The question of “BEST” in Exercise Prescriptions is almost always determined by the needs, goals and current fitness and wellness level, of your personal training client.
All IFPA Certified Personal Trainers have learned to write safe and effective exercise prescriptions based on the F.I.T.T. Principle.
Frequency: number of training sessions/week;
Intensity: how hard the exercise session will be: i.e.: % of 1RM for Weight Lifting, % of maximum heart rate (MHR), etc.;
Time (or Volume): number of sets and repetitions in a Work-Out, number of minutes in a cardio or flexibility program, etc.
Type: type of program used, equipment or body weight exercise, PNF Stretching, Plyometric, etc.
If you ask 100 Bodybuilders which is BEST, all 100 will say Weight Training.
If you ask 100 Powerlifters which is BEST, all 100 will say Weight Training.
If you ask 100 Gymnasts which is BEST, all 100 will say Body Weight Exercises which is a portion of the awesome moves they do in their sport.
If you ask 100 Medical, Health and Wellness Professionals who read the research reported in the February 2019, Journal of American Medical Assoc. (JAMA), then all will say Bodyweight Exercise is BEST, especially if you are talking about push-ups.
According to JAMA Network Open, Feb. 2019: Those who could complete 40 push-ups in 30 seconds were at 96% less risk of a heart attack, heart failure or other cardiovascular problems, when compared to men who could perform less than 10. (Remember: Heart disease is the #1 Killer, World-Wide)
Please Note: Though JAMA used 30 seconds during the push-up test, the Journal of Physical Therapy Science recommends 2 seconds to complete a push-up.
Also Note: The IFPA Personal Training Guidelines recognized 2 seconds for concentric contraction and 4 seconds for eccentric concentric contractions during exercise training.
JAMA also stated; the push-up test was better for determining cardiovascular problems than the traditional treadmill test.
Now, I expect all my Bodybuilding friends (I hope you still consider me a friend and I also hope your blood pressure did not spike and cause you eye balls to explode), will be yelling at me that there is NO WAY Bodyweight or Callisthenic Exercises can match Weight Training to build muscular size or hypertrophy.
You are probably right, though there is no available scientific research comparing the two modes of exercise in generating hypertrophy.
Anecdotal evidence comparing Bodybuilding to other modes of training, support the conclusion that Bodybuilding exercises creates far greater muscle size increases (even after you negate the Pharmaceutical Expertise and drug use of some Bodybuilders).
That being said, most Medical, Health and Wellness expert will reply: “We do not care,” there is no scientific evidence that very large muscles make you “Healthier” than “athletic” size muscles.
Bigger is not always better! I can still recall trying to find a “Off-the-rack” suit when I was heavy into Body Building. It was about as rare as finding a career politician telling the truth.
The Powerlifters will have a similar response to the Bodybuilder, stating: “No Way Body Weight exercises will make you as strong as weight-lifting exercises!”
This statement is FALSE. I can make an adjust to the Powerlifter statement and make it true:
There is no way Body Weight exercises can make you as strong in the squat, deadlift, and bench press. Along with a few other exercises.
What is also true, is while Bodybuilders and most especially Powerlifters can be stronger in the large 35-40 muscles their exercises target, they are far, FAR weaker in nearly all the other 606 muscles of the body.
Bodybuilders and powerlifters make terrible Gymnasts, because their strength is developed in negativity few muscles. They are weak in many support muscles, which could lead to musculoskeletal problems as they age.
Gymnasts have far, FAR greater “Functional” strength, due to the many more muscles activated by Gymnastic Exercises.
Another issue lies within one of the critically important 12 IFPA Components of Fitness: Symmetry.
Powerlifters need to use caution and plan their exercise program to ensure balanced is fully development among the antagonist muscle groups, for their major Powerlifting exercises.
Even with that focus, they still cannot exercise all the bodies muscles with a bench press, especially when considering nearly every muscle within the body is activated during a simple push-up.
I expect some will argue that bodybuilding is BEST for symmetry, as it is an essential component of Bodybuilding.
Admittedly, my good friend Bill Pearl illustrated over 2,000 exercises in his First Edition of “Keys to the Inner Universe”, however, some of the those “Bodybuilding” exercises were Bodyweight Exercises.
I think one of the difficulties on developing Symmetry through Bodyweight exercise, is due to the challenge of the Gradual Progressive Overload (GPO) Principle, specifically for muscle groups, i.e. Mid/Upper Bac, Trapezius, Quadriceps/Gluteal, Hamstrings, Claves, and Forearms.
Below is a Bodyweight Exercise Program with a variety of exercises to target every muscle, in order to correct the GPO issues:
Muscle Group- exercises Recommendations:
- Chest: Push-ups and variations: Prone, Incline, Declines; hands wide/narrow/close, high to single arm overhead, low to plank push-up
- Mid-Upper back: Chin-Ups, Pull-ups, Iron Cross
- Triceps: Dips, Diamond Push-ups, one-Arm push-ups
- Biceps: Chin-ups
- Shoulders: Hand Stand Push-ups, One-arm Hand Stand Push-ups
- Trapezius: Dynamic tensions, MAXALDING (using Shrug exercise)
- Abdominals: Plank, Crunch, Jack Knife, Twisting Crunch, L-Sets
- Quadriceps/Gluteal: Wall Squats, Step Ups, Stairclimbing, Biking-Sprinting, Lunges, Burpees
- Hamstrings: Leg curls on stability ball
- Calf: Heel Raise (using dynamic tensions/ MAXALDING)
- Forearms: Squeezing a ball, Hand Grips, etc.
- Low Back: Superman’s, Back Extensions
This is merely a short list of recommended Bodyweight Exercises.
It has been a goal of mine to write a book listing the thousands of available exercises.
Currently, in my “To-Do-List,” I should reach that goal on or before my 125th birthday! That is 61 years away, but I promise, it will be worth the wait.
The Bottom-line on the question to, Which is BEST?
Answer: It Depends!
As is true in many circumstances, perhaps BEST is a combination of both, with other modes of exercises as well.
IFPA Certified Personal Trainers must always keep in mind the Variation and Individuality Principles, to do their BEST for each and every personal training client.
Dr. Jim Bell
CEO and Founder, IFPA
Yang J, Christophi CA, Farioli A, et al. Association Between Push-up Exercise Capacity and Future Cardiovascular Events Among Active Adult Men. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(2):e188341. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.8341