The Superiority of Bodyweight Training – it’s not what you think

posted in: Strength Training, Uncategorized | 8

Pop quiz, hot shot.

1. Who is the strongest of these weight lifters?

a) bodybuilders
b) olympic weightlifters
c) powerlifters
d) weekend warriors
e) it depends

2. Who is the strongest of these bodyweight athletes?

a) gymnasts
b) acrobats/dancers
c) Parkour traceurs
d) Richard Simmons
e) it depends

3) Who is the strongest?

a) bodyweight trainees
b) free weight trainees
c) Chuck Norris
d) the answer is C
e) all of the above


Grading will commence immediately. Switch papers and pull out your red pens!

The answer to number 1 is E, it depends.
The answer to number 2 is E, it depends.
And the answer to number 3 is also E, all of the above.

First of all, I thought you should know that Chuck Norris roundhouse kicked me in the face until I included him in the last question. Second of all, you’re probably noticing a theme in the quiz answers. Let me explain…

Bodybuilders definitely aren’t the strongest because they don’t lift as heavy as powerlifters do. Then again, olympic weightlifters, pound-for-pound are some of the strongest guys on the planet. Most powerlifters couldn’t put that much weight over their head for their respective weight classes. Although, olympic weightlifters probably can’t barbell curl nearly as much as bodybuilders can, pound-for-pound. Well that doesn’t make any sense! How about those bodyweight trainee’s…

Gymnasts do seem to be the obvious winner for the bodyweight category, but then again, they don’t have to jump as far as many Parkour tracers do. However, traceurs only need enough strength to navigate their environment. Sure, some of them do cool tricks, but nothing nearly as impressive as some of the acrobats, dancers, and other stuntmen out there. Acrobats require not only high levels of strength, but the coordination to control that strength. Power is nothing without control, after all. Now, I’m even MORE confused!

So, how on earth are we going to find out who is the strongest: bodyweight trainees or weight lifters?

Well, there’s a lot hidden in that simple answer of “it depends.”

You see, STRENGTH IS A SKILL, and when you view it as a skill, the answer to this question comes right into perspective.

For example, let’s look at two ends of each extreme. Bodybuilders, even with their huge, well-defined muscles, do not possess the strength to move their body like a gymnast, and most gymnasts, even with their impressive physiques, don’t stand a chance on stage for a bodybuilding competition or could handle a pro bodybuilder “leg day” in the weight room. Both of these athletes are STRONG, but we have to ask ourselves, strong for what?

Strength is a skill, but it’s also specific – laser specific. In fact, the application of strength is so specific, that it’s actually activity-specific.

So, it’s only logical to assume that just because an athlete is strong in one activity, it doesn’t mean they are strong in others. Just because a powerlifter is strong enough to lift hundreds of pounds in three separate lifts, doesn’t mean he is strong enough to make a challenging depth-jump that would be routine practice for a traceur. And if you’re a bodybuilder, please DON’T try doing this just to find out if you can because you’ll probably hurt yourself.

Strength is a skill, and strength is activity-specific because of the law of Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID). (I talk more about this here and here)

We tend to generalize when we talk about strength training, calling both bodyweight exercise and weight lifting activities which build strength. This is technically correct, but it’s too vague to form conclusions. That’s why it’s practically impossible to compare the strength of a weight lifter with the strength of a bodyweight trainee. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. I’m sure there’s some science experiment that could test and compare specific variables of each athletes strength. But the truth is that it’s such a complicated subject that it would take a myriad of tests to record and confirm evidence of one versus the other.

BUT WHO CARES!!! Why does it matter so much to us to find out what the best strength training program is when we know that many different things can be used to build strength? Strength (and all aspects of health) is built by following principles, not by following the best, perfect routine. That might sound weird coming from someone with a background in fitness, but I think it’s more important to focus on what you can do right now to achieve your goals, rather than trying to find the elusive (non-existent) best program.

What is the best strength training program?

The best program is the one you will follow. The best program is the one you’ll stick with willingly. The best program is the one you will enjoy the most. And here’s a real mind-boggler: the best program is not the same for everyone – there is no best program out there. Both bodyweight training and free weight training can be used to achieve common goals like fat loss, muscle building, well-rounded fitness, increased strength, endurance, power, etc. There are pro’s and con’s to every type of training program, no doubt. But it’s not about which modality is the BEST for achieving results, it’s about which one is more PRACTICAL for your lifestyle.

I think this is exactly why bodyweight exercise programs are literally erupting across the internet, because it’s downright practical. You don’t need equipment, a gym membership, or even that much floor space to do bodyweight training. You can do it at the gym, in your living room, in the garage, at the hotel, on the road, in the airport, anywhere. You can do long workouts or short workouts, easy workouts or hard workouts, specific workouts or general workouts – because it’s such a versatile training method.

Current Fitness Industry Trends Are Upgrading Bodyweight Training

It’s actually really cool what’s happening… People are getting sick and tired of doing pushups, situps, and bodyweight squats, and many coaches are starting to take notice. There’s a paradigm shift happening in the fitness industry, moving away from Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) calisthenics, and towards more sophisticated forms of bodyweight exercise. It’s no longer enough just to work hard, people want to work better and feel better, too. Long, grinding bodyweight sessions can leave you feeling utterly exhausted, and unable to function properly for the rest of the day (at least some of the bodyweight training I’ve done in the past). Then you have the Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) that follows the next day (if you worked hard enough, of course). You can be too sore to do anything beyond shuffling around slowly until your muscles stop re-tearing themselves.

