6 Great Bodyweight Exercises for Powerlifters (Try These At Home!)

Bodyweight exercises performed with intent!

What happens when we’re matched with a time frame where equipment might be slightly limited and we have a need for a routinely high training stimulus? We find ourselves trying to as creative as possible. 

For the avid powerlifter, three movement patterns need to be trained consistently for success:

  • Upper Push
  • Lower Pull
  • Lower Push

Keeping this mindset, powerlifters can direct their creativity to formulate bodyweight workouts to train with exercises that can at least provide a somewhat comparable training stimulus to what they’re used to. The goal here is to get creative, enjoy a different form of training, and to keep fitness levels relatively high when equipment is limited.

Back Squat
Image via Shutterstock/Andy Gin

How to Make the Exercises Below Tougher

There’s no denying that the intensity that comes along with bodyweight exercises has a finite limitation for what is deemed “hard” over time. For well trained lifters, this limit will often be reached quicker than others due to their current strength and fitness levels, so how can we make bodyweight exercises tougher? 

  • Add Pauses.
    • Try using pauses at different ranges of motion. For example, at the bottom of a push-up, just out of the hole in the air squat, and so forth. 
  • Use Tempo.
  • Focus On 1.5 Reps. 
  • Change Positioning.
    • With limited external loading available, try changing up your hand and foot placement in different movements. This can be useful for working weaker or untrained ranges of motion in a controlled manner. 
  • Add Weight. 
    • I don’t have a weighted vest or equipment in my NYC studio, but I do have a couple backpacks and books. It’s a nice alternative to add weight to bodyweight training and it creates endless options with loading.

Upper Bodyweight Exercises for Powerlifters

When it comes to upper body training for powerlifters, the goal is targeting the musculature that is involved in the bench press, a.k.a the upper pushing and pulling muscles. 

1. Weighted Push-Ups With Varied Grips

You know the push-up was bound to make this list. After all, it’s arguably one of the most similar movements when it comes to adaptations for the bench press. Instead of just repping through multiple sets, try changing your grip and adding weight like mentioned above. 

In reality, there are endless push-up options you can try to make them “tougher” than your traditional push-up. Check out this article if you’re looking for more push-up variations to try.

2. Bodyweight Skull Crusher

Bodyweight Skull Crusher
Bodyweight Skull Crusher

Alright, so you’ve trained the pressing musculature, now it’s time to focus on the triceps which are fundamental for every strong press as they contribute largely to lockout strength. Since weight is likely limited, the bodyweight skull crusher is a fantastic alternative. 

If the image above, our writer James uses a barbell in a rack, but you can perform these on any solid surface. Tables, stairs, and even the wall can all viable options. As an alternative, if you have a weighted backpack or other object that is relatively heavy, then you can perform traditional skull crushers on the ground with that implement. 

3. Inverted Table Row

The modified inverted row can be really useful for continuing to build the upper back, or the stabilizing component in the bench. Ideally, you want to find a table or object that is stable and has somewhat of a grip to hold on to.

Realistically, not everyone will have this available, which brings up to another solid option the towel t-bar row. Have a banister, or beam that can support some weight? Wrap a towel around it and perform a row similar to what you would do on a TRX!

Lower Body Exercises

It’s going to be nearly impossible to achieve as high of a training stimulus that you would receive from heavy deadlifts and squats as you would with bodyweight exercises. This presents a novel challenge, and that’s creating a productive stimulus that can have carryover to the big three — this could be working more on stability, unilateral training, and so forth.

1. Pistol Squats

The pistol squat is rarely trained by powerlifters, but it really should be. It’s a great exercise to check in with the body for multiple reasons. It can highlight if stability is lacking, mobility is limited, and other areas of potential movement compensation that aren’t immediately apparent in bilateral squats. 

If the pistol squat is a foreign movement in your training, then try doing pistol box squats on a chair. To make this modified version, you can add load and eventually work to performing them without the chair/base. 

2. Front Foot Elevated Zercher Split Squats

This split squat variation is absolutely brutal and can be a fantastic way to build strength and stability with limited equipment. And no, you do not need a barbell and plate to perform them. You can stand on literally anything that is stable. Some good options are an old book, a low step, or anything that is stable and able to be stood on.

To make this movement tougher, grab your weighted backpack and hold it in the crease of the arms or perform these with bodyweight, and you can add tempo to really kick up their intensity. It doesn’t take much to get these to burn.

3. Pause Air Squats to Tuck Jumps

Plyometrics are a great training tool for building power and you don’t need much to perform them. For this bodyweight exercise, perform air squats, then explode out of the bottom and perform a tuck jump.

The key to doing these correctly and making them worth your while is the trajectory of the jump, then the landing. Focus on cushioning the landing and eccentrically displacing the load.  

Wrapping Up

There are endless bodyweight exercises out there that you can employ for benefit, so please don’t feel limited by this list. Hopefully this list did inspire some ideas and creativity for your workouts though. No matter what setting you’re in, exercises should be performed with intent and purpose.

Focus on the movement patterns you want to train, then be dynamic with your exercise selection and rationale!

Feature Image via Shutterstock/Andy Gin