For years as a young fitness fanatic obsessed with bodybuilding and working out, there was one thing that kept baffling me despite all the fitness books and muscle magazines I read.
As a big time sports fan into baseball, basketball and of course as a Canadian, hockey, it amazed me how these athletes could perform at such a high level during the season and train hard in the gym at the same time!
I would read articles or even see TV clips of theses pro athletes training hard in the gym to stay in shape for their sport and wonder how they can go out and plan 9 innings or 3 periods of intense NHL hockey after throwing around hundreds of pounds in the gym the day before.
Meanwhile, I would train my ass off in the gym to the point of exhaustion and would be limping around for a week with sore legs or have trouble putting my shirt on because my chest was so sore from “chest” day at the gym. Even being active in my own recreational sports was difficult because of the debilitating soreness from my weight training workouts.
I was always led to believe building muscle in the gym would make me stronger and faster…
I wanted to find out how these guys did it. I know genetics, talent and performance enhancing drugs play a roll in pro sports to enhance recovery and performance, but I knew there had to be more.
It was actually the media frenzy of drugs in sports with the baseball scandals and the Olympics that help lift the curtain on how athletes actually trained and how it was different from bodybuilders and regular gym goers.
More and more TV clips, books and videos on how athletes workout started appearing and I realized these guys weren’t doing bicep curls and spending an hour on the treadmill to stay in shape for their sport.
More specifically their workouts weren’t split up into high volume bodypart workouts like chest, back, and legs or the isolation exercises that came along with this old school bodybuilding method.
1. Frequency not Failure
As I started reading more about the strength coaches of pro athletes I seen they were using FULL-BODY workouts based around natural compound movements that not only built show muscle, but more importantly, (with millions of dollars on the line), it build GO muscle that was functional and improved performance in their chosen sport.
Basically, instead of pulverizing one specific muscle with many exercises all in one workout once a week (like bodybuilding workouts do) they work all their large muscle groups with just 1 or 2 multi-joint exercises each and every workout 3-4 times a week.
Some still do some basic lifts like the squat, bench press and deadlift but with variations more specific to their sport and focusing more on lifting fast and explosive with light weights than grinding out slow heavy reps to muscular failure.
This is how they recover faster and prevent extreme muscle soreness from their workouts that allows them to get stronger and faster (not necessarily bigger) in and out of the gym because they are stimulating their muscles, not annihilating them.
2. Conditioning not Cardio
The second difference in their training that became obvious was their “cardio” workouts. They didn’t spend hours each week slaving on a treadmill Slowly watching the calorie counter tick away.
They did metabolic conditioning workouts that were based on high intensity interval training. Even with all the high tech trainers and equipment available to these pro athletes they were flipping heavy tractor tires, pulling weighted sleds, sprinting up hill and swinging heavy sledge hammers around to stay lean and increase endurance.
3. Core not Crunches
Not only were these athletes ditching single joint isolation exercises for “bi’s and tri’s” like seen in many gyms but they were also avoiding isolating their abs as well with endless crunches, despite sporting some of the best 6 packs seen away from a bodybuilding stage.
With the combination of full-body weight training workouts to build muscle, heart pounding body weight interval training to incinerate body fat and specific core focused training to develop strong abs these guys train their core the way it was meant to be used, for spinal stability and support.
By focusing on training the “core” which includes all 360 degrees of your torso such as the main rectus abdominals, the surrounding internal and external obliques, and the lower lumbar muscles of your back with stability and rotation exercises you work your core in multiple ranges of motion naturally and avoid the back breaking spinal flexion that crunches and sit-ups force you to do.
So there you go, the 3 secrets of building a body like a pro athlete, not a pro bodybuilder, so you can look better, feel great and perform at the top of your game…
Sean Barker is a busy dad who finds time for family, fitness and fun. He likes pumping iron as well as producing it, as a heavy equipment
operator in the iron ore mines. He is ALSO a nationally certified personal trainer who writes for Fit Parent and Inside Fitness magazines and is the author of The Dad Fitness System at www.DadFitness.com. Sean also has a Dad Fitness Blog with tips, thoughts, and humor on being a fit dad at DadFitnessBlog.com.