Building in Athleticism in Fitness and Bodybuilding

The approach to strength training that athletes take into the weight room is significantly different from that, which is taken into the training area by a bodybuilder.

Within athletics, primary concerns are injury prevention and improved performance. Speed, agility, explosiveness, flexibility, balance, and kinesthetic awareness are integral components to becoming a successful athlete. All of these have little, if anything, to do with bodybuilding. However, many of us desire these attributes. The neat thing about it is that no matter who you are, you can gain some of these attributes through training.

Traditional forms of weight training applied by bodybuilders become more involved with producing specific hypertrophy. Regional hypertrophy, as it has been called, is possible when incorporating specific variations of an exercise. Although possibly an effective method to induce these particular gains, traditional bodybuilding programs often negate properties of muscular and structural joint balance. For example, many of us do biceps curls and then, work on the triceps. The reason most of us do this is because we see everyone else doing it and it’s what many bodybuilders do. But, why do we do them? The answer is that you must do both exercises to maintain elbow and shoulder joint integrity and help strengthen weak areas that stabilize these joints. If you apply this principle to all your training, you begin to see the importance of using a great variety of exercises, but more importantly, also a variety of methods.

A recent study exposed strength and range of motion imbalances of bodybuilders compared to non-bodybuilders. Results showed increased susceptibility to shoulder injuries, which means that there was lack of other training methods involved and also lack a strengthening supporting muscle groups. The latter is usually a lack of not using other methods. As an analogy, this would be similar to eating the same food every day. After awhile, you would develop deficiency problems with various nutrients and health would suffer. Maintaining healthy structures and preventing injuries should always be of primary concern whether you’re an athlete or a bodybuilder.

If you participate in sporting events you should take advantage of your time in the weight room to improve performance. This is especially true for those who play recreational sports such as soccer, football, and others on school and city league teams. It will require a blending of styles that can be very effective for recreationally inspired individuals.

Take Our Challenge – Test and Improve Your Flexibility!

Perform the following tests before and after our combined training approach. These will help give you other methods to test improvement.

Heel Elevated Overhead Squat, i.e., Snatch Squat: Place heels shoulder width and atop a 2×4 or weight plate, squat down until thighs are parallel while holding a long stick or broomstick directly overhead (grip stick about shoulder width), with arms completely extended. If your arms bend or are forced forward, you have tight muscles in the shoulder anterior.

Hip Flexors and IT-Band: Lie in a supine position with legs extended, completely pull one knee into your chest while leaving the other relaxed. If your extended leg comes off the ground, you have tight hip-flexor muscles. If the extended leg rotates outward, you have a tight IT-band.

Ankle Flexibility: Standing with feet together facing a wall, lean forward while keeping your heels in contact with the floor. Touch both your chin and chest to the wall. Attempt to see how far back from the wall you can get. A distance of less than 18-inches would be reason for concern.

Groin Flexibility: Lay on your back in a supine position with legs extended. Cross one leg over the other so that the ankle touches the opposite quad just above the knee. Desired flexibility will allow the upper leg to rest parallel to the floor.

Standing Broad Jump: From a standing position on two feet, jump the furthest distance possible. Measure the distance from your heels to the starting line.

Training for Muscle Development and Muscular Control

For each movement you perform, there is what is termed a motor unit that is responsible for that movement. At the heart of movement is the motor unit. Each motor unit consists of a motor neuron and the muscle fibers that it innervates, i.e., activates. When excited, the entire motor unit contracts. It is a combination of numerous motor units that differentiates contraction intensities.

There are two basic types of muscular fibers, fast and slow twitch. Slow-twitch fibers contract more slowly but have a greater potential for prolonged energy production like in a marathon race. Thus, you might say that these slow-twitch muscle fibers are metabolically programmed for aerobic performance. Fast-twitch fibers are the opposite. These contract much faster and are metabolically programmed for short bursts of anaerobic activities. An example would be a quick sprint or an Olympic strength lift.

To become more athletic, you must work both muscle types. Confining training to one method or the other will not give you the best long-term training results. Also, sprinting and similar fast-twitch activities help stave off loss of vigor with aging.

The Combined Training Approach

A combined training approach is one in which both high force (slow speed) and high speed (high power) applications are used simultaneously to improve a variety of physical parameters, especially flexibility and athleticism. Please remember that the words high here do not mean that you need to be able to perform a 300-pound squat. Use the principles set forth and work at your own pace.

High force training typically uses resistance over 80% of the 1RM (see our Tools Section to calculate this for yourself). Generally, this type of training results in the greatest maximum strength gain. In comparison, high force contractions are also necessary to fully recruit fast twitch muscle fibers and training increases this potential. Good examples of exercises that do this are squats and a power cleans.

Let’s look at what happens with each kind of training. Training with high force parameters typically means that the greater the force requirement, the slower the movement potential. Continually training with high intensities limits flexibility. One reason many bodybuilders are not very flexible.

