How to Lift Like An Athlete

Get better at the sports you play and the life you lead at STACK. Improve your training, nutrition and lifestyle with daily

Bodybuilders and powerlifters are impressive physical specimens, considering their massive bodies' ability to flex for appearance and move jaw dropping weight.

Why don't athletes attain the same kind of physique? One big reason: they need to be champions on the field, not in the weight room. The skills that make athletes successful require total body strength and conditioning, power and flexibility. To be an athlete, you've got to train like one. That's why teams like LSU football and NBA superstars like Kevin Durant use functional training as their primary method for improving performance (watch a video interview of Kevin Durant discussing his basketball training).

Lifting more weight is commonly misconstrued as leading to performance gains. Bodybuilders focus on single-joint movements (e.g., Bicep Curls) to increase a specific muscle's size and strength. But during sport activity, a muscle is rarely isolated, so this type of strength provides little benefit. Instead, athletic skills are multi-jointed and closed-chain (feet are in contact with the ground). For instance, throwing a football involves more than just the arm and shoulder; executing the movement requires muscles to work together throughout the body, with most of the power generating from the core and legs.

Read More >>

Bodybuilders and powerlifters are impressive physical specimens, considering their massive bodies' ability to flex for appearance and move jaw dropping weight.

Why don't athletes attain the same kind of physique? One big reason: they need to be champions on the field, not in the weight room. The skills that make athletes successful require total body strength and conditioning, power and flexibility. To be an athlete, you've got to train like one. That's why teams like LSU football and NBA superstars like Kevin Durant use functional training as their primary method for improving performance (watch a video interview of Kevin Durant discussing his basketball training).

Lifting more weight is commonly misconstrued as leading to performance gains. Bodybuilders focus on single-joint movements (e.g., Bicep Curls) to increase a specific muscle's size and strength. But during sport activity, a muscle is rarely isolated, so this type of strength provides little benefit. Instead, athletic skills are multi-jointed and closed-chain (feet are in contact with the ground). For instance, throwing a football involves more than just the arm and shoulder; executing the movement requires muscles to work together throughout the body, with most of the power generating from the core and legs.

Athletes across all sports require practical strength, which is enhanced using functional training. According to Mike Boyle, an industry-leading proponent, functional training consists of "exercises that teach athletes to handle their own bodyweight in all planes of movement." It emphasizes core strength, often the foundation for multi-jointed movements, and balance of strength. Athletes should be equally strong in their anterior (front) and posterior (back) muscles to have the strength required to execute a skill from all of the various positions they find themselves in during competition.

The majority of functional training exercises should be performed with feet in contact with either the ground or an unstable surface like an Airex pad or Bosu ball. Multi-jointed exercises, such as the Front Squat, should take priority over isolation exercises, such as Machine Leg Extensions. This combination helps strengthen the athlete in a manner most appropriate for improving athletic performance.

Train-Like-An-Athlete

Don't waste time performing single-joint movements. Revolutionize your training with the following multi-joint exercises.

Front Squat instead of Leg Extension

  • Assume athletic stance with feet shoulder-width apart
  • Rest bar across front of shoulders with Clean grip
  • Keeping back straight and knees behind toes, sink hips back and lower into squat until thighs are parallel to ground
  • Explode up by driving through heels and extending knees and hips to return to start position
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 3x5
Benefits: This functional movement increases strength throughout the hips, knees and ankles. It also activates the core to stabilize the body against the added weight. The movement trains the body in an athletic position, which facilitates performance gains on the field.

Chin-Up instead of Bicep Curl

  • Assume shoulder-width grip on bar with palms facing body
  • Pull body up until chin reaches bar level
  • Lower slowly with control until arms are straight
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 3x8
Benefits: Instead of isolating the biceps, this exercise strengthens most of the upper body and core and improves shoulder stability. The upper body and core must work together to perform the exercise with control, which is crucial for consistent skill execution.

Close-Grip Bench instead of Triceps Extension

  • Assume Bench Press position gripping bar slightly narrower than shoulder-width
  • Keep elbows tight to body and slowly lower bar until it touches chest
  • Press bar to start position
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 4x8
Benefits: This multi-joint exercise focuses on the triceps while also strengthening the chest and other upper body muscles that work to control the weight. The triceps are never isolated during competition, so this exercise is more appropriate for improving athleticism.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: FOOTBALL | BASKETBALL TRAINING | WEIGHTLIFTING | CHEST | POWER | EXERCISE | FUNCTIONAL TRAINING | TRAIN | BENCH | PRESS | STANCE