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Seven Laws of Building Athletic Muscle

I almost quit.


I failed as an athlete trying to build athletic muscle and as a college meathead trying to re-establish some semblance of athleticism. I wasn’t’ happy with my porous results and I wouldn’t be happy unless I had the best of both worlds—being athletic and muscular. Not one, not the other, but both. What’s the point in being a muscle bound sluggish Ogre or lacking confidence?

There’s more to building athletic muscle than deadlifts and lifting weights. Instead of being ripe with dysfunction and scrawny you must ditch the old school “body-part splits,” “insanity workouts,” and “ the Westside or Die” mentality. There’s no perfect recipe.

Forget these tools, they’re only a method of training. What’s needed are sound principles to make real change and get things done. Your body should exude confidence in your abilities and perform in the world, not just the platform. These seven things will build explosiveness, lean muscle, shred body fat, and boost your confidence.

sprints, building athletic muscle
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rethwill/8752384617/

1.)  Movement is a Must

The most common tip to become a better athlete is “get stronger.” This is important, but sports are more about movement than being strong. An over-emphasis on building strength is as dangerous as minimizing it. Without a base of movement it doesn’t matter how strong you are, inefficiencies in movement will hold back your high performance training. Sports occur with jumps, throws, sprints, cuts, hops, and reactive movement, not barbells and dumbbells.

Besides, sprints keep your fast twitch muscles firing on all cylinders and maintain explosiveness as you age. Perform jumps and throws before workouts. Sprint and do change of direction drills two or three times per week to keep you athletic and lean.

2.) Build a base of strength

There are multiple types of strength, but we’re focusing on absolute and relative strength.

Relative Strength is the amount of strength relative to body size. This reflects a person’s ability to control or move their body through space. All else being equal, smaller individuals have higher relative strength.

Absolute Strength is the maximum amount of force exerted regardless of muscle or body size. Greater amounts of absolute strength favor those with higher bodyweight and in general, larger individuals.

Building a base of strength improves relative strength (when size is in check) and improves your ability to generate force.

building athletic muscle
Building Athletic muscle require heavy lifting

Why this matters:

You want a body that performs as well as it looks. Both absolute strength and relative strength are needed for high-performance gains. Greater relative strength can be driven up by greater absolute strength and tested through activities that require moving the body through space—jumps, chin-ups, sprints, and bodyweight movements in sport.

Plus, you’ll increase nervous system activation, leading too:

1.  Increases muscle fiber recruitment: the number of muscle fibers being recruited.

2.  Increases speed of rate coding: the speed at which the body sends electrical signals to the muscles.

These both lead to greater adaptation and improvements in workout performance and help you build lean muscle. Build your strength base, it improves your ability to build lean muscle, strength, boosts your endurance, and shreds body fat.

3.) Progressive overload

I hate to break it to you, but squats, cleans, presses, pulls and lunges are still the best for building lean muscle and strength. Too maximize these exercises you must progressively overload the body. That means add weight, decrease rest, and increase training volume. Push your body beyond its abilities or you won’t grow. Get comfortable being uncomfortable or get left behind.

4.) Keep Isolation Isolated

By isolation exercises I’m referring to the typical bodybuilder exercises: lateral raises, biceps curls, and the like. Except for a few exercises at the end of your workouts these isolation exercises are inefficient and a waste of time. They’re a piece of the puzzle for building muscle, but everything has its place. With a limited amount of time to train you’re better off building strength and explosiveness. Get strong, and then worry about isolation, as it’s needed. For others use isolation as it’s needed to prevent injury and improve movement. Here I’m referring to your rotator cuff exercises, activation exercises in your hips and trunk and the like. Make them a piece of the puzzle, but not the main focus of your workouts.

5.) Pride, Passion, and Perseverance.

“Pride, passion, and perseverance.”

“Pride, passion, and perseverance.”

I remember my High-School Football coach preaching these terms over, and over, and over again. I used to think he was full of shit, but he’s right. These three terms are vital to your success on and off the field.

Pride to put your best foot forward and pursue your goals no matter the circumstances. Passion to be relentless and put in the time when no-one is working. Perseverance to push through plateaus and struggles that will occur. Attacking training with pride, passion, and perseverance is imperative to building athletic muscle.

“Knowing” what to do is great, but it won’t get you results. Put in the work!

6.) Exercise Risk/Reward

Everything is a tool and requires a risk-reward analysis.

building athletic muscle
Sorry, this won’t help you unless you’re training for the circus

The behind-the-neck overhead press is a great muscle builder, but creates shoulder impingement and dysfunction in lots of individuals. Is the trade-off worth it?

No. Each exercise is a tool, not the end-all-be-all. There are dozens of exercises to train the same muscles, pick a better option.

7.) De-loading Exercise

Train all you want, but without an emphasis on recovery you’ll end up beat up, weak, and un-athletic.

Training hard is rarely the missing piece for progress. That title goes to recovery, the vital component that most athletes neglect. Intense exercise causes tons of stress: joint & ligament stress, muscular damage, neural fatigue, and hormone disruption are all factors that must be taken into account and is highly individualized to each athlete. Beginners may be able to go for months without backing down; however, advancing athletes require individually specialized programs to maximize training gains. De-load, do recovery workouts, use soft-tissue therapies and contrast showers for better recovery.

Building Athletic Muscle Wrap Up

There’s more to building muscle and being athletic than your strength numbers. Get off the platform and into the world. You have to move, move well, and move often in a variety of ways. You have a finite amount of resources for training; pick exercises wisely, train hard, and be persistent. There you have it. These principles are key for building athletic muscle without turning you into a bloated ball of fail.


