Advanced Bodyweight Exercises For Top Athletes
by Gene Kobilansky
If you've been training for a while, especially with the rigorous intensity of a fighter, you might be hesitant adding bodyweight work to your fitness routine. After all, if you stick to the basics, you'll end up doing 100s of push-ups, even more bodyweight squats and a fair amount of pull ups. In other words, tons of reps.
Doesn't sound like a good time to me. Plus your s&c coach probably mentioned that the best way to build strength and explosiveness is with low rep, high intensity work.
But, I am a huge proponent of bodyweight exercises for athletes, especially combat athletes.
Maybe the answer isn't to give up on the old standbys of pull ups, push-ups and squats, but to give them a twist. Something that greatly increases the level of difficulty and gives a bit of variety.
Two things I look for when creating out of the box bodyweight exercises
- Slow down the movement
- Change up angles (and grips)
Here are the pillars of our bodyweight exercises (and strength work in general), with the basic exercise presented as an example.
- Pushing - Pushups, Bodyweight Squats
- Pulling - Pull-ups
Now, let’s come up with some ways to change up these basic exercises and make them more difficult at lower reps.
Advanced Bodyweight Exercises
Slow Down, Fast Up
As you can see from the video, I’ve slowed down the movement on the eccentric (muscle lengthening) part of the pushup and still keep it fast and explosive on the concentric (muscle shortening) part of the pushup.
I make the pushups very difficult by REALLLY slowing down the eccentric (downward) motion. In general I try to do ten seconds on the way down, but clearly, when I'm tired - I cheat and speed up my counting. For shame!
Here’s a killer advanced variation …
Slow Down, Fast Up, Modified Hand Position and Clap
Can you do more than 10?
This is my favorite push up workout. Still keeping it hard with the 10 second down count, but with a new twist.
On the way up, I'll explode, clap and switch hand position for 5 pushups. Then explode, clap but keep the same position for another 5 pushups.
Be sure to keep your elbows tight to your body. Contrary to popular belief, this position actually hits your pecs more than elbows wide.
Pull Up Variations
Here’s another good, simple way to slow down the negative on your pull ups is adding some side to side motion.
This way, each side alternates taking the majority of the load, training you to control you decent with one hand vs. 2.
Fat Gripz Pull Ups
If you’ve got access to Fat Gripz (you can find them in the Fight Camp Conditioning Pro Shop) or a pool noodle, I highly recommend this exercise.
Slow pull ups with Fat Gripz are fantastic for building gripping strength.
Some of my wrestlers complain that the grips rotate and slip. I find this is because they use a no thumb type of grip.
Grip 1a in this image by Marines Magazine. (Love that the image file is called marines_getSomePullUp.jpg)
The no thumb grip is easier on your arms when using fat gripz, but the fat gripz tend to spin on the pull-up bar. Plus, like I said, it’s easier - what’s the point in that?
Be sure to use your thumb (1b) in your grip to prevent spinning and to get the most out of your workout.
Kobi Pull Up Challenge
Alright, I’ll admit, I threw this video in more for fun than anything educational. But … If you have a long lineup of pull up bars in your gym, this challenge is a lot of fun.
Plus the exercises targets grip and shoulder strength and requires solid body control.
Out of the Big 3, I think squats are the toughest to modify. When I think of a more difficult bodyweight squat, I immediately jump to the one-legged, or pistol squat.
But that’s a tough transition. In fact, while making this post, I couldn’t quite get it …
But, there are some intermediate steps. Here’s what I recommend if you’re struggling with the one-legged squat like me.
Supported 1 Leg Lunge
Alright, so you're ready to move from regular air squats to one legged squats? Well that's a tough jump to make.
I like this chair assisted one legged lunge as a transitional exercise. Be sure to focus on that front knee, it should NOT travel in front of your foot.
Pistol Squat With Wall Assist
Use one hand on a wall, not on a flat supporting surface (like a table or a bench), to give yourself a little bit, but not too much help.
I find if I've got something to grab onto, I cheat too much on these, but if I can only use the friction of a hand on the wall, it's still a very difficult exercise, but I get the stability I need to execute it.
Be sure to place the arm behind you - an adjustment I make in the middle of the video - so you can sit back on your squat and your knee doesn't travel forward.
Hindu Squat with One Legged Drive
A lot of examples I found online teach the hindu squat by coming off the heels and letting your knees travel in front of your toes.
I don't agree with this. I like to use a wider stance (sumo), still sit back in my squat and really focus on my breathing. Brushing the floor with my hands forces me to drop deep in the squat.
Finally, add an explosive drive up, favoring one leg and attempting to jump from the drive of ONE LEG ONLY.
That’s it for the big 3 bodyweight exercises. Not convinced you need to add bodyweight fitness to your repertoire? Here are 3 Reasons To Try Bodyweight Fitness and be sure to sign-up for my newsletter and join 4,703 other motivated, smart and attractive athletes in learning how to live life in the flow state.
Gene is a former management consultant, the founder of FlowAthletics.com, an NYU Wrestling Coach, a BJJ Blue Belt and an aspiring American Ninja Warrior. When not training or coaching, he writes. Follow Flow athletics on Facebook or subscribe to the YouTube channel.