Neal Winkler

Martin Berkhan: Bodyweight training is worse for hypertrophy

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Neal Winkler

In a recent post post on the Leangains blog, Martin Berkhan made the opinion that bodyweight training was inferior to weights for hypertrophy.

In reviewing a book he stated this:

Ferruggia ranks the most effective types of exercises being the ones that "involve moving the body through space" (i.e. gymnast rings) followed by compound movements and isolation movements. Can't say I agree with that and he doesn't really talk about that first type of training in the book. One wonders why he bothered to write a book about weight training if he believes body weight training is more effective (it's not).

He then responded to a question about gymnasts with the following answer:

You can get hypertrophy from it [bodyweight training] but the reward per time unit invested isn't comparable to weight training.

Gymnasts is a poor example. The guys you see on TV are the cream of the crop. Spent most of their childhood training several hours a day. With such immense training volumes you're bound to get a good amount of hypertrophy. But the average joe wouldn't be able to tolerate that kind of training. Nor would he have time for it.

The gymnasts I've met were lean, but not very muscular.

So, do you agree? Does gymnastic training result in less hypertrophy per unit of time? I've never seen a ring specialist in person, are they smaller than they appear in photos and youtube?

Source: http://leangains.blogspot.com/2010/04/b ... crets.html

BTW, if you don't know who Martin is, he is a successful and intelligent trainer who maintains amazing results not only for clients but himself as well.

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Guest

He may or may not be right in that gymnastics training yields less hypertrophy per unit of time, but I assume that 99% of the members of this forum couldn't care less - I assume that for most (if not all) of us hypertrophy isn't our primary goal, but being able to move our bodies with strength and agility is. Mr. Berkhan seems to be mainly interested in what constitutes the most efficient way to increase muscle mass so he may be right from that point of view.

...I do think it's an interesting statement that can initiate a nice discussion among the experienced members here. Looking forward to it.

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braindx

For upper body the hypertrophy is comparable or even better I'd say up to a certain point (which is probably around optimal body mass whatever that is for someone). Then you need weights to get more. Strictly speaking if you're underweight you may get more hypertrophy out of bodyweight than with weights up to a certain point. If you're already near your optimal weight or higher you probably will not gain as much as with weights.

However, once you're properly conditioned to start working the upper level rings strength skills... anything is possible. And you will have some big biceps comparable to your size. :)

For lower body, weights are superior.

Secondly, all of the trainers are wrong about time invested. There are some smart trainers who believe this too. They just don't know how to plan a correctly executed bodyweight strength program. I can get done with my bodyweight exercises for strength in the same amount of time I would for a barbell workout routine.

Hence why I wrote this The fundamentals of bodyweight strength training and why Ido and Coach Sommer have put out a lot of stuff on programming. There's very little information out there on it so far, hopefully that will change as we put out more though.

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LukasM

He's right. If you are after maximal hypertrophy you won't get around deadlifts and squats.

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rauelvick

Nevertheless, bodyweight training can be used to supplement weightlifting for optimal hypertrophy. When a plateau is reached in traditional weight lifting exercises, bodyweight exercises can be swapped in to hit the muscles form another angle, allowing strength gains in areas such as the shoulder girdle, core and straight arm exercises; aspects that would be much harder to achieve in weightlifting style training. And after such gains in strength, one can go back to weightlifting to push past the plateaus with the hitherto newfound strength and to induce hypertrophy once more.

I've liked this hybrid mix of bodyweight and weightlifting training...Jim from beastskills does a fantastic job to prove just how effective it is. Personally i've found the shoulder girdle strength gains through gymnastic-based exercises superior to typical weightlifting; and i've been using handstand and planche development exercises to work on shoulder stability and strength to gain increments in military/bench press poundages (works great for dips too)...to great effect i must say.

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Blairbob
The gymnasts I've met were lean, but not very muscular.
This is erroneous, other than that; I pretty much nod at what Braindx has to say.

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Neal Winkler

braindx, I took his comment to mean if you wanted to gain 5 lbs. on the upper body, then it would take x weeks, whereas with weights it would take x-y weeks. Not that a single bodyweight session takes more time in the gym.

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braindx
braindx, I took his comment to mean if you wanted to gain 5 lbs. on the upper body, then it would take x weeks, whereas with weights it would take x-y weeks. Not that a single bodyweight session takes more time in the gym.

I know what you meant. I definitely disagree but only to an extent.

The other comment about time needed was just me making the comment on his quote. Correctly executed bodyweight strength does not take enormous amounts of time in the gym as stated above or the people like thibaudeau et al. make it out to seem.

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Donald Lee

I think Martin Berkhan's right. There's too much time with bodyweight training spent on skill and not on hypertrophy. BTW. I'm not talking about WCU/WPU or Weighted Dips. Of course you can get a lot of hypertrophy with bodyweight training, but it's not optimal for it.

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Blairbob

Too often with BW training, trainers never get to anything that is very intense.

