Too often, people feel as though they only have two options when they go to the gym and train: To get as strong as they possibly can, or to focus on physique goals like leaning out or building muscle. And if neither of those options suits you, well, then you just don't count.
But what if I told you there was a third option: You could train like an athlete.
Unless you're aiming for a really high level of competition, your first inclination may be to say "I'm not an athlete." But at my gym, Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (IFAST for short), we have a simple mantra: Everyone is an athlete.
Whether we're talking about a little kid who wants to make his middle school sports team, a stay-at-home mom who wants to dominate whatever challenges her day throws at her , or an 88-year-old who wants to move and feel better, the mantra is the same. And you'd better believe that the weekend warrior who works all week but lives for their recreational sport of choice on the evenings and weekends is an athlete!
Unfortunately, this man or woman rarely trains like an athlete. They do what they need to do to get by, and treat their sport like it's exercise. No more! It's time for the serious amateur to treat themselves to this four-week tour of true athletic training. Don't worry, I won't have you running with a parachute or power-cleaning your body weight in this program. This is the everyman's athlete program—the one that will make you better at whatever sport you love.
Built Real Athleticism in Three Workouts a Week
So what do athletes need? Not just one thing; they need a blend of physical qualities to be successful. If you only focus on strength, your conditioning and mobility will be your undoing. Your opponents will outlast you on the field, court, or pitch, and you'll be limping through life, wondering why you can't seem to feel as good as you look.
On the flip side, if you only focus on conditioning, you run the risk of getting pushed around. A little more strength and power can be the "magic" ingredients that open the door to a higher level of performance.
Here are the big qualities that I'm always chasing, and that you'll be building in this program:
- Speed: How fast are you?
- Strength: How strong are you?
- Power: How fast can you be strong?
- Conditioning: How long can you last?
- Mobility/Flexibility: How well can you control your body?
The degrees of each of these may be different between sports, but ultimately, every great athlete possesses these traits. But how do you build them? The key is to address the nervous system first. You'll start each routine with a quick dose of speed and power work, such as jumps and sprints, to make yourself as explosive as possible.
The next layer is heavy resistance training. We always start this part of a session with a big-bang compound lift right off the bat. Strength work also has a spillover effect, making you faster and more explosive as well. As you fatigue, you'll fill in the gaps with exercises that help build a more muscular, durable body. This is a great time to throw in single-leg work, upper-body assistance work, and a heavy dose of core training.
Finally, don't forget about conditioning. But there's so much more to it than just going out for a jog and calling it a day! Your goal as an athlete is to be fast and explosive for an extended period of time. As such, we'll focus on exercises and movements that train the body's ability to be explosive and fast and recover quickly, then repeat this time and again.
The bottom line is this: An athlete needs a complete training program. And luckily for you, I've got a great one I think you'll enjoy! This program is built for someone who wants to get into great shape and perhaps be able to go out and play any sport on the weekend.
Let's dive in and see how each day looks. All three of these workouts are full body, but each one also has somewhat of a focus, which I'll explain.
Day 1 Lower-body emphasis
- Power: 5- to 10-yard dash, box jump
- Strength: Double-kettlebell front squat
- Durability: Chin-up, RDL, push-up to down dog, plank
- Conditioning: Sled push, sled sprint pull, plate push
Start this session off with your explosive work in the form of short sprints and box jumps. The key with the sprints is to start with short distances early on. If you go out and start running 40s and 60s, it's only a matter of time before you have a muscle pull.
From there, move to the big-bang lift of the day, the front squat. Whether you do them with a barbell or two kettlebells—one of my favorite variations—squats are critical for athletes as they build the quads and glutes, as well as for total-body mobility. The goal here is to have great technique and work fast. Not only does this build muscle, it increases work capacity as well.
The upper-body assistance work on this day is geared toward moving your own body weight in a more effective manner. Chin-ups and push-up variations are great choices, as they force your body to work together as a seamless unit.
Last but not least, your conditioning work is focused on what's called repeat sprint ability, or RSA. The goal here is to be fast and explosive on every repetition, which is why you have a longer rest period, as you can see in the details below.
Day 2 Upper-body emphasis
- Power: Medicine-ball throw
- Strength: Close-grip bench press
- Durability: Dumbbell reverse lunge, dumbbell row, sprinter step-up, core-engaged dead bug
- Conditioning: Farmer's walk
Today is an upper-body focused session, with some lower-body assistance work thrown in for good measure.
The session starts with medicine-ball throws. Many programs are great at including lower-body-power work, but many miss the boat when it comes to upper-body power. You need to ensure that your upper body is fast and explosive as well!
Follow these by close-grip bench presses. This is one of the most functional upper-body lifts, as it keeps the elbows in tight and mimics the position you would find yourself in if you had to push an opponent away or otherwise express your strength into a target.
A key ingredient in athletic programs is single-leg and split-stance work, which you'll get here in lunges and step-ups. These exercises are great not only for eradicating side-to-side imbalances, but also to build stability and control throughout the hips, knees, and ankles. While squats and deads will always be the bread-and-butter strength moves, unilateral exercises definitely have a place in any athletic program I design.
Finally, this session finishes off with farmer's walks. Farmer's walks make you strong and stable, allowing you to have a better base and hold your ground. They also encourage good posture and simply make you tough as nails!
Day 3 Posterior-chain emphasis
- Power: 5- to 10-yard dash, broad jump
- Strength: Trap-bar deadlift
- Durability: Single-arm dumbbell bench press, ball leg curl, landmine press, ab roll-out
- Conditioning: Kettlebell jump
Your final training session of the week starts off with a bang, is a bit easier in the middle, and then finishes off with a bang.
Start just as you did in the first session, with short sprints and jumping work. The volume is a bit lower on this session, as fatigue has generally accumulated by now.
Next, build the deadlift. The posterior chain is critical for horizontal speed and power, as well as injury prevention. Building a solid deadlift will go a long way toward improving your athletic development!
The middle part of the session includes a variety of assistance work. Single-arm dumbbell bench presses, ball leg curls, landmine work, and abs are all in there to address weaknesses and make sure you stay healthy going forward.
Today's session wraps up with one of my personal favorite conditioning tools: kettlebell jumps. The goal here is to be explosive for 6 seconds, and then use the next 60 seconds to recover. This session is a bit different from Monday, as you're really going to challenge your body's ability to recover between sets as the month goes on.
Rediscover Full-Body Training
If you're bored with your current program or want to give this whole "athletic development" thing a go, try this program for the next month.
I think you'll not only love the individual routines, but the results that come with them as well!