If you’re like most lifters you’re interested in more than building muscle: you want an athletic body.
So, how can you build lean muscle, lose body fat, and reveal an athletic body type?
By incorporating proven methods designed to improve athletic performance along with transform your body.
Proven Methods To Build An Athletic Looking Body
Building a strong, lean, and athletic physique isn’t complicated. It requires focusing on a set of time-tested principles to help you optimize performance and longevity.
Building an athletic body isn’t complicated. You have to stick to proven methods designed to transfer your weight room training to real-world athleticism.
Build A Base of Strength
Strength is measured in two ways: absolute strength (the maximum amount of force exerted regardless of muscle or body size), and relative strength (how strong you are for your size).
Absolute strength gets all the likes on Instagram, but what’s more important for being athletic is relative strength–how strong you are for your size.
All other qualities being equal, the person who is relatively stronger will be able to move their body through space better–meaning you can sprint, jump, pirouette or whatever body-weight movement they’re called into action for.
Think Tyreek Hill for the Kansas City Chiefs. Hill is a freak athlete with insane amounts of relative strength: He can sprint like a cheetah and jump out of the gym.
Explosive Jumps and Throws
Being strong in the gym is pointless if you can’t generate strength fast.
That’s where power-primer performance boosters in the form of explosive jumps and throws are crucial.
Explosive jumps and throws prime your central nervous system (CNS), activating high threshold motor units, and improving neuromuscular efficiency through optimizing intramuscular (on a cellular level) coordination and intermuscular coordination within a specific movement.
This translates to improved performance on your specific movement patterns and moving more efficiently overall to improve athleticism.
If your goal is to be more athletic you should emphasize lifting heavy weights to build maximum strength and lifting lighter weights faster, which helps you turn strength into power. Lifting lighter faster has three key benefits:
Improved Muscle fiber recruitment. More recruitment means more muscle fibers are stimulated. This helps you use more of the muscle you already have. If your goal is to put on lean mass, you must fatigue as much muscle fiber as possible.
Less CNS Stress. Explosive lifting can be less stressful than maximum strength training. Stress is systematic and bleeds over from your personal life into training. By properly organizing your training you can mix in explosive training, dial back heavy lifting, and reduce overall stress while getting into athletic shape.
Keep Joints Healthy and Increase Training Frequency. Heavy lifting over time wrecks joints. Play the long game and keep strength gains by introducing lighter, explosive lifting. Painful knees and elbows can disrupt training consistency, one of the biggest factors in achieving the athletic, lean physique you are looking for.
Unilateral training can help prevent injuries caused by muscular imbalances.
Have you ever gotten under a squat and noticed one hip coming up first? This could be a muscular imbalance and may lead to injury.
Single-limb training can help reduce muscular imbalances and improve core/spine stabilization, which in turn, builds more functional strength.
Here’s one of my go-to exercises the single leg RDL.
Athletes with the most enviable physiques are often sprint athletes.
Similar to heavy lifting, sprinting requires a huge CNS output, meaning you’ll activate a ton of muscle fibers to rapidly produce high levels of tension.
Sprinting has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis and HGH release (by up to 230% and 500%, respectively) while increasing testosterone, improving insulin sensitivity and increasing mTor signaling for up to two hours post-training.
In simpler terms, sprinting helps you get shredded and build muscle all while improving athletic performance.
The key to safe sprinting is to start slow and progress intelligently. I recommend most lifters sprint 1-2x per week starting on a hill or incline treadmill.
The incline position decreases the impact due to a shorter foot-fall distance and prevents overstriding–the primary driver of hamstring pulls.
What if you’ve covered your bases and you still don’t have an athletic body shape?
It’s time to get a new training split.
Here are the best splits to help you build a stronger, shredded, and athletic body. I’ll explain the good and the bad of each, giving you the knowledge to pick your next training split so you can build thelean, athleticlook you’re after.
Either way, a new program is exciting—renewed motivation will have you attacking each workout and getting in the best shape of your life.
Athletic Body Split: Upper Lower Training Split
Upper-lower training splits are an excellent training split to help you build strength and muscle with four workouts per week.
Pros: Upper-Lower training splits are a great progression from total body training and work well if you want to gain muscle and strength.
Upper-Lower splits allow greater training frequency for quicker learning and mastering your lifts while still lifting heavy to build strength. Together, this helps you get better at your big lifts, train with enough volume to build muscle, and lift heavy enough to get strong.
Cons: Upper body workouts can take much longer than lower body workouts. Sure, this is great for your biceps, but if you crave consistency and have troubles working out when life get’s crazy, the inconsistency between workout times might drive you crazy.
