Have you ever noticed how athletes in power sports tend to have the best looking bodies? Think of gymnasts performing the crucifix on the Olympic rings, 100 metre sprinters, track and field athletes, martial artists and boxers. These athletes are often quite big and muscular, but somehow manage to pull it off a lot better than your average gym rat with the same amount of muscle mass and body fat levels. Ponder that for a moment and if you’re a bit puzzled, then read on, because I think I have the answer.
Before I continue I want you to first consider why exactly you work out. If weight loss is your main goal then you probably want to look more like an athlete right? If getting stronger or running faster is your main goal you probably want to perform like an athlete and if your main goal is to just stay healthy and prevent injury you definitely want to train like an athlete. Starting to get the picture?
So how exactly do athletes train? Well that is highly dependent on their sport but one thing I can tell you is that they do not have a “back and bi’s” or “chest and tri’s” day. It has actually been proven that isolation exercise can potentially decrease performance significantly. Since our bodies function as a whole unit it would also make more sense to train our whole body during each session rather than isolating each muscle group. Muscles don’t function in isolation in the real world so why would we train them that way?
Strength training, especially among women, has become synonymous with repetitive body part training and gaining excessive muscle mass. In the case of bodybuilding this is ok because a bodybuilder will train strictly for aesthetics and developing huge muscles. Have you ever noticed how athletes in power sports tend to have the best looking bodies? Look around the weights room and you will probably see people performing an entire lifting session performing countless exercises for the same muscle group with the idea that training the muscle from all different angles stimulates the most number of muscle fibres and induces the most growth.
The rest of us who would rather build a healthier, more athletic looking body should focus on training ‘movements’ rather than ‘muscles’. So unless you are a professional or aspiring bodybuilder, consider yourself an athlete.
Ok, this is probably a gross over-simplification, but hopefully you’re starting to understand that to train like an athlete, you need to shift your mindset from training muscles to training movement patterns. Here are six basic movement patterns you should be training.
- Horizontal pressing movement (e.g. bench press, push-ups)
- Horizontal pulling movement (e.g. inverted row, 1-arm dumbbell row)
- Vertical pulling movement (e.g. pull-ups, lat pulldown)
- Vertical pushing movement (e.g. incline press, military press, push press)
- Quad dominant exercise (e.g. squats, split squats, lunges)
- Hip dominant exercise (e.g. deadlift, straight-leg deadlift, goodmornings)
- Core/Rotational (planks, side planks, medicine ball twists)
One word you have probably heard me using around the gym is “function”. When it comes to strength training, function is a word that means many different things to many different people. It is a topic which I will touch upon another time but for now I will define function or ‘functional training’ as training that allows our bodies to function at an optimal level. Athletes train for function to create stronger, more athletic physiques in order to prevent injury and compete in their sport.
Athletes also don’t just lift weights; they practice their sports, work on postural issues, go for regular massage and soft-tissue work and also incorporate foam rolling into their workouts. Now if you’ve been following along you should now realize that we should all train like athletes and that includes doing the corrective exercises and foam rolling. For athletes, as well as us gym goers, this means better movement and posture which goes hand in hand with injury prevention. No more “bad” knees or “bad” backs should be music to your ears.
Pretty recently, sports coaches have started to include more prehab exercises such as mobility training to keep athletes healthy and address postural issues. They also tend to have focussed, personalised training programs which are designed to address their posture problems by paying specific attention to weak areas and also stretching over-tight areas. Contrary to what I’ve said above, this is one instance where I like to perform isolation movements – to fix certain weaknesses and to activate muscles that don’t fire properly. It is probably beyond the expertise of most people to assess their own bodies, but this is where a good personal trainer can come in handy. Even if you’ve been training for years and think you know it all, I guarantee you that a trainer will see something you’ve missed.
It can often be a bit more obvious to find out which areas you need to work on. You know that exercise that you hate doing? Or that exercise that you really suck at and tend to avoid in order to spare your ego the embarrassment of lifting puny weights? Well, THOSE are your weak areas and that is what you should be focussing on. Pretty simple, huh?
To beat the best you have to train like the best and whether your opponent is UFC Champ Georges St Pierre, or your own innate weaknesses; YOU MUST TRAIN LIKE AN ATHLETE.