What are the best exercises out there for athletes? You want to forge elite athleticism — run faster, accelerate quicker, jump higher and farther, change direction effortlessly, throw longer distances — but you can only find generic and ineffective exercise selections as you browse the internet.

Well, look no further, here we will discuss the 15 best gym exercises for athletes.

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Although these exercises won’t turn you into a better technician of your discipline, they can certainly give you the edge over your opponents and peers.

Athletes will rise to the top of their trade, at least in terms of physicality, by implementing these gym exercises into their regimen.

Athletes, looking to sharpen their abilities, will require all of the following:

  • a high rate of force development
  • a brusque triple-joint extension
  • rapid motor unit recruitment
  • type IIb fast-twitch muscle fiber contraction
  • co-ordination
  • knee flexion

All of the above are instrumental to an athlete’s success.

1. Box Squat

5 Reasons You Should Box Squat | Breaking Muscle

These exercises just have to be added into the fray.

The box squat is one of the very best exercises for athletes, period.

Not only will this improve your first step, but it will add mass to your legs, butt, and entire posterior chain.

Make sure you come to a dead stop before exploding off the bench/box. Use a high bar stance without making your feet width excessively wide.

A high bar stance is more knee-dominant than a low bar squat. A low bar squat recruits the hips more when knee flexion is more desirable for athletes.

Check out our article on the difference between high bar and low bar squat for more information.

Like with the weighted box jump, the box squat improves your athletic abilities through the following.

It requires:

  • a high rate of force development
  • triple-joint extension
  • rapid motor unit recruitment
  • type IIb fast-twitch muscle fiber contraction
  • co-ordination
  • knee flexion

You can, of course, add bands and chains to the movement to increase the resistance as you complete the movement. This, in turn, will increase the rate of force development required — similar to a first step.

The front squat variation is just as valuable, if not, more, as it mimics athletic movements more closely than a back squat variation. Moreover, the risk of buttwink or your lower back rounding is lower, plus there’s reduced spinal loading if you have concerns about your spine.

Check out our article on spinal decompression to protect your back from injury and to increase athletic longevity.

Bonus: Train Your Hamstrings!

You need strong hamstrings to reduce the risk of injury from potential muscular imbalances that may arise from overtraining your quads.

Strong hamstrings will also contribute towards a more well-rounded athlete.

The best hamstring exercise for the purpose of improving your first step would be an Explosive Single Leg Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl. It’s quite a mouthful, I know, but this unweighted exercise specifically requires you to contract your Hamstrings as quickly as possibly with the goal of bettering your leg speed when you run.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=no9EJCGpqhY
How to do the explosive hamstring curl

2. Box Jump

Jumpsole weighted box jumps - YouTube
Athletes can benefit enormously from box jumps

A weighted box jump — preferably from a dead stop — will tick all the necessary boxes for all athletes.

It requires:

  • a high rate of force development
  • a brusque triple-joint extension
  • rapid motor unit recruitment
  • type IIb fast-twitch muscle fiber contraction
  • co-ordination

The ideal rep ranges for this movement are between 3-5 reps for 3-5 sets.

This isn’t Crossfit and box jumps are dangerous — especially when fatigued.

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Adding an extra weight into the equation ups the risk of injury, too — something all athletes will need to avoid.

And you’re not training for endurance or hypertrophy so there is ABSOLUTELY NO NEED to take this exercise to high rep ranges.

Start with a light dumbbell or weighted vest, say, a 10-20lb total and increase the weight until you can safely land 5 box jumps.

DO NOT do this exercise with a barbell. If you butcher the execution, it’s harder to bail when you have a barbell on your back and your risk of serious injury skyrockets.

Alternatively, you can perform Quarter Squat Jumps from pins if you have safety concerns about executing weighted box squats.

On the power rack, set pins around 3/4 of the way up on your squat and jump as high as you can with the weight across your back.

This exercise can be overloaded more safely than the Weighted Box Jump and will go a long way to improving your athleticism.

3. Hang Power Snatch

THe Hang Power Snatch - YouTube
The Hang Power Snatch

This is probably my favorite movement to forge raw athleticism and a gnarly Flash-like first step.

It’s violent, brusque, brutal, technical — it’s awesome, and everything you need as an athlete, let alone for a powerful first step!

Now, this exercise might be daunting to newcomers — and that’s fine. In the meantime, you can do Banded Kettlebell Swings to build strength and get used to this intense hinge pattern movement.

And although the Hang Power Snatch is a hinge pattern movement, like the Box Squat or Box Jump, it requires:

  • a high rate of force development
  • a brusque triple-joint extension
  • rapid motor unit recruitment
  • type IIb fast-twitch muscle fiber contraction
  • co-ordination

All of which contribute towards an lightning-fast first step.

