Friday, December 16, 2011

Weights vs. Bodyweight, Part 2

Hopefully, attention spans are restored and clear minds are brought to the table because it's time to get back to comparing Weights vs. BW again. In the first entry, I decided to lay out what I considered the advantages of training with iron in the hands. This time, it's time to turn the tables and look at the disadvantages of iron and when it's a better idea to look around for different methods of making strength training harder.

The most obvious, clear-cut, and convincing advantage of BW has over weights is the convenience factor. Weights are stuff. Stuff costs money. Stuff takes up space. A lot of us don't have a lot of money...or space. Some of us travel and can't take a lot of stuff along. The majority of BW exercises can be done with bare minimum of extra apparatus outside of our own body. The importance of this advantage isn't stated nearly enough.

Getting strong and healthy gets determined by how well we can maintain a strong and healthy lifestyle. Right now, you could probably shove away from your computer and start doing a very productive BW-only routine. You can go on a vacation and do the same thing. If you went broke, you still have the ability to work out. Very little of this applies if your strength training heavily relies on adding ever-increasing amount of weight to make it a challenge. That can hurt the ability to keep that strong-healthy lifestyle thing going.

Now, we have to venture into more murky territory. I have to freely admit that a lot of what happens with weights isn't always the problem of the weights but what people do with them. Too many of weight trainings most popular shortcomings really have more to do with what's in between the trainee's ears than in the palms of their hands.

That being said, I really do think that BW training is better for overall health.
No, this isn't going to be the normal, "weights will bust you up," rant. I never believed that and I still don't, especially after the weight training that I've done. Furthermore, I am fully aware that it's possible to injure yourself with BW (worst thing I've done to myself training in recent memory was hyperextending my left thumb on a 5 finger, one-arm push-up) if not done properly.

Although I feel that I've had more of the wrong kind of aches from weights than I have from BW, that's not my reasoning for tipping the healthy factor in favor of going the non-metallic approach.

The first one has to do with the whole notion of strength-to-Bodyweight ratio(S-2-BW). There's a lot of pseudo-science out there about this but I still think that there are some very convincing reasons that maximizing this ratio is important for maintaining your health. The most obvious it's very difficult to have a high S-2-BW if you're fat. There are numerous BW moves that are impossible to do if that ratio isn't off the charts because you're carrying around too much extra blubber. When was the last time you saw someone who was 50 lbs overweight pull off One-Arm push-ups, a flag, pistol, or climb a 15' rope? On the other hand, you can find plenty of fat guys lifting huge piles of weight.

Now it's time to bring up those other, even more murky reasons for giving BW an edge over iron. As moving iron become easy, what do we do? DUH! We start lifting more. and more. AND MORE! I think that it's hard to dispute that it's very easy to lift more than we should. That makes it easier to hurt yourself while doing it. Yes, this can be negated by checking your ego at the gym entrance, making sure that we control the lift and not add so much that we let the lift control us. Still, the temptation is there. Every iron game revolves around moving more and more iron so the urge to move more than we should is always there.

Another temptation of moving iron is to shorten the movements so we can lift even more. Weight training happily embraces partials of a lot of the lifts for the sake of moving more weight. BW, on the other hand, really frowns on partials. We don't like partial pull-ups, pistols that aren't ass-to-grass, and the jury is still out on dips to parallel. I've always looked at range of motion as a use-it-or-loose it proposition. I don't see reducing ROM for the sake of moving more metal as a healthy trade-off.

Getting back to getting stronger, I gave weights the advantage for the lower body. I'd have to give BW the advantage for the upper body, and for the opposite reasons. The upper body isn't built to take the work load that the legs and hips can easily handle. They're built to move around in lots of cool ways and so there are lots of ways to make them really, REALLY strong without really needing to add weight to the movement that you do them with. Most of my readers could probably work the upper body extremely effectively with no iron at all for a long, long time with little else than a few scraps of rope, some pipe, and some towels. If that.

I do have a mental advantage to give to BW. I recall that Eric Cressey commented that the human body, when sufficiently motivated by necessity, will move weight regardless of proper mechanics, personal safety, or perceived lack of strength. I don't bring this up to comment on the safety or practicality of such a lift. It's simply that the resistance is always there. Gravity never takes a rest. When doing a BW movement, chances are there that effect isn't there. That's not a bad thing. In fact, that can be a huge advantage. If doing the move heavily relies on you focusing on the move and forcing it to become more difficult, then there has to be a more intense mental focus. Without it, you get no work out of it. This might be why many BW guys feel that there's a meditative element to certain BW moves.

So, the somewhat logical conclusion to this would be to try to determine whether BW training beats weight training. I'm not sure of the answer. When you figure it out, if you could kindly let me know if Flint and Snake Eyes would beat The Cobra and Copperhead in a fight to the death and if the Marvel Universe is really superior to DC, please?

In the meantime, I'm going to point out something else that doesn't get mentioned a whole lot in the weight vs. BW fisticuffs. The choice of which one and which one is better to use over the other is highly personal and subject to what you're looking to do and what you have to work with. This varies so much that it's hard to nail down a favored method of strength training. By reading this Blog, you already know my answer. That's my personal choice. A little bit of analyzing on your life and goals has to go into your consideration for working out prior to selecting your tools. Choose your favorite accordingly.


Rob said...

So, why not bicycling, especially sprints for legs? Still body weight, right?

Anonymous said...

He's talking about maximal strength. The most possible resistance that your legs can work against. Sprinting is good for speed. Bicycling is good for endurance. Neither of those will make your legs able to move a lot of iron up and down. That takes moving iron up and down which isn't bodyweight. Good discussion overall. Very sensible points made. Valuable insight. Nothing here to disagree with. Thanks, Justin.


Joshua said...

How can i improve my vertical jump without weights??

Justin_PS said...

Yeah, basically. When we talk about strength training, we're talking about the kind of body work that generates a lot of force.

On the other hand, I know I've done just that when I sprint under two conditions: up a REALLY steep hill (think: your knees-hitting-your-elbows steep!) or running up a sand pile.

Oh, and snow sprinting uphill.

Vertical jump? Jump more.