How to Use Bodybuilding for Athletic Performance


Can bodybuilding methods help improve athletic performance?

Well, that ALL depends on HOW you use bodybuilding and IF the athlete needs bodybuilding methods. When I use the word "bodybuilding", I am merely talking about the method of packing on muscle. Don't be confused..... so, let me explain.

And, a critical note to determine IF the athlete should use some bodybuilding methods for packing on muscle is described in this short, 57 second video:

[youtube width="640" height="390"][/youtube]

Hold on to your thoughts there with what Louie Simmons just said regarding NOT adding muscle mass because I am NOT talking about world class athletes in this article although what he JUST said is what we are careful with during the in season for our wrestlers, allowing them to maintain weight, rather than gaining weight / muscle mass in season and STILL becoming stronger and more explosive in season.

What is NOT "Athletic Bodybuilding"?

I was recently at a "hardcore" gym and there were bodybuilders there.... sort of.... kind of.... NOT the kind of hardcore I was once upon a time used to at Diamond Gym. I think "hardcore" has lost it's "Hardness" through the years. So maybe this was soft core..... or something.....

These "bodybuilders" were sitting on machines, performing 1 arm cable exercises out the ass and ALL while wearing gloves, cut off short, short jeans and a weightlifting belt. That is NOT the bodybuilding I wanna see. It will NOT carry over to the athletic field.

TWO things to do when using bodybuilding methods for athletes is:

1) Choose the right exercises

2) Choose the right set - rep patterns to stimulate muscle growth

As mentioned above, You can use bodybuilding for athletic performance by choosing the right exercises, sometimes referred to as functional exercises.

Movement such as squats, deads, presses of all types and bodyweight exercises as well. The way to pack on muscle will be via manipulating the sets, reps, speed of the exercise and the overall volume of work.

The powerlifters from Westside Barbell, known as the strongest gym in the world, perform 2 types of workouts:

- Max Effort, for the development of strength

- Dynamic Effort, for the development of speed / power

But, after each workout, they finish off with basic bodybuilding work, using moderate weights and moderate reps, which helps pack on muscle. Now, here is where you wanna pay attention. A typical athlete, not ALL, but MANY, need to add muscle to their frame before we can even think of using pure athletic movements to improve their performance.

MOST athletes are so skinny and so weak that simply by adding muscle to their frame we improve performance. It's like looking at a tiny car engine.... a small car engine can NOT be manipulated to make it more powerful.

The optimal way to blend everything together is to organize an athletic workout like this:

1) Begin with a warm up. While warming up, mix in mobility, flexibility & soft tissue work.

2) As the warm up intensifies and the mind & body begin feeling prepared, you begin incorporating some speed / power work (See THIS Course for Bodyweight Explosive Power Exercises). A beginner will likely NOT be ready to perform simple jumps such as box jumps, rebound jumps, etc due to lack of coordination & lack of strength & stability. But.... you CAN very likely utilize various medicine ball throws to begin training for power / speed.

I also HIGHLY recommend jumping rope during the warm up to increase athleticism, coordination, improve foot work and utilize the jump rope as a simple form of jumping. I am STILL in SHOCK at how many high school kids do NOT know how to jump rope. It speaks poorly of the Physical Education programs being used in the USA.

3) After the warm up and the speed / power work has been utilized, go into a heavy full body lift, or, heavy upper or lower body lift. Heavy for one might NOT be heavy and intense for another. A GREAT and simple variation for beginners and intermediates is the tried and true 5 x 5 method.

It's  a great blend of strength and muscle building. I also like Jim Wendler's 5 3 1 method.

4) After you finish the heavy lift or what I like to call our "main lift" you can then move onto "functional bodybuilding exercises" but use them with moderate reps which is where your bodybuilding will come in.

A set - rep pattern of 3 - 4 x 8 - 15 reps works great on these lifts. It's a GREAT way to build muscle and if you want to add some conditioning then create a circuit with 2 - 3 exercises and perform them back to back to back to combine muscle building with muscular endurance.

Listen to how one of the most feared powerlifters on earth would train after he finished his "Main Lift". Watch the video below...

[youtube width="640" height="390"][/youtube]

Now, these were certainly just a few methods for adding and utilizing bodybuilding methods to help you become stronger for life, lifting AND sport.

Build up that foundation by building muscle FIRST. This is why we don't skinny bastards deadlifting and power cleaning with tight technique, it's often times because their muscles are too damn weak or, they simply Do NOT have muscle to begin with.

Live The Code.




18 Responses

  1. While I think you are right, and many athletes could benefit from functional working out, we would really have to define what “bodybuilding” actually is to say they would benefit from it.

    As you said, the term’s definition has changed quite a bit over the years and I too am hard pressed to define it these days. If we apply the common definition that bodybuilding is a sport whose most important aspect is the physical appearance of one’s body, namely symmetry of and balance in muscle size, then bodybuilding would be of little value for most sports.