And like with the weight box jump, it can be dangerous to perform in a state of fatigue, which is why it’s advisable to keep the rep ranges low.

Anywhere between 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps with a weight 70-90% of your one rep max will suffice.

This is a better choice to its less technical cousin the Powerclean because it requires a greater rate of force development and faster motor unit recruitment, making it a better choice of exercise.

It will also hammer your forearms, traps, and posterior chain harder than anything else if done correctly.

4. Deficit Romanian Deadlifts

Athletes can benefit greatly from doing Deficit Romanian Deadlifts.

By doing them on a raised platform (no more than 2-3″), you will mimic the stretch-reflex cycle the hamstrings undergo while running, meaning that the exercise has a direct carryover to sprinting.

Moreover, since many athletes forgo deep mobility work, this exercise will help improve mobility as well as develop the posterior chain with a longer range of motion.

They are more beneficial that Stiff-Leg Deadlifts as they are kinder on the Central Nervous System (CNS) and don’t commence from a dead stop.

5. Snatch-Grip Deadlifts

The Snatch-Grip Deadlift is one of the most awesome exercises you can ever do — period. The Snatch-Grip Deadlift will fast track you to being King of The Gym in no time, adding slabs of muscle all over your body and elevating your overall athletic performance.

But, again, the Snatch-Grip Deadlift is one of the most underused exercises that I see in the gym.

Of course, it’s harder to ego lift with this movement, but you would be silly not to use it — regardless of whether you’re a bodybuilder or a powerlifter.

Before we begin, however, I must stress that you need sufficient hip/hamstring mobility to perform this exercise safely. Otherwise, your lower back will round and leave you at high risk of debilitating injury.

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You can always modify your starting position and begin pulling a little higher, either off pins or blocks, starting at a point where your back doesn’t round.

Click Here to Deadlift Massive Weights

The Snatch-Grip Deadlift follows a range of motion nearly identical to a vertical jump. The rate of force development to complete the Snatch-Grip Deadlift carries over to many athletic movements such as jumping, first step speed, and acceleration.

It also trains the entire posterior chain as well as providing an extra bit of all-important knee flexion over the traditional conventional deadlift — making it crucial for athletes.

This means that the quadriceps receive extra stimulation.

In the past, I’ve included the Snatch-Grip Deadlift in a list of quad exercises you can complete without a squat rack, making it a formidable choice for athletes without full gym access.

Here are 5 Reasons Why You Should do The Snatch-Grip Deadlift

6. Bulgarian Split Squat

Why the Bulgarian Split Squat is a fairy tale – YPSI - Wolfgang Unsoeld
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This exercise has the most direct carryover to improving your first step and to tackle harder — since it literally trains those movement head on.

Keep the weight light and the intensity high. Descend slowly then explode as quickly as possible, while being cautious not to hyperextend the knee at the top of the lift.

Knee flexion is crucially important to improve your first step and to tackle harder, and the Bulgarian Split Squat targets just that.

Finding the correct balance can be hard at first.

You can use the Smith Machine if you’re not too confident.

Or, alternatively, you can try our brutal remix of the Bulgarian Split Squat called the “Herc Squat” which is a supramaximal version that I used to great effect in the past to take my numbers into the stratosphere and build a baboonish behind.

I prefer to use dumbbells for this exercise as it follows a more natural range of motion and it is easier to remain balanced throughout the completion of the movement for athletes.

Check out our article on the “Herc Squat” to take your athleticism to new heights.

7. Russian Step Ups

The Russian Step Up is a great exercise to help work on your first step. You may have seen this one used in various training compilation videos.

It genuinely is a potent exercise if you’re an athlete, and it does carry over significantly to a whole range of other athletic movements.

Another benefit of the Russian Step Up is that it also prepares you for the execution of a second step as well as giving you extra pep in your first step.

It will help develop your entire lower body as well if you lack mass in this area.

A lot of carryover is enjoyed by athletes who perform this movement

8. Windshield Wipers

This twisting exercise is a little harder to do for beginners. Lighter beginners may be able to do this exercise, but most will require some carefully regimented training before being able to execute this movement properly.

This twisting exercise will hit your abdominal muscle hard — very hard.

If you can’t do them, consider trying Russian Twists or Russian Rows instead or until you build up the strength to do Windshield Wipers.

We have a FREE eBook on strength principles where go further into depth on twisting movements for strength development.

9. Single Arm DB Row

With so much pressing required, muscular imbalances may crop up after training hard.

