Why are you working out? That’s always the first question you should be asking yourself. I’ve been asked on multiple occasions about the benefit of doing bodyweight exercises as a replacement for barbell training. Usually, they go something like this:
“Are bodyweight squats better than barbell back squatting?”
To which my response is usually something like:
If your goal for working out is to get better at bodyweight squats …then sure, they’re better.
If however, your goal is to increase muscle mass, (which it is 90% of the time, whether you realize it or not,) well then, probably not. The reasoning relies on a theory called “effective reps.” But first!
Real easy to get distracted.
Your time and attention
If you’re doing 100 repetitions of bodyweight squats, it’s going to take a while, minutes at the very least. That’s assuming you’re going as fast as possible, which will lead to your form breaking down.
If you’re slow and controlled and performing each rep perfectly, you’ll be spending much longer on 1 set.
No matter which way you decide to tackle this beast, one thing is going to take a hit:
- Your time
- Your form
- Your attention
That right there is reason enough for me not to go this route.
On the other hand, if you’re doing sets of 10 reps on the barbell back squat, that’s something you can accomplish in under a minute with a relatively high level of concentration on form.
Quarter squats increase anterior knee pain. Just one of the many form failures that usually occur during body weight squats.
When form breaks down
How we move becomes etched in our brains as a motor pattern. If your form is bad on an exercise like the bodyweight squat, it will transfer to how you move in real life.
Eventually, that crappy form will lead to an injury. Maybe it will be when you try to pick up something heavy like a weighted barbell or an overweight baby. Maybe it will be from doing something you love like playing adult softball, hunting, or picking up overweight babies.
What usually happens when people get injured is that they demonize the activity they were doing when the injury occurred and completely ignore the other 99 things they did that actually contributed to the event that caused the injury.
It wasn’t that activity, that activity was just the straw that broke your CamelBak…(see what I did there).
So, if you’re half-assing 87 out of 100 bodyweight squats three times a week, and in turn, moving throughout your life with crappy/lazy movement, then it’s only a matter of time before you hurt yourself doing something that would have otherwise been enjoyable.
Those are for sure effective reps.
The idea is that the closer a rep is to failure, the more effective it will be in recruiting the most amount of muscle mass and in turn be the best at building muscle.
Assuming you can only do 100 bodyweight squats and the last rep is quite close to failure, then 1 out of 100 is an effective rep…and it took you minutes to get there, and 87 or those reps sucked.
Assuming you’re in relatively good shape, you can actually do many more than 100 bodyweight squats so even rep 100 isn’t anywhere close to failure. That means you are getting ZERO effective reps. You basically just wasted minutes doing a bunch of crappy half-assed squats that did nothing except make you waste your precious time.
I should note that by “failure” I mean you couldn’t do one more rep no matter what, all of your leg muscles are on fire, and they feel like they are going to pop from the excess blood flowing into them. I do not mean that you’re bored or “kind of” tired from something and just want to stop. Register the actual difference.
On the contrary, weighted squats offer you the opportunity to feel like you’re approaching failure, usually around rep 6 or 7 out of a set of 10 if you choose an appropriate weight.
If you do 3-4 sets of back squats that’s nearly 16 effective reps, that’s a great session.
To top it off you don’t need to do 95 reps prior to getting there.
People with long limbs tend to have a difficult time doing body weight squats in general. Their long torsos pull them onto their toes.
Bodyweight squats are great if you have no other option, if you just want to make a workout brutally annoying and also mildly difficult, or if you hate yourself. Otherwise, they are just a recipe for wasted time, establishing poor motor patterns, and not getting many effective reps.
If your goal is to build muscle, get stronger, burn fat, or workout smartly throw some weight on your back.
Valgus knee collapsing imminent on the first Marine from the right.
Here’s a few links if your interest on effective reps has been peaked.