Heather Marr is an NYC-based personal trainer and The Model Trainer Method creator, whose A-list client roster includes some of the world’s most famous supermodels. Ahead, she breaks down the differences between body weight and free weight exercises.
Both body weight and free weight exercises have their pros and cons and a place in programming. Factors such as available equipment, fitness level, and goals play a major role in deciding when to use one over the other.
What Are Body Weight Exercises?
These are exercises that use a person's own body weight to provide the resistance. Examples include pushups, pull-ups, and lunges. These exercises require essentially no equipment, making them a very convenient option when going to the gym is not an available option. Obviously for exercises such as a chin-up, you would require an apparatus to pull yourself up, but bars even in public parks may be used. These moves are budget-friendly and can be performed basically anywhere.
The problem with using one’s own body weight is that for someone just starting out or for those who are carrying excess weight, the resistance may actually be too much. The reverse is also true. People that are more advanced may find that body weight alone is not challenging enough.
If a person just beginning their fitness journey is attempting to do a pull-up with their body weight, they may not be capable of handling that much resistance. Luckily, there are ways to modify body weight exercises to a person's current fitness level and weight. In this instance, bands could be purchased to remove some of the person's body weight. This makes the load and the exercise appropriate for a beginner. Push-ups are another great example. If a person is unable to perform a standard push-up, they can remove some of their body weight by simply modifying the exercise and doing them on their knees.
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The issue for people that are more advanced, is that they require more resistance. For instance, body weight squats for many active individuals would not be appropriately challenging for them and they would require added resistance.
Let’s Talk Free Weight Exercises
These are exercises in which resistance is provided with dumbbells or barbells. Examples include the dumbbell row, deadlift, and bench press. These exercises obviously require equipment and may therefore be less convenient than body weight exercises. They also require additional cost, whether that be purchasing equipment for an at-home gym or purchasing a gym membership. The great thing about free weights though, is that the load can be adjusted to match a person's fitness level all the way from beginner to advanced. They also make adhering to programming easier in many cases. If my goals are strength-based, and I'm working in the strength rep range (1-5), that would lend itself much better to added free weight exercises than it would to body weight exercises in many cases.
Is one "better" than the other? I certainly don't think so; arguments can be made for both camps. Many people would benefit from doing a combination of both body weight and free weight exercises. It's important to be open-minded on our fitness journeys and incorporate any type of exercise that fits into our life circumstances and moves us towards our goals.