Any discerning athlete will want to avoid imbalances from creeping in that may sabotage their performance or cause niggles and injuries.

The general rule of thumb is to do 1.5-2x as many pulling exercises per pressing exercise.

The Dumbbell Row is one of the best upper back developers out there.

Not only will it protect your shoulders from imbalances and injuries, but it will also help stabilize your upper body for several athletic movements.

Furthermore, the Single Arm Dumbbell Row is also partly considered a twisting movement to add to many movements athletes might perform on the field.

10. Weighted Chins

Athletes will benefit greatly from implementing the weighted chin-up into their regimen.

From improving shoulder health, to taking grip strength to stratospheric heights, to sculpting a healthy V-taper, to strengthening the entire core, to adding mass all over the upper body, the chin-up is probably the most underrated exercise in the gym — and that’s considering how beloved it is as an exercise.

The Chin-up will also help with spinal decompression after spinal loading.

An athlete’s shoulder health is paramount for longevity. Like with the Face Pull (below), weighted chin-ups are one of the best exercises to improve shoulder health and address imbalances.

11. Bench Press

What more can be said about the king of upper body lifts?

When done correctly, the Bench Press is an all-body movement. Although it doesn’t directly carryover to athletic movements, it strengthens muscles that are used for a ton of athletic movements.

Nothing will target your anterior deltoids — used for throwing, sprinting, improving arm speed, punching, striking, fending, etc. — as hard as the Bench Press.

The Landmine Press is a better option for direct carryover, but the Bench Press will do more to strengthen your Landmine Press, and, in turn, the athletic movements it mimics, than the other way around. Consider this before your coach advises you to hit Kneeling Landmine Presses with 25lb next time.

12. Push Press

If you were to ask me what the very best exercise to tackle harder is, it would be the push press.

Beginning with a quarter squat, into a triple joint extension, before a violent Overhead Press, the Push Press is by far the best exercise to tackle harder as it contains the entire movement required for tackling and a whole lot of other movements in one fell swoop.

This one has it all.

The explosive power required to tackle and drive through your opponent along with the wrapping of the arms, the Push Press is basically tackling practice and strengthening off the pitch.

Aside from strengthening every area of a hard tackle, it will also instill correct neuromuscular coordination to making a big hit.

Catching the weight between reps will also help teach you how to absorb the blow from hard hits.

I would recommend 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps for best results. As this exercise is demanding, it is advisable to keep the rep ranges low and to avoid attempting reps in a state of fatigue to minimize the risk of injury.

Athletes will benefit greatly from the push press

Use the Push Press to tackle harder

13. Hang Power Snatch/Banded Kettlebell Swing

THe Hang Power Snatch - YouTube
The Hang Power Snatch

So good for athletes, we’ve added it twice.

For real, though, you should definitely incorporate the Hang Power Snatch into your training if you’re an athlete.

As we’ve said:

This is probably my favorite movement to forge raw athleticism and a gnarly Flash-like first step.

It’s violent, brusque, brutal, technical — it’s awesome, and everything you need as an athlete, let alone for a powerful first step!

Now, this exercise might be daunting to newcomers — and that’s fine. In the meantime, you can do Banded Kettlebell Swings to build strength and get used to this intense hinge pattern movement.

And although the Hang Power Snatch is a hinge pattern movement, like the Box Squat or Box Jump, it requires:

  • a high rate of force development
  • a brusque triple-joint extension
  • rapid motor unit recruitment
  • type IIb fast-twitch muscle fiber contraction
  • co-ordination

All of which contribute towards an lightning-fast first step and elite athletic ability.

And like with the weight box jump, it can be dangerous to perform in a state of fatigue, which is why it’s advisable to keep the rep ranges low.

Anywhere between 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps with a weight 70-90% of your one rep max will suffice.

This is a better choice to its less technical cousin the Powerclean because it requires a greater rate of force development and faster motor unit recruitment, making it a better choice of exercise.

It will also hammer your forearms, traps, and posterior chain harder than anything else if done correctly — everything a discerning athlete needs.

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Athletes can also enjoy simulating the stretch-reflex cycle seen in sprinting when performing this exercise for reps.

Now, if you can’t do this for whatever reason, try doing banded kettlebell swings instead.

These mimic the Hang Power Snatch and require a greater rate of force development due to the addition of the band.

14. Incline DB Press

Although the bench press is normally numero uno when it comes to upper body development for athletes, the incline bench press has a better carryover for tackling.

You need to wrap your arms when you tackle, but unless you’re tackling from a very high starting position — which is a no-no according to most coaches — the Flat Bench Press does not emulate a tackle as well as the Incline Bench Press.

