How To Build An Athletic Physique – Garage Strength

How To Build An Athletic Physique

How To Build An Athletic Physique

Athletes come in a variety of limb lengths. Short legs, long legs, big wingspans, small wingspans, short torsos, and long torsos. The builds vary, but one thing tends to stick out. Athletes are ripped, jacked, sleek, and have body’s that showcase their lean muscle mass.

The best athletes in the world often have six-pack abs, rippling musculature through their arms, and top shelf booties. The cool thing is, all of this musculature contributes to their athletic capabilities.

Six pack abs? Helps create core stability through the abdominals and lower back, a major player in dynamic trunk control.

Rippling musculature through the arms? Rapid elbow extension, primarily moved through the triceps, pecs, and delts, is an important component for any athlete to possess. Rapid elbows extension comes into play with firing the hands into a defensive lineman in football or going to put hands on an opponent in wrestling.

And a top shelf booty? Glute strength may be the most important of them all, primarily because the glute muscles are huge contributors to making an agile cut crossing over a defender in basketball, sprinting at max velocity in track and field, and accelerating off first base to steal second in baseball.  


What Is An Athletic Physique?

When we hear the word athlete our minds go to different places. We see a football player playing the position of running back, defensive back, or tight end. We envision a soccer player dribbling at max velocity, sprinting at incredible speed to outpace a defender, and see the anticipation through the goalie’s footwork. We may even have the replay of a basketball player dribbling between their legs, using tempo to change speed, and then Euro-stepping into an open space and manipulating the release of the ball for buckets. Or you may see a wrestler turning a double leg takedown into a leg lace to expose their opponents back in freestyle wrestling.

If you are anything like me, you hear or read the word athlete, and think of professionals. People talented enough and who have, above all else, worked hard enough, to make playing a game a viable way to make a financial living are incredible at what they do. And it is rare, at least outside of baseball and quarterbacks, to see athletes at the professional, or even near professional level (collegiate athletes, developmental leagues), devoid of lean muscle mass.

An athletic physique starts with lean muscle mass. Athletes with primarily lean muscle mass have advantages. Not having excess body fat makes for less wobble. Wobble, as silly and odd as the word sounds, is a legit concept from the world of sprinting.

Wobble can be understood as all the body mass that doesn’t contribute to going faster; wobble creates more air friction and excess mass that slows you down. For instance, a sprinter who develops too much muscle mass through hypertrophy training in the upper body is doing themselves a disservice because the extra mass, though lean, is putting more work on the legs' power output to go fast. But for a linebacker in the sport of football, that excess lean muscle mass from hypertrophy training is needed for sport specific needs. So not all wobble is created equal–it’s sport dependent.

All that said, the more obvious contributor to wobble is fat that jiggles. Things like a muffin top, dad gut, and love handles are all wobblers and not ideal for an athletic physique, that’s for sure.

For an athletic physique, the lean muscle mass is shaped and sculpted in a way to allow for movement, mobility, and athletic maneuvers. Here is the big part–an athletic physique ISN’T a bodybuilding physique. With an athletic physique, we don’t want big, hulking muscles that interfere with sports performance.

But what if you are no longer a young athlete? What if your sports career has passed you by? Or you never had the athletic skills to excel at sports?

No worries. An athletic physique, though great for athletic performance and creating athletic muscle, is achievable by any person, at any stage of life, and can be realized.

Just because you are older or haven’t played sports in years (or never), you can still achieve an athletic physique by training like an athlete. The benefits will include more bone density, a benefit of all resistance based training done with weights, improve neural coordination for greater athleticism, stability, and mobility, and maybe everyone’s favorite piece of it all, you’ll see a rippling, muscular physique reflecting back at you in the mirror.

Also, training like an athlete is a great longevity cheat code. It mentally keeps you feeling young, helps to maintain explosive power, and improves life quality because you are able to not only squat and bench, but you can change direction, jump, and sprint like nieces, nephews, and children.

And if you are still in your sports career, these same methods will assuredly contribute to your sports performance.

4 Day Workout Split–LULU

Training for an athletic physique, we want to be in the gym working out at least 4 days a week. Garage Strength Performance Design, which is used to write and develop the programming and periodization in the Peak Strength App, uses a LULU split for training 4 days a week.

