Dear Mark: Bodyweight with Weights; Glycemic Index Versus Load

Body Weight With Weights FinalFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering a pair of questions from readers. First comes from Gaspare, who heard me talking on Joe Rogan’s podcast in January and wonders whether bodyweight training and weight training can complement each other. It turns out they can. Then, I discuss glycemic index, glycemic load, how foods can have low glycemic loads but still be bad for weight gain, and how focusing on glycemic index and glycemic load might be misleading, if not an outright mistake.

Let’s go:


I heard about you from Rogan’s Podcast, So I ended up buying your book Primal Blueprint(haven’t started it yet). On Rogan’s podcast you mentioned doing 80% of your 1RepMax for about 4-5 reps and as many sets as you can handle. But on your blog I mainly see you talking about bodyweight stuff. Can you “get away” with using mainly bodyweight stuff and maybe using weights 1x a week? Thanks for your time and your advice, Im really looking forward to learning more!


Yup. That’s actually very similar to how I train every week.

The foundation is bodyweight movement, things I can do without the gym or any additional equipment. So tons of walking, much of it done in nature; occasional sprinting, often uphill; and a lot of bodyweight strength training.

Most of my upper body training is bodyweight, sometimes with a weight vest to increase resistance. Pullups, dips, and pushups are plenty for most people looking to build upper body strength and look good with their shirt off. Doubly so if you throw on a weight vest or loop a kettlebell over your foot (parents can strap a child to their bodies or train kids to hang on and hold for dear life).

But it’s tough to get an effective lower-body stimulus from just bodyweight. You could do all the bodyweight squats in the world—and don’t get me wrong, I do them all the time—but beyond a certain point you won’t really be getting stronger. Purists will promote single leg squats, but not everyone has the flexibility for that, and in my view they’re more of a parlor trick than an effective way to train the lower body. Besides, at some point, you’ll just be doing dozens and dozens of single leg squats and run into the same issues you do with traditional bodyweight squats.

That’s where weights come in.

I don’t mess around with heavy barbell squats anymore. If I’m doing squats, I like the hack squat machine. They can be done with barbells, albeit a bit awkwardly, but I just find the machine effective enough and more convenient. I’ll also sometimes use the trap bar for deadlifts, as those become more of a hybrid quad/hamstring/glute exercise; stand on stacked weights to get more depth. Training minimalists might pick up a kettlebell or two for swings and goblet squats and presses and rows.

So yeah, weights aren’t necessary but they really do help optimize your workout, especially for the lower body, and they don’t have to be intimidating or heavy or scary at all.

Keep in mind that I’m not training for anything specific. There are no races, no competitions, no big events for which I need to prep. I’m just training to stay fit, strong, and fast enough to enjoy life, play Ultimate, snowboard, standup paddle, hike, and look good naked. If I were training seriously, I’d throw in a day of heavy weight training (squats, deadlifts, etc) each week, making sure to keep the reps low and the intensity high.


Thanks for creating this blog – just a terrific resource. I have a question about glycemic load. I scanned the list of foods catalogued here –

One portion of the list that jumped out at me was that white breads showed reasonably low load, which had me scratching my head because one aspect of my personal experiences with bread has been that its absence from my diet really seems to boost weight loss (or maintenance).

I realize you must get saturated with emails, but I am curious about this.

Take care.

Glycemic load is different than, but dependent on, glycemic index.

Glycemic index measures the blood glucose response to 50 grams of carbs from a given food. To measure the glycemic index (GI) of a baked potato, you’d feed the subject 50 grams of carbs’ worth of baked potato. The carb amount used to determine GI is always fixed; the amount of food used to determine it fluctuates.

Glycemic load (GL) measures the glycemic index of a normal serving of a given food. If a food has a high GI but lower GL, that means the official serving size used to determine the glycemic load provides fewer than the 50 grams of carbs used to determine the glycemic index. Most food serving sizes—at least the ones used in official GL/GI tests—provide fewer than 50 grams of carbs.

In reality, people eat way more than a single serving of white bread, pasta, white rice, and other foods that have low glycemic loads. The official GL may be lower for bread, but that’s not how most people eat it. This is why you (and thousands of others) notice better fat loss upon giving up bread.

