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The Decline of Weightlifting’s Popularity

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

Right now, bodyweight exercises are reigning supreme. In fact, bodyweight training was named the number eight fitness trend of 2022 by the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal (and was even ranked number two in 2016). Bodyweight training “utilizes minimal equipment making it more cost-effective. Not restricted to just push-ups and pull-ups, this trend enables individuals to return to the fundamentals of fitness,” a previous report stated.

Evidently, exercising without equipment can hardly be labeled as a ‘trend’ (the Internet claims that the modern push-up has been around since ancient Rome), but it’s true that these workouts appear to have reached an all-time peak. We’re great admirers of bodyweight training ourselves, and as the ACSM highlights, it does make exercising more accessible for those who can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on gym memberships or boutique fitness classes. For the most part, you can engage in bodyweight training anywhere, and it’s a quick and convenient option if you’re pressed for time.

However, as a result of the surging popularity of bodyweight training, many people have abandoned their gym memberships and questioned the necessity of traditional weight rooms, wondering if bodyweight workouts are sufficient. “Can’t I simply squat and push-up my way to better fitness?” one might argue. To some extent, the answer is yes.

“I’ve assisted numerous individuals in gaining strength, becoming lean, and shedding significant weight without using any equipment,” says Adam Rosante, celebrity trainer and author of The 30-Second Body. Nevertheless, despite his emphasis on high-intensity, equipment-free workouts, “I absolutely adore heavy weights and firmly believe that women should engage in weightlifting,” he states, recommending incorporating heavy lifting sessions alongside your bodyweight workout sessions.

This isn’t exactly groundbreaking: Almost any certified trainer will tell you that variety is the key to a successful workout program. Yet, if you observe the fitness landscape, it often seems like everyone is leaving dumbbells behind.

“The greatest tool at your disposal is your own body,” says trainer Kira Stokes, creator of The Stoked Method. Stokes is a strong advocate for bodyweight exercises, with a wide array of distinct movements in her repertoire (such as these 31 plank variations!). However, she believes that solely focusing on bodyweight training has its drawbacks. “You become limited in terms of what you can offer your body,” she explains.

Firstly, performing push-ups and pull-ups requires proper form and strength — they are not easy for the average person, according to Stokes.

You desire to have the capability to operate your physique in all orientations, and occasionally that is not feasible if you do not possess exceptional power in particular regions of your physique. That is where the significance of strength training comes into play.

She characterizes dumbbells nearly as alterations, preparing you for the more challenging activities. “I constantly advise my clients that the weight exercises we do are constructing the strength you require to lift and lower your own body weight.”

According to Stokes, the fact that many individuals are perplexed when it comes to conventional weight training outside of studio classes is a substantial issue. In reality, she developed a complete program called Stoked MuscleUp because she sensed that people were losing the understanding of how to incorporate both weights and movement to truly challenge their bodies.

“I felt there was a gap in the industry because we’ve become so excessive with HIIT training and bodyweight training and all of these at-home workouts — and I’m a tremendous advocate of that,” she explains. “But you also have to understand the fundamentals of lifting.” (Here are 8 reasons why you should lift heavier weights.)

Fitness as a whole has shifted away from that, highlighting the popular phrase “train movement over muscle,” she says. “But I believe you must train muscle in order to train movement.”

Simply stated, as with most things in life, equilibrium is vital. “Obviously, bodyweight exercises are superior to nothing, but I wouldn’t recommend exclusively doing that,” says Joel Martin, Ph.D., an assistant professor of kinesiology at George Mason University. “To attain the complete benefits, you need to also lift heavier weights.”

There is also the risk of reaching a plateau. “No matter what you’re doing, if you consistently engage in the same workout, your body will adapt and it won’t provide enough stimulation to induce changes in your muscles or body composition,” Martin states.

Not to mention, depending on your current level of fitness, focusing solely on bodyweight exercises can actually cause a loss of strength. While many individuals might experience improvement and strength gain initially from bodyweight exercises, for those who can already perform, for instance, 30 push-ups, exclusively focusing on bodyweight training will actually lead to a decrease in strength, according to Martin.

“It has somehow become unpopular to be seen in the gym doing bicep curls. I have no embarrassment. I can perform bicep curls until I’m blue in the face. And I can also cross the floor like a komodo dragon,” Stokes says. “And it’s due to the strength I develop from weightlifting.”

Bottom line: If you have sworn off traditional weight training in favor of at-home bodyweight workouts, you may want to contemplate reacquainting yourself with that array of free weights. “It requires a change in mindset,” Stokes says. “People should not be embarrassed to enter and grab a pair of dumbbells.