The 4 days in a LULU split include:

  • Lower Body Power/Strength Day
  • Upper Body Power/Strength Day
  • Lower Body Impulse Day
  • Upper Body Hypertrophy Day

Each day has a specific focus/goal and is broken down into a specific order for exercise selection, which we will dive into further down in the blog.

Where the LULU split is unique compared to most traditional training splits, is that the LULU split starts the week lifting with the lower body. The use of lower body lifting is based on the mindset that the heaviest lifts are done with the lower body; so, the theory goes that using the first day of lifting in the week for the heaviest lifts, when athletes are the most rested, is a viable method. The idea is to create a global response neurologically for greater lifting throughout the week.

Day 2 in the week is then an upper body workout with a focus on power and strength and is followed by a rest day.

Day 3 returns to the lower body, but the focus shifts to impulse development. Impulse is force times time. Basically, how quickly can you put force into an opponent or object. For instance, sprinting up a hill or down a track, as the feet strike the ground and create horizontal locomotion making ground contact is impulse in action–every foot strike is force being put into the ground. The faster the force is put into the ground, the greater the impulse.

Developing impulse capabilities is key to athletic physique training.

Day 4, which concludes the week, is the final upper body day and it focuses on hypertrophy. Training hypertrophy for an athletic physique has the goal of making muscles larger, but not hulking. Remember, we want rippling, lean muscles, a big yoke, and jacked muscles that support mobility, athleticism, and rapid movements.

So yeah, we are going to chase a pump and do bicep curls for hypertrophy work. But our goal is to stay lean, avoid unnecessary wobble creation, and shape the body for an athletic physique, not a bodybuilding physique.

Garage Strength’s premier strength training app, Peak Strength, is great for developing an athletic physique. With over 700+ exercises and over 40+ sports to choose from for training, it is great for developing lean muscle mass, making your muscles more explosive, and improving athleticism at any age. 

That said, there is an easter egg within the LULU split for those individuals really looking for not only that athletic physique, but that athletic muscle. And that is the fifth day you can add into the LULU split.

Athlete Day

Athlete day is sometimes discussed as a third leg day. Why? Because athlete day is used to almost exclusively perform plyometric movements to enhance speed, acceleration, and impulse expression.

Plyometric Movements

Plyometric movements are in the simplest terms jumps. Single leg jumps, double leg jumps, bounds, skips, stair jumps, hurdle hops, and box jumps are all viable plyometric options.

Plyometrics should be performed bilaterally (on two legs) and unilaterally (on one leg). A great recommendation is to pair a bilateral plyometric exercise, like box jumps, with a unilateral plyometric exercise, like single leg mini hurdle hops.

It is also wise to use a plyometric jump series on athlete day, like the Jan Jump Series

How To Perform The Jan Jump Series

  1. You will need 4-6 mini hurdles, a high hurdle, and a 12” box
  2. Setup the mini hurdles that they are diagonally spaced apart in a zig zag pattern
  3. Place the high hurdle at the end of the mini-hurdles, oriented to the center
  4. Place the 12” box at the beginning, oriented to the center of the mini-hurdles
  5. Star on the 12” box by performing a single leg depth drop
  6. If you land on the left foot, diagonally jump to the right over the mini-hurdle and land on the right foot
  7. Landing on the right foot, now jump diagonally forward over the next mini-hurdle and land on the left foot
  8. Repeat until the last mini-hurdle approaches the high hurdle
  9. From the final mini-hurdle, unilaterally jump to in front of the high hurdle and land bilaterally (on two feet)
  10. With two feet, leap over the high hurdle and land

Plyometrics are great for making muscles more athletic, especially plyometric jump series movements. The muscles learn how to be elastic, coordinate, and fire rapidly. Your muscles also learn how to decelerate, a very underrated skill when it comes to athleticism.  

Athlete day doesn’t just use plyometric exercises to help with developing an athletic physique. Athlete day also uses reflexive strength exercises to help develop an athletic physique.

Reflexive Strength Movements

Using reflexive strength movements on athlete day is valuable for creating neural adaptations for more athletic muscles. Reflexive strength movements are movements done with light weights at high speeds. Often reflexive strength movements are done in unilateral positions (on one leg) and involve coordination between the lower limbs and upper limbs.

