For years, there has been a heated debate among fitness enthusiasts over the difference between weight lifting and body weight exercises. One camp argues that resistance from weight training is essential for developing lean muscle mass, while the other side claims that body weight exercises are superior for developing functional strength and conditioning. If you are unsure of which approach is best for you, then consider your goals and go with the training method that suits you best.
There is no question that weight training builds muscle mass and burns calories. For bodybuilders who are interested in packing as much muscle mass as their frame allows, there is no doubt that they can benefit from a solid weight lifting regimen that consists of heavy compound movements. As beneficial as weight training may be, there are some valid arguments against it. For one thing, all weight lifting exercises must be executed with proper form; otherwise, you run the risk of a serious injury. An injury can keep you sidelined and put a hamper on your progress. Dependency is another problem with using free weights. You either have to have access to a gym or own a set of dumbbells and barbells in your garage. You also need to consider what you will do for exercise if you have to travel.
This is where the benefits of body weight exercise come in. It can be done virtually anywhere at any time. There is also a reason body weight calisthenics are used extensively by the military and gymnasts. They develop core and functional strength. Proponents of body weight training believe that weight lifting develops bulky muscles that are purely for aesthetic purposes. Having large muscles may look good, but the extra bulk also makes you slower and hurts your conditioning as well.
So does this mean that body weight exercises are superior? Not exactly. With free weights, you can easily add an extra plate or move on to a heavier dumbbell to increase resistance. With exercises like pushups and squats, there is really no way to increase resistance; you can only add more repetitions. Of course, with an exercise like the pushup, you can make it harder by elevating your feet or changing the position of your arms, but this also changes the muscles that are worked.
The best solution is to mix things up a bit. Work out with weights for several weeks, then switch it up with some body weight exercises for the next several weeks after. This will give your body a feel for different exercises. The debate over which type of exercise is better is a waste of time. They are all exercises and will get you into better shape.