Let's start this conversation with a comparison between gymnasts and Olympic lifters. Both of these athletes are incredibly strong and amazing at what they do. Gymnasts can perform unbelievable feats of strength and explosiveness. At the same time, Olympic lifters can lift more weight over their heads than any other athlete.
Both of these athletes are incredibly strong even though they gain this strength in very different ways. Gymnasts rarely, if ever, lift a weight while lifting hefty weights is what the Olympic lifter does best. Would you argue that one strength-building method is better than the other? Probably not. The type of strength training method you choose is always dependent on your goals and your sport or activity.
This post will share my research on the differences between bodyweight training (what gymnasts primarily do) and weight lifting (what Olympic lifters do). Hopefully, you will have a better idea of what is best for you by the end of this read.
Let's start with bodyweight training. This question, "Is bodyweight training just for beginners?" is often an assumption in strength training. I'm here to tell you that bodyweight training has immense value and is NOT just for beginners.
Here are five reasons why bodyweight training is a GOOD form of strength training for almost every able person:
It is more convenient to do at home or anywhere
It is less expensive
You can gain improved mobility, strength, and power with fewer aches and pains
You can still make strength gains similar to those with weights
It helps to develop body control and coordination for everyday functional movements
On the flip side of the strength training conversation, people often ask, "Is weight training just for advanced lifters?". Again, my research answer is an undoubted "NO."
I have seven reasons why weight training is suitable for most able people.
Strength progression is more straightforward by simply adding more weight
It is more effective at building muscle
It makes you stronger, faster
It improves your ability to produce greater force
It better strengthens your connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments.
It improves bone density
It better maintains lean muscle mass
Of course, like most things in life, each of these strength training methods has its limitations. Here are a few for each:
Limited options for progression
Greater chance of aches and pains related to lack of mobility and inflammation
Has an upper limit for building strength as your weight limits you
Greater learning curve
More challenging to measure the level of difficulty when progressing
Need to purchase equipment or have a gym membership
After reading an article on wellandgood.com entitled, "When to Use Bodyweight Versus Dumbbells to Hit Your Fitness Goals," I enjoyed the perspective of a Peloton Tread Instructor, Andy Speer. He said this about weight training:
"IF YOU ONLY WEIGHT TRAIN, YOUR OVERALL MOVEMENT CAPACITY AND ATHLETICISM MAY BE LIMITED."
He also said this:
"IF YOUR GOAL IS TO IMPROVE HEALTH, BE GENERALLY ATHLETIC, AND FEEL GOOD ABOUT THE WAY YOU LOOK AND MOVE, THEN A COMBINATION OF WEIGHT TRAINING AND BODYWEIGHT TRAINING IS YOUR BEST BET."
Speer and other fitness experts agreed that combining the two is best for general health. I was glad to hear this, as this is what I recommend when working with most of my clients. Of course, the choice to focus on one over the other is dependent on the client's goals and sport.
Since I specialize in running, I'll share my recommended run-specific strength workout, including bodyweight and weight training. Here are my general guidelines for runners:
Prep with a dynamic mobility warm-up
Include a plyometric and a carry exercise
Perform quality strength with compound movements work using weights
Include a variety of bodyweight resistance exercises or conditioning work that focuses on specific muscle groups
Whether you are a runner or have a goal of improving your general health, If you follow these guidelines, you can feel even more confident that you are doing what is best for your body.
If you are interested in becoming a stronger and more confident runner for life, I invite you to join my 12-week online running and strength program entitled The Ageless Running Academy. The next cohort starts late summer of 2022. Click HERE for more info and to get your name on the waitlist!