Bodyweight Exercises Vs. Free Weights

If you’re trying to decide if free weights or bodyweight exercises are more effective for meeting your fitness goals, you’ll be happy to know that both help you build muscle, burn calories and improve your endurance for sports. Whether you’re a beginner or in competitive shape, dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells and calisthenics offer you most of the same fitness benefits.

Bodyweight and free weight exercises let you target specific muscles


Barbell sets have long been the choice of men who want to build muscle because of the heavy weight loads this equipment choice offers. With or without a rack or bench, using lighter weights, women can also perform a variety of upper and lower body exercises. Unlike other free weights, you aren’t able to work one arm at a time, or alternate reps. Depending on how much weight you lift, you might need a spotter to perform exercises such as bench presses. Unless you’re into competitive bodybuilding, weightlifting or powerlifting, barbells probably aren’t the best choice for you. If the only equipment you have around the house is a barbell set, you can still get a good workout. Start with no weight on the bar to learn and practice various exercises and experiment with your hand placement. Add small amounts of weight as you get used to the exercises.


Dumbbells don’t let you lift hundreds of pounds at a time, but this isn’t a problem for most people. Unlike barbells, dumbbells don’t take up much room and you can take light dumbbells with you on trips. Add them to cardio workouts to improve calorie burning while you build muscle and help improve bone density. So-called toning workouts popular with women require you to burn fat while you target specific muscles for increased size, and 2.5- to 5-pound dumbbells are a popular choice for these routines. If you’re an athlete, use 10-pound dumbbells to create a circuit-training workout to improve muscular endurance. Perform reps slowly for 30 seconds, take a short break, then start a new exercise. Keep the circuit going for 15 to 30 minutes. Just as you can target your biceps, triceps, pecs and shoulder muscles with different hand placements during pushups, chinups, dips and pullups, you can target these muscles with dumbbells rows, kickbacks, flyes, curls, presses and flys.


Kettlebells have been around for centuries, but are becoming more common at gyms and in the home. One benefit for people who want to improve their stomaches is the off-center weight distribution of a kettlebell that causes you to recruit your core as you perform many exercises. One of the more popular kettlebell exercises, and one you can’t perform with barbells or as easily with dumbbells, is swinging. Starting with the kettlebell on the floor, you raise it to shoulder height with one or both hands using your legs, hips, core, arms and shoulders, swinging the weight up and down. The exercise is extremely effective for burning calories, building muscle and targeting your abs.

Bodyweight Exercises

Women generally have less upper-body strength than men, making exercises such as pullups, chinups, pushups and dips more difficult. Modifying these exercises lets you take advantage of the benefits they provide. Start pushups from a kneeling position and with your hands closer together until you gain the strength to do regular pushups. Start with eccentric pullups, chinups and dips by jumping up to your starting position, only performing the lowering portion of the exercise. Lower your pullup bar until you can place your hands on top of it while your feet are flat on the floor. Pull down as hard as you without moving your body upward for 30 seconds. Take a 30-second break, then repeat this two more times. In addition to standing squats and lunges, add jump squats and burpees to your workouts to burn more calories and improve your jumping ability for volleyball, tennis or other sports. If you don’t have free weights, you can still work your core effectively with a variety of crunches and other ab exercises. Make sure to include exercises that move you sideways, as well as forward and backwards.

Additional Resources Barbell Deadlift

Brian Mac: Dumbbell Exercises

Sports Fitness Advisor: Kettlebell Exercises

Cuts and Curves Fitness: Eccentric Pullups (Short video)

American Council on Exercise: Bent Knee Push-up