“I just want to look good naked! I don’t care about my vertical jump, my 40 yard dash or my one rep max deadlift.” I get it. Not everyone is an athlete. Not everyone cares about their performance. However if you asked most aesthetic-focused individuals to describe what they want to look like, most would describe the body of a lean, powerful athlete. Even if you have no desire to compete and don’t care about the numbers you can put up in the gym, you can look more like an athlete – if you train like one. In addition to improved performance, here are 8 ways you can use athletic-style training to help you sculpt your best-looking body.
1) Use heavy weights to build hard, toned muscle
Athletes lift weights to get strong. High levels of strength give an athlete a solid base to build other important qualities like speed & power. However, there is a wonderful side-effect to heavy weight training – hard, toned muscle. Don’t believe the myth: “heavy weights are to bulk and light weights are to tone and define.” Heavy weight training builds hard, strong bodies. Many top physique athletes have learned this and their bodies have a hard, toned look that separates them from the puffy look of the high-rep pumpers.
Application: you can and should still do some higher rep work, but add in some heavy, low rep training into your program.
2) Use speed & power training to help get you lean
In the world of sport, power is a game-changer. However, few people other than athletes train power. Most aesthetically-minded individuals (especially for fat loss goals) emphasize endurance training. While endurance training is great for endurance performance, it makes you more fuel efficient and teaches you to preserve energy. In contrast, speed and power training teach you to expend energy and make you fuel-inefficient.
Application: include some appropriate speed & power training at the start of your workouts. See my YouTube channel playlist on speed and power for ideas.
3) Emphasize the posterior chain to build sexy glutes
Athletes emphasize the posterior chain muscles which include the spinal errectors, glutes and hamstrings. These are important muscles for injury prevention and performance enhancement. To quote the wise Dan John, “a big butt is a fast butt.” According to most surveys, glutes are one of the sexiest body parts for both women and men.
Related: Check out this sample Glute Specialization Program I wrote for Watchfit
4) Emphasize the muscles you can't see in the mirror
Most aesthetically-minded individuals focus their training efforts on mirror muscles like pecs, biceps and abs. While these are obviously important muscles for aesthetics, you can get into problems if you over-develop them at the expense of the non-mirror muscles. I’ve seen many young guys with old-guy posture. I’ve seen many young guys with well-developed pecs and biceps from the front. However, when they turn around, you can’t even tell they lift. Smart athletes and coaches emphasize the non-mirror muscles because of their importance for performance, muscular balance and posture. The aesthetic effect is that you look better from the back and the front.
Application: spend more time working the muscles you can’t see in the mirror than the ones you can.
5) Use vertical pushing and pulling to build a v-tapered upper body
A solid athletic-based program uses lots of overhead work and pull-ups to build a strong, balanced upper body. The side effect of building the shoulders and lats is that they create a nice v-taper to the upper body. This creates and powerful, athletic-looking body and makes your waste appear smaller.
Application: include pull-ups and overhead pressing in your workouts
6) Use performance training to build big, powerful looking traps
You ladies can skip over this one, but powerful traps are a vital part of a quality male physique. While it is true that many aesthetic-minded individuals use shrugs, they miss out on the mechanical tension and good muscular damage that help stimulate maximal development.
Application: If you want build big, power-looking traps, by all means do some high-rep shrugs. However adding some heavy deadlifts, pulls (low or high pulls) and farmer’s walks will help you take your trap development to the next level.
7) Use interval training and whole body routines to get lean
Fat is dead weight on an athlete’s body. With a few sporting exceptions (e.g. sumo wrestling), athletes need to be lean. When an athlete gets lean their speed, vertical jump, agility and conditioning all get better. Athletes use interval training because it is more sports-specific. They often use whole body and basic movement splits over single body part splits for time-efficiency. However, both these methods are every effective for melting fat off your body.
Application: if you want to lose fat, try interval training for your cardio. Instead of using a body part split, try using a full body routine (note: this doesn’t mean you have to train every single exercise and muscle in the same workout, but rather that your workout includes an upper body pull, an upper body push and a leg exercise).
Related: Check out my STACK article The Ultimate Fat Loss Workout for Athletes for a full sample athletic-based program.
Check out another sample fat loss program of mine published on T-Nation: 8 Rules for Fat Loss Training
8) Use performance training to build a better looking body in less time
Building a great body takes less time than you think – if you do it right. My university athletes are crazy busy with practices, games, travel, school, homework, community service and many other things. As a result, I have to stream-line their training. By emphasizing movements more than individual muscles and by picking big-bank-for-your-buck exercises, I can get them in and out very efficiently. As a father of 3 young children who works multiple jobs, I use this same approach with my own training: 4x per week of 45 min per session is enough to get great results – if you do it right.
Application: base your training around effective variations of the following movements: squat, hinge, vertical push, vertical pull, horizontal push, horizontal pull and loaded carries. See my YouTube Channel for exercise examples.
Of course you don’t have to train exactly like a competitive athlete. However, consider making some substitutions in your workout to include these performance styles of training. If you want a complete guide to building a hard, lean athletic body through performance-based training, check out my book Athletic Training for Fat Loss.
Want more information on using performance-based training to transform your physique? Check out these posts:
How about you? What aesthetic effects have you gotten from performance based training? I invite you to share your response or any comments or questions below or on my Facebook Page.