Bodyweight Lower Body Training For Athletes: A Simple, Strategic Approach to Lower Body Training Without Weights

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A surefire sign of a good coach or lifter is their ability to get great results regardless of equipment or circumstances.

You can build lower body muscle and athleticism with a strategic blend of explosive movement by maximizing time under tension and progressive overload.

Lower body training
What follows is a four-week lower body training program.

You’ll train your lower body twice per week as part of a complete training plan. As you progress, you’ll  increase set duration either through time, the number of sets, or reps to drive progressive overload.

This program can be woven into an existing training program in two ways:
(1)  A longer-duration deload and relief from the cumulative compressive stress of heavy lifting.
(2)  A “shock” method to improve overall mobility and athleticism

Here are the core elements.

Jumps

Many lifters come up short when it comes to athleticism and explosiveness,You can prevent this by adding jump training to your workouts. You’ll recruit dormant muscle fibers, increase neural drive, and improve the efficiency of your nervous system.

This novel training stimulus can rebuild withering athleticism in the short term.

Over the long term, teaching your muscle fibers to contract faster can prime your nervous system, leading to better muscle fiber recruitment.  When you activate more muscle fibers, you do more than get more athletic. You increase the number of muscle fibers you can fatigue to maximize muscle growth.

You’ll do a few different types of jumps.

Broad jumps are more hip dominant, like a kettlebell swing or deadlift.

Squat jumps are more hip dominant, like, um, a squat.

There are multi-response (multiple jumps in a row) verus single response (one jump at a time).

Finally, there are countermovement jumps (start tall, swing arms down) and non-countermovement (start loaded).

You can read more about those here, but the basic premise is this: we’ll start simple, then gradually increase the difficulty of the jumps.

Over time, explosive movements make your body more efficient.

Sprints

No exercise, weighted or unweighted, reveals a strong, athletic, and chiseled physique quite like sprinting.

Similar to sprints, your central nervous system will be in overdrive.

Signals sent from your brain to generate force quickly  produce near-maximum voluntary muscular contractions. There is an increased phosphorylation of myosin regulatory light chains. This allows the actin and myosin binding (for muscle contraction) to react to the increased calcium release.

This reaction triggers a cascade of events leading to enhanced force muscle production at the structural level of muscle (Horwath & Kravitz ). Thus, increased muscle activation yields a greater duration of calcium ions in the muscle cell environment, yielding a greater phosphorylation of the myosin light chain protein (Rixon et al. 2007).

Plain English Version:  the forces generated in sprinting enhance force production, ramp up muscle fiber recruitment and force generation capabilities.

And like heavy lifting, sprinting requires a huge CNS output, meaning you’ll activate a ton of muscle fibers to rapidly produce high levels of force. You’ll challenge explosive, two-II muscle fibers in your hamstrings, glutes, quads, and calves in a novel way, which can lead to new muscle growth.

The problem is sprinting can be a high risk activity, particularly if your cardio has typically been walking to the fridge between yelling at whatever sports are on TV.

But you could also say it’s risky  to jump into a max deadlift if you haven’t done it in years.
To reduce the injury risk in sprinting, it’s best to:

  • Gradually increase intensity and volume so your tissues can adapt.
  • Use an incline or hill to reduce the distance of the foot-fall, reducing joint stress.
  • Use an incline or hill to prevent overstriding, the primary driver of hamstring pulls.

 You’ll dramatically reduce these risks with sound programming.

Lunges
No body weight movement is as diverse or powerful for building an athletic, strong lower body  as lunges. Your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and adductors will be working double time and muscular imbalances will be exposed and attacked.

Squats
I’m not going to insult your intelligence and cover the benefits of the squat. Assuming you have a respectable squat, you’ll need a high volume dose of body weights with short rest periods to increase metabolic stress.

Pistol and Skater Squats
Pistol and skater squats are the closest thing to a bodyweight “strength” movement you’ll be doing. Because you’ll be removing one limb from the ground completely, the working leg will take the brunt of the work of moving your bodyweight. This creates very high levels of tension within your muscles to build strength and size.

