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Bodybuilding for Athletes


Ok ok, I’m not proposing that athletes always train like bodybuilders. But, I do think it can have a time and a place.


First off, what is bodybuilding? How do bodybuilders train? A lot of strength coaches these days don’t care enough to go back and actually read how those guys trained in the 70s, reach out to current IFBB pros to learn about training hard, or care to step outside their box of other “super smart and charmin ultra soft strength coach friends”.


I love the science of training for sport, but there are some things in bodybuilding that training for sport never taught me; how to train with ultra high intensity and actually focus on the task at hand.


So here we go,

Bodybuilders use a ton of volume for a majority of their training. We’re talking a majority of training spent with sets consisting of 8-20 reps. Go do a 20 rep max db bench. Now do a 3 rep max db bench. Which one was harder to do mentally? The 20 rep max.

While our athletes do have exercises with sets of 8-20 reps, it’s usually on exercises that cause less CNS fatigue and for specific weak points we’ve identified. The goal isn’t to build muscle mass normally for them in that movement, but instead to bring up a weak area to become a more efficient athlete. Now, will it help with muscle? Yes, but are they taking that movement to absolute failure and hitting 2 drop sets after that set WHILE playing 2 sports at one time? Heck no. That’s too much stress for the body to handle.


This is why we avoid pushing our athletes to true beyond failure type training as seen with a bunch of bodybuilders. Athletes will still get reps in and they will try to do the heaviest weight possible in the range of 8-20 reps, but we aren’t having them do 6-8 sets of a movement with 20 reps or use different methods to go beyond failure. They especially aren’t doing that for every single movement in a whole training session.

Recap: bodybuilding training session

Body part splits are common.

Example: Monday: Chest

Tuesday: Back

Wednesday: Shoulders and Traps

Thursday: Legs

Friday: Arms


Sets and Reps

5-8 sets of 8-20+ reps.

Note: Most movements are taken to complete failure and many go past failure.

Now I definitely wouldn’t recommend THAT training layout for an athlete, but an athlete in the offseason could definitely use some principles from bodybuilding. Which the key one is, hypertrophy work. Instead of an athlete working up to a 3 rep max on squat or doing sets of 5 on their bench press, they would be doing sets of 6-20 on those movements. That is the easiest adjustment.


Who should try this?

Athletes that have an actual offseason and/or need to gain a bunch of size, this would be great for them. Just remember that size is training + calories. Girls, you aren’t going to gain tons of weight from higher rep training. You’d have to eat a ton more calories than you had previously to gain weight. Many times, this increase in volume will actually cause a female athlete to potentially lose weight.

For the guys, how many calories? For gaining size, start with 18-22 calories per pound of bodyweight. Get those calories from whole eggs, meat, rice, potatoes, oatmeal, fruits, veggies, and whole milk. It’s simple. Just care enough to actually do it.

The bodybuilding training will act like an accumulation block, giving athletes a new, higher ceiling to work with than they had in the past. It will help them push past previously held mental limits and help them be able to focus more in training thus getting more out of training.


Repeat: this type of training mentioned is not for an athlete currently in-season.


How long should an athlete train like this? If strictly just going high volume workouts, I’d recommend 3 weeks at minimum to get a training effect but no more than 6 weeks as now we’re wasting time not training things that also need to be trained. For others just wanting to play around with bodybuilding, feel free to add in an extra 1-2 workouts a week that are high volume focused for your specific weak areas.

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