Every young athlete needs to get stronger. Strength training is one of the best ways to improve your overall athleticism, and is a necessary and integral part of any smart athlete’s training program.
When most people think of strength training, they think of lifting weights. While barbells and dumbbells are two of the best training modalities, and every serious athlete should utilize them, there are still ways to get stronger without any equipment. Body-weight can be used to become stronger, especially for beginners.
As an athlete, you will probably get the best strength results from lifting weights. The exercises are typically easier to learn, and they are easier to add weight to as you become stronger. So, if you have access to weights, I suggest you use them instead of relying totally on body-weight exercises. You can still incorporate some bodyweight exercises into your training program if you enjoy them.
Below are some of the best body-weight exercises that you can use to build a strong lower body. If you want to become an overall better athlete and don’t have access to weights, these are all exercises that you should be using.
Single Leg Box Squats
Single leg box squats are a great lower body exercise, especially for beginners. They are typically used as a stepping stone to work up to doing pistol squats, the next exercise on the list. This exercise gives similar benefits to a normal squat, but also requires a lot of balance and stability.
Pistol squats are an advanced lower body exercise. It is a variation of the single leg squat that requires strength, balance, and flexibility. It is very difficult, but can be modified for any strength level. The video below offers a progression that will allow you to work up to doing a full pistol squat.
The pistol squat is the best body-weight lower body exercise. By the time you can do 10-20 pistol squats in a row, you will have a strong set of legs. Even those relatively experienced with strength training will struggle with this exercise!
Shrimp squats are another form of single leg squat. They also require great strength and balance.
Shrimp squats are slightly less difficult then pistol squats, because they do not require as much flexibility. However, they are a completely different animal, because you start the exercise from the bottom. You don’t get to use that natural bounce that you get when you squat quickly down and up (called the myotatic reflex or stretch reflex).
Single Leg Hip Thrust
The hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings) are the most powerful muscle group in the body. They are used for jumping, sprinting, squatting, and deadlifting. However, they are also a weak muscle group in most people.
Hip thrusts are one of the best exercises to strengthen the hip extensors, especially the glutes. Bret Contreras, known as “The Glute Guy”, writes a blog at http://www.bretcontreras.com/. There is no better expert on the internet at glute training.One of Bret’s favorite exercises for the glutes is the hip thrust and all of its variations. Hip thrusts imitate the loading of your glutes during sprinting.
For those of you training with just bodyweight, the single leg variation of the hip thrust is a great exercise. You will not find a single exercise that will target your glutes better with just your bodyweight. Improve your glute strength and you will notice improvement in your overall strength, speed, and explosiveness.
Step ups are another solid single leg exercise in which you step onto a high box. This exercise is very similar to all the single leg squat variations above, however requires a little less balance and flexibility and is easier to learn. It is also very easy to add a little resistance to this exercise. Use a backpack filled with books, or just hold something heavy you find laying around your garage.
Now, How do you use these exercises to become stronger? Well, do more repetitions over time! If you are doing some of these exercises a few times per week, attempt to do more repetitions each time you train! As long as you do more than you did last time, you know you are becoming stronger.
You can also add resistance once you become proficient in these exercises. As I said before, use a backpack filled with books, or hold something heavy you find in your garage. Any form of resistance is viable as long as you can balance with it!
If you want more information on bodyweight training head over to the bodyweight fitness community on Reddit. It is a community of people who primarily train using their own bodyweight. Search there and you will find an answer to nearly any of your questions regarding bodyweight training.
Remember, bodyweight exercises can bring you results. However, they are most likely not optimal in the long term. Nearly every elite athlete utilizes some form of weight training. When access to a weight room becomes available, take advantage.