5 Reasons Bodybuilding Improves Sports Performance
Should athletes train like bodybuilders? We know that compound movements improve sports performance. We know that the olympic lifts are tantamount to creating high levels of coordination and explosive output. We know that squats, pulls and presses create absolute strength like no other exercises. These are all valuable assets to invest time into when training.
Still, there are more ways to make gains in training to improve sports performance in competition that require an even more diverse set of training investments. That’s where bodybuilding comes into play with its exercises and principles to be strategically used to enhance a few key factors for greater sports performance. Let’s look at how bodybuilding can effectively be utilized to improve sports performance for athletes on the field, court, mat or any area of competition in sport.
One of the best ways to use bodybuilding to improve sports performance or athletic performance is through improving recovery. Oftentimes athletes forget, or just don’t know, that when performing higher rep sets or when under tension for longer periods of time, the body can actually bring in metabolites to help the body heal. The body brings in extra blood flow to improve tendon and ligament strength, which in turn is going to enhance the structural integrity of various joints. And that goes back to improving overall recovery.
Looking at bodybuilding and bodybuilding exercises as a simple way to finish off a workout, or a modality that can be utilized when beat up from heavier lifting or explosive work, now we can analyze actual resistance training through the means of recovery. A lot of coaches don’t consider this element when addressing how bodybuilding can improve sports performance.
We think this element of bodybuilding is a big, key factor. Coaches typically shy away from bodybuilding; everyone thinks of bodybuilders as big, hulking individuals who lack athleticism. Instead, we need to understand what bodybuilding is. Simply put, bodybuilding is trying to improve the body’s musculature typically done through sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
One thing that bodybuilding can do for sports performance is enhance an athlete’s strength endurance. Doing longer sets puts the body under tension for longer periods of time. This is a typical aspect of bodybuilding. Getting a lot of volume in can stimulate the sarcoplasm to bring extra fluid into the cells to increase the muscle mass--that is where the strength endurance comes in: athletes might have to do three to four sets of seventeen to twenty reps, and all of a sudden the athlete is getting that big time pump, feeling bigger.
That is where strength endurance comes into play. When hitting the sets in the range of twenty reps athletes’ strength endurance starts to take off at higher rates. So if a shot putter or football players wants to bench press 225# for twenty to thirty reps, they will have to do some serious bodybuilding work.
Now when that strength endurance starts to take off, it will also have a positive impact on recovery because athletes will have a higher rate of general physical preparedness. In addition, athletes will be able to do more reps at a higher weight later on because of the adaptations that will occur.
It is important to recognize that when talking about strength endurance and recovery with bodybuilding, we are not saying it is an all or nothing factor; we are not saying just do bodybuilding for sports performance. Not at all. Instead, we believe in taking principles, ideas and exercises from the realm of bodybuilding and applying it directly to the realm of sports performance training.
Anyone who has ever done a traditional bodybuilding workout knows it is one of the most challenging things that can be done from a mental perspective. In essence, bodybuilding trains the body to be as uncomfortable as possible for a long period of time. We all heard it before: Learn how to be comfortable with discomfort. So in an uncomfortable situation, now all of sudden some serious adaptations can be triggered from the body.
Which then comes down to mentality. When athletes start to grind and push over a long periods of time under tension, say doing a set of walking lunges to open the hips and improve the posterior chain so the athlete does fifteen reps on each leg, rest twenty to thirty seconds and do it again, like a cluster set geared towards hypertrophy. Such a workout will start to play with athletes’ mindsets. It shows how challenging bodybuilding can be from a mental perspective. But that mentality to continue to push and grind will come out on the field, court, mat or any realm of sports performance late in the game.
Let’s face it. There are points in training when it can be very boring and mundane; however, bodybuilding can improve athletes’ mental aspects by not demanding a lot of energy to coordinate and execute exercises. Instead, bodybuilding exercises allow athletes to just zone out and hammer a set of curls for a bicep pump, mentally feel good and close the session out with a feel good mentality. And we think it goes without saying, chasing a pump is fun. That fun keeps the boring and mundane at bay.
Another key factor that bodybuilding can do for sports performance is it can really narrow in and help isolate muscles that are struggling, lagging and causing issues with an athlete’s structural integrity.
We have all heard coaches say, “Oh no! We can’t be sitting on a machine isolating muscles!” Yes. But again, bodybuilding isn’t an all or nothing venture. Diversify the training portfolio. Utilize some aspects of isolation.
We have our athletes do some serious big lifts. We have athletes do some really high rates of coordination movements. We have athletes do some really heavy strength movements. We are also going to focus on isolation movements to target our athlete’s weakness. Thrower who has an issue with their pec? Isolation movements to strengthen just that pec. Wrestler who tires out late in a match with no grip strength at the end of the match? Isolation exercises on their biceps and forearms with a large amount of volume and strength endurance to help improve performance later on in the match. We can do the same thing with swimmers or any other sport with specific, isolation exercises.
This is what bodybuilding is all about. We feel that a lot of athletes and a lot of coaches have shied away from hypertrophy because bodybuilding has this negative stigma about not wanting to be ‘big and bulky’. Instead, take a step back and look at it from a top down view.
Maybe muscle hypertrophy isn’t that bad? One key concept, generally speaking, the size of a muscle can generally predict the force and power that muscle can put out.
Another piece of this puzzle is that bodybuilding can be used to increase muscle mass so that the other work in the training session becomes more effective. This is an important concept to understand. Hypertrophy of specific muscles can really help the power output of those muscles, especially if working through myofibrillar hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy to try and stimulate satellite cell recruitment to continue to heal the micro-traumas in those specific areas and make them stronger.
Remember, bodybuilding is not an all or nothing proposition in training for sports performance. Think of bodybuilding as a means of diversifying the training portfolio. With that mental shift in mind, apply the appropriate principles and exercises to the areas needed to improve sports performance. From there, notice how bodybuilding within the training regiment allows for improved recovery, increased strength endurance, a push through the pain mentality, larger muscles to generate more power and the ability to target muscles lagging behind through isolation. And don’t be surprised when sports performance in competition reaps the results of the work.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.