscles by using your body mass to provide resistance against certain movements. In a press-up, for example, the muscles of your chest, triceps and shoulder must overcome the resistance of your bodyweight, breaking down the fibres and resulting in muscle growth. When bodyweight movements are performed at pace in a circuit-style fashion, as in a jump squat, they activate your cardio-vascular system. Although circuits are not the most effective way to build muscle, they also burn considerable calories, which is why they are so popular with those looking to lose fat.

What are the benefits of weight training?

Using external weights leaves room for exponential growth

In theory, the amount of weight you can load onto a barbell, lift with a dumbbell, or swing with a kettlebell, is limitless. In bodyweight training, the maximal resistance is dependent on your own body weight, which cannot be changed at will. However, with weight training, it is very easy to vary the amount of resistance by adding plates to the barbell or changing the dumbbell you’re using.

Being able to vary weight matters most for people looking to increase their strength, as it helps achieve a progressive overload. In other words, with external weights, you can vary the resistance and allow a gradual increase so that it remains challenging. Weight-versatility is also useful for people suffering with injuries. By having the option to target specific parts of your body. you can steer clear of any area that is causing aggravation.

For more advanced lifters, a strength-gaining progressive overload simply cannot be achieved without the help of external weights. However, if you are new to resistance training, you will certainly be able to build strength through bodyweight resistance alone.

Weight training is the most efficient way to build muscle

Words like “toning” and “sculpting” have taken on a new, confused meaning in resistance training, but in reality, they mean the same thing: muscle-building, combined with fat loss. And if you’re looking to build a more sculpted, toned physique, then muscle accumulation is the best way to achieve that goal.

There is also a myth that the principles of muscle-building are different for women and men, which is, to put it bluntly, completely false. Physiologically speaking, if anyone is looking to build muscle, the most efficient way is to lift heavy weights, focus on your technique, and progressively overload your muscles. You also need to eat enough protein to repair the muscles and have hypertrophic response — the technical name for muscle growth.

Weight training makes progressive overload easier, because you can keep gradually adding heavier dumbbells or weights on any machines you use. This cannot be done with your body weight, considering you’re stuck with the same weight each time.

That being said, this does not mean you cannot build muscle by doing bodyweight workouts — far from it. The weight carried on your body is usually enough to stimulate the muscles. You simply need to learn how to use your bodyweight correctly and manipulate other variables such as the number of reps, tempo and rest time between sets.

What are the benefits of bodyweight workouts?

Bodyweight can be done nearly every day

Bodyweight programmes allow you to reap the benefits of exercising on a daily basis. There are a vast amount of bodyweight programmes out there, at a range of difficulty levels. If you’re looking for something fresh, then your best option will generally be to try one that nails the basics. You will also want to keep your training interesting, as this will provide extra encouragement needed to persevere. Trying a unique fitness programme, like Naturally Sassy’s ballet-inspired barre exercise regime will not only suit all levels of fitness, but benefit anyone who fancies doing something different.

Bodyweight workouts can be used for fat loss

Since they utilise intense compound movements, which take up a lot of energy and are incorporated into HIIT (high-intensity interval training), bodyweight workouts are a highly effective way to burn calories. Often used an alternative for people who don’t enjoy longer cardio like running, HIIT workouts are shorter and more intense. They usually involve maximal effort for 20-30 mins, and this relatively low-commitment time also makes bodyweight workouts easier for people to stick with.

Bodyweight can still build and maintain muscle sufficiently

By performing a different set of movements in a slower, controlled manner, bodyweight routines still target muscle growth, especially for those who are yet to develop much muscle mass. Although these workouts are limited by the amount of weight which can be used as resistance, there are other ways in which it creates a progressive overload.

Firstly, by doing more reps, you can increase the volume of your workouts to compensate for the potential lack of weight. Higher rep ranges are associated with greater muscle hypertrophy. You can also take advantage of different tempos in each movement, particularly the concentric (lifting) and eccentric (lowering) parts. Research has shown that slowing down the latter will result in more muscle breakdown, with one study noting that “the use of high-loads during the eccentric phase of movement is associated with significant exercise induced muscle damage and mechanical tension, which have been associated with a hypertrophic response”.

Introducing short rest intervals is also a key component of muscle growth, and an awareness of this during bodyweight workouts can help maximise the intensity of your training. The resistance from your body weight. combined with manipulating the variables above. is enough to get results, particularly for beginners and intermediates. Bodyweight workouts will reach an inevitable plateau sooner than weight training, but they are still capable of maintaining a “toned”, “sculpted” physique, when combined with an appropriate diet.

Bodyweight is more convenient

Another benefit of bodyweight training is that it does not require any equipment beyond some space and a floor, meaning it is as easily completed at home as at the gym. Bodyweight exercises are especially useful for frequent travellers, as finding facilities when away from home can be a nightmare. Indeed, many find that having the ability to bash out a workout at their convenience can be empowering, and encourage them to stick with the programme.

Convenience breeds consistency

Convenience is often an overlooked variable when it comes to exercise. When beginning a programme, motivation is at its peak, but this fades, and there will be days you don’t feel like working out at all. To remain disciplined, removing obstacles that will prevent you from taking action, or having a programme that you enjoy doing, will help you achieve this.

As we mentioned above, from a physiological perspective, weight training is the most efficient way to build muscle. But if you do not enjoy that type of training, what’s the point in keeping at it? The best way to achieve your goals is to learn what type of workout  that you enjoy, and can do with consistency. This is the key component of any fitness endeavour — just because one type of training is better from a physiological perspective, doesn’t mean it’s the right one to go for.

If you don’t show up, it makes no difference what type of training you do. Each has its benefits, and it is up to you to consider a balance between your goals, your preferences, and what you are most likely to stick with.