    1. @Evilcyber: Evil Cyber – please use a REAL name, thank you

      I gave my own definition of “bodybuilding” in this post to be as clear as possible


  2. many h.s. kids cant jump rope because physical education is not even offered anymore in a lot of schools…

  3. hey big Z, sorry i don’t have a cool name – hahaha. as you know i’m a Crossfitter at heart, but i’ve always implemented what i’ve learned from you and coach smitty over the years into my own programming, as well as for my clients. the results speak for themselves. i train twice a day, and i’m now going on my 2nd month of using the Bodyweight Bodybuilding program for my morning training session. best decision i’ve ever made bro! i knew the program would help me with all of our bodyweight/gymnastic movements, i just didn’t realize how much it would help improve everything else! i’m climbing into my 30’s and never felt better! when done correctly – “bodybuilding” can be a great training tool, bottom line.

    1. @luke denney: Luke you’re the man!!! CrossFit has so many meanings and methods now it’s tough to understand what it IS now, it all depends on what the person does, I guess!

      Stay healthy, brutha and keep recovery as a priority as well!

  4. Marinate on this Evilcyber…If I am a 230 lbs that hits a smaller version of someone with the SAME strength and speed as me head on, who will get the worst of it?

    Simply put, the value in bodybuilding stems from the hypertrophy involved with it. This point is clearly stated above. #ReadingComprehension

    You could truly absorb this if you left the SHAPES you train at and train at the Underground…Just sayin’ Broseph…

  5. It’s also a great template for those of us who are older and don’t compete anymore. You can make gains for many years just following this simple format and still maintain your athleticism and strength. I’m 48 and this is the way I train!

    1. @Janet M.: Janet, sooo true! Recovery and flexibility is more and more critical as we age but if programmed the right way we can use MANY programs to our advantage, you’re kickin’ ass and PROOF! Thnx 🙂

      Always love when U comment!


  6. Michael M says:

    Anyone who has been following you for a while knows what you are talking about. You not talking about the endless sets of bicep curls, calf raises, and use of machines “bodybuilding”, but the “my bench sucks so I need to BUILD up my triceps bodybuilding”.

    I am glad you laid out a typical routine because that is exactly what I do. I did 531 all last year, which was great, and recently started a 5×5 routine (SL5x5). So yeah, warmup, main lifts, direct work on lagging body parts and bodyweight conditioning, then a finisher, all within an hour.

    Great post!

  7. Mike Guardiola says:

    My warm up looks alot like my main lifts especially when doing O’s. Lately i’ve been hitting kb’s for shoulder strengthening and flexibility. Sprints, sprints, and more sprints and can’t say enough for work capacity. Great post Zach!

  8. Z–
    I’ve been using this to have our people improve in their weak areas.
    Also, it is useful if someone has an injury, but doesn’t want to miss any training.
    We’ve been adding a lot from Dave Tate’s book, The Vault” lately and everyone is improving.
    We still CrossFit WODs but I make them incorporate these other things as well.
    Great post!

  9. Great post Zach. Can’t build a house on a weak foundation. Can’t build an athlete on a weak foundation either.

  10. Hey Zach,

    As a former PE teacher at the elementary, I think you can appreciate this. When I taught down there, I would do jump rope contests with my kids. They would jump with me at the younger age, and then around 4-5th, I’d ween them to jump by themselves.

    Underrated activity for sure.

  11. Kevin Salisbury says:

    Another great post.. Was that Mark Bell? I used to wrestle with him back in Orange County in the late 90’s early 2000. Very cool and strong guy.. I love your coment on today’s “gym” bodybuilder. I find myself using them as motivation as I take the Underground to the box gym and there confused looks make it that much better. I love to mix some heavier power movements in with explosive work and some smaller muscle work. I am 38 and just starting to see the potential of where the “Underground” can take me. My neighbor just brought me home a log which I am using for the caber toss.

  12. Hey Zach,

    I watch guys in the gym that can barely do 10 push-ups. The same blokes then try and load up the bar doing bench press, not surprisingly their form sux. Stopping mid-rep, arching their backs to ridiculous angles. All because they haven’t developed a good base. Good advice mate.


  13. Eddie Hernandez says:

    I’ve been using bodybuilding methods in conjunction with other methods such as Louie Simmons Conjugate method throughout my entire career as a strength coach. When I talk bodybuilding methods I relate to supersets, intensity extenders, and short rests between sets to increase muscular endurance and good old fashion GRIT. Looking forward to going deeper on this subject in a few weeks.

    1. Eddie, today more than ever the teens need bodybuilding methods and coaches need to know how to properly implement them!

      I am psyched to hear your speak at NHSSCA soon!

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