The question: Do body-weight exercises count as resistance training? What am I doing when I add weights to a squat or lunge?
The answer: Body-weight only exercises are certainly resistance training, but they only remain effective for so long.
The training principle of “progressive overload” states that in order for an exercise to continue to be effective, progressive demands have to be placed on the body.
When you use dumbbells or weight machines, you use your muscles to control the weight. With body-weight exercises like squats or push-ups, your muscles still have to work to control a weight, the difference is that it is the weight of your body.
Machines and dumbbells can easily be made heavier. Your body weight stays (relatively) constant, which means overloading your muscles can be challenging if you are only using your body weight as resistance.
There are different ways to progressively overload a muscle. The simplest is to hold weights.
If you don’t have access to dumbbells, hold a household object in each hand as you do squats and lunges, slow down the speed of your repetitions or superset two exercises that work similar muscles. For example, do a set of lunges directly after a set of squats.
The extent to which a body-weight exercise will overload your muscles depends on how much you weigh and how strong you are.
For example, when I do dumbbell bench presses, I use two 25-pound weights for three sets of 15 reps. However, since I weigh more than the 50 pounds I am pressing, push-ups from my toes are harder than doing bench presses.
But for my clients who bench-press a minimum of their own body weight, push-ups are good to do in addition to other strength exercises – but on their own, though, they will not overload their muscles.
Trainer’s tip: If you can’t get to a gym regularly, you can try this strength challenge at home: Buy a weighted vest and wear it while you are doing push-ups, squats, lunges and pull-ups.
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.
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