The mindset is deeply rooted in fitness and gyms all around: big weights equals big muscles. The allure of free weights and even machines is addicting. The sound of metal banging, clips beings moved around, plates clinging, and dumbbells being thrown to the floor! It just makes more sense, right?
When thinking of fitness and building lean mass, the strategy is one needs to be progressing in the weight they use. As muscles get used to a weight we add more to get them to respond. Weights are just easier. We slide on another plate, grab a heavier dumbbell, or slide the pin into a heavier weight.
This is where things can get complicated but are actually quite simple.
The focus is not so much progression in weight as it is adaptation of the muscles being worked.
In “scientific” fitness lingo, there is something called the S.A.I.D principle. S.A.I.D stands for “specific adaptation to imposed demands”. This basically means the body will eventually adapt to a movement and weight you put it through therefore halting or slowing down the muscles response to stress. This is how gauging one’s level of fitness can be difficult.
An example would be pull ups. If a person went into the gym and all they did was pull ups, the S.A.I.D principle says that the imposed demand would lower and the body would adapt. So, you see this person polishing off 30 pull ups and instantly you think this person must be in phenomenal shape. But how many push-ups can they do? How fast can they run a 5k? There is so many other facets to look at when trying to examine one’s overall fitness level.
How does the S.A.I.D principle play into all of this?
Free weights and machines restrict variation. When variation is restricted that means eventually progression will hit a max given the individual’s strength and muscle endurance. Body weight movements have a much higher variation and include mostly of compound movements which are amazing for muscle growth and fat burning.
When one thinks of body weight movements what comes to mind usually is just pull ups, push-ups, sit ups, and body squats. There is so much more out there (Google “body weight exercises” and see the large list that awaits you). Body weight movements and their variations do not just include resistance to the body, but also include the demand on mobility, balance, and flexibility. Free weights and machines are limited when it comes to those benefits. With mobility, balance, and flexibility, the core is engaged more aggressively as well.
To clarify, this article is not to bash free weights or machine use, but suggest the implementation of a body weight routine or two throughout the week. This will not only keep demand up, but just as importantly variation, which leads to the improvement of mobility, balance, and flexibility.
By incorporating some renegades, bear crawls, plyometric pushups, mountain climbers, tuck jumps, and hand stand pushups (to name a few), you will just be adding to the plates you put on the bar when you hit the free weights again.