The Best Ways To Build Athleticism In The Gym
“What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” - Socrates
The body and mind are not separate. For this reason I firmly believe that virtue can be found in the pursuit of physical prowess, just as it is found in the pursuit of knowledge and greater understanding. Unfortunately many of us will go our whole lives without ever realizing our body's true potential. Worse, those of us who do have a desire to better our bodies are typically following routines that will either leave us with lackluster results or bodies that lack functionality and eventually lead to injury.
In this article:
- Aesthetics vs. Athletics in Fitness
- Should I Focus on Isolation Movements While Working Out?
- Two Workouts for Building Athleticism in the Gym
- About the Author
Your Main Focus in Fitness Should Be Athletics, Not Aesthetics
Speaking from personal experience, when I first began working out, the bulk of my routine was “isolation work”. I found comfort in the endless “bro splits” pumping out bicep curls and cable chest flyes till I was blue in the face.
Vanity was my primary concern at the time, and I trusted that at some point, I’d have a body that resembled the countless fitness models I’d seen on social media. However as the months went on the reality began to set in that I had been building a body that lacked proportion, and more importantly completely lacked function.
My body was far from athletic, and my over-emphasis on the muscle groups in my upper body led me to having weak and underutilized core and leg muscles. I knew I needed to make a change and I knew I needed to do so immediately.
What started as concern soon became an obsession, after spending countless hours of research and implementation I eventually came to the realization that what we find aesthetically pleasing is directly related to what is functional from an evolutionary perspective.
Essentially what we find attractive is what would have made us fit enough to survive in the harsh environments in which we evolved. This alone is the base for our attractiveness.
For men powerful shoulders and arms as well as strong back muscles, would have allowed us to carry large game more effectively and hurl objects at those who posed a threat to us. Strong leg and abdominal muscles would have allowed us to run, jump and maneuver around our environment more effectively and escape from predators.
As a rule of thumb we must remember that aesthetics will always follow function.
Isolation Exercises vs. Patterns of Movement
If we focus our training on emphasizing patterns of movement over isolation exercises we will not only be building a body that is “successful” from an evolutionary perspective, but also one that is inherently aesthetically pleasing. On a deeper level there is a primal comfort in knowing that your body is built for survival and capable of keeping you alive. Tailoring your training towards making your body more powerful, agile, flexible and durable will better equip you to protect your life and the lives of others if need be.
With the understanding that we should be prioritizing athletic function in our training we must first understand what the main seven movement patterns are before going forward. These movements are as follows: squat, hinge, twist, lunge, push, pull and carry.
The beauty in these movements is that they are accessible to anyone regardless of his or her skill level, and can be modified for more or less intensity.
For example, someone who is new to resistance training may start with a box assisted bodyweight squat. Once they build enough flexibility, coordination and strength they may then choose to move on to a barbell squat with a light load. From there they may experiment with heavier loaded squats or single leg variations like the pistol squat.
Once you begin to switch to a movement focused workout routine, resist the urge to compare your current fitness level to others, progress will inevitably come with consistency and commitment.
How to Build Athleticism in the Gym
Keeping all of this in mind, let's crack into the workouts themselves. I’ve structured these routines to be both minimally time-consuming and yet fully comprehensive. The time you spend in the gym should be efficient in the sense that you are always building off of your current level of strength and skill. Most people don’t see long term returns on their workouts because they are either not pushing themselves enough, or not executing their exercises with proper form.
I encourage you to both practice proper form, and work through the full range of motion on each exercise. This will lead you to having flexibility and strength in each portion of the exercise, and help prevent muscular imbalances. If you were to follow these workouts, and continue to strive for progressive on each exercise as you move forward you will inevitably see incredible changes in your athletic performance, and physique.
There are 2 full body routines, I recommend doing them 2-3 times per week, with each workout followed by a day of rest and recovery. I also recommend doing some form of light activity on these rest days such as yoga, foam rolling or light stretching to keep your body flexible, relieve muscular tension and help speed up the recovery process. In contrast to hypertrophy style workouts, the sets and rep ranges will be geared towards power.
Thus I recommend using a weight in which you are able to work within the five to eight rep range. You can also play with the amount of time you rest on each exercise to meet your athletic goals. Typically I will opt for longer rest periods in the 2-4 minute range on highly taxing movements such as front squats, with shorter rest periods on exercises such as battle ropes. Lastly I recommend aiming to be relatively explosive on each of these movements, this will ensure that you develop a high amount of power generation and will lead to better carry over into activities that require fast twitch muscle fibre activation such as jumping and sprinting.
As always feel free to make any necessary modifications to suit your current fitness level.
Warm up - 10 minutes
Spend 5 minutes warming up on the rowing machine and then 5 minutes on High Knees, Butt Kicks, Glute Bridges and Passive Hanging on the bar.
