4 Bodyweight Exercises to Improve Barbell Lifts

San Diego personal trainer, Brian Tabor, performs a push up outside on parallel bars.

San Diego personal trainer, Brian Tabor, performs a push up outside on parallel bars.

Bodyweight Exercises For Building Strength


Bodyweight conditioning proponents will always espouse the benefits of relative strength and muscular control, which is damn impressive. I love the circus as much as anybody. But which bodyweight exercises will improve your strength and put bigger numbers on your barbell lifts? These lifts don't require a lot of time or specialized skills, but do just that when you don't have a barbell.

Push Up

Most people remember that the push up is a great exercise, but neglect it in favor of the more grandiose bench press. But the push up and its variations are truly foundation building movements that deserve an extended life span in your personal training program. Not only is a push up done well an excellent variation of the plank, the closed chain aspect of it allows you to develop greater scapular stability and control, which is gonna translate to a more stable shoulder position for barbell pressing. If the standard push up is getting too wussy for you there are countless variations you can begin adding to your training. Yoga push ups, elevated feet, single legged, various hand positions, 1 arm assisted/unassisted. and more.

Pull Up

Pull ups take advantage of your own bodyweight in one of the most raw and unforgiving manners. There are no angles or levers immediately available to reduce the amount of force needed to pull your whole body straight up over a bar. There's a reason people prefer lat pulldowns. They're easier. Pull up variations will strengthen your grip and upper back to help you set up, hold, lift and press bigger weights. If you can't grip a bar for pull ups you probably can't hold big weights. If you can't retract and depress your scapula well, you won't stabilize your shoulder well. Strong latissimus dorsi seriously help drive big presses and a strong upper back is required for big deadlifts and pulls.

Russian Lean or Nordic Lean

A likely predecessor to the glute ham raise, the russian lean looks very similar. There's good reason why glute ham raises are a staple in most powerlifting programs. They work. The Russian Lean is similar in that it stresses the posterior chain by anchoring the lower leg and requiring the hamstrings to pull your body weight upright by decreasing the joint angle of the knee as opposed to extending the hip. Additionally, the rest of your backside and midsection must maintain the rigidity of the trunk by bracing isometrically. Most people will likely have to utilize some assistance in the bottom range of this movement, by pushing off the ground, a low box, or step. Just remember to push as little as possible, focus on the tension in your hamstrings, and stay tight so not to stick your butt back first.

Airborn Lunge

Airborn lunges have recently been gaining in popularity. They are described in the Naked Warrior as a precursor exercise for performing single leg squats. While they are helpful for progressing into other more complex single leg exercises they do a great job of teaching you to pull yourself with eccentric control into deeper hinged positions. Regular lunge variations don't require the same kind of tension in the front of the hips and trunk. The position from the floor for most people will end up looking similar to a traditional deadlift from the side, but with a trail leg. From this bottom position the individual has to maintain tension in the hip flexors and trunk to keep the center of gravity placed over the front foot and then drive hard into the floor wit the front leg to stand up. These things make it a great way to improve how you build up tension to drive into the floor from the start of a deadlift.

These four lifts are a great way to maintain and continue improving your strength. Use them as a deload from traditional barbell lifts or use them as a replacement when you know you simply won't have time or access to a gym.

Did you enjoy this article? You should follow me on: Follow @TheBrianTabor//