My Top 5 Exercises for Athletic Performance

Often times people just consider the gym to be a place to build muscle and lose weight- and of course that is one of its functions but there are many others as well. Another is boosting athletic performance. It does not matter what sport of discipline you take part in; whether it be rugby, football or even golf- gym sessions tailored to that sport can be of infinite use. I have already talked about tailored or functional training in a previous article, but it is so misunderstood among coaches and athletes alike I feel additional information is needed. The list of effective exercises is not solely limited to the five that are explained here (obviously) but these are a personal few I have found particularly useful.

  1. The Bulgarian Split Squat

This is a movement that I mentioned in my squat essentials article here but last summer it helped build my squat all the way from a shaky 60KG (135lbs) 4×10 to a solid 100KG (225lbs) 5×5. This progress did not go unnoticed as compliments came flying in from all directions and my first senior rugby season came and went with no strength concerns. So it very clearly works- but what is it?

Well with the split squat takes the average back squat but customises it in order to match your sporting needs. Firstly it is done with only one leg it(with the other being a support)so it therefore closely imitates a situation in any sport. The unilateral nature of the exercise also uses all manor of stabilisation muscles in the abdominals and feet. Furthermore it will even iron out any muscle imbalances you may have and help movements such as the squat and deadlift.

To perform a Bulgarian split squat simply load up a barbell or grab a pair of dumbbells and head for a bench. Then place one leg, the top of the foot facing down, on the bench and stand with dumbbells in hand or a barbell on your back. Then will using the rear plant foot hinge down, flexing your knees, until you reach a squat position. Your plant knee should be touching or near the floor.

A diagram to show a Bulgarian split squat

2. Plate 8s

I think I saw this from an ATHLEAN-X video so all credit goes to him for this one, but this is a great exercise for shoulders. Shoulders were always a weak point for me despite being used heavily in the sport of rugby. I had tried landmine presses, barbell presses, isolation work but nothing seemed to help. Until this little angle came along.

All it involves is you picking up a plate, holding it in front of you with arms fully locked out and moving the plate in wide, slow figures of 8. It’s that simple. For this one the slower the better as you do not need much weight at all. It uses the idea of time under tension to get your deltoids working as you have no time to rest- but the benefits extend far beyond basic muscle growth. The twisting motion of your scapula not only fires up your abdominals but it also frees up muscles like your lats and other scapula based muscles. This develops your core and helps with posture and shoulder health. All together a great exercise that will leave even the most experienced athletes gasping for air.

3. Use of a Sled

Sadly this is quite a specialised piece of equipment and so not many gyms have it, it also relies on you having an area to use it as well. But if you are lucky enough to have access to one then it is one of the best for developing athletic performance. You can either push it or drag it but its a far more complex piece of equipment than it seems. Much like all of the above, a sled requires and develops a huge amount of trunk stability or core strength, even useful for all you golfers out there. For those of you in the USA  who play American Football- it can be great for an offensive lineman trying to develop their power transfer. It also applies to those of us who are not 6’7 as light sled exercises can dramatically increase acceleration.

Sled Push
An example of a sled exercise

To explain a quick exercise you can do with a sled just load it up with as much weight you can drag for 20 metres. Once you have done it for 20 metres run a 40 yard dash style sprint back to the line you started on. This will increase acceleration- a major contributor to overall athletic performance.

4. Medicine Ball Work

This one is not one specific exercise but more a different style of exercising. To only stick with a barbell of dumbbell would be silly in a sports, functionality training scheme. Because of the changeable nature of sports and their physical requirements you often need to look at other objects to lift and throw to achieve better athleticism. Enter the medicine ball. With a different shape and weight distribution the medicine ball is a different way to do the exercises you know and love and ones that are entirely new.

For example a great movement to build upper body power and develop a strong power transfer is the medicine ball slam. Simply pick up a medicine ball that is fairly light using a slight squat. Then move it through the centre of your body and press it over your head. Once there slam it into the floor as quickly and powerfully as possible. This will develop great pushing power as well as a sturdy base to use that power. You can also do things like a goblet squat with a medicine ball to switch things up a little. A great piece of equipment to have in general even if you are not an athlete.

5. Resistance Bands

For some reason I almost forgot about these but these may be one of the most accessible things for any athlete or coach. These are probably the best for fixing injury, isolating certain lacking muscle and adding power and explosion to an athlete. Much like a barbell or dumbbell you can vary the resistance you experience simply by changing the band you use, but unlike a barbell or dumbbell they are much more gentle and can isolate lagging muscles in a compound movement. For example fixing a resistance band just above the knees while squatting will help to fix the common problem of a knee cave or knee valgus. Something that I have recommended to people who come to me with this type of problem. If injury or isolation is not the issue then simply using them in an ordinary workout will boost explosiveness when finishing or locking out the lift. If you use it will you squat then the added tension of the band will only affect you when locking out- an added challenge for the legs.

It is also a pragmatic option for athletes an coaches as every gym I have every been to has resistance bands- and even on the off chance that the gym does not have one then they are very cheap to buy. This set off of Amazon is under £10.

This has been a bit of a mashup of various previous articles but hopefully it has still been of use. Any queries just ask below.

4 thoughts on “My Top 5 Exercises for Athletic Performance

  1. now, besides the sled, what else can be used in order to increase speed


    1. You can also use resistance bands as well or use drills that focus on changing direction quickly. You could use resistance bands in a “high knees” exercise- simply attach one end to the bottom of one foot and the other to your upper leg or quad. Then, drive up with the knee as explosively as you can. This will help you drive your legs and create power. An example of a drill focusing on changing direction quickly would be a simple cone drill. Set them up in a zigzag pattern, with each cone about five metres from each other. Run round the cones as quick as possible really emphasising pumping the legs at each corner, this will allow you to absorb the forces of running better and become more explosive.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No worries happy lifting!


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