Focusing on GI or GL just doesn’t really work:

You can have a “low-GL diet” full of white bread or an equally low-GL one full of fruit and tubers. Which would be better for your waistline?

GI values are generated by feeding foods in isolation. To get the GI of white bread, a subject will eat only white bread and track his blood glucose response. A food eaten in isolation (how GI is tested) has a different glycemic index than that same food eaten in a meal (how people actually eat). Almost everything you’d encounter in a typical meal—like fiber, fat, protein, dairy, and vinegar—have been shown to reduce the GI of specific foods. In other words, eating food reduces GI.

That’s why neither glycemic index nor glycemic load are consistently helpful in predicting health outcomes or weight loss. They’ve done tons of studies on GI/GL diets and mostly come up empty. There’s just not much evidence they improve weight loss.

Chris Kresser did a podcast on the topic, coming to a very similar conclusion—focusing on GI and GL is ineffective.

Thanks for the kind words, by the way. I appreciate you reading it!

That’s it for today, folks. Take care and be sure to throw in your input down below!

TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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32 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Bodyweight with Weights; Glycemic Index Versus Load”

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  1. Interesting. I never knew there was a difference between Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic load.

  2. I don’t go to the gym much at all, when I do it’s to do my parallel squats. Mostly I like pushups and pullups. I also do substantial brisk walking, and a occasional mile sprint. I also really like practicing my taekwondo, I received my 2nd degree black belt sometime ago but I still practice most days. It’s a great way to stay limber. I actually wish they made a whole body suit you could put on that adds like 10 pounds to your arms, legs, torso etc. Kicking and punching with added resistance would only make you better, I’ve yet to come across a suit such as this though.

    1. Titin makes a weighted shirt and short set, they are expensive though

      1. I start out sprinting but it ends in more of a jog because if wearing down. Just as long as I can run/jog it in under ten minutes I’m good. I can normally briskly walk a mile in eighteen minutes or so, so I figured it should only take about half the time to run it. I get close, usually run it in about nine minutes and some change, on a off day I do it in ten and some change.

  3. I’m sure Grok was carrying heavy stuff around all the time (stuff beyond his own body weight). So it makes sense that we should take advantage of things like barbells or resistance equipment, in moderation, to give our bodies the strength training they evolved to expect.

  4. | …beyond a certain point you won’t really be getting stronger.
    | Purists will promote single leg squats…

    That’s because beyond that certain point, do you really need to get stronger? I suppose you do if you are a professional athlete, or someone who does physical labor, or are in some form or recovery therapy. But otherwise? Nah, what are you getting even stronger for?

    And you forgot Plyometrics, as a way to continue making progress with body weight.

  5. The kettlebell is definitely part of my routine as a nice adjunct to a number of squats/lifts.

  6. I love body weight exercises. I go through phases where that’s pretty much all I do, and at other times I’ll be really into my kettle bell. As far as the squats, lately I’ve been doing then (without any added weight) standing on my bosu ball. It adds a whole new twist!!

  7. I’m glad you answered this one, Mark. I hear “GI” thrown around all the time when it comes to dieting/fat loss. But it’s really just another technical marker that doesn’t have much value in the grand scheme of a positive, primal-aligned diet.

  8. Hi Mark, I just wanted to chime in and say that I love your emphasis on bodyweight training. Just recently I’ve switched most of my pushing workouts to be base on weighted dips and most of my pulling to be weighted chin-ups in the full range of motion. I’ve seen better gains through this than by repping endless sets of barbell rows. Plus, they’re more fun and more functional. I’ll spring for a weighted vest eventually but for now I’m loving the dip belt.

    1. Rows help with building back thickness and strength, but the bodyweight variations are usually too easy. Calisthenics is really cool though- check out Al Kavadlo you tube channel.

