How Weightlifters Can Get Stronger from Bodyweight Training

by Mike Dewar -

The following piece comes from our official media partners at

Weightlifters need to be able to express mobility, stability, strength, power, balance, coordination, and movement quality. 

Lifters with higher levels of these foundational physical attributes are more likely to have smoother transitions into more competitive and intense training cycles. This allows for more well-rounded muscular development, enhanced movement, and increased injury resilience.

In this article we will discuss six ways weightlifters can get stronger using bodyweight training, and offer two sample workouts (one lower body and one upper body) to get you started.

6 Ways Weightlifters Can Get Stronger from Bodyweight Training

In the below section, we discuss six ways weightlifters can get stronger by training with bodyweight and/or adding bodyweight movements into their current training program. Be sure to read more about the best bodyweight exercises for weightlifters and get training today!

Swap for Unilateral Variations

Movements like bodyweight squats are good options for beginners. However, most lifters will not get the leg growth and strength they are looking for once they start being able to do sets of 30+ reps. 

Unilateral squat variations like lunges, Bulgarian split squats, and pistol squats (just to name a few) are great ways to increase unilateral leg strength, build new muscle, and improve knee and hip stability. Additionally, unilateral training is a key component to improve bilateral performance in weightlifting movements.

Increase the Range of Motion

Increasing the range of motion can add new stress and stimulus to muscle fibers. For example, progressing movements like push-ups and handstand push-ups into their deficit variations can further increase strength demands. You can also use increased ranges of motion to improve positional strength in deeper degrees of flexion. 

Movements like front foot elevated split squats or heel elevated bodyweight squats are all great lower body variations that increase the range of motion, flexibility demands, and positional strength needs of a lifter.

Add Max Effort Isometrics 

Adding isometrics, such as some of the back exercises in the below, are great ways to increase neural strength, grip strength, and maximal muscle contraction rates. We often train thinking about the eccentric and concentric muscle contractions. However, by adding in max effort isometric training into our regimens, we can still promote neuromuscular adaptations and at least help slow the decay of maximal strength in movements like deadlifts, squats, and pulls.

Slow Down the Reps

Adding controlled eccentrics and pauses throughout the movements are good ways to progress a movement and increase the positional strength, muscle coordination, and balance needs. In movements like split squats, for example, you can ensure proper ankle, knee, and hip joint actions, muscular loading patterns, and foot pressure by slowing down the eccentric phase and add pauses at sticking points.

You can also use these to increase time under tension and address areas of weakness that are often seen with barbell movements as well, making eccentrics and pauses great techniques to use with all types of equipment (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebells, bodyweight, etc.).

Perform Plyometric Movements 

Plyometric training can increase power output and rate of force production. Movements like jump squats, unilateral jump squats, broad jumps, depth jumps, and upper body plyometric movements can also increase the elasticity of the muscles and connective tissues. 

Performing these movements, in conjunction with muscle building work sets, is a great way to continue to reinforce force production and power output prerequisites necessary for explosive weightlifting movements.

Increase the Training Volume 

The strength building process often starts in the muscle hypertrophy phase. This simply means that muscle fibers grow following a period of higher volume training with moderate to heavy loads (lighter loads than strength and peaking plans).

Often the issue with bodyweight exercises is that for lifters who are stronger, it can be nearly impossible to get the same neural response from a set of pistol squats as a 5-rep set of back squats at 160kg.

If you find yourself stuck with only using bodyweight exercise, you may want to take 6-12 weeks to push muscle growth and build better movement, doing so in higher volumes (reps per set), frequencies, and training intensity (training to muscle failure). You can lay a stronger foundation for when you can return to barbell strength training.

Sample Bodyweight Workouts for Weightlifters

Below are two sample bodyweight training workouts for weightlifters looking to increase strength, muscle mass, and reinforce proper positioning needed for Olympic weightlifting training. 

Note, that there are two workouts below. The first is a lower body based workout, and the second is an upper body based workout. These are both equipment free workouts, however having a sturdy bar or beam to perform pull ups on would be needed for the upper body day (you can go to a local park to try to find a bar if needed).

Bodyweight Only Lower Body Workout

Warm Up - 3 Rounds

  • Hip Thrust (lying on floor, double leg or single leg) x 20 reps, slow eccentric, pause at top

  • Deadbug x 10 reps per side, slow and controlled reps

  • Kang Squat (hands crossed behind head) x 10, slow and controlled

Plyometrics - 5 Sets

  • Broad Jump x 3-5 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets, work on building intensity across sets, with smooth landings

  • Pair with Core Exercise x 20-30 seconds 

Strength - 5 Sets

  • Pistol Squat or Step Downs x 5-8 per leg, with a 3 second eccentric, going down to full range of motion (full knee flexion), resting 60-90 seconds between sets

Accessory - 3 to 5 Rounds

  • Bulgarian Split Squat x near failure, 3 second eccentric, 3 sec pause at bottom, rest as needed

  • Hamstrings Foam Roller Curls or Walk Outs x near failure, 3 second eccentric, 3 second pause at top, rest as needed

  • Stair Calf Raise x near failure, 3 second eccentric, 3 sec pause at bottom, rest as needed

Bodyweight Only Upper Body Workout

Warm Up - 3 Rounds

  • Scapular Push-Up x 10

  • Birdog x 10 reps per side, slow and controlled reps

  • Crawling x 20-30 seconds

Plyometrics - 5 Sets

  • Depth Jump x 3-5 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets, work on building intensity across sets, with smooth landings

  • Pair with Core Exercise x 20-30 seconds 

Strength - 5 Sets

  • Strict Handstand Push Up x 5-8 reps. If you cannot perform this, then regress to a pike push up, push up. If you can do more than 8 strict handstand push ups, you can do these from a deficit to increase the range of motion

  • Pair these with Strict Pull Ups x 5-8 reps. If you cannot perform these, try to do band assisted pull ups, jumping pull ups, or inverted rows. If you can perform more than 8 reps of a strict pull up, perform all reps with a slow eccentric and a pause at the top of every rep.

Accessory - 3 to 5 Rounds

  • Close Grip Push-Up x near failure, 3 second eccentric, 3 sec pause at bottom, rest as needed

  • Isometric Towel Row x 20-30 seconds, assume a bent over position similar to the clean or deadlift. You can add in body weight towel rows after if you like to get additional back work.

Final Notes

While bodyweight training may not be the most effective way to build strength and weightlifting technique, it can be used throughout the training process to help develop lifters either during times when they cannot train with a barbell or weights, or to be used alongside barbells and weights. 

Many of the techniques listed above can also be used with more traditional weight training exercises, so be sure to try them out to further increase your strength and muscle growth!

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