Here’s a sample outline:
Monday: Upper Body (Push Strength Emphasis)
Tuesday: Lower Body (Squat Pattern Strength Emphasis)
Wednesday: Off/active recovery
Thursday: Upper Body (Pull Strength Emphasis)
Friday: Lower Body (Hinge pattern strength Focus)
Total Body Training Split
When you train your upper and lower body in the same workout, you’re doing a total body workout. Another way to think of it is rather than training each muscle individually, you’re training your body as an integrated machine.
Pros: If you only have three days to workout per week or have issues skipping workouts, then look no further. Since you’re training your entire body you’ll minimize the fluff. There’s no need for 13 variations of lateral raises when your training pressing, pulling, squatting, lunging, and deadlifting movements multiple times per week.
Since you’re training muscles as much as 2-3 times per week, you’ll trigger more frequent protein synthesis in your muscles being trained, potentially helping you buildmuscle faster.
And if you’re looking to drop a few pounds?
Total body workouts can cause a massive disruption to your body as it tries to catch up with multiple muscle groups working in a short period of time to help you lose fat.
Cons: One of the downsides of total body workouts is you may get bored, especially if you crave variety and the novelty of a well-timed biceps pump. Plus, if you’re looking to maximize muscular size, then the low volume of workouts will limit some of your gains. A key component of muscle growth is metabolic stress, so unless you add a high-rep finisher like biceps curls to failure, you won’t get as big as a house with total body training.
Moreover, stronger and more experienced lifters struggle recovering from three hard leg training workouts per week. You’ll need to vary how often you go heavy, possibly adopting anundulated periodization model.
Still, among all training splits total body workouts are your best bet if you tend to program hop, skip workouts, and get “too busy” to train….especially if you’re skipping leg day.
On “pull” days, you’ll hammer the backside of your body, hitting muscles like your lats, traps, glutes, and hamstrings.
On push-days, you’ll hit the movements to train your chest, shoulders, triceps, quads, and abs.
You can work the entire front side of your body or the backside of your body all in one workout. Alternatively, you can break these days down further by breaking these workouts into upper body and lower body days each.
-Upper Body Push (chest, triceps, shoulders)
-Upper Body Pull (Lats, biceps, rear delts, traps)
-Lower Body Push (squats, leg extensions, lunges)
-Lower Body Pull (deadlifts, good mornings, hip thrusts)
Pros: Push-Pull routines are a great option for experienced lifters as they’re both efficient and flexible. You’ll be able to train with enough volume to trigger muscle growth without living in the gym.
Cons: There are very few issues with these workouts. The biggest hiccup will come if you miss workouts and start skipping “pull” or “lower-body” workouts. Push-pull workouts are okay, but not great for beginners in the gym.
Day One: Pull (legs/hamstrings, back, biceps, lower back)
Day Two: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps, legs/quads, abs)
Day Three: OFF
Day Four: Pull (legs/hamstrings, back, biceps, lower back)
Day Five: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps, legs/quads, abs)
Day Six: OFF
Day Seven: OFF
Intensive/Extensive Training Split
The intensive/extensive split bases training splits on the neural demands of a workout.
For example, a heavy/explosive day is often followed by a metabolic/higher volume bodybuilding style day.
This also corresponds with conditioning.
For example, a workout with squat jumps followed by heavy squats, and sprints workout is intensive, as it is very demanding on your nervous system and joints.
If you pair too many neurally intensive workouts in a row, you’ll end up beat up, beaten down, and overtraining.
Hard pass, right?
Instead, it’s best to follow an intensive training split with an extensive workout. An example here would be doing an upper body workout focused on higher reps sets of 10-15 reps, shorter rest, and lighter weight.
You lift as heavy, but you’ll create tons of metabolic stress to build muscle, lose fat, and improve your endurance.
Pros: Intensive/Extensive training splits are lifting strategy ideal for people looking to get stronger, more muscular, and more athletic at the same time.
If you want to train like an athlete, it’s easy to add high technical sprint work on the intensive days.
If you want to build muscle, you’ll train heavy enough to trigger increases in anabolichormones and the tension needed to build muscle. Still, extensive days allow you to train light enough to get an incredible pump.
And for fat loss?
They work here too. The variety of training stimulus isn’t too much to recover from, yet it’s enough to help you lose fat.
Cons: They’re difficult to program. If your primary goal is to look hot naked (hey, I can’t blame you), you’ll want to eliminate some of the intensive work and focus on some more higher rep work. If your goals are performance-based, the opposite is true.
If you train too many factors too close together, you risk the chance of becoming the “jack of all trades and the master of none,” wallowing in mediocrity and not really getting good at any one thing.
Plus, intensive workouts are longer as you’ll need to pay more attention to your rest if you want to maximize performance.
This is focused on keeping you athletic, but a bit more on body composition so you look great naked. We call it the Minimalist Muscle Blitz.