Dips and Pullups and SLS and Hanging Leg Lifts aren't very intense unless you start doing them weighted or some hard versions of them, but all too often in the BW training world, you end up doing a lot of reps of these into the metabolic range once you can do them. Sure, it builds some hypertrophy but doesn't focus on maximal strength.

Most BW trainers will never touch any of the true straight arm movements for strength like levers, planche, cross. Honestly, it's hard to say if most clients looking to get in shape would have the dedication to care. They might find it interesting to screw around with but not actually train. I wonder about this, myself.

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Rambro

I lifted weights most of my life, and have always been considered muscular. I have only recently begun incorporating gymnastics type exercises into my routine , and have never seen a more drastic increase in upper body hypertrophy. In addition to that, I am more athletic, agile, flexible, etc...

I feel the arguments about bodyweight vs. external weights is pointless. Resistance is resistance. Your body doesn't know the difference between bodyweight or free weights, it just recognizes resistance. I now favor bodyweight exercises, but I am not going to argue one way against another. I do believe that bodyweight exercises can provide any desired results up until the point where your weight and/or ability to decrease leverage subsides. At that point it is only logical to add external load for increased resistance if that is what you seek.

I am not taking credit for this theory, as I believe most of this argument was an excerpt from the article by Alwyn Cosgrove "Your body is a barbell". To me it makes total sense. Use bodyweight exercises until you can no longer make them difficult enough for that particular movement, and then add external load as necessary. For lower body maybe...but I find it hard to believe that most of us would have to resort to weights for continued upper body/core strength gains.

In summary, don't let anyone make you feel that bodyweight exercies are inferior to weights. It is just a matter of preference for what resistance you favor using. Just my two cents.

Rambro

Rambro

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Neal Winkler
Former conditioning coach to the Great Britain Olympic gymnastics team, Nick Grantham, CSCS, noted that the majority of male gymnasts, after years of body weight training, could typically bench press double their body weight the first time they ever benched. If that’s not evidence of the efficacy of body weight training, then I don’t know what is. - Alwyn Cosgrove

http://www.elitefts.com/documents/body_barbell.htm

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Blairbob

A friend of mine, one of the first gymnasts I worked out with upon getting interested in gymnastics, took a weightlifting class with me. Funny thing is afterwards, we'd sneak into the MP room and do ring and tumbling work...after WL.

We both benched about the same though he was about half a foot taller and weighed about 135-140. I believe the weight was 255 for 3-5x. I weighed about 150-155 at the time. For 3 reps it hurt me bad, but was all new and easy to him. It was at least 225 or 235. It's been nearly 10 years.

And yes, he could planche. He was an optional level gymnast so he never was a L10 or elite, but obviously loved it. I don't remember him doing anything remarkable on the rings but it was all beyond me then so he could have and I probably wouldn't have known what it was.

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Rafael David

I do not know who Martin Berkhan nor what he does, I just know that I gained 33lbs of lean mass in only eight months doing FBE, trained three times a week every other day and between days of training did HIIT.

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Chris Hansen

You know, if someone just wants to be bigger they should just go an a bodybuilding program. Everyone's so obsessed with being bigger, I don't get it. Most women, whose opinions I've heard, don't care for the bodybuilding look anyway. I prefer to focus on performance and being able to do different things and I figure I'll build enough muscles doing that. It's nice to be leaner and more muscular than average but personally I have no interest in being huge.

Sorry, not sure where that came from but it felt good getting it off my chest.

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Blairbob

However, in the training world, trainees often associate stronger with bigger.

Funny enough, I can't count how many times I've heard from our girls that they wanted to get stronger and be able to be more powerful with higher level skills yet thought they were too bulked up...and honestly, those were from the girls I considered weak and lacking in the power department.

Go figure.

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Rafael David

You prefer to have a body like that of Tomita or like Ronnie Coleman? Obvious that most members of this forum prefer Tomita, is not accurate nor explain why. This is a forum on how to build a body in the parameters of a gymnast, not in binding to a bodybuilder. That's my opinion.

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Coach Sommer

It is interesting to note that most people who find Gymnastic Strength Training™ inferior to weight training only have experience lifting weights and NO experience whatsoever with Gymnastic Strength Training™.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

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Rafael David
It is interesting to note that most people who find Gymnastic Strength Training™ inferior to weight training only have experience lifting weights and NO experience whatsoever with Gymnastic Strength Training™.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

This is really interesting! I'm working out just 1 year or so and just did FBE, and impressive is that friends of mine who started working out in the same period (in the gym and weight lifting) that I could not even 1 / 3 of my results (aesthetic and strength) . Since I bought the book BtGB the results improved considerably, but still my friends insist that I may lift weights hidden! They can not believe how the GB-style training can be effective ... :|

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shiftedShapes
It is interesting to note that most people who find Gymnastic Strength Training™ inferior to weight training only have experience lifting weights and NO experience whatsoever with Gymnastic Strength Training™.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

Coach you must realize though that bodyweight training of the type you endorse will build mass, but not as evenly as a comprehensive body part split program does. Certain muscle groups will get great stimulation through the various basic bodyweight progressions, but others will be neglected either because they are not worked at all by bodyweight skills, only indirectly, or only by very advanced trainees who are capable of working with higher volume a greater range of skills.