      1. Hi Paul!
        I’m very familiar with Al, he’s a big inspiration to me. I agree with you about the body weight pulls becoming too easy after a while. You can bump up the difficulty by performing reps in slow motion but I REALLY like progressively adding weight using a dip belt. There is an old adage that rows build back thickness while chinups and other vertical pulls build width. I agree to an extent but MAN do weighted chinups rock my world and give me gains. Different things work for different people 🙂

        1. Yes, weighted chins are awesome. Gymnastic rings also a great tool for bodyweight training. I am toying around the idea of calisthenics, rings and deadlifts for all my training. Been told that might cause muscular imbalances. I guess I won’t know until I try! Keep up the training.:-)

  9. No heavy barbell squats for me either! But the smaller extra weights/resistance come in handy. I’m not a gym machine junkie by any means. But after a while I feel like the pure body weight exercises have a limit when it comes to getting that little extra bulk.

  10. Back in the day I lifted a lot and definitely LGN… but now I’m basically only doing body weight workouts with some kettle bell swings and dumb bells for thrusters worked in. I can honestly say I feel more fit at 42-years-old than I ever did as a 25-year-old who could bench 315 for reps. The other key (most important) difference is my mostly Primal diet is far better than the junk that 25-year-old punk used to eat (and drink)!

  11. Another body weight exercise for the legs are wall sits. Sit on an imaginary chair against the wall, in other words your thighs and shins form a 90 degree angle (thighs are parallel to the floor) with your back and head pressed against the wall. Hold for as long as you can. Your thighs will feel like they are on fire. Follow them with goblet box squats (get a low chair or box and hold as heavy a weight as you can in your hands in front of you) and squat down until you are almost sitting on the surface. Follow those up with box step ups. I can almost guarantee rubbery legs lol.

  12. There are plenty of ways to work out without having to actually go to a gym, and this post is a great reminder of the many ways you can accomplish this. Excellent post as always!

  13. The glycemic index is really only a rough guide. The quantities used for testing, the number of subjects, the fact that each item was tested all by itself from a fasting start…

    All important information gathering. And certainly at least SOME guidance for avoiding foods that cause rapid blood glucose spikes. But still pretty preliminary and not at all as authoritative as one might hope.

    If you have a glucometer, you can ‘index’ for your own most likely meals. Ideally staying under 140 for both 1 and 2 hrs after the start of eating.

  14. You can get very creative with bodyweight — and yes, create a lower body challenge.

    In late december I started working with a trainer who has me doing only bodyweight work — with a real emphasis on MOBILITY. Things like frog hops, forward and sideways, fast and slow, bear crawls, crab walks, etc. Tough and effective, for me at least.

  15. It makes sense to do regular body weight exercises–makes it easier to keep your body in shape when you don’t have access to the gym.
    As far as glycemic load is concerned, many of us are “guilty” of too high calorie intakes. Intermittent fasting (1-2 days down to 600-800cal/d) may be advisable. Can play a beneficial role in longevity (combined with staying fit: physically and mentally)
    Glycemic index of food/fluids does matter. Complex carbs are best. E.g. 250 ml of soda drink (pop = simple carbs) will spike your blood sugar and insulin response, compared to a baked sweet potato – may have same total calories, latter is kind on your pancreas and will satiate you longer.
    Excellent answers to two important questions, Mark! Thank you!

  16. I’ve been doing Pilates for a little more than a year now (on the machines mainly) and it’s using your own body weight for the most part, although there are springs.

    I just stated dipping my toes into weights, although it is using machines. I’m glad to know they are complementary.

  17. Any average person who can do a dozen one-legged squats has all the quad strength they’re ever going to need, and they got there probably without endangering their joints. Saying that striving to reach this level of leg strength will just lead to “dozens and dozens” is unfair.

    1. Not to mention, the article linked to in that paragraph has a section titled “Body weight squats are good enough, too”. And the Primal Blueprint Fitness book even recommends bodyweight squats, culminating in one-legged squats. Kind of weird mixed messaging.

      1. Thank you! I was thinking the same thing regarding PBF. Two sets of pistol squats on each side (only barely, technically “dozens and dozens”) is a pretty solid leg workout by itself.

  18. I’m finding it hard to incorporate kettle bell work along with deadlifts…

    On days I do deadlifts, I find my posterior chain is too fatigued for the next couple days to do kettle bells with good form. Then when things are all recovered… it’s time to hit the deadlifts in. Hard to find time to squeeze in the kettlebell.