Here's what you need to know...
- Use power cleans to increase explosiveness on the field and court.
- Do front squats to strengthen your quads and improve your vertical jump, help you decelerate, plant, and cut.
- Use the trap bar deadlift instead of the conventional deadlift which requires more mobility. Strengthen your posterior chain.
- Do close-grip bench pressing. Keeping your arms in tight translates better to the strength an athlete will need on the field.
- Use resisted push-ups. They're similar to sporting movements that require you to control the upper back.
- Chin-ups balance out all the pushing and pressing athletes do when they train.
Strength + Athleticism
Everyone can benefit from getting stronger. But for an athlete, there's a lot more to physical success than being strong in the weight room.
If you're a powerlifter, then squat, bench, and deadlift until the cows come home. If you're an Olympic lifter, snatch and clean and jerk repeatedly.
Related: 5/3/1 and Athletes
But if you're an athlete who wants to get strong while maintaining other critical qualities like power, speed, mobility, and general athleticism, these are your exercises.
#1 The Power Clean
Olympic lifts are fantastic for developing power and explosiveness. Can you develop it with med ball throws or jumping exercises? To a certain extent, sure. But these exercises belong more on the "speed-strength" side of the continuum.
The power clean is a great way for an athlete to improve or maintain explosiveness and power. If you're comfortable with it, make it a staple.
#2 The Front Squat
If you're an athlete, you need strong quads. Quads are critical not only for improving your vertical jump, but your ability to decelerate, plant, and cut as well.
However, quads are just the starting point. The front squat is an amazing anterior core exercise. You know how you can get totally caved over and still manage to finish a back squat? You can't do that with a front squat.
If your abs are weak, do a 2-3 month front squat cycle and you should walk away impressed with how much stronger and more stable your core and trunk are as a result.
The front squat also helps mobility. Front squatting ensures that you maintain ankle, knee, hip, and thoracic spine mobility. Make it a mainstay in your programs.
#3 The Trap Bar Deadlift
There's no way to downplay the deadlift's importance. For athletes, though, mobility could be a concern. Or they may not have adequate strength in the posterior chain to do conventional deadlifts safely and effectively.
The sumo deadlift doesn't work either as it doesn't get you into a very athletic position. This is why the trap bar deadlift is perfect.
When you use the high handles you can get into a very vertical tibia/inclined trunk position. This combo gives the trap bar or Dead-Squat™ Bar deadlift the potential to be very posterior chain dominant.
Related: The Best Damn Posterior Chain Exercises
Trust me, if you work with enough athletes, you know they often have the posterior chain strength of Gwenyth Paltrow. They need stronger backsides, period.
Also, if you're an athlete who lacks mobility, the trap bar deadlift is a great starting point. It allows you to load your hips while addressing other mobility needs.
#4 The Close-Grip Bench Press
If your hands (or elbows) are out really far from your body and someone is coming to push you off your spot, you're going to lose.
But if you have your elbows and arms in tight to the body, you can maximize leverage, as well as effectively tying together the legs, trunk, and upper body.
The close-grip bench is an ideal exercise for building upper-body strength. I know the bench gets a bad rap, but there's something to be said for being flat-out stronger than your competition.
As awesome as the close-grip bench press is for developing the upper body, it does have limitations. The biggest issue when benching is that even if your core and lower body are tight, they're rarely the limiting factor in your performance.
While close-grip benching is great for developing upper body strength, it doesn't tie that strength together by unifying the upper and lower body. Heavy, resisted push-ups do.
A well-executed push-up with the core stable and in neutral spinal alignment will absolutely crush your anterior core.
Try this little trick to get even more core development:
- Set up in the top position of a push-up and before you start moving.
- Exhale hard.
- Pull your head and neck back to get into a more "neutral neck" position.
Getting into a more ideal position through the neck and core will crank up the intensity.
The other huge benefit you get from performing a push-up versus a bench press is scapular stability. When you're doing a bench press, the goal is to "pin" your shoulder blades back and down. The scapulae are stable, but it's a very static kind of stability.
But a push-up is similar to actual sporting movements since you're forced to actively control the position of the scapulae.
Instead of simply pinning them back and down behind you, make sure they're moving appropriately and in the right place at the right time.
Finally, the push-up is a closed-chain pressing variation, meaning it's awesome for developing rotator cuff strength and stability.
Next time, instead of doing 3x15 shoulder external rotations with a Theratube to crush your rotator cuff, bang out 2-3 sets of high-quality push-ups.
You'll get more out of the exercise, and look infinitely more awesome to boot.
In most sports (and strength training programs), there's a ton of emphasis on pushing. All you have to do is observe the posture of someone who "presses" all the time, without balancing it out with upper back work, to see why this is an issue.
These athletes are a disaster waiting to happen. Chin-ups, however, will help balance out the equation.
Chin-ups also develop the lower trapezius. The lower trap is not only a key shoulder stabilizer, but (along with the upper trap and serratus anterior) constitutes one-third of the upward rotation force couple.
Related: The Chin-Up Project
The key with chin-ups is that you need to focus on getting your chest to the bar and actively depressing your scapulae down.
Bottom line, if you only have a limited amount of time to strength train, at least some of that needs to be geared towards strengthening the upper back.
The chin-up will give you a ton of benefits and should be a staple in your athletic strength program.
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