I think that your program teaches coordination that is an excellent adjunct to the skills generally possessed by bodybuilders, weightlifters and powerlifters. These skills may be re-purposed to lift weights more effectively in fact. Also the process of learning the gymnastics skills can help one to grow. In fact I think if you joined a gym you would see that gymnastic techniques for straight arm movements and body tension make traditional lifting much more effective. For me it was like doing bodyweight training in a room with adjustable gravity. The best of both worlds.

Perhaps you would broaden your target audience if you sold a book on incorporating gymnastic techniques into conventional workouts.

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AlexX
It is interesting to note that most people who find Gymnastic Strength Training™ inferior to weight training only have experience lifting weights and NO experience whatsoever with Gymnastic Strength Training™.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

Best point by far. You even see this within the strength community itself some people say only compound moves, others say olympic lifts are a must, others power lifts yet others have built large physiques with just machines. Generally the people arguing for this stuff say its superior because they stuck to what works for them without trying other stuff.

From personal experience I've seen people hypertrophy with just about everything from gymnastic work, to only lifting stones, barrels, and sandbags, to powerlifting, and yes even the isolation approach. Two things all these people had in common was progressing with either more reps or more weight or harder skill and an increase in calories. Other than that the similarities were few.

PS. In the older era, about pre world war, the mentality was very different from all the enthusiasts who had great physiques. There was no main stream approach, one guy was known for great handbalancing and bodyweight feats, another for dummbell lifts, another for barell lifting. The different mentality? Nobody claimed that their method was superior they simply did things differently because they liked different things.

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Jason Stein
Coach you must realize though that bodyweight training of the type you endorse will build mass, but not as evenly as a comprehensive body part split program does.

Shifted,

I am curious if you can supply evidence to support your assertion?

Otherwise, this is just an expression of opinion, and should be acknowledged as such. If I recall, Coach Sommer has a gym full of evenly built kids with physiques that are the byproducts of this style of training rather than the point of it.

My consideration of this thread, and of similar ones ("Discussion at Catalyst") is that they end up comparing bodybuilding, of all things, to gymnastics.

The shortcoming of that analogy is that at least for myself, and I suspect others who post here, is that the process of gymnastic training itself is infinitely compelling and rewarding.

It's 9 slices of the pizza. The mass gain, 6% bodyfat, and strength and flexibility levels are all a single slice. Well, maybe 2 slices.

I personally have never done bodybuilding, but it looks more tedious (Calf work? Lat work?) and goal-oriented, compared to the process-oriented work of press handstands or a ring routine.

best,

jason

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JasonB82

Mikael those are some really impressive results. I am also starting out, well have been in doing the basic killroy workout for around a month or so, starting to see improvements in strength and some small improvements in hypertrophy.. although im worried it won't give me us much as weights, so hearing your stuff is really encouraging. Could you tell us what your routine/workout is? Also did you experience much fat loss, as this is a major issue for me.

I'd much prefer to look muscled in a thick n dense sense, more athletic, rather then bulky and huge, and be agile with it, but muscled never the less. Would increased reps help hypertrophy once I got comfortable with my bodyweight at say 5 x 5. For example if i went up to sets of 3 -5 x 10 or 12? Could I keep increasing the reps for a while, like up to 20 and still get hypertrophy?

The only other thing i miss about weights and doing compound full body excercies like the squat, deadlight, standing overhead press, bent over row etc, is that it works the entire body with each excercises, and so many more calories are burned. With alot of the gymnastic stuff just being upper body, and the leg work, like SLS just being lower body, you these gymastic workouts can compare when it comes to burning calories and fat? Yes I know this might not be the primary aim of all gymnastcs, but im sure it matters to many people like me who want to benefit from aesthetic as well as strength improvements.

Thanks. Jason

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Rafael David

JasonB82, my training is practically this: viewtopic.php?f=12&t=3999

the difference is that I do five sets instead of three, add leg work and specific exercises (push, pull, core and leg) change according to the day, eg Monday's pull up Wednesday is inverted chins (curls) and Friday is FL row.

between those days I do HIIT, you can find further information here: http://www.menshealth.com/men/fitness/c ... 10cfe793cd

that's it, my training is very simple, just have a good diet, not too little nor too calorie, good to have a good post-workout meal and be patient that the results will come. But that was my experience, maybe not happen to you for a lot of factors, it is good until you create a topic about your problem in order that other more experienced members help you. :|

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Mario in BKK

Just as a peripheral matter I don't think it does Martin Berkhan justice to suggest in any way that he is merely interested in hypertrophy. Strength gains figure prominently as a feature of his training discipline, especially for his clients most concerned with body composition and health/longevity objectives. By no means do I think it was the intent of the piece to lead readers to that conclusion but it is worth clarifying lest there be any confusion.

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