10 Strength Basics for Athletes
This isn’t meant to be an all encompassing list; just some thoughts off the cuff.
1. Focus on strength. It doesn’t matter if you are lifting 3 reps of 15 reps, you need to be handling heavy weights. This worst thing an athlete can do is go through an entire workout and not struggle once. This sounds ridiculous but it happens all the time. Athletes just go through the motions and don’t get much out of their workout. If it says 3×10 on your workout and nothing else then you need to put a weight on the bar that you can barely do for 10 reps.
2. Spotters. You don’t need them. Well let me preface this a bit by saying you shouldn’t need them. A spotter’s job is to make sure the weight is correct, make sure the lifter is centered, give a liftoff if needed and only touch the weight after the lift off if the athlete is going to die. It is the responsibility of the lifter to not pick a weight that they can do for the prescribed reps. If you did a set of 10 and barely got 10 reps don’t add 20 more pounds and expect to get 10 reps again. You will see this at the gym all the gym where the spotter is doing all the work for the last 3 reps. This is ridiculous and is far too common. You don’t get stronger when your spotter is lifting the weight!!!
3. Train More. You don’t need to rest 3 days between workouts. Some of the strongest people in the world got that way from squatting 3-4 days per week. The rules that apply to high level bodybuilders don’t apply to athletes. Olympic Weightlifters might workout 12 times per week! Bodybuilder “laws” don’t even apply to the average bodybuilder. The average gym goer will gain more muscle by lifting like a strength athlete vs. a bodybuilder.
4. Stop Isolations: If you weigh 135 pounds soaking wet stop worrying about your biceps. Your biceps will grow more from squatting and deadlifting than doing db curls with 15 pounds. This doesn’t mean you should never do a curl but it should be a very very small brick in your wall.
5. Lower body/Upper Body. Athletes should never have a shoulder day or bicep day or hamstring day. Athletes should be splitting up their workouts into upper body and lower body workouts. The classic body builder splits make no sense in athletics. Why would you do 4 days for upper body parts and spend 1 day for your lower body? Huge flaw!
6. Lower Body Lifts. Lower body lifts should be centered around squats, deadlifts and hamstring work. You will hear about this special exercise that will guarantee a faster forty or higher vertical but I guarantee that squats or deadlifts will have the same exact benefit and you can do 10 times as much weight while doing it. Front squats, back squats, pause squats and box squats are all great forms of the squat. Conventional deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, block deadlifts and RDL’s are all great forms of the deadlift. Beginners can greatly benefit from goblet squats and sumo deadlifts with a KB. There is nothing wrong with single leg work but it shouldn’t be a priority. You will hear people rave about how overhead walking reverse lunges too there squat through the roof and that you “have to do them.. BRO!” The reason why their squat went through the roof was from the new squat routine they started. Don’t forget about the basics and big movements. The movements you can do with a lot of weight will always make your stronger than lifts with lighter weight.
7. Upper Body Lifts. Pull-ups, Chin-ups, Push-ups, DB rows, cable rows, bent over rows, military press, bench press and incline press should make up the vast majority of your upper body workouts. If you want to gain weight and get stronger than these should be your go to lifts. If you want to throw in some variations go ahead but don’t stray too far away from the basics. DB work is fine but you will always be able to do more weight with a barbell.
8. Hamstrings: Hamstring work should be focused on increasing hip extension strength and not knee flexion strength. A hip extension exercise would be a RDL and a knee flexion exercise would be a leg curl. Deadlifts, RDL’s and reverse hyperextensions is where the money is made for the hamstring in athletics.
9. KISS. Follow a simple program based around the aforementioned lifts. A simple 5×5 program followed for a year will reap great benefits. If you don’t know about 5×5 just give it a quick google search.
10. Long Term Plan. Realize that at first strength comes very easy. You can do anything and still get strong. Max out 5 times per week, train for 10 minutes a day, train 1 time per week, train 6 times per week for 5 hours a day; it doesn’t matter at first what you do in terms of strength because everything will work. The main emphasis when starting out should be building up a base that will yield long term gains. Doing lifts in control with higher volume and perfecting technique is going to reap better gains over the long haul vs. just going in and trying to see how many times you can do 135 for bench. Strength is something that is very hard to build once you have been training for any substantial amount of time and those who stop seeing results very quickly are the ones who didn’t start with a strong base and aren’t following a long term plan for success. Laying down a base is never fun or exciting but what you can do with that foundation will always be worth the effort.