For time-crunched athletes who have limited time to train, going to a gym just doesn’t fit into the schedule. Similarly, many endurance athletes don’t really want to purchase and gather all the necessary equipment to perform strength training exercises at home. As I’ve explained in previous posts, however, strength training is an important component for building and maintaining overall fitness, resilience, bone mineral density, and muscle mass. To help cyclists, triathletes, and runners fit strength training into your busy and active lifestyle, here are five incredibly effective strength training exercises that require no equipment.
Squats are a fundamental exercise in almost all strength training programs, because they are very effective multi-joint exercise that condition the entire lower body. For athletes who already have a relatively strong lower body, bodyweight squats are not likely to produce enough force to truly increase the strength (ability to produce force) of your quads, hamstrings, gluteal, and hip muscles. However, they are still very good for developing muscular endurance, or the ability to ability of a muscle or a muscle group to repeatedly exert a submaximal effort. They are also great for coordination and joint mobility.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
- Extend your arms straight out in front of you. Keeping your arms in front of you will help you maintain balance as you squat down.
- In a controlled descent, lower your hips down and back while keeping your knees straight above the balls of your feet. Your back should remain straight, with gaze forward and chest high.
- Lower your hips until your femurs are roughly parallel to the floor. Your weight should be evenly distributed along your entire foot (don’t roll forward onto the balls of your feet).
- Drive with the hips to rise back to the starting position.
Repetitions: Because this is more of a muscular endurance exercise than a maximal force exercise, you will want to complete more repetitions. Aim for 20-25 per set.
Single Leg Glute Bridge
A glute bridge is a great exercise for engaging the lower back, hip flexors, and gluteal muscles. The single leg variation adds a stabilization challenge that increases the engagement of your core.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your arms should be flat on the floor by your sides.
- Extend your left leg so it is straight and your heel is hovering just above the floor.
- Lift your hips off the floor until you achieve a straight line from your shoulders, through your hips, to your knees. On your left side you’ll have a straight line from shoulders to ankle.
- Hold this position for a count of 5, and then lower your hips back to the floor while keeping your left leg extended.
- Lift your hips again and hold for a count of 5.
Repetitions: Repeat for a total of 10 repetitions on each side.
Reverse Snow Angel
The upper back is a particularly under-developed area for many endurance athletes, especially cyclists. The rhomboids, serratus anterior, and trapezius are all important postural muscles for the upper back, and cyclists often experience neck and upper back pain when these muscles are underdeveloped. The reverse snow angel engages all the muscles that control the movement of the scapula, which is why the “angel” movement of the arms is important in this exercise.
- Start face down in a prone position on the floor, with your arms down by your sides. Rest your chin or forehead on the floor so your are looking at the floor (instead of craning your neck to look up/forward).
- Keeping your arms straight, raise your hands off the floor 2-4 inches.
- Sweep your arms forward, keeping your hands elevated off the floor, until your arms are outstretched above your head (like Superman).
- Tip: Focus on the rotation of your scapula (shoulder blade) as your arms sweep forward and work to keep your scapula flat against the back of your rib cage. If you’re scapulae are “winging” up, you’re relying too much on your deltoids at the back of your shoulder instead of working the postural muscles of the upper back.
- Keeping your hands elevated above the floor, sweep your hands back to the starting position.
Repetitions: Complete 10 repetitions per set.
Dive Bomber Push Ups
Standard push ups are a good chest exercise, but with this variation you will also work your shoulders and mid-back more than you would otherwise. This is an exercise you want to perform relatively slowly, more like a yoga movement than a ballistic strength training movement.
- Start in a standard pushup position with hands about shoulder width apart.
- Raise your hips straight up as you walk your feet forward, keeping both your legs and back straight. You will end up in an inverted “V” stance with straight lines from your feet to your hips and your hands, through your shoulders, to your hips. Keep your head in-line with your body (you’ll be looking toward your feet at this point).
- Lower your chest toward the ground in a dip motion, followed by your hips.
- As your hips come down sweep your chest forward, almost touching the ground.
- Press your upper body up until your arms are straight and your chest and head are high. You will have a slight arch in your back but don’t exaggerate this hyperextension by dropping your hips to the floor.
- Reverse the motion by raising your hips upward and bending your arms to bring your chest close to the floor, until your hips are high, your back is straight, and your arms are still bent.
- Press into the floor to extend your arms. Note: this last step is similar to an overhead press. You’re pushing your head up away from the floor. This is not a pivot or hinge movement like you would do in a downward dog yoga movement.
Repetitions: Complete 10 Dive Bomber Push Ups per set
A standard high plank is a great core strength exercise, and the spider plank adds some additional hip strength challenges and helps with hip mobility.
- Start in a standard high plank position with straight arms and your shoulders directly above your hands. Your body should be in a straight line from your heels, through your hips, to your shoulders. Your head should be in-line with your body.
- Bring your right knee to your tricep while rotating your hip outward to elevate your knee. This is as opposed to bringing your kneed straight up to your elbow below your body like a crunch movement.
- Reverse the motion to bring your right foot back to the starting position.
- Complete the same movement with your left leg.
Repetitions: 10-15 repetitions to each side. A more advanced version of this exercise is as an AMRAP (as many repetitions as possible) for 30 or 60 seconds.
If you’re an endurance athlete just starting out with resistance training, try to complete all these exercises as a circuit twice, taking two minutes rest between exercises and 5 minutes rest between sets. Complete the workout twice in a week. For athletes who have more experience with resistance training, this is a quick workout you could do 4-6 times a week and include 2-4 circuits per workout.
Have Fun, Be Strong!
CEO/Head Coach of CTS