Bodyweight Training for Foundation + Performance

Training for athletic performance involves utilizing barbells, moving heavy weight, and bringing a warrior-like intensity to the weight room every day. And as much as I love writing about all of those things, there is another particular training method that deserves its day in the sun. Bodyweight training. Classically interpreted as plainly pushups and pullups, bodyweight training simply involves using your own body as a form of resistance to improve strength, coordination, and overall fitness. Sounds simple, looks simple, yet it can be hard to master. Many athletes overlook the benefits of developing a solid foundation of fitness and skill in a variety of bodyweight movements. Though not a replacement for resistance training, progressive bodyweight movement - when implemented properly - can improve an athlete's ability to progress through complex movements, gain strength, and prevent injury.

Juke moves require proprioception like broken ankles require ice.

Juke moves require proprioception like broken ankles require ice.


From a performance standpoint, adding in bodyweight movements can benefit an athlete in many ways. Most noticeably, athletes will improve their proprioceptive abilities and improve balance in various positions. Try including lunges or single leg squats into your training to quickly see how comfortable you are moving on one leg. Steady practice and progression of these movements can help improve fine motor control and develop better awareness of force distribution through the foot. This is important for every athlete, especially ones who participate in sports that demand cutting, driving, or landing dynamically on one leg. And training bodyweight variations of lunges, single leg squats, and bulgarian split squats (among other movements) will set a general foundation for future resistance training by developing neuromuscular coordination. The more formed the connection is between mind and movement, the greater the effect of the strength training, thus making a better athlete.  

Fatigue and Form

Furthermore, performing bodyweight movements to a state of fatigue will help set a foundation for developing work capacity. Training structural movements like bodyweight squats and pushups at a high volume will not only challenge the mind to push through fatigue, but also stress the body's ability to maintain efficient positions. As fatigue sets in, errors in form and technique naturally become more prevalent. But working to maintain perfect form is key to getting results from bodyweight training (and any kind of training, for that matter). Take pushups for instance. Straining to maintain solid elbow position and neutral hips as fatigue sets in is where adaptation is made. Pushups, bodyweight squats, and other bodyweight movements can be used to develop the ability to drive through hard sets while maintaining strong, stable, and safe positions. And supersetting them with similar barbell movements can add extra challenge and metabolic stress without taking up more equipment or space. For further exploration into this concept, check out my post on mental sweat, where I wrote about immediately executing plyometric bodyweight movements after similar barbell movements to help increase force.

Learning to Move

Finally, the last issue I want to address is using bodyweight training to build towards a long life of health and wellness. Being a competitive athlete is awesome, but there is a lot more life to be lived after your "athletic career" is over. You are going to want to be able to safely move your own body through space for the rest of your life. Trust me. Executing bodyweight movements now (while you're young and healthy) will increase your ability to perform those same movements as you age. So, if you haven't done them in a while, it's time to get back out there and start learning how to move again. And one of the great benefits of bodyweight training is that the movements can be done ANYWHERE, FREE OF COST, and are SCALABLE TO ANY LEVEL. Even Klokov finds time to knock out some handstand pushups... while weighing about 240 pounds.

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Jace Derwin, CSCS, RSCC, is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog, and is the lead sport performance specialist at Volt Athletics. Jace manages Volt program design, content development, and educational resources for schools, clubs, and organizations. Jace is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®), and holds a Bachelor’s degree from Seattle Pacific University in Exercise Science. Follow Jace on Twitter @VoltCoachJace.