5 Keys To Bodyweight Training For Athletes
Here in the good ole US of A, the whole world for that matter, we have had to deal with the pandemic, stay-at-home orders and quarantine as a measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus. For us in the sports performance, weightlifting and fitness worlds, it has put us outside of our gyms, health sanctuaries and better athletic development centers to get things done.
We’ve been put outside of our training comfort zones into positions where athletes lack access to equipment. As coaches and owners of gyms we have had to pivot, think and get creative. Figuring out how to have athletes continue to make progress in whatever sport they are pursuing.
And a lot of the at home training is being done utilizing only bodyweight exercises. Or, training at playgrounds. This has caused a lot of issues. Not to mention, the olympics are approaching in 2021 and competitive sports continue to take place throughout the United States, with the winter and spring sports seasons happening and approaching in 2021.
Athletes are like, “How am I going to make gainz only training with bodyweight movements?”
Let’s take a step back and start by thinking what we need for various, different sports. To start, we know athletes need to be mobile, explosive, coordinated, strong and able to handle the volume demands the athletic pursuit demands. On top of that, we need the training to get in some semblance of volume to accumulate to trigger adaptations and trigger strength potential.
Ultimately we need to optimize an athlete’s body control to, in turn, increase the rate of coordination to become more athletic and succeed to a higher degree at any sport being participated in.
Here are the big keys to focus on when training inside a bodyweight strength program.
We can get a lot more volume when doing simple, bodyweight movements. Not having barbells and dumbbells promotes the opportunity to get a lot of volume done in a short period of time. This can shock a lot of different athletes, especially larger athletes. Think shot putters and linemen.
The bodyweight, large volume can be challenging at first for larger athletes. It is not standard; it is not normal for athletes of that size. They typically don’t train with just body weight training. But recognize, this is actually going to help the athlete long term because they will get better at different things now. Yeah, the athlete may have to do 100 reps of air squats or 400 meters of walking lunges. Regardless, it is still going to improve who the athlete is, maintaining strength and increase body control.
A lot of strength athletes tend to focus tremendously on bilateral movement, especially if the athlete comes from a powerlifting or olympic weightlifting background. A lot of different athletes do traditional bilateral movements. Back squats, front squats, deadlifts, cleans, snatches, pull ups and incline barbell bench are all bilateral movements.
One big factor behind bodyweight training is that it can help improve unilateral strength because of how creative the programming needs to become. Athletes doing walking lunges forward and backwards in their routine. We can focus on hip mobility with cossack and curtsy squats. We can start getting good at skaters squats. Next thing you know, bigger athletes are showing off pistol squats. Things that don’t typically happen in a normal, regimented barbell based training system.
But now, in this forced situation, athletes who can only do bodyweight training can focus on structural integrity. Athletes can begin ironing out any imbalances they have and start undoing the wrinkles. It’s important to embrace the unilateral training as an athlete and coach to focus on the nitty-gritty weaknesses present.
3. Explosive Work
Over time we start to build in a high level of volume for one to two weeks of bodyweight training, bringing in some simple unilateral work. By the third and fourth week we start playing with more difficult unilateral work. And then, as the unilateral strength is built, it will lead into the ability to play around with some simple and serious explosive work.
From the accumulated volume and unilateral strength built up, athletes can start with tuck jumps, double leg bounds, jump lunges and jump step ups. This explosive work will create an even further stimulation for a greater adaptation. It is also going to create a greater rate of coordination.
Now we can go to a park and do box jumps on to a picnic table or bench. We can do forward step ups or side to side step ups. Get creative! Jump around!
What is mobility?
We define mobility as being flexible and stable in a passive and dynamic position with the ability to increase load in said joint positions. So, being able to hold deeper joint positions with greater stability is a signal of greater mobility.
To make sure recovery is on point, athletes can focus on mobility as well. The quarantine situation promotes taking bodyweight training more seriously, which allows athletes to embrace mobility. Athletes start to realize that hitting a deeper position in a lunge makes them feel more explosive. In addition, mobility practices allow for greater recovery from training sessions and, in turn, a better feeling body can handle more volume.
5. Body Control
Body control plays a huge factor in transferring the bodyweight training over to the athletic realm. Athletes who have had great success in the weightroom but couldn’t coordinate a jump series or pistol squat to save an ice cube in a frying pan have just been forced to become a better athlete by doing bodyweight exercises, they have deepened their toolbox. A deeper toolbox not only makes you more prepared as a carpenter, but metaphorically, a deeper toolbox makes a more powerful athlete.
As all these keys tie together and make a web on intricacy, the body control coordination exercises become impressive feats of athleticism. Athletes are now able to do depth drops into double leg bounds or hurdle hops from a socially distanced location.
It is important to recognize there is an end in sight with the pandemic. There is a vaccine. Potentially in three to four months we may return to a semblance of normalcy. But still, having to train another three months without access to a gym, an athlete’s body can be developed just by using bodyweight resistance so that, when they get back to the weightroom, they have a much deeper level of bodyweight control that can transfer to the traditional training regiments.
Recognize that it is possible to get stronger in a bodyweight system. If these five key factors are lumped into a training system to make progress, an athlete’s athleticism can improve. By utilizing body control, unilateral and explosive work through an appropriately high load of volume, with mobility slathered on, the recipe for success alone and without access to a training facility is possible. Do the work and rewards will be reaped.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.