“Bodybuilding Words”: At least 5 that need to go?
‘Bodybuilding Routines’: The common ones

“Weightless Workouts”: What will they do for you?

‘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. Pushups

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.


Scott Abbett

Hi Susanne,

Thank you for the compliments on my blog and taking the time to post a question.

Whether Beachbody workouts are "good" for you depends on your specific goals and your preference in reaching them. They are primarily calorie-burning workouts. Being such, there's nothing intrinsically more effective in their ability to burn calories over, say... doing the treadmill at increasingly higher intensity. This is why you'll notice references to "dieting" in small print on the Beachbody infomercials. It's because improvement of eating habits is the most critical ingredient for fat loss. Once you've payed for the program, you'll likely see this stuff in BIG print within the course itself.

You've got a tight schedule. For that reason, I won't attempt to dissuade you from using a Beachbody DVD course. It might be the best way to go if you only want to burn some body fat while preferring an instructor who tells you every move to make.

Just keep in mind: Those moves are probably more randomly picked than you think, and you could likely burn as many calories by designing your own set of moves.

I'm obviously a big advocate of bodybuilding. When done effectively, I think it provides the most exciting and motivating, long-term improvement. But if you feel you don't have time for resistance exercise, then a dance-type cardio workout done within an hour might be great for you. Just make sure they provide a money-back guarantee, and... "exercise" THAT if you find you don't like the workouts.

Please let us know what you decide and keep us updated on your progress.



Scott, thanks for a great blog! I am currently juggling a job, studying and a new born baby and really don't have time to go to the gym anymore. A friend of mine recommended that i try beachbody work out (www.beachbody.co.uk). Have you heard of it? Do you know if it is any good? Really don't want to pay 99 pounds and then lose all motivation.


Hello Dai,

Thank you for providing your input.

Please explain how "who is doing them and to what end" determines whether bodyweight workouts can build substantial muscle. Bodyweight exercises are, essentially, light weight/high reps workouts, no matter who's doing them and what that person's intentions are. They primarily build the mitochondrial fibers of the muscle, regardless of intentions and who's doing them. That's physiology.

Could you elaborate a bit more on your meaning when you get the chance?




I agree and disagree with you about weightless workouts. It depends on who is doing them and to what end. Just do a youtube search for Hannibal or calisthenikskingz or see any gymnastics events to see what muscle can be built by weightless workout.
On the other hand using weights is a lot more time efficient and a lot of people prefer it.


Hi Sammy,

What you've done in terms of a muscular endurance feat is pretty impressive; such high reps of pull-ups is not easy. Congratulations!

Whether you're wasting time in continuing this is solely dependent on your particular goals and whether it's helping you reach them. Are you bodybuilding and in desire of having more upper back/lat size than you have now? If so, I'd recommend dumping the high rep pull-ups and focusing on low-rep/increasingly weighted pull-downs instead. Don't "pre-exhaust" them with any high reps at all in this case; just use a really light weight that's not used with intensity or to exhaustion - as a warm-up.

However, if you're building muscular endurance for sports - and/or you're satisfied with the muscular development you currently have and you only want to maintain it while burning calories - then I'd recommend you keep doing what you're doing; it's a feat worthy of commendation:-)

Thank you for writing. Keep up the training.



Scott, what are your thoughts on pullups? I have routinely (religiously) done 100 pullups per week (strict form, front loading reps, then reducing as necessary - example, 22,16,14,12,12,12,12) as a prequel to my regular resistance exercises. I basically use your recommended exercises in a 6 sets of 6 reps routine, increase weight over time. Am I wasting time and energy with this "pre-exhaust"? I've kept track, and have done over 60,000 pullups since '98.


I agree weightless workouts are a waste of time and energy. Weight or resistance training is the most effective method to build muscle that is big and long lasting. Also the more lean muscle you have the more fat you will be able to burn

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