There’s a lot of great exercises out there, but if you’re looking to see maximal results – you need the effective and worthwhile exercises. After years of working with many elite-level athletes, and following their results, I’ve narrowed down some lower body favorites to these top 5 exercises for strength training.
My job as a strength and conditioning coach is to maximize an athlete’s speed, power, and strength in the gym – so they can go out and win on the field or court. Strength training is a powerful attribute to any athlete’s regimen for a multitude of reasons:
Why you should strength train:
- Reduces your risk of injury
- Supports a lean, athletic physique
- Builds muscle strength and size
- Enhances sprinting and jumping
So we all know it’s good for you, the question is: how do I train?
What I can say with confidence is that you want to choose the right exercises. And by that, I mean ones that are effective and worth including in your training.
A lot of athletes will just bounce around in the gym a few times a week, without a goal. Not only is this a good way to misplace your energy, but it’s a waste of your time.
New and “unique” drills have their place, but throughout my coaching career, I’ve always come back to this set of exercises for strength training. My goal is to have you know exactly what you’re doing and more importantly WHY, because it makes you a smarter athlete.
You’re probably thinking… “just give me the drills Chris,” but I always want you to have the bigger picture and even better: do every exercise the right way.
So today I’m sharing the 8 best exercises for strength training. Keep these drills in your back pocket, and consider them staples for getting stronger, faster, and fitter.
STRENGTH TRAINING FOR ATHLETES
Best Lower Body Exercises for Strength Training
I’m going to break this down to cover every part of the workout. I’ll even throw in a few exercises for strength training at home for those of you who can’t make it to the gym right now.
If you want, you could even string these exercises together for a quick lower body workout.
A good warm-up is easily the most important part of your workout.
The athlete’s that just skip over their warm-up and dive in, loading up the barbell with plates… yeah those are the athlete’s that wind up injured, and fast – watching their season go by from the sidelines.
Don’t be that athlete. Try these warm-up exercises for strength training.
1. Pogo Jumps
If you’ve been here before, you know pogo jumps are one of my absolute favorites. There’s so many variations you can utilize as both a warm-up and a reactive, plyometric drill.
Recently, I’ve been talking a lot about the importance of tendon stiffness (a huge component within my newest program: Elite Vertical Academy). Pogo jumps give you that bounce you need to be agile in whatever game you play.
To give you a little taste of EVA:
“Having tendon stiffness indicates that there’s a rigidity and strength of the tendons which allow you to absorb and produce great amounts of force. Isometric training does this better than any other modality.”
Check out more on isometric exercises for strength training here…
Muscles of the foot and ankle complex allow you to propel yourself fast and far in any direction. That’s why pogo jumps are the perfect exercise to train reactivity and quickness.
HOW TO: Begin standing in an athletic position. Pushing the hips back, propel off the toes and into the air using your arms for momentum. Immediately upon touching the floor, jump again, repeating this nonstop for up to 20-30 seconds. Think about being light as you land and powerful as you jump.
2. Tuck Jumps
I decided to throw these in here because they’re effective and can apply to every athlete’s training.
No matter if you’re sprinting to base, diving for a pass, or driving to net…
You’ve got to be the First. Guy. There.
And that means having that “get up and GO” quality. Being first is a matter of how fast your takeoff is and tuck jumps train you to take control of your ups. You can use these to go for height, or turn them into more of a broad jump aiming for distance.
My main goal using tuck jumps, is to teach you how to be agile and reactive so that the moment you hit the ground, you’re right back up again. And not for nothing, this helps you to work on your vertical too.
HOW TO: Start by swinging your arms back and pushing the hips into an athletic position. Building momentum with the arms, simultaneously bring them forward and launch yourself up off the floor. Aim to bring your knees towards your chest and get as much height as possible. You either want to cover ground or aim vertically, but each rep is quick and leads into the next.
When it comes to picking the right drills, a common question is “what exercises are resistance training?”
While resistance training is commonly associated with using weights, it covers any exercise where you work against some kind of resistance… and yes, that could even be gravity.
Main lifts are what we think of as making the biggest difference in our training, because they’re the most complex and strenuous movements. In my opinion as coach, below is the greatest lower body exercise for strength training:
3. Trap Bar Deadlift
The trap bar deadlift has to be one of, if not my favorite exercise for lower body strength and power.
