‘Weightless workouts’ were my very first exposure to fitness. What else would a shy thirteen-year-old kid with the beginnings of body image consciousness do? I felt uncomfortable in a gym; skinny-legged with nary a muscle on my upper body. And the whole idea of building my body with weights appeared daunting. So it was “weightless workouts” for me; body weight exercises in my bedroom after school: pushups, sit-ups, dive-bombers, and the little I could eke out of some hand-stand pushups. Yes, those first weightless workouts back in 1978 could have used the benefits of a couple dumbbells.
Let’s fast forward to 2011: I’m asked to review a “sometimes” ‘weightless workouts’ routine. A guy hands me the P90X workout DVDs so I can let him know what I think. The very first thing that strikes me when watching them is the SELECTIVE “weightless workout” aspect of the routine.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that the instructor and participants on the screen are using weights and bands for resistance while working their arms, shoulders, and backs. But… as a “chest exercise” – they only use body weight: pushups and variations of them. This wouldn’t seem so glaring a discrepancy if the instructor (Tony Horton) didn’t take a moment to admonish the viewer:
“Increase the weight whenever you can and do the lower rep ranges for some mass.” (Paraphrased)
I guess muscle size is only encouraged if it’s convenient? Doesn’t it leave the possibility of an underdeveloped chest to go with more developed delts and arms? I’d have included the back as one of the “more developed” muscles except that none of the participants (Horton included) is performing the back exercises in anything even resembling an effective manner (they pull with their arms).
“Weightless Workouts”: What they’ll do and not do
I’m not here to slam Tony Horton or his workout routines. In fact, I’ll give praise where it’s obviously and immediately due: He’s in terrific cardiovascular shape – at least as of the time he recorded the workouts. Anyone who can talk nonstop while performing the high-reps workouts he’s demonstrating has my admiration within that context.
And what are weightless workouts if not the equivalent of high reps workouts with light weights? In the case of push-ups, it’s a fixed weight resistance (the weight of one’s upper body) unless the exerciser uses a weight vest. So the first question I had when my friend who handed me the P90X course asked me what I thought when I handed it back to him… was:
“What are your body improvement goals?”
“Huh… what do you think? To get back in shape” he answered reactively.
“Well… I was surprised to not even hear a solid goal mentioned at the start of the DVD”, I said. “There’s just vague mentioning of ‘getting ripped’… ‘getting a beach body’… ‘getting results’… But how are you even going to reach these vague goals? Are you supposed to work up to doing 60 pushups… 75 pushups… 100 of them? It’s never mentioned. And the instructor never reveals what these ‘weightless workouts’ of high reps will really do… and why.”
I’d have probably not been so immediately critical except for one thing: This guy’s been doing P90X for a reasonable length of time and his body appears to have not changed one iota. He doesn’t have a six-pack – hasn’t lost some fat – isn’t looking more “toned”… zilch! But he “feels better.” I can’t argue with that. And I realize I’m mentioning only the anecdotal results of one person.
What weightless workouts and high reps with light weights can do for you is help optimize your body fat loss. If that’s your primary goal, I’ll say “have at it”… or as Horton might say with urban banality – “Bring it.” But this will typically not occur if an adherence to proper eating isn’t concurrently followed. If followed strictly, however, triglycerides from intra-muscular cellulite can be broken down and used for repletion of glycogen within muscles that have been spent by high reps training. In short; fatty acids can be broken down and used as “muscle fuel” in these types of workouts.
Beyond this, “weightless workouts” and high reps with light weights can build some mitochondrial tissue. These are the red, slow-twitch muscle fibers that possess very little potential for growth. Again, if this is what you’re seeking, my recommendation is to adhere to the improved eating habits and give it your full dedication.
“Weightless Workouts”: Why I don’t partake
In short: They just don’t motivate for me like effective bodybuilding does.
I know a lot about psychology and motivation. Some of what I know is theoretical: I was certified in Sports Mental Training by a pioneer of that field and I’m certified at the Trainer’s level in NLP (rooted in psychology).
Some of what I know is practical: I’ve twice finished the toughest week of the most arduous military training in the world; only 25% finished it once – and that’s out of only a few thousand in the world who’ve volunteered.
So what do I know?
I think humans will generally be motivated to play any game in which they think they can win – and for which the rewards of winning are in alignment with one’s personal values and outweigh the fear of “losing.”
If what you want is a strong and shapely body – one that has powerful contours and rippling muscles (enough muscle to actually speed metabolism), you need to believe you can get it without giving up too much time for which your other values compete. You need to believe you can WIN. Moreover, “winning” needs to be defined as ever-improving results that keep the quest exciting.
That’s where “weightless workouts” seem to hit a quick dead-end – at least for me. I think they do for others as well.
How do I know?
I’ve observed that many people who partake in them often fall into reliance on what I call “momentum motivation” as opposed to “results-driven motivation.” Since the body shaping results are not dramatic, they often lose their luster relatively quickly. This can leave the adherent of such a workout program to feel the need to be motivated by superficiality within the means rather than results within the ends.
I’ve been there and done that. I’ve discovered that nothing’s as effective for long-term motivation as ever-improving and increasingly exciting results. Weight workouts provide them – ‘weightless workouts’ too often don’t.