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Train Like an Athlete
By Blair Morrison   View more articles by this author
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October 8

If I asked you to close your eyes and imagine what “fitness” looks like, chances are you’ll think of someone closer to Lance Armstrong or Marion Jones than Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Maybe it’s Brad Pitt or Kelly Ripa; but it’s almost certainly not Ronnie Coleman.  The point?  The average person carries around dreams of an athletic physique, not that of a bodybuilder.  Yet, time and again, I see people waiting in line at the cross cables, the smith machine, and the legpress.  Training stable, isolated movements that have a limited effect on your heart rate will not build the well-rounded physique you are looking for! 

If you’ve been training this way, don’t worry, it’s not your fault.  The fitness institutions, magazine editors, and equipment manufacturers all need this cycle to perpetuate, lest you realize 90% of their machines and advice are useless to your goal.  So, they peddle images of fitness models riding elliptical machines, doing biceps curls, and drinking protein shakes, rather than encouraging you to think and train like the body you want to have.  Also, it’s a lot easier than the alternative.  This type of exercise allows you to read a magazine while working out, or get a pump without losing your breath.  While these facts may be comforting after a long day at the office, they won’t translate into results.

Now, this is not to say that every piece of equipment in your gym is junk.  If you’ve sustained an injury, lower impact exercises like the elliptical are a necessity to proper recovery.  Individuals who are severely de-conditioned and have decided to get in shape should start with simpler, more stable exercises before doing box jumps and pullups.  However, when you’re ready for the next step, you need to start thinking outside the box.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Train your entire body.  Gone are the days of chest, shoulders, and triceps on Mondays; back and biceps on Tuesdays.  Start incorporating connected exercises like squat and press, barbell cleans, and deadlifts into your workouts, and do them at short rest intervals. 
  2. Use non-traditional exercises.  This is where it gets fun.  Use sandbags instead of barbells, kettlebells instead of dumbells.  Use medicine balls, tractor tires, sledge hammers, ropes, rocks, and cars.  Athletic bodies are built by activities that require balance, strength, agility, and endurance—all at the same time.  Static environments don’t lend themselves to such activities, so get out and start exploring.
  3. Train with tempo.  Organize your workout into a circuit of 4 or 5 exercises, moving directly from one to the next.  For example: Do 20 sandbag squats, 20 pushups, 20 kettlebell swings, 20 situps, and run a ¼ mile.  Do it as fast as you can, rest for 1 minute and repeat 3 times.  If you’re not out of breath, you’re not working hard enough.


Building an athletic body is not easy, and there are no short cuts.  But if you commit to training your entire body using athletic methods, you will see the results. 

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