It’s versatile given the many grip options available, it’s effective, and overall safe. I’m a lot more comfortable starting newer or younger athletes out on trap bar deadlift rather than a back squat.
You’re able to control the entire movement top to bottom, and even change the range of motion (i.e. putting blocks under the plates).
The trap bar is incredible for athletes since it puts you in the same position as when you’re out on the field.
What I mean by this is that you have to get into an athletic position, pushing the hips back. A back squat brings your hips down towards 90 degrees, but when do you ever hit that angle for a vertical?
Every athletic movement you make, starts in the same quarter squat position you’re in for a trap bar deadlift. This exercise is foundational and I suggest following a specific program that suits your goals to properly periodize volume, sets, and reps.
HOW TO: Standing within the trap bar with your feet hip-width distance, start by pushing your hips back and down until you can grab the handles of the bar. Utilizing your glutes and hamstrings, drive up through the whole foot until you reach standing again.
One of the most important ways to improve your strength training is by putting a lot of effort and focus into your supplemental lifts.
These specific exercises for strength training, sometimes know as auxillary exercises, are typically done following your main lift(s). These allow you to target specific muscles and apply additional stress to whatever you’re training.
If you just hit your main lift for a few sets and walked out of the gym, you probably wouldn’t be seeing a ton of results. Supplemental lifts allow you to add more stimulus and bring additional blood flow to the muscles. The more focus that gets applied to that area, the more your nervous system will respond by stimulating muscle development.
A great supplemental lift I often use with my athletes are bulgarian split squats.
4. Bulgarian Split Squats
These are incredible for isolating single leg strength and targeting the glutes. Posterior chain (back body) strength is one of the most important elements of an athletes training since it powers things like sprinting and jumping.
I like to have my athletes utilize a plate in front to keep the heel elevated. This forces you to work on foot and ankle stability as well as become accustomed to driving vertical power through the ball of the foot.
HOW TO: Grab a large bumper plate and a bench or plyo box. Bring your back foot up onto the bench (top of the foot down) and your front foot out before you until you’re in a stable lunge position. The front half of the foot should be on the plate with the heel elevated but not supported. With or without a pair of dumbbells, lower down until your back knee comes within a few inches of the floor. Maintaining stability in the core and utilizing the glutes, drive up through the ball of your foot to starting position.
Last but not least I always recommend finishing up your workouts with some kind of core or trunk strengthening movement.
The core is made up of many muscles on both the anterior and posterior side of your trunk such as the rectus abdominis, obliques, and the back. Doing these exercises for core strength training regularly, makes you a stronger, more stable, and efficient athlete. You should switch around your core drills often to hit every area.
Read up on why core integration is essential to athletic movement.
5. Ab Wheel Rollout
Let’s close out these exercises for strength training with the ab wheel rollout. These are such an all-encompassing core workout since they activate almost every muscle of the trunk.
The anterior abdominals turn on the second you begin to move forward and eventually the shoulders and upper body have to work, keeping you stable.
HOW TO: Grab a mat or a towel for this one. Begin kneeling on your mat with the ab-wheel in both hands. Tighten the core and the glutes, keeping the pelvis tucked and the trunk linear. Without bending through the lower back, begin to roll the wheel out in front of you. Once your reach your lowest point, contract through the abs to come back to start.
Like I mentioned before, there’s so many exercises for strength training out there, it makes it difficult to sort out the ones that are effective in making you a better athlete.
Thats why I put together my top 5 lower body exercises that you can always come back to. Whether your pick one of these drills to add into your next workout or string them all together for a lower body power workout, you know you’re getting the job done.
Unfortunately, even these 5 exercises will only get you so far. If you want to become a standout on the field or court, it’s time you take your training seriously and invest in a periodized program that has supported so many in reaching their goals.
The Athlete Strength Formula is just that.
These are the 3 core components of strength training for athletes:
- Percentages – Watch as you hit new PR’s for FOUR WEEKS.
- Contraction Training – Utilize Isometric and Concentric training at the RIGHT times to see the maximum benefits.
- ROM Training – Address your weaknesses and utilize the full range of motion through all your lifts.
If you’re ready to start dominating the competition and hit new levels of elite strength, this is for you.