About:Eric Bach, CSCS, PN1 is a strength coach at Steadman Hawkins Sports Performance in Denver, Colorado. As an author Eric has been featured in publications such as T-Nation, eliteFTS, and the PTDC. He is the owner of Bach Performance where he coaches clients to take control of their lives, helping them become stronger, shredded, and more athletic. Get your Free Ebook 101 Tips to Jacked and Shredded Here.Athletic Muscle Building

FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/bachperformance/
TWITTER: twitter.com/Eric_Bach


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photo credit: oscarandtara via photopin cc

Bust through Plateaus with an Explosive Warm Up

Performing 2-3 sets of 1 exercise at the end of your warm up could dramatically increase your power and strength in your training session.

Crazy right?

I’ve already dove head-first into warm ups, you can find those here: Part 1 and Part 2, but there is one portion of the warm-up that will have a lasting impact on your workout.

I’m talking nervous system activation.

The central nervous system is your body’s computer, the central processing unit. It controls all the activities of the body.
The nervous system is the key to unlocking gains in the gym. Muscles leave much to be desired, as it’s is theorized that voluntary muscles contract at about 30% of their total ability.


We’ve all heard stories of superhuman strength where someone lifts a 3,500 lb car off a loved one. This is due to adrenaline up-regulating the nervous system to maximize muscular strength. These extraordinary feats show the power a fully engaged of the nervous system.

Note: Before going further, it’s important to note I’m not talking about creating a life/death experience in a warm up to jack up your strength.

So if we are only using say, 30% of our potential muscular strength, what would an extra 4-5% percent do for sports performance or workouts in the gym?

And what if our muscles contracted faster, getting to maximal activation faster?

Neuromuscular Readiness

Performing an explosive warm-up before your main exercise of the day will ignite your central nervous system (CNS) and maximize your strength.


Using explosive movements prior to your heavy training will prepare and teach your body to move with maximal velocity and force due to the increased rate of firing from the previous exercise.

Power= Force X Distance

The faster you can contract the muscles the more muscle fibers recruited, and the stronger are. It’s vital that these exercises are not performed to fatigue, rather short duration (5-8 reps), maximum intensity, and plenty of rest.

Practical Application

A good warm up should  wake up your muscles and central nervous system to  maximize performance during your workout. The activities in your explosive warm up should mimic the body positions and movements in your training, and explosive movements that mimic those patterns are best.

Based on your major exercise of the day, select a matching explosive movement pattern:

Main Exercise:                     Explosive Movement:

Bench Press                             Clap Push Up, medicine ball chest pass

Shoulder Press                        Overhead medicine ball slam/ throw

Squat                                         Vertical jump, box jump

Deadlift                                     Broad jump, kettlebell swing

Photography by Ryan Dial
Photography by Ryan Dial

Perform 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps after your warm-up — directly before the start of your training session. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets, focusing on maximum intensity on each rep.


Wrap Up:

What good is all that strength if you can’t generate it quickly? An explosive warm-up will help shatter strength plateaus, sprint away from your competition, and build more muscle. Implement the simple movements warm-up movements for explosive growth!

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/hotmeteor/210180257/”>Hot Meteor</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

Get Outside to get in Shape!

Far and away the easiest part of working out for me tends to be resistance training. Conditioning, cardio, energy system work, or whatever you want to call it is often the one thing I never want to do. Not because it’s incredibly hard, but I get so bored by the thoughts of running on a machine for 30 minutes per day 3-5x per week which is so often recommended. This may work to an extent and even be fun for some people, but I prefer brief yet extremely challenging conditioning to get me in, out, and on with my life.

As the weather gets nicer take time to get off of the hamster wheel (aka treadmill) and get outside for some fresh air. Run stairs, run hills, go to a park and utilize the open space to sprint and perform bodyweight exercises. These activities are all liberating as you enjoy the sunshine, smells of spring, and fresh air. Near all-out activity accompanied by short rest periods will give an extremely difficult challenge for all your energy systems while giving you the benefits of increased growth hormone production which decreases as you age.

Benefits of Human Growth Hormone Include:

• increased protein synthesis

• increase fat burning

• tissue repair

• improved sexual performance

• improved bone density

• Improved sleep quality and increased energy

I could be wrong, but I tend to think these are things most people would love to improve on. Here are some simple examples of exercises to increase your GH while enjoying nature.

Hill Sprints:

Find a hill 40-80 meters long Perform 6-8 Sprints and walk back for a recovery


Sprint up the stairs touching each step 3x, jog back down

Sprint up the stairs touching every other step 3x, jog back down

Perform jumps on each step 3x, jog back down Rest 2-3 minutes and repeat if able

Bodyweight Exercises+Stairs:

Sprint up stairs touching every other stair, perform pushups to failure

Sprint up stairs touching every step perform 25 jump squats

Jump up the stairs and perform 20 burpee jumps Rest 2-3 minutes and Repeat

Other tools that work great for outdoor workouts include sleds, medicine balls, heavy bags, sandbags, logs, Vipr, and tires. Sprint, throw, jump, and carry heavy objects until you’re exhausted, don’t dilly dally on the hamster wheel until it tells you 400 calories have been burnt.

Take back fitness and enjoy being outside wherever you are! Leave your favorite outdoor workout below!

Copyright 2012 by Eric R Bach.  All rights reserved.  This material may not be duplicated or distributed without written consent from the author.

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