Want to Build True Strength? Ditch the Weights
“But don’t I need weights to get strong?”
In my work as a fitness and performance coach, I get this question a lot.
Even though I’ve been designing mostly bodyweight-based workouts for myself and my clients for over a decade, most people can’t seem to believe me at first when I tell them that you don’t need heavy weights to get strong, build muscle, or improve overall fitness.
Gymnasts have some of the highest strength-to-weight ratios of any athletes, and they rely mostly on their own bodyweight to build their high levels of strength.
In fact, in my observation over the years, most people use weights as a crutch. And it’s not surprising, due to the simple fact that bodyweight exercises are often more difficult than weight-based ones.
While machine or weight-based exercises usually focus on strength alone, most bodyweight exercises require a combination of strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination.
Take the single-leg squat, for example. It’s a seemingly simple exercise: just do a deep squat on one leg. Sounds easy, right? Go ahead, give it a try!
If you couldn’t squat down further than a few inches, or if you fall backward when trying to lower onto one leg, don’t feel bad. Single leg squats, also known as pistol squats, are a deceptively challenging bodyweight exercise requiring a combination of unilateral strength, flexibility, and balance. I work out at the iconic Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach, California, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen bodybuilders (who load up the plates on their barbell squats) fail at doing a single leg squat. They’re hard.
A good rule of thumb to remember is that if you can’t do the basic bodyweight version of the exercise, you shouldn’t be adding weights to it.
If you can’t do a decent push-up, for example, you shouldn’t be doing heavy chest presses. Likewise, if you can’t do a deep bodyweight squat due to a lack of strength, flexibility, or mobility, you shouldn’t be doing heavy barbell squats.
While weights can be used as a tool or supplemental exercise, you should always focus…