Q & A: Bodyweight exercises to get ripped?

“My hypothesis for workout is you gain when you are drained; meaning you lift heavy or light doesnt matter. As long as you are expended then you’re good. So ppl advocate mid weight > high since chances of injury is reduced and you wont lose out or what not since the end goal is “drained”.
Then my qn is why do I feel drained equally as much as when I do bodyweight workout VS lifting but the physical difference is not the same, meaning I put in equal effort for bodyweight and lifting (using “drained” as an indicator) but lifting gives you a btr bod per se. Taking cardiovascular gains aside” – Jk

Jk, I’m currently taking a module called Muscle Physiology and its really chim but your question is a very interesting and good one and I have asked that question to myself many times in the past. I feel like I can type a whole paper on this but I will try to make it as layman and simple as possible. Wc is totally right so I’m gonna add on to his points. 

Your hypothesis is absolutely correct. You will gain no matter what you do as long as you do something. It’s either you gain, maintain or regress. This is bcuz of the SAID principle; Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. Meaning your body will adapt according to the stress you put it through. More stress = more adaptations. But you must give it time to adapt la. Otherwise you’ll cross a threshold and injure yourself.

I don’t agree with the part about advocating mid-weight more than high because yes, it may seem like you are reducing your chances of injury but in actual fact, injury can be caused by a myriad of reasons. The most obvious being poor technique. Even if you do extremely light weight and high reps but with bad technique, I guarantee injury will follow. Other reasons include, but are not limited to, absence or inadequate warmup, lack of mental focus, overconfidence/ego and etc.

Next, I believe the reason you feel drained when you do bodyweight vs lifting is simply because, as you mentioned, you pushed yourself to the point of exhaustion – “drained”. This is just a feeling and we are all programmed to know when we feel fatigued. This is our body’s primal survival mechanism telling us to stop before we hurt ourselves. Examples of such messages from our body include (but are not limited to) pain, raised heart rate, sweating, elevated respiration, cramps, DOMS or aching, soreness and much more.

Additionally, I think one of the reason why you still ‘gain’ while doing bodyweight exercises is because you are still activating muscle fibers nonetheless. Bodyweight is still weight and is considered under the spectrum of resistance training. If you weigh 80kg(176lbs) and do a pull-up, your muscles are pulling almost that same weight!

Furthermore, in terms of getting ripped while doing bodyweight stuff, I think there are many more factors which influence how ripped you can get. Factors such as genetics, your body type, type of exercise and most importantly, diet. Diet plays such a huge role that I believe one can get muscular and ripped by simply making wise food choices and living an active lifestyle (without having to cater time to exercise at all!).

Lastly, when you lift super heavy (power lifters), you recruit much more fibers and even cross a threshold whereby your type IIx fibers are recruited as well (they are quite rarely recruited unless you engage in such high intensity sports). This elicits a different response within your muscle such as more muscle fibers being generated and even an enlargement of the muscle fibers to store more glycogen and other metabolic nutrients (not too sure about this but could be what wc said about Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy).

Note, there is an order of muscle fiber recruitment:

  1. Type-I (slow twitch)
  2. Type-IIa (fast twitch)
  3. Type-IIx (fast twitch, highest power capability)

Hence the difference in size and appearance compared to lifting relatively light weights such as bodyweight calisthenics. There simply isn’t a need for your body to adapt to such a degree when doing bodyweight stuff.

Our bodies are truly amazing in that sense because it is extremely efficient. When given sufficient stimulus, nutrition and time to recover, it will adapt to whatever point it thinks is necessary (overcompensation) but from there, if you don’t continue to stress it, it will revert back to the lower level of adaptation, since it no longer sees a need. At the other end of the spectrum, when this ‘stimulus’ is over-feeding (especially with the modern diet of high sugar, high carbs & high inflammatory fats) and inactivity, we are pushing our bodies beyond their normal metabolic capabilities. Hence, the obesity epidemic.

Recently, I have personally experienced some of this myself. For the past few weeks, I have only been lifting heavy (think 5 rep power ranges) but still do a hell lot of endurance work. Within a week of only twice lifting, eating 2-3 buffets (haha) and sufficient rest between workouts, my weight went from 116 to 121lbs (52.6-54.8kg). I did not see any gain in fats so I think it’s purely muscle and maybe bone mass. In fact, using a rudimentary abdomen skin fold pinch test, I realize I might have gotten leaner! My abs and core also got a lot more ‘girth’, possibly because I do a lot of atlas-simulation lifts and walks with the max weight dumbbell I could find (125lbs/56.6kg).

Okay hope that wasn’t too long and that it could clear some of your doubts. Cheers and goodnight!

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