For many people, fat loss is a primary goal. We cut calories and overdose on cardio to lose weight and shed fat - but what if fat loss was simpler than we’re led to believe?
Many people are under the impression that resistance training will add bulk rather than remove it, but evidence suggests that gaining more muscle could lead to better fat loss.
Finding the perfect strength training routine to lose fat can be a challenge in and of itself. Do you use machines? Free weights? Bodyweight?
There’s no right or wrong way to go about strength training, but some methods can be more effective for specific goals.
So, we’re digging into the benefits of bodyweight and weight training for fat loss to help you determine what’s the best route for you.
The Benefits Of Bodyweight (Calisthenics)
Although typically referred to as bodyweight training, training without weights is technically known as calisthenics.
It focuses solely on utilizing your entire body for movements, which means you don’t need expensive or fancy equipment - just yourself. Calisthenics is bodyweight exercise that is simple and convenient to perform.
However, they aren't weight-bearing, per se, but you’re still performing them under the resistance of gravity, so they offer many of the same benefits of weightlifting.
In simple terms, remove the weights from weight training, and you have calisthenics.
But what’s so great about bodyweight training?
Develops functional strength
How often do you see people loading up the leg press and maxing out?
Although building strength with a leg press is great, it rarely translates into better everyday movements.
Realistically, most people who can leg press a monstrous amount wouldn’t know where to start when they hopped in a squat rack - they don’t translate the same way.
That’s where bodyweight training has the upper hand - they’re functional exercises that mimic movement patterns we do daily, such as pushing, pulling, and jumping.
Taking weight out of the equation helps to strengthen movement patterns that are important for everyday tasks. Because bodyweight exercises are often compound movements, they can also improve strength in a way that’s more challenging with weights.
Think about this. While an avid gymgoer may be able to bench 200 pounds, can they perform a single-arm push-up or ‘Human Flag’? Probably not.
Research even supports this. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at strength increases between calisthenic push-up training (PUSH) with traditional bench press training (BENCH) 1.
Participants trained three days per week for four weeks, and results show that while both groups saw significant increases in their 1RM and push-up progression (PUP), the PUP was much greater in the PUSH group compared to the BENCH group.
So, if your goal, on top of fat loss, is to improve daily movement patterns and overall functionality, bodyweight is the way to go.
Great for beginners
If it’s your first time in a gym, stepping into the weight area can be daunting.
With people who look like pros surrounding you in all directions, the nerves start building—am I doing this right? Is my form correct? Why is my weight so light?
When you're new to training, a lot goes on up there, but bodyweight training breaks down those barriers. Besides performing the exercises with the correct technique, there’s little you need to worry about.
Whether a complete novice to exercise or a self-proclaimed expert, bodyweight exercises are excellent for all fitness levels, body types, and ages.
This is one spot where bodyweight exercises can be superior to weight training.
Although weight training is gold for muscle growth, bodyweight training can be spiced up to focus on cardiovascular fitness or building strength - that’s a lot more challenging to do with weights.
Depending on your exercise, you can boost the challenge by manipulating the angle (incline or decline), changing the tempo (faster or slow), or increasing your range of motion.
Plus, bodyweight exercises tend to be more full-body than most strength exercises (this still depends on your program), which means they’re incredibly efficient. And because you’re using your entire body, you’re improving neurological connection (i.e., the mind-body connection).
If we’re being real, one of the beautiful things about bodyweight training is that it can be done anywhere, anytime - there are very few limitations.
Want to grind out some hill sprints and burpees in the middle of a park? Go for it! Thinking about breaking up your walk with some bench push-ups and dips? Absolutely.
Because bodyweight workouts don’t require equipment, all you need is yourself and a bit of space. So, compared to a weighted workout that involves equipment, bodyweight is a much more convenient and travel-friendly option.
Less risk of injury
Unless you’re performing weighted exercises with impeccable form, injury is a risk you run. But the great thing about bodyweight training is that you drastically reduce that risk thanks to the no-equipment training.
On top of developing functional strength, it’s also great for strengthening many areas most prone to injury, including the knees, shoulders, and hips.
A 2022 study found that men were 7.4 times more likely to experience an injury while weight training than women, likely due to a combination of several factors, such as higher maximum weights, outside appearance, and more 2.
Another study found that the risk of injury for Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters was significantly higher than those in non-contact sports that require strength/power 3.
If you don’t do your research or learn from a friend, it’s hard to know what you’re doing - and how to do it safely.
But with bodyweight exercises, minimal equipment also means minimal injury risk (but not a complete lack of it).
The Advantages Of Weight Training
Now that we’ve explored bodyweight training, let’s take a look at some of the obvious (and maybe not-so-obvious) benefits of weight training.
