Why Building Muscle Is Important for Athletes, Not Just Bodybuilders

STACK Expert John Cissik provides guidelines and a sample program to build muscle mass via athletic hypertrophy training.

Building muscle mass is a reason why many people lift weights. When they work out, they are primarily concerned with building larger muscles for the sake of their appearance. Most athletes lift weights to improve their sports performance. However, even for them, increasing their muscle mass is important.

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When we make our muscles larger, we say those muscles undergo hypertrophy, which means the muscle fibers that make up our muscles grow larger. Hypertrophy training of one kind or another is the foundation of just about every periodized sports training program.

There are several reasons for this. First, the larger a muscle is, the greater potential it has to be stronger. The stronger a muscle is, the greater potential it has to be explosive. Thus, hypertrophy training, if done correctly, can make an athlete stronger and more explosive. Second, hypertrophy training has an extremely beneficial effect on ligaments and tendons, which are often our weak links during sports performance. The high volume and moderate rest associated with hypertrophy training stimulates the ligaments and tendons to adapt to training. Third, muscle mass means greater size and weight. This is important in any sport that potentially involves contact.

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Having sung the praises of hypertrophy training, I urge you to keep one important thing in mind: Athletes are not bodybuilders. This type of training is only a tool and must be kept in perspective. Athletes have finite time to train and a finite ability to recover from training. Therefore, they need to get the most bang for their buck. In addition to lifting weights, athletes sprint, do agility work, perform plyometrics, do conditioning, practice their sport and compete.

Here are some guidelines and a sample program for athletic hypertrophy training to add muscle mass.

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  • Pick only a handful of exercises—e.g., Squats, Pulls, Presses and Rows. Keep it simple and avoid a lot of isolation-type exercises. Although they are effective, they don't teach you how to use your muscles in a coordinated fashion, something at which athletes must excel.
  • Hypertrophy training requires intensity. This means moderate volume (usually 8-12 repetitions per set for 3-5 sets per exercise) with short rest periods (30-60 seconds between sets).
  • Recovery equals growth. You have to sleep to grow, and you also have to eat right to grow. In addition, you should only train every other day to allow yourself a chance to recover.


Why Building Muscle Is Important for Athletes, Not Just Bodybuilders

This program is set up around five four-week blocks of training. The first three blocks are pure hypertrophy training. Block 4 is a strength program (i.e., learning to use that hypertrophy). Block 5 is a power training program (i.e,. learning to use that hypertrophy and strength). Training should be conducted three days per week with at least a full day off between sessions.

For each exercise, the notation is one of the following:

  • Sets x repetitions @ percentage of maximum
  • Sets x repetition maximum

"Repetition maximum" (RM) means the most weight you can lift for that number of repetitions.

Regardless of the approach, when you can actually do the sets, reps and weight prescribed in the program, it will be time to increase the weights and start over.

For example, the program calls for 3 sets of 12 reps at 70% of maximum. In your first workout, you may only be able to do 3 sets of 8 reps at 70%. Once you can do 3 sets of 12 reps at 70%, it will be time to increase the weight.

Block 1

Day 1

  • Back Squats: 3x15@60%
  • Romanian Deadlifts: 3x15-RM
  • Bench Press: 3x15@60%
  • Bent-Over Rows: 3x15-RM
  • Standing Military Press: 3x15-RM

Day 3

  • Deadlifts: 3x12@70%
  • Split Squats: 3x12@40% of Back Squat on each leg
  • Incline Press: 3x12-RM
  • Pull-Ups: 3xMax
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3x12-RM

Day 5

  • Front Squats: 3x8@80%
  • Good Mornings: 3x8-RM
  • Dips: 3xMax
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Rows: 3x8-RM each arm
  • Kettlebell Press: 3x8-RM each arm

Block 2

Day 1

  • Lunges: 3x12@70% each leg
  • Reverse Hyperextensions: 3x12-RM
  • Dumbbell Bench Press: 3x12-RM
  • Kettlebell Rows: 3x12-RM
  • Kettlebell Press: 3x12-RM

Day 3

  • Back Squats: 3x10@75%
  • Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts: 3x10-RM
  • Floor Press: 3x10-RM
  • Pull-Ups: 3x10-RM
  • Seated Military Press: 3x10-RM

Day 5

  • Deadlifts: 3x8@80%
  • Split Squats: 3x8@50% of Back Squat each leg
  • Bench Press: 3x8@80%
  • Bent-Over Rows: 3x8-RM
  • Standing Military Press: 3x8-RM

Block 3

Day 1

  • Front Squats: 3x10@75%
  • Romanian Deadlifts: 3x10-RM
  • Incline Press: 3x10-RM
  • Pull-Ups: 3x10-RM
  • Seated Dumbbell Press: 3x10-RM

Day 3

  • Lunges: 3x8-RM
  • Reverse Hyperextensions: 3x8-RM
  • Close-Grip Bench Press: 3x8-RM
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Rows: 3x8-RM each arm
  • Kettlebell Press: 3x8-RM

Day 5

  • Back Squats: 3x6@85%
  • Good Mornings: 3x6-RM
  • Bench Press: 3x6@85%
  • Bent-Over Rows: 3x6-RM
  • Standing Military Press: 3x6-RM

Block 4

Day 1

  • Back Squats: 3x8@80%
  • Romanian Deadlifts: 3x8-RM
  • Bench Press: 3x8@80%
  • Bent-Over Rows: 3x8-RM
  • Standing Military Press: 3x8-RM

Day 3

  • Pause Squats: 3x6@50% of Back Squat
  • Deadlifts: 3x6@85%
  • Pause Bench Press: 3x6@50% of Bench Press
  • Pull-Ups: 3x6-RM
  • Kettlebell Press: 3x6-RM

Day 5

  • Eccentric Squats: 3x4@50% of Back Squat
  • Pause Romanian Deadlift: 3x4-RM
  • Dips: 3x4-RM
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Rows: 3x4-RM each arm
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 3x4-RM

Block 5

Day 1

  • Power Clean: 3x4@70%
  • Complex: Back Squats and Vertical Jump: 3x6@85% and 10 Jumps
  • Complex: Romanian Deadlifts and Standing Long Jumps: 3x6-RM and 10 Jumps

Day 3

  • Jerk: 3x4@70%
  • Complex: Bench Press and Clapping Push-Ups: 3x4@90% and 5 Push-Ups
  • Complex: Floor Press and Lying Medicine Ball Chest Pass: 3x4-RM and 10 Throws

Day 5

  • Power Snatch: 3x4@70%
  • Complex: Bent-Over Rows and Medicine Ball Forward Toss: 3x4-RM and 5 Throws
  • Complex: Pull-Ups and Kettlebell Swings: 3x4-RM and 5 Swings

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