Wondering whether you're doing the right type of training?
Have you ever seen people at your gym doing unusual looking exercises that deviate from the classic bodybuilding weight training exercises that we all do?
Things like sled pushes, kettlebell swings, box jumps and half rep squat jumps?
You'll likely see lots of rugby players, sprinters and other power-reliant athletes doing these exercises.
In fact, some bodybuilders even promote this style of more explosive and functional training, claiming that it's far more optimal and likely to elicit the results you're after.
Now should you be following in these athletes' footsteps?
Or should you stick to the classic bodybuilding and powerlifting exercises that you've been doing?
In this article I'm going to break down the pros and cons of training like an athlete, and help you decide whether it's a training style that you want to incorporate into your program.
Let's get started.
What Does It Mean to Train Like an Athlete?
Taking a more athletic approach to your training really means to incorporate more explosive, balanced and functional exercises or movements into your program.
You might not have noticed this before, but pure bodybuilders and those that train to improve the look of their bodies usually aren't the most athletic individuals in the gym.
To be athletic means to be agile, fast, powerful and coordinated. It's not just about looking good.
Most bodybuilders can't run very well, despite looking like the fittest, most physically capable individuals on social media.
Most bodybuilders can't jump very high, despite having the biggest and strongest looking legs around.
Most bodybuilders can't balance very well either.
A sprinter, on the other hand, would have a much easier time getting through those same physical activities.
So would a rugby player, or a soccer player, or a gymnast.
To train like an athlete means to optimize your body for power production ad functionality, as opposed to simply looking good and impressive to other people.
The Advantages of Training Like an Athlete
There are actually many benefits that come with training like an athlete, and it's up to you to decide whether or not they're worth it for you to incorporate this style of training into your workout program.
You Become More Functional
This is probably the most important benefit that comes with training like an athlete.
When you train like an athlete, you often incorporate more well rounded, less muscle-specific exercises into your workouts.
These will include exercises that test and improve your balance, your coordination and your power output.
If you incorporate this style of training into your program consistently, you'll quickly see that you're a much more functional person than before.
You'll feel far more agile, far more flexible and far more physically fit.
On top of this you can also ensure that you make your body more resistant to common injuries such as strains by improving the way your body moves as a single unit, instead of simply training individual body parts to move independently.
You Improve Your Overall Health
If you just do bodybuilding, there's actually a pretty good chance that you're not all that healthy.
Sure, you might look strong and fit, but you might be surprised if you ever try to run for half an hour or try to do other forms of cardiovascular training.
When you train like an athlete, you often incorporate exercises such as burpees, power cleans and other plyometric (explosive) exercises.
These are known to tire you out extremely quickly, and can quickly get your heart beating fast.
You might find yourself doing circuit-style workouts, where you go for long(er) periods of training without a break than you otherwise would if you were a bodybuilder.
This can help improve your overall cardiovascular health and improve your overall fitness/wellbeing.
Bodybuilding, just by itself is not the healthiest way to train in the world.
You Might Find It Easier to Stay Leaner
Another advantage that comes with athletic training could be the fact that doing more cardiovascular exercise can help you burn more calories and improve your metabolism, both of which are going to help with long term fat loss.
If you consistently train with an athletic approach, you might find that you have a much easier time keeping the extra pounds off whilst keeping your diet the same.
Real Life Applications
This isn't always as helpful as the others, but being more athletic definitely does have some useful applications to the real world.
For example, if you ever find yourself being confronted when you're out in the streets and you need to run, or you find that you need to act quickly, it's going to be a lot more helpful to have more athleticism and agility than simply looking a little bit bigger.
Or if you ever find that you're in a sticky situation and need to jump or pull yourself up, it's going to be much more useful to have that flexibility, power output and agility than it would be to be bigger, slower and heavier as a bodybuilder.
We know this isn't going to ever apply to most people, but definitely some food for thought.
Disadvantages of Athletic Training
Really, there aren't too many disadvantages to training like an athlete. However for some people, these disadvantages are more important than the advantages, and it's up to you to judge.
It's Not As Optimal for Building Muscle
This is really the main reason why more people aren't training like athletes.
Doing half rep box squat jumps, or single leg trap bar deadlifts simply isn't as optimal for building muscle.
For the majority of the people in the gym wanting to look better, that's all they care about.
And that's completely fine; it just comes down to what your goals are and what you want to achieve.
Doing exercises with heavier weights in a more controlled and stable manner is going to best allow you to properly target the muscles that you're trying to hit, and give you the best chance possible at building muscle mass.
Athletic exercises definitely can and do still elicit muscle growth, but a hack squat is still going to be better than a barbell squat jump for building muscle in the quadriceps and general lower body.
A seated cable row is still going to be better at stimulating the back and biceps than a renegade row would be.
Learn more about why this is here. (It's not exactly the same thing, but a very similar idea).
You can definitely still build muscle while training like an athlete, but for most people the tradeoff in efficiency isn't worth the new style of training.
So Should You Train Like an Athlete?
Well, this all comes down to what your goals are and the body that you want to develop.
Do you only want to look impressive in the mirror?
Or would you rather develop a body that's more agile, healthier and fitter?
I know it sounds like training like an athlete is the better overall choice, but it's not that simple.
The tradeoff can be quite noticeable if you look at the physiques and strength of some top athletes in the world such as rowers and cyclists, and compare them to even amateur or casual bodybuilders.
Some of these world class (and world record holding) athletes can deadlift around 180 or 200kgs (396 - 440lb), while some stronger teenagers taking a bodybuilding/powerlifting approach can easily put up those numbers, even after only a couple years of training.
Many of the world class athletes don't actually look all that impressive next to bodybuilders, and it's up to you to decide what you want to do.
Of course, you can incorporate both styles of training into your workout program and have a mix of the two.
Or, you can experiment with everything and see what you like best!
All in all, training like an athlete definitely does have its advantages that I think we could all benefit from.
However, you also do have to take into consideration the tradeoff in efficiency for building muscle and looking impressive, if that's what your goals look like.
I hope you've enjoyed reading through this post, and have learnt something from it!
If you did, remember to share it with a friend so that we can reach more people and help keep more of the world educated in fitness!
Do you train like an athlete?
Let us know in the comments section below!