Final Words

Strength training is meant to prepare you for life’s challenges, not inhibit you from physical activity. This is why the Circular Strength Training system (CST) resonates so well with me, and why I decided to get certified. One of the main principles of CST is that of increasing movement sophistication. It’s not enough to do more work or even work harder than before. In CST, the goal is better movement, and the result of that is functional strength, applicable athleticism, and especially improved health. If you practice better movement, then better conditioning comes as a by-product. And you know what the best part is, you feel better all the time.

I can move freely, and I haven’t been injured in years because CST has health as the top priority. Since I’ve stayed injury-free, I continually blow my goals out of the water. It’s not just because I have a good work ethic. It’s not just because I know what I’m doing. It’s because I’m using a tried-and-tested system that works wonderfully. CST actually fortifies your health, and bodyweight exercise should be no different.

That’s why great coaches like Scott Sonnon, Adam Steer, and Ryan Murdock have created new and improved bodyweight exercise programs that are based on the CST system, because it works better than the norm. It provides exceptional results instead of just ordinary results. Not only can you build the body that you desire, you can build it in a health-first manner that will surprise you with all the benefits.

There are several CST bodyweight programs available already, and I’ve recommended some of them over the past couple years. Today, I want you to know that a new one is coming very soon – a big one. This one may change the face of bodyweight exercise indefinitely and I think it’s going to be wildly popular. The official announcement is coming on Monday. Check back here for the details, and signup for the newsletter to make sure you don’t miss it. Believe me, you’re not going to want to miss it.

If you’d like a sneak-peek, here’s a post that I published a couple months ago about it:

TACFIT Commando Session Practice

To your health and success,

Fitness Professional

P.S. While I was “visiting” with Chuck Norris, he was bit in the leg by a cobra. After 3 days of excruciating pain… the cobra died.

8 Responses

  1. Cheryl Malone

    I love the CST workouts and have gotten much stronger using this method; than just pumping weights the old way. Wish I could have had all this training when I was doing my martial arts training because it is very compatible. I do Intu-Flow every morning before my yoga session and find that it adds something to my yoga. I am curious to see what Coach is going to unveil; just hope us lesser athletes will be able to use it.

    I enjoy reading your articles; keep them coming.

  2. Cheryl, I know what you mean by having a daily Intu-Flow practice. I’ve made it a habit to do a full body session daily, and on those days when I do miss it, my day doesn’t quite feel the same. And it absolutely contributes to my yoga practice. In fact, it IS yoga.

    you said:
    “just hope us lesser athletes will be able to use it”

    I have a feeling that they’ll be marketing TACFIT Commando as the program of the elite special forces groups they’ve trained – the best of the best! But one thing I do know about TACFIT is that it has levels of difficulty built into it to make it accessible to beginners, intermediates, advanced, and masterful trainee’s. I’m confident that TACFIT Commando will be the same way, and that it will be appropriate to both beginners and veterans.

  3. John Paul Tan

    Hello John,

    I just finished checking out the Israeli TACFIT Commando challenge. Looks really good from a benefits point of view. My question has to do with duration. It says that if you plan to do it as your main form of exercise, you should do it three times a week. Isn’t that against the principles of the 4 X 7?

    • Yes, if you’re following a strict 4X7, you wouldn’t be doing 3 TACFIT sessions weekly. The 4X7 wave is an excellent format for many reasons, but it’s not always the most convenient. When you can’t adhere to a 4X7, then you’ll need a different balance of work to rest during the week. Doing TACFIT 3 times weekly would be plenty on the work end of the spectrum, and it can and should be supplemented with plenty of active recovery methods such as Intu-Flow joint mobility and Prasara yoga.

      • John Paul Tan

        Hello John,

        Is the Israeli TACFIT design to be a stand alone product? I’m just a bit confuse because when it comes to training strength, CST uses the Clubells to do it. Can you use the Israeli TACFIT to replace Clubells as one of the three pillars of CST? I really want to know cuz I am currently doing the Body weight Exercise Revolution and the Israeli TACFIT looks perfect as my next progression. It is bodyweight, cheap and doesn’t require the investment in Clubells.

        • The Israeli TACFIT workout is ONE workout of the upcoming TACFIT Commando program, which will be an entire workout system made of of many many different workouts. It is bodyweight only, and does not require clubbells. And yes, it can replace the clubbell portion of the CST pillars. In that regard, it’s the “work portion” of CST. It would also serve as a perfect progression to follow after the Bodyweight Exercise Revolution.

  4. dan howard

    The more I read of this website the more I realize why our great country is becoming weak and pathetic. Bodyweight training is better than barbells? You have no understanding of the principles of strength training.

    • Hi Dan,

      Thanks for your comment, but I’m not sure I understand you correctly, and I don’t think you read the full article based on your conclusion.

      Bodyweight training and barbells are tools, not principles. Principles can be applied to these tools to create specific physical results in the body.

      Both barbell training and bodyweight training have pros and cons, and neither one is better than the other – nobody is comparing anything here. Although, depending on ones goals, one may be more appropriate than the other.

      Do you disagree?

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