An example of a reflective strength movement is the banded single leg RDL to hip lock.

How To Perform The Banded Single Leg RDL To Hip Lock

  1. Using a band, place the foot that will stay grounded on the band
  2. Grab the band with the opposite hand of the side
  3. Hinge at the hip, leaving the leg standing on the band grounded while the other leg raises off the ground
  4. The hips hinge until the body is in a T
  5. Then rapidly swing the leg through and extend through the hips, simultaneously extending the arm holding the band for rapid elbow extension
  6. End in a position where the swing leg is now bent and the knee is at the same level as the hips with the arm extended overhead
  7. Hold the position

Daily Workout Layout

Each day’s workout in the LULU split follows a workout template that is proven to develop athletic physiques. Whether upper body or lower body, the basic structure is the same with minor variations occurring based upon the day’s intention. For example, the upper body hypertrophy day will have more accessory movements and the lower body impulse day will have a greater focus on speed and dynamic efforts.

The general template goes like this:

  • Technical Coordination Exercise
  • Absolute Strength Exercise
  • Accessory Movements

Technical Coordination Movements

Technical coordination movements are Olympic weightlifting derived exercises and their variations. Movements like the jerk, snatch, and clean fall into this category. The intention is to move heavy weights fast!

Variations like the high hang snatch, the power clean, and the behind the neck jerk are all viable options as well for developing that athletic physique.

Technical coordination weight training exercises are performed in the early part of the physical exercise workout regime. The reps and sets require a lot of ability and function to put stress on the shoulders, trunk, and other muscle groups.

If Olympic weightlifting movements aren’t your bag, trap bar jumps, dumbbell snatches, and dumbbell jumps are reasonable options, but aren’t ideal.

Absolute Strength Movements

Absolute strength movements are Powerlifting derived exercises and their variations. Movements like the squat, bench press, and deadlift fall into this category. The intention is to move the heaviest loads for raw strength.

Variations like the incline bench press, the front squat, and snatch grip deads are all viable options as well for contributing to building an athletic physique.

Though the deadlift is a great movement for developing the posterior chain, a mammoth upper back, and unrivaled strength, we typically don’t use it in sports performance training.

For pulling movements, we prefer the dynamic effort and speed used in the clean and snatch. However, if deadlift is your thing, there is a place for it in the training.

Absolute strength weight training exercises are performed after the technical coordination part of the physical exercise workout regime. The reps and sets are low, but still require a lot of ability to function because of the high central nervous system demands. Depending on which absolute strength movement is done, the quads, hamstrings, glutes for lower body strength, or the chest, shoulders, triceps, delts, or biceps for upper body physical activities to build muscle.

Accessory Movements

Accessory movements are structural bodybuilding movements used to pre-hab potential overuse issues, get blood flowing to the joints, and put on muscle in lagging areas.

Accessory movements are a broad brushstroke as used here. Accessory movements can include core work to help with that dynamic trunk control, as well as plyometric movements or reflexive strength exercises used on Impulse day for contrast training.

Typically, accessory movements are isolation movements used to build lean muscle mass for filling out that athletic physique.

Being at the end of the weightlifting regime, this is a great time to perform bicep curls on the hypertrophy day, challenge your muscular endurance, build your shoulder curvature, and improve your muscular fitness.

Sample Lower Body Power Workout

Sample Upper Body Power Workout

Sample Lower Body Impulse Workout

Sample Upper Body Hypertrophy Workout

Sample Athlete Day Workout

The Bottom Line

Going through a week of training for an athletic physique means strengthening the entirety of your body like an athlete. That means you are going to be working your lower body, your upper body, and your speed. A combination of exercise selection that will make you more explosive, stronger, and build mass is needed to get the most out of your muscles for strength and athleticism to contribute to developing that athletic physique.

Take any of the provided sample workouts and run through them next time you are in the gym. Or better yet, try the whole week of programming!

But if you are looking for a long term fix, the premier strength development app for athletes, Peak Strength, will create a program from over 700 exercises (way more than what is provided here!) to give you that athletic muscle to sculpt that athletic physique you’re looking for. Try a week of workouts for free at today!

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Yo, It's Dane

Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!

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