Nick, I have several friends who go to the gym and lift weights, I used to do the same with average results, but I have one friend who is of fair build and ripped and he's never lifted a weight, he simply does bodyweight exercises – around 200 press ups a day and his body is much better than all my friends who go to the gym 2-3 times a week. I’ve started on the press ups myself and do 100 press ups a day at the moment, can someone tell me if my friend is a one off, or is the press up only / bodyweight exercises routine actually a better option than the weights?

Nick Mitchell: It depends how your friends’ weight train. Perhaps the one-off tries hard and the others mess about.

That aside, if all things are equal your friend is a one off. In order to stimulate an adaptive response (growing muscles / getting fitter etc) you need to progressively push your body harder. Weight training is very suited to this as you can lift heavier weights / modify exercises, two things you struggle to do with push ups and sit ups. No one was ever successful in bodybuilding by one doing push ups ( or press ups, call them what you will!)- they get very limited very quickly.

In order for a muscle to be stimulated to get stronger / hypertrophy (grow) you need to lift weights of a high intensity (“intensity” means weight relative to your 1 repetition maximum lift) – about 80% (although this is obviously a very broad and simplistic explanation). 

I have a training photo shoot tomorrow with a Mens Health editor whom I have prepared for the Christmas cover – push ups / press ups were included in the programme, but only as one tiny part, and only once he was sufficiently fatigued to struggle at 10-20 reps. 100 rep press up sets will build endurance, but do very little for size and strength. Think marathon runner versus sprinter.