Keep in mind that strength training isn’t just about building muscle mass - there are several types, including 4:
- Muscular hypertrophy
- Muscular endurance
- Circuit training
- Maximum muscular strength
- Explosive power
Here are some reasons why strength training is important:
Build more muscle
Building muscle is usually the number one reason why people weight train. For muscles to grow in size and strength, they need sufficient stimulus (i.e., resistance).
And while there are several methods you can employ to elicit resistance, nothing does the trick quite like a dumbbell, barbell, kettlebell, or even a machine.
Part of this is because of the law of progressive overload—you must consistently challenge your muscles with heavier loads to stimulate growth—but the other part of the equation is the hormonal response to resistance training.
Weight training helps to increase the body’s production and release of testosterone and growth hormone, which are both critical for promoting tissue growth 5.
However, the extent of anabolic hormone secretion depends on the program you’re following - intensity, volume, etc. all play a role.
Improve bone density
Strong bones are crucial to prevent issues further down the line, regardless of age.
And while diet and lifestyle play a massive role in the risk of osteoporosis, resistance training is perhaps one of the most effective methods to strengthen bones and improve bone mineral density.
Studies show that to stimulate the osteogenic effects to increase bone mass, bone tissue must be exposed to mechanical stress (load) beyond those experienced during daily activity 6.
Increasing the load through resistance training is effective for preserving bone and muscle mass.
Can perform isolation movement
One area where weightlifting has its moment is isolation exercises.
Whether you want to target the biceps, triceps, shoulders, or chest, incorporating weighted movements is the easiest way to build strength and size in a specific muscle group.
For example, it’s easy to perform isolated heavy bicep curls with a dumbbell, but doing a bodyweight bicep curl is virtually impossible.
So, while bodyweight exercises offer many benefits for overall strength, weight training provides many benefits to building isolated muscle strength and mass.
The Verdict: Is Bodyweight Or Weight Better For Fat Loss?
We’re not one to choose sides because, realistically, both have their places; your choice depends on your final goal. For fat loss, weight training combined with calisthenics may be the best option.
Studies show that people with a higher muscle-to-fat ratio tend to have a higher resting metabolic rate (also called Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR), meaning they burn more calories at rest 7.
So, here’s the deal:
- Cardio activities tend to burn more calories during exercise
- Weight training burns more calories daily
When you combine the two—high-intensity bodyweight movements and pure strength exercises—you can maximize calorie burn and fat loss because you’re keeping your heart rate elevated for a prolonged period, even after the activity has stopped.
Furthermore, studies find that metabolic weight training can increase metabolic rate and calorie burn for up to 38 hours after exercise has ended 8. How?
It’s called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, and it’s the amount of energy required to return your body to homeostasis after exercise. Your body burns calories during the period after intense exercise to bring it back into balance.
So, if you want to maximize fat loss, choosing one isn’t the ideal scenario. For best results, combine them!
Strength training exercises with high-intensity bodyweight exercises can supercharge calorie and fat burn without compromising muscle mass.
Although both weight and bodyweight training are beneficial for fat loss, and it’s hard to choose one or the other, sometimes we need a little motivation to get ourselves into the workout groove.
If you’ve been snoozing your alarm instead of getting your butt to the gym or lacking the motivation to reach your goals, consider investing in a balanced pre-workout like Pre Lab Pro.
Unlike conventional pre-workouts that mega-dose caffeine and light up your nervous system, Pre Lab Pro uses moderate-dose caffeine stacked with boosters and balancers for cleaner, healthier, longer-lasting energy and a turbocharged boost that will propel your workouts to a new dimension.
- Kotarsky CJ, Christensen BK, Miller JS, Hackney KJ. Effect of Progressive Calisthenic Push-up Training on Muscle Strength and Thickness. J Strength Cond Res. 2018;32(3):651-659.
- Grier T, Brooks RD, Solomon Z, Jones BH. Injury Risk Factors Associated With Weight Training. J Strength Cond Res. 2022;36(2):e24-e30.
- Aasa U, Svartholm I, Andersson F, Berglund L. Injuries among weightlifters and powerlifters: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2017;51(4):211-219.
- Suchomel TJ, Nimphius S, Bellon CR, Stone MH. The Importance of Muscular Strength: Training Considerations. Sports Med. 2018;48(4):765-785.
- Vingren JL, Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA, Anderson JM, Volek JS, Maresh CM. Testosterone physiology in resistance exercise and training: the up-stream regulatory elements. Sports Med. 2010;40(12):1037-1053.
- Hong AR, Kim SW. Effects of Resistance Exercise on Bone Health. Endocrinol Metab (Seoul). 2018;33(4):435-444.
- Wang Z, Ying Z, Bosy-Westphal A, et al. Specific metabolic rates of major organs and tissues across adulthood: evaluation by mechanistic model of resting energy expenditure. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92(6):1369-1377.
- Schuenke MD, Mikat RP, McBride JM. Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002;86(5):411-417.