Five Essential Workouts for the Modern Athlete

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Athletes training with workouts on a gym floor

When you conjure up an image of the modern athlete, what does that image look like? Is it a runner who’s long, lean and powerful? Is it a crossfitter, built for strength and speed? Or is it a bodybuilder, a triathlete or someone who dabbles in a little bit of everything? The modern athlete doesn’t fit into a specific mold and isn’t tied to a certain sport. Instead, we’ve reached a day and age where fitness spans a wide spectrum of sports and takes on many different appearances.

However, no matter the sport here are five exercises that are essential for each and every athlete at any level.

1. Squats

Squats are a powerhouse lower body move that primarily targets the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteus maximus, as well as the core/trunk. Having a strong lower body and a strong core is essential for any athlete who wants to improve at their respective sport.

So how do you squat properly?

  • Stand straight with feet hip-width apart and a neutral spine
  • Keep your core tight and engaged throughout the movement
  • Lower down as though you’re sitting into a chair
  • Make sure your knees stay in line with your feet; they should never go in front of your toes 
  • Focus on lowering until your thighs are parallel to the ground
  • Once you reach the bottom of your squat, drive your body back upwards in a fluid motion until you reach the neutral standing position again

One of the beauties of the squat is that there are numerous ways to do it; here are five squat variations to try:

  • Bodyweight squats
  • Front squats
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Goblet squats
  • Barbell squat

2. Planks

Every serious athlete knows that a strong core is tantamount to excelling in sports, but many still wrongly believe that crunches are the way to go when it comes to strengthening your abdominal muscles. If you’re looking for the real star of ab moves, you need to check out the plank.

Let’s break down the perfect plank:

  • Start in either straight arm plank position or the forearm plank position. For the straight arm position, your hands should be in line with your shoulders; For the forearm position, you will be on your forearms with your elbows in line with your shoulders and forearms out in front
  • Keep your spine straight and neutral, so that your body forms a perfect line from head to toe
  • Make sure your neck is also neutral and that you’re looking straight down, not up or side to side
  • Keep your core tight and engaged, pulling your ab muscles back towards your spine instead of letting them push out and toward the ground

You can start by doing 30-second planks and then gradually increase the amount of time you hold the position. Once you’re comfortable with the standard plank, try adding in different variations, such as side planks to target your obliques or alternating from being on your hands to your forearms throughout the duration of your hold.

3. Burpees

If there was ever an exercise that makes most athletes shudder, it’s probably the burpee. However, this explosive full-body move should be on every athlete’s “must-do” workout list.

Wondering how to execute a flawless burpee?

  • Start in a standing position with feet hip-width apart, spine neutral and your arms at your sides
  • Crouch down with your hands touching the ground, then jump back into a plank position
  • Once in plank, perform a full push-up with your chest touching the ground, then immediately push back up into plank
  • Jump your feet back up to your hands so you’re back in the crouching position
  • Explode upward into a straight body jump

As you can see, the burpee does a lot for the body: it targets both your upper and lower body while keeping the core fully engaged, and gets your heart rate up through its powerful explosiveness. It’s cardio and strength all rolled into one tight movement. Try adding in three sets of 15 to your next workout.

4. Thrusters

Another total-body move, the thruster is one that should routinely make an appearance in your workout regimen. This strength move keeps your muscles firing from start to finish, and you’ll be feeling the burn in both your upper and lower body.

So let’s take a closer look at how to perform one. Note that you can perform this move with either a barbell or two dumbbells. 

  • Begin by standing straight and tall with a neutral spine
  • Keep the barbell or dumbbells at shoulder height, as though you were going to perform a shoulder press
  • Drop into a squat, then immediately stand back up
  • As soon as you’re back in standing position, take the barbell or dumbbells into a shoulder press
  • Bring the barbell or dumbbells back down to starting position to complete the exercise

This is a great move for anyone wanting maximum results in minimal time. It will have your whole body shaking by the end of your sets!

5. Sprints

Every athlete can agree that keeping body fat percentage down is optimal for performing well, and sprints are the perfect tool to help you achieve a lean physique. One study found that people who do sprints were able to burn fat for two hours longer after exercise completion than those who didn’t.

Think that running isn’t for you? Don’t worry. You don’t have to spend hours on the treadmill to reap the benefits of sprinting. Instead, hop on the treadmill at the end of your workout and tack on an extra 10 minutes of sprinting, alternating 30 seconds of all-out sprinting with 30 seconds of rest.

Putting it all together

While every sport has its own focus that requires certain exercises and moves, there are a few exercises that will benefit athletes across the board. To maximize your strength, tone your entire body and decrease fat, squats, planks, burpees, thrusters and sprints should routinely appear in your workouts, regardless of the sport you’re pursuing. You’ll see the results in no time.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Degree

Ohio University’s online Master of Athletic Administration program is designed to teach professionals how to help shape modern athletes. The university launched the nation’s first academic program in sports administration in 1966 and continues to be a leader in sports business education.

Ohio University’s online MAA program is housed within the university’s College of Business, underscoring the university’s dedication to providing world-class sports business education.

The program works in collaboration with the National Intercollegiate Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) to prepare graduates for certification and is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA).


National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Oxygen consumption, substrate oxidation, and blood pressure following sprint interval exercise.”
National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Muscle activation in the loaded free barbell squat: a brief review.