Is BodyPump Like HeavyHands or Panaerobics?

Is Body Pump “basically the same as” HeavyHands or Panaerobics? (more information can be found here:

Some say that there is a similarity because both seem to use relatively light weights and high reps.

Is that true? Is the defining aspect of Dr. Schwartz’ exercise systems “high reps”? Or even the use of weights necessarily?

In reality, HeavyHands isn’t JUST about light weights and high reps. It’s about much more. But it’s easier to identify the differences between BodyPump and HeavyHands or Panaerobics after spending some time understanding what’s involved in the process of the BodyPump workout.

In case you haven’t heard about BodyPump before, here’s how Wikipedia describes the fitness method…

For BodyPump, the full class consists of 10 tracks, each (except for tracks 1 and 10) targeting a specific muscle group. The full class (including time between tracks for weight changes) runs for 60 minutes.

For the 60-minute format, the class is arranged to the 8 tracks on a CD produced by the company, timed to allow for around 60 minutes of exercise and 2 minutes of weight changes between tracks.

  • Track 1: Provides a warm-up with the lowest weight of the class. During the warm-up, most muscle groups are trained in short succession, and stance and barbell grip is often changed when cycling through all different exercises.
  • Track 2: Squats. This track targets the legs, notably the quadriceps and glutes and participants are advised to use the highest weight of the entire class. A typical weight for squats ranges between three and four times the warm-up weight. The weight is placed on the traps of the participant.
  • Track 3: Chest. In this track, participants are invited to lie on their backs on a step, and perform chest presses with the barbell. Sometimes, depending on the choreography of the release, these are combines with chest push-ups. A typical weight will be around two times the warm-up weight.
  • Track 4: Back. In this track, participants stand up and train the muscles of their back. Exercises performed vary from release to release, but mostly contain dead lifts, dead rows and sometimes clean-and-presses. A typical weight selection will be the same as chest, or slightly more.
  • Track 5: Triceps. As the first of the smaller muscle groups, participants will select a lower weight, usually slightly above warm-up weight and perform triceps exercises. These change per release, but mostly consist of triceps extensions with a barbell, triceps pushups, kickbacks with a single free weight and dips on a step.
  • Track 6: Biceps. After the triceps, participants stand up again and use the barbell to do bicep curls and sometimes bicep dead rows. The weight will remain the same as for triceps, or slightly less.
  • Track 7: Lunges. Participants take on a heavier weight, usually the same as the chest track. In this track, squats can be included but most of the time will be spent doing lunges to train the legs and glutes. Lunges can be performed with the barbell on the traps or holding plates. Sometimes plyometric jumping will be included at the end of the track.
  • Track 8: Shoulders. The participants select a weight similar to the tricep track on the barbell, and two free weights. The track traditionally starts with pushups, after which the participants use free weights for shoulder raises, either to the side or to the front. At the end, the bar is used for upright rows and overhead presses. Sometimes the choreography adds another set of pushups at the end.
  • Track 9: Abdominals and core. Usually no weights are used, and participants perform abdominal crunches or planks to strengthen the core.
  • Track 10: Cool down and stretching.

A new BodyPump release, consisting of new music and choreography, is developed and released to health clubs and instructors every three months. Muscle groups are always worked in the same order as stated in the Les Mills Instructor Resources, allowing for consistency across releases. Instructors can choose to work with one release, or mix tracks from multiple releases, to target strength endurance gains for their particular class. Instructors and trainers are provided with guidance from Les Mills International regarding the mixing of tracks for classes. The pre-choreographed class meets the Les Mills methodology that students will find a more consistent experience when attending a BodyPump class in any location around the world.

Now that we have an overview of how BodyPump operates, let’s consider how this method of working out is significantly different than HeavyHands or Panaerobics!

First, it IS true that HeavyHands, in general, uses high repetitions and relatively low weights in the 1lb to 5 lb range depending on the individual, though Dr. Schwartz reportedly could use up to 23% of his bodyweight for ‘Double Ski Poling” for very long periods of time! Even when weights are not involved (in “Longstrength Bodyweight” moves and “IsoTonoMetrics”) the range of resistance can go from “heavy” to “light” but in general is on the lower side of the spectrum to allow exercise to be performed long enough to produce a cardio-respiratory response.

Here’s how HeavyHands and Panaerobics of every variety DIFFER from the BodyPump approach in crucial ways.

BodyPump is many things that HeavyHands are not… choreographed for a group instead of individually designed by the user according to their own interests and needs, lasts a predetermined time instead of a time determined by the user, and requires a professional instructor instead of a book or video and a hand weight. It’s probably safe to say that while BodyPump has done its best to explain the scientific validity of it’s choices, HeavyHands developed out of laboratory studies regarding oxygen use during exercise and was validated every step of the way through the same testing. That leads to the crucial distinction between the two.

BodyPump is a “Circuit” training system that works the body parts in sectors instead of simultaneously. To quote Mark Twain, that’s the difference between “lightning” and a “lightning bug”.

There was a scientific reason that HeavyHand and Panaerobics are not “circuit training” as Dr. Schwartz explains in his “Strength Endurance Fitness Method” patent:

Efforts to increase the number of repetitions and to make weight training methods more continuous, etc., by having the exerciser move swiftly from one “station” to the next with only short pauses, have also failed to produce significant benefits with respect to endurance (aerobic) capacity. Thus subjects trained by the so-called “circuit” method, while achieving relatively high heart rates during the exercise, have not, generally speaking, increased their oxygen uptake capacity (work capacity) significantly over extended training periods.

These facts provoke the question as to whether or not strength oriented physical training methods can work toward the improvement of the cardiovascular system. This improvement would include such elements as slowing of the heart rate both at rest and at any greater workloads, usually lowering of the systemic blood pressure, along with various enzymatic and other metabolic changes that are readily measurable.

The crucial flaw in methods that attempt to couple strength and aerobic capacity may be their general failure to employ sufficient muscle mass during given exercises. Thus strength training methods typically work one or a few muscle groups at a time. The high heart rates achieved under those conditions do not represent the same physiologic events that general high heart rates during continuous (aerobic) exercise (jogging, brisk walking, swimming, rowing, bicycling) that employ a relatively large percentage of the body’s muscle simultaneously provide.

In other words, Dr. Schwartz believed he had scientific reasons for avoiding “circuit training” regardless of the name because while it raised the heart rate, it’s focus on isolated muscle sectors and their focus on activating minimal muscle mass during most exercise sessions kept “circuits” from increasing aerobic capacity.

The “trademark” of HeavyHands or Panaerobics which BodyPump does not aspire to is the use of as much muscle as possible at the same time. By isolating body sectors as it does, BodyPump makes having a workout in the “HeavyHands” sense impossible.

In reality, most HeavyHanders or folks doing panaerobics don’t seek a “pump” or even to exhaust isolated muscle groups one at a time. The idea of using all four limbs at the same time is supposed to DECREASE the overall sensation of stress by spreading the work out over as many body parts as possible. HeavyHanders build the muscle necessary for continuous work against the highest resistance they can manage, but not by adapting Bodybuilding’s muscle isolation exercise techniques.

This is not a criticism of either BodyPump or those who enjoy it. People should be encouraged to exercise however they feel inclined and in the way that helps them stay with it. The point of this article is that, contrary to what some may think, BodyPump and HeavyHands are built around fundamentally different approaches and are not “basically the same”.

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