How to Build Functional and Durable Muscle for Sports Performance

The best way to enhance athletes' performances on the field is by developing strong and muscular bodies.

Have you ever wondered how NFL running backs endure such punishment throughout the football season, or how top CrossFit athletes battle through the unthinkable for days on end every summer in the CrossFit Games? It's no surprise that the most resilient athletes who  present with the abilities to physically push through these feats have substantial muscle mass.

Whether we like it or not, the latest trends in the sports performance industry have preached the "functional" model of sport-specific training over building foundations in strength and mass. While the term "functional" is relative to the given task or skill set at hand, one thing is clear. There's no faking being brutally strong no matter the sport.

While it's inherently easier to rely on fluff and highly trivial sport-specific functional training for youth athletic development, the single best way to enhance athletes' performance on the field is by developing strong and muscular bodies—bodies that not only perform at elite levels, but are resilient against injuries. No athlete ever won a championship on the DL. Again, the foundations of strength and muscle aren't the most polarizing methods in an industry full of flair, but would you rather master the foundations of strength and see tangible results that are sustainable for the long term, or leave your results up to chance?

Improving the Quality of Training in Athletic Development

To sustain large volumes of training necessary to create a training effect in athletes, both metabolically and in overall load, you need to have the muscle mass and connective tissue strength to handle the demands. Once you max out—newbie gains in the weight room are largely due to athletes just getting better and more efficient at the lifts themselves, secondary to central nervous system coordination—where does that leave you for transferable gains that will enhance sports performance?

When athletes prioritize building muscle mass, they have the ability to improve the quality of the tissue, the strength of the tissue, and the capillary density in the tissue. This allows for better circulation, quicker recovery times, more resilience to stress, and overall better performance. During a chaotic season full of competition, practice and life stresses in general, the name of the game is recovery and maintenance of what athletes worked hard to achieve in the off-season. Newbie gains come and go, but forging muscle mass with intelligent training methods will not only protect against injuries on the field of play, but elevate the overall level of performance over the course of a season.

The Perceived Negatives of Building Muscle for Athletes

In the world of youth and collegiate sports performance training and athletic development, an old negative connotation still looms pertaining to the negative effects of building muscle. I wish this myth had been squashed decades ago, but pseudo-facts still run rampant in our industry. While many factors correlate to improved sport performance and injury prevention, the number one factor, which  has been repeatedly supported by research and on the field, has been that a stronger athlete has a  clear advantage over a weaker athlete. And the best way to sustain strength is by building muscle.

Having more muscle is not harmful or negative in any way, unless you are trying to shed body weight to run the fastest marathon that you can. When you want to perform, the more muscle mass you have to support your joints and passive structures, and to power your performance, the better. In my athletes, I place a great deal of emphasis on improving their power-to-mass ratios.

Start Prioritizing Muscle for Improved Performance and Injury Prevention

Simply put, the stronger I can get an athlete, pound for pound, from any sport or background, the more likely that athlete will be successful in his or her athletic pursuits. This is the reason I prioritize hypertrophy and muscle-building programming for all my athletes. My exact system of building muscle for improved athletic performance and prevention of injury has been a staple of my coaching over the past decade. I'm excited that it's finally in a format that coaches and athletes can use: Bulletproof Muscle.

Muscle mass also helps to support absorption of force during stressful activities. If you're lifting heavy weight or pushing other athletes around, the more muscle mass you have, the better and more accurately you can control your body and external loads. When you train for hypertrophy and functional muscle mass, you also improve your neuromuscular control.

It's time to start prioritizing hypertrophy-based training movements and training schemes for your athletes. If you neglect an entire spectrum of training, chances are you are leaving tons of performance on the table, and you may even be leaving injuries to chance instead of nipping them in the bud before they happen. Don't leave anything to chance. Here's the proven system. Time to get to work.

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