Bodybuilding Workouts: Are They Appropriate For Athletes?

Bodybuilding for Athletes

Are bodybuilding workouts appropriate for athletes? The short answer is no. While there are aspects of bodybuilding that athletes can “build” into their training.

We’ve all seen that guy at their gym. Think about the person that turns heads every time he walks into a room of average looking people. How many of you have seen a meathead throw a baseball or a football? How about shoot a basketball? Elite and aspiring athletes don't need to build muscle the same way that bodybuilders do. Athletes need to maintain and develop lean muscle mass.

Beginner and high school athletes are still growing and will be able to develop muscle; however, it is not the same muscle mass that a bodybuilder is working toward

Bodybuilding is all about developing muscle mass. Lifts are typically performed slowly and controlled, and sometimes negative lifts or overloading the eccentric portion of the lift are used to build as much muscle as possible.

The problem is…. athletes need to develop sport-specific and movement-based strength. Basketball players must develop leaping ability. Hockey players must develop lateral and rotational strength through different planes of motion. Baseball players must develop fast-twitch muscle fibers with rotational strength. Football players must develop traditional strength along with speed, quickness and lateral movement.

Another problem that needs to be mentioned with bodybuilding training for performance athletes is that bodybuilding traditionally occurs all in one plane. Think of the Bench Press for example. No rotational or diagonal movement is involved.

When in a sport are you only moving in one plane? Hardly ever. The ability to separate the upper from lower and rotate is ESSENTIAL as athletes move in multiple planes at all times, with their upper and lower bodies doing different motions in different planes at the same time.

Also, bodybuilders tend focus on developing muscles, not movement. For example, many bodybuilding exercises isolate a specific muscle and while this compartmentalized fashion does build muscle, it does not coordinate neuromuscular efficiency; think about the body working cohesively together. If you have imbalances or lack the neurological ability to fire your muscles in a coordinated fashion, then one muscle may give out—as shown in this video of a bodybuilder vs football player.

There are many aspects of strength athletes must develop. These include core stability with lateral movement, rotational elements and upper- and lower-body coordination. Ideally, an athletes training should strive to induce positive changes to cardio capacity, strength, plyometric power and mobility. Circuits that include full-body movements—strength training combined with cardio and plyometrics—are ideal for athletes in any sport.

What Can We Take From Bodybuilding?

An element of bodybuilding that we can use with athletes in their training programs is the compound set. In a compound set, you perform two exercises that work the same muscle group in quick succession—e.g., working your chest with a set of Bench Presses followed directly by an explosive set of Push-Ups. Athletes can use compound sets in their training on occasion, but they must be careful to strengthen their backs as much as their chests, their hamstrings as much as their quads, etc. The posterior chain is the bread and butter of any explosive athlete.

Asymmetries and imbalances throughout the body are one of the biggest risk factors for injuries in athletes.

Coach Hansen


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