Excessive high intensity training has also been shown to impair performance of multiple training requirements. The overuse of high force training can result in reduced sprint performance, jump performance, and agility. Over the long term, maximal strength can also be reduced in response to similar training methods, even without the presence of muscular damage.

Combining high force training with high power training gives the capability to train a broader range of muscular groups, develop greater functionality of the muscles, and create a better synergy between muscle-fiber types. Doing this is crucial to the development of athletic prowess and developing greater flexibility and agility. This also means that you can use lighter weight loads to gain better results. Lighter resistance intensities can enable greater power outputs to be achieved. Performing movements at higher velocities can also allow for greater capabilities during other high power movements. The result is a greater coordination of muscle recruitment and activation leading to improved performance. Since most sports rely greatly upon explosive recruitment of fast-twitch fibers, training these pathways are of special concern.

Using Speed-Strength training movements is an extremely effective method to train for explosive power, increase flexibility, improve agility, strengthen the overall body, and recruit maximum muscle involvement. These activities allow for greater adaptation of reflex motions while moving at very high rates of speed. What happens when we compare weightlifters to power lifters and bodybuilders? The latter two have greater power outputs and vertical jumps.

In regards to all “Snatch” and “Clean” movements, it is more important to train the second pull. This is from the knee area and upward. The second pull requires the greatest force outputs during these lifts. If you are unfamiliar with Speed-Strength lifts, refer to our Exercise Demos.

The Program

Any exercise program, even one for advanced participants, should generally evolve from one of low intensity and higher volume to that of high intensity and lower volume. A periodized training approach can enable greater gains to be reached while reducing the chances of overtraining.

You must gradually increase intensity and volume with some eventual maintenance of volume being reached, i.e., a standard amount of total weight used in your workout that would be typical of every workout until you modify your program. Typically, during the first three weeks, your body becomes accustomed to the exercises and adjusts for the intensity. After this initial period is when you would notice or anticipate improvements being accomplished. If you’re brand new to these types of exercises, try all the lifts with dumbbells first for several weeks or even months before using an Olympic bar.

A Typical Workout

Warm-up: Perform a general and specific warm-up for approximately 15 minutes prior to starting each workout. Examples are 3 sets and 6 repetitions each of step ups (lower body), hyper extensions (mid section), and front raises (upper body).

Snatch Squat: Using a very wide grip, extend the bar directly overhead. While keeping the arms extended and the bar directly over the ears, perform the traditional squat movement. You must use very light weight here to begin. Or, use a long stick and perform this movement as a warm up.

Front Squat: Use the traditional clean grip in this exercise to make learning and performing other speed-strength lift easier and more efficient. Try 5 sets of 6-8 reps as a start with a light to moderate weight or about 70-80% of what you would do at this level with a squat.

Snatch Pulls or Clean Pulls: Choose one of these exercises and perform 5 sets of 5 reps and focus on using the hips for power while keeping a straight and firm back.

Clean or Snatch High Pulls: Using the specified grip, perform the explosive movement lifting the bar to approximately chin height. Begin the movement from the weights resting position on the floor.

Incline or Flat Bench: Perform an incline or flat bench press exercise on a typical workout day. You can easily change flat bench to incline bench and follow the same pattern of progression. Try 5 sets of 8-10 reps.

In lieu of the above two exercises, try this one. Keep the bar in a parallel neutral position while keeping the elbows fairly close to the body while performing this lift.

Other Exercises: Add some shoulder, arm, and back exercises to your program for variety and tying in weak point areas that will help decrease chances of injury over the long term. These could be curls, triceps presses, rows, seated presses, raises, and so forth. Mix it up each workout day for best results.

Adjusting Your 1RM – If you can perform 4 reps more on the maximal set as was performed on the set prior with the same intensity, raise the maximum next week 5-15 pounds.

See our Workout Section and Tools Section to help you in adjusting your goal training weight and for sample workouts, especially the strength and professional sample workouts.

Question: I have a trainer certification but would like to learn more about muscle groups. What muscles are primarily worked with a triceps pushdown?

Answer: The major muscle groups worked with this exercise include the triceps brachii lateral, long, and medial head and the anconeus. Sub groups include the extensor carpi muscle in the forearms, parts of the deltoids, pecs, biceps, and crachialis.

Question: What are the major foot positions while performing squats?

Answer: The major position of the feet, all with feet parallel to each other are with the feet wide, each about 4 inches past each shoulder; a position where the feet are about shoulder width apart, i.e., bring each foot in about 4 inches from the previous description (this is the most common position for performing squats); and feet close together, about 4 inches apart (this position requires more balance so, user lighter weight loads at first).

Question: What is the difference in muscle groups worked depending on width of feet in a squat?

Answer: The wide stance will work the vastus lateralis, gracilis, adductor magnus, and gluteus maximus muscles more. With the shoulder width stance, the muscles worked the most are the front quads or quadriceps femoris with some work on the adductors. The very close stance will really blast all the quadriceps muscles. To determine how they work, perform, with a light weight, multiple reps with your feet positioned in each stance. You’ll soon feel the results from each stance change.