Exercise 1 - Kettlebell Swings 3X8
This exercise is a hinge movement and should be performed as such. Most people do kettlebell swings incorrectly either by squatting the weight or letting their arms do the bulk of the work. This exercise is primarily a glute movement, and should be treated as such. Make sure to keep your chest up, hinge at the hips and avoid hyperextending as you move the kettlebell forward explosively.
Exercise 2 - Barbell Front Squat 5X3
I recommend using 70-80% of your 1 rep max for this exercise, focus on being relatively explosive throughout the movement, keeping your core tight, moving your knees over your feet as you squat, and preferably squatting below ninety degrees if you have the necessary mobility in your hips and ankles.
Exercise 3 - Weighted Pull Ups RPM - Heavy Set 5 Reps - Medium Set 6-8 Reps - Lighter Set 9-11 Reps.
Once you are able to start adding weight to calisthenic movements your strength will skyrocket. However if you are not there yet don’t be discouraged, instead opt for bodyweight or band assisted pull ups. Eventually I suggest adding weight once you are able to do 10 strict bodyweight pull-ups. Focus on keeping your abs engaged, quads and glutes tight, pulling your chest to the bar and working through the full range of motion.
Exercise 4 - Battle Ropes - 3X30 seconds
This exercise is phenomenal for conditioning and building shoulder endurance, all while supporting the strength and stability of your core muscles. Assume a quarter squat position, keep your elbows tight to your body and move your forearms explosively to send waves through the battle ropes. You can experiment with larger and smaller swings throughout each round.
Exercise 5 - Cable Wood Chops 2x12 with moderate weight
It is rare to see people doing enough work in the transverse plane, but having the ability to twist is essential for athletic performance. Secure a handle to a cable weight stack, with both hands on the handle move the weight from bottom to top on a diagonal as you pivot off of your back foot. Be sure to get a good rotation in your hips and engage your abdominal muscles throughout the movement.
Exercise 6 - Cable Face Pulls 3x10 with moderate weight
This exercise will be wonderful for fixing your postural muscles, correcting rounded shoulders, and supporting your general pulling strength. Assume an overhand grip on a rope, feet shoulder width apart and abs engaged. Keep your elbows higher than your wrists and pinch your shoulder blades together as you pull.
Finish with ten minutes of foam rolling and static stretching.
Warm up - 10 minutes
5 minutes on the rowing machine and 5 minutes on Glute Bridges, Scapula Push Ups, Inch worms, & a band assisted rotator cuff warm up.
Exercise 1 - Plyometric Pushups 2x10
This exercise is great for building explosive strength in your chest and shoulders. Make sure to keep your core tight and your spine in a neutral position as pushup explosively during the concentric portion of this movement.
Exercise 2 - RPM Standing Overhead Press
After doing a light warmup set for 6-8 reps start your working sets. Heavy Set 3-5 Reps - Medium Set 6-8 Reps Lighter Set 9-11 Reps.
Make sure to keep your glutes and core engaged as you move the barbell in a straight line over your head. Be sure to clear your head of the bar as you press.
Exercise 3 - Hex Bar Deadlifts 2x6
I generally prefer this variation to the standard deadlift and recommend this exercise for anyone who has lower back issues, getting strong at this exercise will greatly improve your sprint, and vertical jump. Use a relatively heavy weight on this exercise and keep your chest up, with your knees over your feet and eyes looking forward as you move through movement explosively.
Exercise 4 - Weighted Parallel Bar Dips 3X5
I recommend using a relatively heavy load for this exercise as well. Keep your chest up, core tight and retract your scapula as you move through the movement. Lower your body till your arm is at a ninety degree angle and then press back up.
Exercise 5 - Jump Lunge 2x8
Jump lunges will help build your single leg strength as well as the power in your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. Start with your legs wide, keep your chest up, core tight and knee directly over your foot as you jump your front leg into a ninety degree angle while staying on the toes of your back foot.
Exercise 6 - Single arm kettlebell walk 2X Each Side
This exercise will challenge your core and deep stabilizers, as well as your grip strength, and is ideal as a workout finisher. Find an area where you are able to walk back and forth for roughly 30 feet and then switch hands.
Finish with ten minutes of foam rolling and static stretching.
Hopefully this article has shed some light on the benefits of focusing on functional strength and movement in your workout routine. My hope is that you will feel empowered to start incorporating these workouts into your life and I’m confident that if you are consistent in your training your general fitness and athleticism will change forever.
All the best!
About the Author
Dan Hochman is a Men’s Health and Empowerment Coach, who received his health coaching certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and his personal training certification from ISSA. In addition to his certifications, Dan has spent years implementing simple lifestyle hacks and strategies to optimize male hormones for better cognition, body composition, and well being. He is committed to helping men live happier more empowered lives by gaining agency over their health. If you enjoyed this article and would like to hear more from Dan, visit his website:
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