It is preferable to use dumbbells for your Incline Bench Press with a view to tackle harder. Dumbbells follow a more natural range of motion over a barbell.

Dumbbells are, on the whole, more comfortable and a better choice for those who might suffer from shoulder impingements.

15. Face Pulls

If you’re not doing the face pull at least a few times a week, as an athlete, what are you even doing?

The face pull is perhaps the best gym exercise for everyone, not just athletes, period.

Not only can it be done almost every day and help you get those 3D shoulders, but it will also protect your shoulders from injury and wear and tear.

Any time you do pressing movements, you should always follow them up with Face Pulls.

If you don’t have access to a multi-pulley machine or ropes, we suggest you invest in a resistance band and perform dozens of Band Pull-Aparts every day.

The rear deltoid’s development is the most important out of the three heads for athletes and lifters alike.

It:

  • helps prevent injuries
  • improves posture
  • corrects muscular imbalances from pressing
  • gives coveted roundness to shoulders
  • helps increase all-rough strength

Far too many athletes have overdeveloped front deltoids from pressing, while neglecting their rear deltoids.

Bonus: Lose Fat

Keto King: Vince Gironda

Yeah, yeah; I know this isn’t an exercise, but it’s the very best way to improve your first step.

Excess bodyfat not only increases the total weight load you have to propel upwards, but its distribution is always poorly balanced, taking away from your ability to push yourself off the ground quicker, even if you do make significant progress in your squat numbers.

As we wrote in our article how to become more athletic as quickly as possible:

The number one best way to get more athletic — and fast — is to lose fat.

And thankfully, Herculean Strength has a growing reserve of free resources to help you achieve your fat loss goals and athleticism forged in the weight room.

That’s it.

Granted, some people are natural athletes, while others may need years of dedication and hard training to get there, losing fat is the best way to get there.

Wanna sprint faster, jump higher, do more pullups/dips, become more agile?

Well, lose fat.

Most people underestimate how fat they are, in my experience.

Think you’re 15% bodyfat? The chances are that you’re 5-10% higher.

Say you’re 200lb and 20% bodyfat; you’d need to lose 24lb to get down to 10%!

Around 10-14% bodyfat is the best place to be for athletes, depending on their sport. You’d need a little more natural cushioning for some contact sports such as rugby.

Imagine how much more athletic you could be by losing a good portion of those 24lb?

The problem with fat is that it is very mechanically inefficient, unlike muscle.

Losing fat helps with generating a greater rate of force development when sprinting or jumping as there’s a lighter total load.

In my personal experience, I was a lot quicker at around 215lb bodyweight with a max squat of 350lb in my early 20s than weighing 270lb and squatting 600lb for reps a few years ago — even though my potential rate of force development through a significantly greater squat total was a lot higher.

One study, that had participants don a weighted vest while running, showed that a 5% reduction in weight improved 3,000 meter run times by 3.1%, while a 10% weight reduction improved times by 5.2%.

Another study found that for a 170lb athlete, a fat gain of 3.4 pounds (2%) drastically reduced their athletic output, potentially resulting in a vertical jump height loss of 2 inches and a 40-yard dash time increase of 0.26 seconds after a fat gain anybody could easily sustain over a Christmas Holiday period — night and day!

A rough weekend on the beer and eating junk food could result in a noticeable drop in performance.

Therefore, a combination of strength training and fat loss will optimize athleticism while the athlete attempts to abstain from overeating or indulging in the “good” life.

We have a growing compendium of articles and FREE eBooks to help you lose fat and become more athletic.

Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that keeping the body fat percentage down was far more effective at athletic expressions than doubling my squat.

Fat is extremely mechanically inefficient and it’s also highly estrogenic — both of which you want to avoid like the plague if you’re a young man in search of a good physique.

The chances are, your favorite NFL offensive linesman is not as estrogenic — for reasons that can’t be discussed here — as the average person of a similar body fat percentage.

Your vertical jump will suffer as you gain fat or even too much bulk. But, having said that, if we were to get two men who weighed 240lb — one 22% bodyfat and another 11% — who could squat the same amount, I would bet my bottom dollar on the leaner athlete to accelerate faster with a zippier first step than our chubbier friend.

Don’t hesitate to email us at herculeanstrength1@gmail.com for personalized coaching and a client questionnaire if you’d like DEDICATED tailor-made personal training on strength training, building muscle, losing fat, developing athleticism, and more — all to your liking, lifestyle, habits, and taste!

Otherwise, don’t forget to claim your FREE eBook detailing how to lose 20lb of fat while building muscle in 12 weeks! You can claim it here.

Alternatively, you can pick up a FREE eBook on fundamental strength principles offering an introductory workout program.