Top 4 Bodyweight Strength Exercises For Athletes

When athletes are traveling or stuck in quarantine because of businesses being shut down and don’t have any access to a gym to train, athletes need to rely on their bodyweight to get the fitness, power and strength things done. World class athletes travel for competition, business and various other opportunities to build their personal brand. All athletes are dealing with the real world implications of not being able to access gyms because of business closures.

Right now during the coronavirus a lot of gyms are shut down. Athletes are wondering. Can we do bodyweight exercises and still maintain their strength? That’s a really great, important question. One of the things we need to determine to effectively answer that question is to define what is strength.


Think of strength as the application of force upon an object. Strength can also be just maintaining force on a position, like an immovable object meets an unstoppable force, brother; so, the idea of being able to handle force or pressure being put against the athlete. It is important that we understand strength in this way so that we can start to dive deeper into understanding how bodyweight exercises can help improve strength levels.


Well, it is very dependent on what sport is being trained to compete in. For instance, if an athlete is training to be a sprinter, for sure, bodyweight exercises will work. Wrestler? Absolutely, there are bodyweight exercises that can help athletes. Let’s not stop there though. Throwers and football players of all positions can benefit from bodyweight exercises. Manipulating and controlling one’s body is a very, very important aspect of athletics. Having body control is imperative to being more athletic. In addition, acknowledging that almost every single sport, rate of coordination, which bodyweight exercises improve upon, is paramount to long term success.


Working from our definition of strength and understanding the importance of rate of coordination, we know that many different bodyweight exercises can help improve these strength qualities.


Let’s take a look at four bodyweight exercises that can enhance athletes’ rate of coordination and strength!

4. Prisoner Squats

For athletes who tend to have really tight ankles or a really tight thoracic spine, this movement helps by forcing athletes to put their hands behind their head and maneuver deep into the bottom of a squat. It is important that when performing this movement the athlete tries to keep their chest as vertical as possible. We want athletes performing this movement to feel the proper positions that need to be executed in performing high bar back squats.

One of the best qualities behind the prisoner squat exercise is it is simple. It can be done anywhere! One of the cool aspects of this movement is that the groove of the squat really gets nailed in through repetition. With bodyweight exercises, accumulating volume upon volume of reps is doable. Through this accumulation of volume, an athlete’s strength endurance improves greatly. 


But don’t stop there with just straight volume in executing the prisoner squat. Implement variations into the tempo of the movement. For instance, utilize a slow, timed eccentric with a rapid stand up out of the bottom of the squat. Take a step further by adding a jump to the end of the movement, keeping the hands behind the head. Now one simple exercise is able to become three or four different movements! All of the variables will contribute tremendously to long term strength gains.


We recommend completing prisoner squats as 5 x 25 or 6 x 30 and really getting a quad pump. Also, add double bounces in at the bottom of the squat to improve ankle mobility and utilize other variations of the movement to keep scaling up the difficulty of the movement. Athletes will see their leg strength increase through developing a smooth groove and positional training transfer.

3. Reclining Row

This is an exercise that is really helpful for athletes who are struggling to do pull ups. It's also a great pull exercise to work the horizontal pulling plane.


One of the cool things when traveling and unable to find a gym or quarantine has everything shut down, is that people can go outside and do pull ups hanging from a tree. Why stop there? People can do pull ups hanging on doorways or various different places. But we also have to acknowledge that some people aren’t strong enough to do pull ups. Well they can use reclining rows.


Reclining rows are a great movement. Go ahead, wrap a towel around a door frame or table or desk and rep out reclining rows. Not only will the athlete get a pump in the bicep and stronger lats, their forearms will get lit up. Reclining rows can even be busted out using a swing!

What ends up happening with reclining rows is that, like the prisoner squats, athletes can accumulate a ton of reps. Again, variations of the movement are available as well. Go ahead, pause the sternum at the top of the movement and hold the isometric position for a time, learning how to squeeze the back and other muscles involved in the pull to coordinate more muscles within the movement. Now, when returning to the reopened gym, athletes magically can bust out more pull ups because they learned how to coordinate the lats and biceps more effectively.


We recommend performing 6 x 15 - 30 reps of this movement. Not only will athletes get stronger, but they’ll be more hypertrophic. In turn, strength endurance will improve and athletes will be able to pump out more pull ups hanging from the bar.

2. Walking Lunges

This is an excellent unilateral exercise.


Athletes who are runners, sprinters or play sports that require running, like soccer, lacrosse and football, to name a few, can get stronger with bodyweight exercises because unilateral exercises do wonders for the gainz. Go ahead, complete walking lunges from room to room at home or outside. By doing a 100 walking lunges every other day will create a slew of benefits. Mobility in the hips will drastically improve, hamstrings and butt muscles will be targeted really well.

Again, variation is a friend. Add in various tempos. Do drops into the lunge, control the eccentric tempo and explode out of the bottom are just a few variations that can be utilized. Creativity within the movement is applicable here. Heck, go ahead and add in jumping lunges!


As a sample, we recommend doing 5 x 10/10 walking lunges with a minute rest before hitting a variable, like a jump lunge, in tandem for 5 x 5/5. It can be taken one step further and a third variable can be added in. Next thing, there one exercise becomes three, three becomes nine and four becomes twelve! That is quite the variety of movements to catapult strength gainz and body control coordination through bodyweight training!


Just as an aside, this is one of our favorite unilateral movements because of all the benefits it produces in all the athletes we train at Garage Strength.

1. Push Ups / Dips

We know there are two movements here. Whatever.


If an athlete can’t hit dips, they need to start with push ups. Or, if they can’t hit dips because of lack of equipment or set up, they need to hit explosive push ups.


Not to brag, but at Garage Strength we have had multiple high school athletes, mainly football players, to bench well over 350 lbs. We had multiple high school athletes, mainly football players, bench over 400 lbs! One of the ways we got so many high school athletes to this level of strength is through utilizing clapping push ups. Essentially, if an athlete can not bench press 300 lbs we ask them to do 10 x 5 clapping push ups/explosive push ups every single night. This movement blows up the bench press.

Can’t bench press 250 lbs? Okay, do 5 x 10 normal push ups a night to get over the 250, 275 lbs marks. From there, the explosive volume will then get the athletes over the 300, 340 lbs marks. But don’t stop there! Let’s throw in dips and have the athletes throw these two movements together.


Dips can be done by throwing two chairs together or by playing a great game of eye spy and locating some parallel bars in a park or parallel structures that can function as an apparatus to perform dips upon. 


As is the theme with all bodyweight movements, variations are always a friend. Athletes can put their feet up on a chair and perform push ups or clap push ups. Athletes can change the positioning of their hands on the ground while doing the push ups. Really want a challenge? Pause in the catch of a clap push up for three seconds to go from an isometric hold into an explosive display of force.

1. Push Ups / Dips

Quarantine is a reality. Travel is a reality. Business closures are a reality. However, athletes can get stronger performing bodyweight exercises in all their wonderful variety.


Yes, we gave four exercises to perform to increase strength and coordination, but we also gave a strong recommendation to combine the basic movements with a variation of the movement to create more volume and greater difficulty. The variations will lead to strength gainz, but they will greatly contribute to improved body coordination.

We don’t know about everyone else, but we like our Thai food, Indian cuisine and Malaysian dishes as well when eating. Variety is the spice of life. Just make sure to apply that concept appropriately to exercise and strength movements as well. If athletes do this, don’t be surprised when they are more explosive, stronger and running faster.  


DANE MILLER

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.

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