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Training like an athlete......Not just for athletes anymore?

The phrase "train like an athlete" seems to get thrown around these days when discussing how a general population client should be exercising. Lets investigate what this phrase really means to the general population client, who is more often than not looking to shed some body fat and enhance their overall health, and see how we can apply it.

Lets face it. Athletes train a lot! One thing I always tell coaches when I am asked about training youth athletes is to never EVER try and copy the training and conditioning program of the latest championship team or the program that the guys and the closest DI college are currently being put through. It is impossible for young athletes to handle this kind of volume and intensity. As well, the professional athletes only have one goal, to get better! They have all the time in the world to devote to their strength and conditioning program because it is their job!

Knowing this and knowing the amount of time athletes spend training (some olympic athletes will train 2-3x's a day several days a week), why in the world would anyone tell a general population client to "train like an athlete?" First of all, who has that much time to exercise, I certainly don't! Second of all, how can they be expected to balance that much volume/frequency and all the stresses that they face in everyday life (work, financial, family, etc)?

I think the main thing that the general population should take away from how athletes’ train is that the program is overall very complete. If we look at the typical exercise prescription in the latest bodybuilding or fitness magazine, we see programs, which are typically some sort of isolation type of body part training. Something like:

mon- chest
tues- back
wed- legs
thurs- shoulders
fri- arms
sat and sun- off

First of all, if you are a reader of this blog, you will know that I am not a big fan of this type of isolation training, since nothing we ever do is in isolation. As well, this type of program doesn't offer a whole lot in the way of overall health and fitness....Were is the cardio? And, this program doesn’t offer us the biggest bang for our buck in terms of calorie burn given that we are training such small muscle groups on three of the five training days (chest, shoulders, arms). It would be more advantageous to perform gross, full body movements, which burn lots of calories and stimulate large amounts of muscle tissue.

Now, if we look at an athletes program (regardless of the sport), it typically encompasses many different things. Athletes work on strength, power, stability, mobility, flexibility and cardiovascular exercise (metabolic work, sprints, energy system development, whatever you want to call it). In short, this program really covers all the bases of health and fitness.

But athletes have more time to train than I do!

Yes, that is true. But, just because they train more often (more times a day and/or more times a week) does not mean that you should discard the basic idea behind what they are doing. Basically, "train like an athlete" means that you should make sure your program includes a variety of training disciplines in order to reach an optimal level of health. A program may look something like this:

mon- total body workout
tues- cardio (tempo runs/rides or longer duration intervals)
wed- off
thurs- total body workout
fri- cardio (steady state)
sat- hard interval work
sun- off

There are a million program templates that you can set up for yourself, and this is just one example. Depending on the amount of time you have to devote to your training and how creative you are, you can either make this even more elaborate or pare it down further.

Train hard. Train like an athlete.


This is a fantastic article!

Being a rower, although not a full time athlete, i take this sort of information for granted and it always amazes me how people can go to the gym, day after day, and do the same thing yet expect something different.

I train differently every day, and not only does it stop my CV fitness plateuing, but it stops me getting bored with my workouts. I hope your article inspires others to introduce some variation into their training programs sooner rather than later!

Sam Easton

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