Breaking Down Bodyweight vs. Dumbbell Training for Short Workouts

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Gym talk would be boring without healthy debate about which approach works best. Is sumo or conventional stance best for the biggest deadlift pull? Or how about straight bar vs. EZ-curl bar curls for biceps-blasting dominance?

Try this head-to-head case: Is it better to do bodyweight workouts or train with weights like dumbbells for maximum gains in minimal time? We’re talking those 10 minutes or less sweat sessions that you fit into your busiest days (because yes, you can make gains in those brief windows with enough effort). The smart answer: Do both.

The only wrong answer in this case would be to choose one training style completely over the other. By neglecting or avoiding either style of training, you’ll deprive your workout routine of the variety you’ll need to improve your fitness and build muscle and strength.

You’ll learn how to balance using both weights and bodyweight movements for maximum effect in 7-Minute Workouts for Fat Burn, the new guidebook from Men’s Health. These types of sessions can help build strength and burn fat, helping you to make the most of the limited windows you might have in your day for exercise.

Men’s Health 7-Minute Workouts for Fat Burn
Credit: Men’s Health

Let’s break down the perks of both training styles.

Benefits of Bodyweight Workouts

One of the greatest benefits of bodyweight exercises is convenience. You can bang out pushups or perform air squats pretty much anywhere and anytime, making virtually any location your personal gym space. This leads to another benefit: Since no equipment is required, bodyweight training is arguably the most cost-effective way of training. You can’t get a better bang for your body-shaping buck by spending zero dollars.

And before you ask: Yes, you can get stronger by doing bodyweight moves, even science agrees. Harvard Health Publishing cites a study published in Physiology and Behavior that found that as a form of resistance training, bodyweight exercise can help to build muscle “independent of an external load.” The study found that bodyweight training helped to improve aerobic capacity, muscle endurance, and an increase in lower body power.

Not sure of where to go once you’ve done your pushups and squats? There are plenty of exercises you can do without weights for every body, from chest to core to calves, while of course improving your conditioning as you pick up the pace. (You’ll find plenty in the 7-Minute Workouts for Fat Burn guide).

Benefits of Workouts With Weights

Making a case for weights seems pretty straightforward. You’ll have a greater variety in exercise selection, and it might be easier to track your progression as you use heavier loads. Now that adjustable dumbbell and kettlebell sets are more accessible than ever, it’s also not as inconvenient to have weights at home, and swapping denominations can be as simple as turning a dial.

Using implements like dumbbells allows you to work each side of your body unilaterally to help level out muscle imbalances. Plus, of course, using weights as resistance helps to increase muscle activation and stabilization, leading to overload and hypertrophy. That’s just strength training basics.

Why You Need Both Weighted and Bodyweight Exercises in Your Quick Workouts

You’ll find more success by having both types of training in your routine. For example, you could pair pushups, perhaps the gold standard of bodyweight strength moves, with dumbbell rows, an exercise sure to pack thickness to your rhomboids and lats. That’s a formidable push-pull pair—and since they’re opposing muscle groups, there’s not much rest needed. Shifting between implements is quick, allowing you to keep your rest periods short, your effort high, and your overall training time manageable.

And because of the volume of variety, you can not only rotate between dumbbell and bodyweight workouts, you can routinely mix up your programming. Blast arms with dumbbells one day, then follow up with a full bodyweight workout that can help build that lean, muscular physique most of us strive for. You’ll find these types and workouts and more in the 7-Minute Workouts for Fat Burn guide.

By using both methods, not only are you building strength, but you’re also improving your conditioning and athleticism, helping to make you fitter, faster.

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