Weights and body-weight exercises are both popular ways to improve and maintain fitness. Weight exercises require the use of free weights or weight machines to perform lifts, while body-weight exercises use only the weight of your body to perform exercises such as pushups, squats and lunges. Both types of exercise have advantages and disadvantages. Whether weights or body-weight exercises are best for you is entirely dependent upon your fitness goals and your lifestyle.
When it comes to convenience, body-weight exercises win hands down. They can be done just about anywhere and don't require special equipment. Weights, on the other hand, require some scheduling -- you've got to be able to fit going to the gym into your already busy day. Even if you own your own weights, you still have to make the time and be home long enough to use them.
As with everything in life, there's always an expense -- purchasing your own set of weights can put a serious dent in your pocketbook. Granted, you can buy a set of dumbbells for relatively little, but you can't use that same set forever. You will eventually have to buy the next size up to ensure that your muscles are adequately worked. For serious weightlifters, although well worth it, a complete weight set is easily several hundred dollars. If you opt to use the weights at a gym, you still have to pay the monthly membership fee; while this initially may be cheaper than a weight set, it is still an expense nonetheless. Body-weight exercises, on the other hand, are completely free.
When choosing a type of exercise, it's important to consider your fitness goals. Body-weight exercises are great if you're a newbie to exercise or if you simply want to improve your general fitness and overall body strength. The downfall of body-weight exercises is that you will eventually plateau. You can always increase your sets or repetitions, but if you want to continue to see fitness gains, you will eventually have to give in and add some weights to your routine. In contrast, weight exercises add an external load to your muscles. This overload will stress your muscles and force them to adapt, resulting in increased muscular strength, endurance and, if heavy weights are used, sometimes muscle growth. While body-weight exercises generally work multiple muscle groups at once, weights allow you to isolate specific muscles. Body-weight exercises are usually performed using multiple sets of high repetitions, whereas weights give you a couple of options -- lighter weights with high reps will improve muscular endurance and heavy weights with low reps will improve muscular strength.
Safety is always a concern when exercising. In fact, it's always a good idea to check with your health care provider before beginning a new exercise program. Body-weight exercises are generally considered safe for all populations and are even used during the recovery period of an injury. Weights require attention to detail -- proper lifting technique is crucial, especially when using heavy weights. You should always use a spotter during your lifts. While they may not be as safe as body-weight exercises, weight exercises are still a great choice if done correctly. No matter which type of exercises you choose to do, always be sure to warm up for five to 10 minutes before your workout.
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Third Edition; Thomas Baechle, et al
- American Council on Exercise: Lift your Body Weight to Get in the Shape of Your Life
- Mayo Clinic: Strength Training: Get stronger, leaner, healthier
Jen Weir writes for several websites, specializing in the health and fitness field. She holds a Bachelor of Science in exercise science from Montana State University, is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist and maintains a personal trainer certification from the American College of Sports Medicine.