Any imbalances you have will be exposed and attacked without mercy.
Pick whatever variation is most comfortable for you. For the majority, this is the skater squat.

Pistol Squat Video (progression)
 


Skater Squat Video

The Program

Use this program as a replacement for lower body training for at least four weeks. You may wish to repeat the cycle twice to maximize the benefits of sprinting, as it’ll take some time to become more technically proficient, but we’ll leave that up to you.

This workout is designed in case you have zero equipment. Sprinting will be your primary posterior chain work.

Separate workouts by 48-72 hours. This will provide ample time for recovery, yet be frequent enough to keep gains coming along.

Sprinting can be done directly after training, but if it would be best to do it 3-4 hours removed, or even the next day. If you do it the day after the lift, consider extending the duration between bodyweight workouts to the full 72 hours.

Week One:
Warm Up:
Groiner with T-Rotation 1×5/side
Single Leg Hip Thrust 1×5/side
Bodyweight single leg RDL 1×5/side
Bodyweight squat x75

1.Depth Landing 3×5, rest 45 seconds
Notes: Land in an athletic position.

2. Pistol/Prisoner Squat 3×5, rest 45 between legs
Notes: Go to box if necessary while range of motion improves. 

3. Split Squats x75/leg
Notes: Break these up however you see fit. But keep the intensity high.

4. Bodyweight Squat x75
Notes: Narrow Stance. Feet shoulder width or slightly inside. Break these up however you see fit. But keep the intensity high and rest short.

Sprint: Short

Day Two
Warm Up:
Groiner with T-Rotation  1×5/side
Single Leg Hip Thrust 1×5/side
Lateral Lunge 1×5/side
Bodyweight squat x75

1. Single Response Squat Jump  3×5, rest 60
Notes: Stick each landing, reset, and generate as much force as you can.

2a.Lateral Lunge 4×5/leg, rest 30 seconds

2b.Reverse Lunges 4×15/leg, rest 30 seconds

 3a. Single leg hip thrust 3×10/leg, rest 0

3b. Inchworm 3×5, rest 0

3c. Front to back lunge 3×10/leg, rest 30s

Training Your CoreSprint: Medium

Week Two
Warm Up:
Groiner with T-Rotation  1×5/side
Single Leg Hip Thrust  1×5/side
Lateral Lunge  1×5/side
Bodyweight squat x85

1. Single Response Squat Jump 3×5, rest 60
Notes: Stick each landing, reset, and generate as much force as you can. 

2. Pistol/Prisoner Squat 3×6, rest 45 between legs
Notes: Go to box if necessary while range of motion improves. 

3. Split Squat  x75/leg
Notes: Break these up however you see fit. But keep the intensity high.

4. Bodyweight Squat x85
Notes: Narrow Stance. Feet shoulder width or slightly inside. Break these up however you see fit. But keep the intensity high and rests short.

Sprint: Short

Day Two
Warm Up:
Groiner with T-Rotation  1×5/side
Single Leg Hip Thrust  1×5/side
Lateral Lunge  1×5/side
Bodyweight squat x85

1. Countermovement Multi-reponse squat jump: 3×5, rest 60

2. Front to Back Lunge x75/leg
Notes: Break these up however you see fit. But keep the intensity high.

3a .Lateral Lunge 4×5/leg, rest 30 seconds

3b.Reverse Lunges 4×15/leg, rest 30 seconds 

4a. Single leg hip thrust 3×10/leg, rest 0

4b. Inchworm 3×5, rest 0

4c. Front to back lunge 3×10/leg, rest 0s

4d. Prisoner Squat Jump 3×10, rest 60s

Sprint: Medium

Week Three

Warm Up:
Groiner with T-Rotation  1×5/side
Single Leg Hip Thrust  1×5/side
Bodyweight single leg RDL 1×5/side
Bodyweight squat x90

1. Broad Jump (no counter movement): 3×4, rest 90 seconds

2.Pistol/Prisoner Squat 4×5, rest 45 between legs
Notes: Go to box if necessary while range of motion improves. 

3. Forward Walking Lunge x100/leg
Notes: Break these up however you see fit. But keep the intensity high.

4. Bodyweight Squat x90
Notes: Narrow Stance. Feet shoulder width or slightly inside. Break these up however you see fit. But keep the intensity high and rests short.

Sprint: Medium

Day Two
Warm Up:
Groiner with T-Rotation  1×5/side
Single Leg Hip Thrust  1×5/side
Lateral Lunge  1×5/side
Bodyweight squat x90

1. Multiresponse squat jump: 3×5, rest 90 seconds
Notes: Move from one jump directly into the next.

2a. Cossack Squat 3×5/leg, rest 30 seconds

2b. Reverse Lunges 3×20/leg, rest 30 seconds

3a. Single leg hip thrust 3×12/leg, rest 0

3b. Inchworm 3×6, rest 0

3c. Front to back lunge 3×12/leg, rest 0s

3d. Prisoner Squat Jump 3×12, rest 60sfat loss

Sprint: Long

Week Four

Warm Up:
Groiner with T-Rotation  1×5/side
Single Leg Hip Thrust  1×5/side
Bodyweight single leg RDL 1×5/side
Bodyweight squat x100

1.Broad Jump (with countermovement) 3×4 rest 60-90s

2. Pistol/Prisoner Squat 4×5, rest 45 between legs
Notes: Go to box if necessary while range of motion improves. 

3. Forward Walking Lunge x100/leg
Notes: Break these up however you see fit. But keep the intensity high.

4. Bodyweight Squat x100
Notes: Narrow Stance. Feet shoulder width or slightly inside. Break these up however you see fit. But keep the intensity high and rests short.

Sprint: Medium

Day Two
Warm Up:
Groiner with T-Rotation  1×5/side
Single Leg Hip Thrust  1×5/side
Lateral Lunge 1×5/side
Bodyweight squat x100

1. Multiresponse squat jump: 3×5, rest 90 seconds
Notes: Move from one jump directly into the next.

2a. Cossack Squat 3×5/leg, rest 30 seconds

2b. Reverse Lunges 3×20/leg, rest 30 seconds

3a. Single leg hip thrust 3×12/leg, rest 0

3b. Inchworm 3×6, rest 0

3c. Front to back lunge 3×12/leg, rest 10s

3d. Prisoner Squat Jump 3×12, rest 60s

Sprint Long

Sprinting Instructions:
These can be adapted to a treadmill, outdoors, stairs, or elliptical. Use what’s available and stick to these as close as you can on the type of sprinting listed.

If sprinting outside or on a treadmill, please use a hill or incline to prevent over-striding, which can lead to hamstring pulls. This also lessens joint stress. Keep all sprints outdoors at 80-90% and “build up” as you go to continue warming your body up.

Warm Up: 5-10 minutes of light running and jogging, while gradually increasing speed.

Short
Sprint 20-30 meters, building up speed as you go. Walk back and recover. Wait until your breathing returns to normal. This may be 90 seconds rest, and that’s okay. Repeat for 25 minutes.

On machine: 15 second sprint, 45 seconds rest for 20 minutes.

Medium
Sprint 60-80 meters, building up speed as you go. Walk back and recover. Wait until your breathing returns to normal. This may be 2+ minutes between sprints. Repeat for 25 minutes.

On machine: 30 second sprint, 30 seconds rest for 20 minutes

Long
Sprint 100-150 meters, building up speed as you go. Walk back and recover. Wait until your breathing returns to normal. Repeat for 25 minutes. This is absolutely brutal and you may need 3-5 minutes to recover.

On machine: 45 seconds sprint, 45 seconds rest for 20 minutes.

Sources:
Horwath, R., & Kravitz , L. (n.d.). postactivation potentiation: A brief review. Informally published manuscript, Exercise Science , Retrieved from http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article folder/postactivationUNM.html

Rixon KP, Lamont HS, Bemben M. Influence of type of muscle contraction, gender, and lifting experience on post activation potentiation performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2007; 21: 500–505.

 

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