3 Dangers Of Bodybuilding Workouts For Athletes

A workout is a workout, right?  

So long as you're lifting weights, no matter what you do, you get stronger.  Right?

In a general sense that is true, but if I'm an athlete who wants to perform at a high level there are ways to train that lead to far better results than others.

And number one on the 'Probably not the best idea' list would be bodybuilding-style workouts.

For communication purposes, in this piece we'll define bodybuilding-style workouts as one that breaks workouts down by body part (back and bicep days, chest and tricep days, etc), involves higher volume and a good amount of isolation exercises like bicep curls, leg extension, tricep extensions and so forth.

Although training for athletes has advanced quite rapidly in the last two decades, we still hear of far too many high school athletes who follow a bodybuilding-style training program.

For those who do, I'd caution you that there are a few limitations to this approach that are holding back your potential progress.

1.  Lifting Should Be Teaching & Reinforcing Proper Athletic Movement Patterns

An athlete needs to know how to hip hinge, decelerate, and sequence full-body movements as fluidly as possible.   Strength training using exercises like RDLs, power cleans, lunges, plyometrics and so forth will develop both strength and athleticism simultaneously.   The mulit-joint movements are more tiring, yes, but they are providing greater coordination and mobility benefits than single-joint movements ever could.

Athletes do not move their muscles in isolation, everything is integrated.   Because of this, you'll only be able to project the strength you develop in games when it is applied sequentially, with proper timing and in combination with other muscle groups.

The bodybuilding-style athlete may gain more muscle mass in time, but they won't play as well as the athlete who incorporates more athletic movements into the foundation of their workout program.  

2. Training By Body Part Leads To Greater Soreness, And Greater Injury Risk In-Season

Following the format of chest/tricep, back/bicep and leg days as your workout structure will lead to more localized soreness the next day.   

If you are in season with your sport, this can wreak havoc with your mechanics (throwing, kicking, hitting, etc) lowering your actual sport performance while raising your injury risk at the same time.

By following a total-body workout format, the way most elite athletes do these days, you'll continue to stimulate just about every area of need during each workout you can get in.  And because you've 'spread the love' to all areas equally, the impact on your movement mechanics should be minimal provided you don't push too hard during your most exhausting periods of the year.

As a general observation, I've noticed that athletes and coaches who train with more of a bodybuilding style in the off-season are the same ones who cannot maintain any type of useful in-season workout routine.   They're always afraid of being sore.   What a wasted opportunity!

3.  It Promotes A 'Feel The Burn' Mindset, Which Is The Wrong Way To Approach Athletic Training

There is an endless amount of research out now that shows athletic performance declining by about 10% when you focus your thoughts internally during an exercise compared to those who are thinking about their interaction with the environment around them.

For example, if someone who thinks of squeezing their glutes or bracing their core when jumping can achieve a 20" vertical I can get them to jump 22" on their next attempt just by getting them to focus on jumping and touching something up above them.

Once again, athleticism is expressed in fluid movement between many muscles and not the performance of any one on its own.  Athletic exercises often do not lead to any muscles catching fire because of this, leading the bodybuilding-minded kid to think the exercise is worthless or that they did it wrong.

Yes, sometimes there's isolated muscle pain in athletic movements.   Hip and shoulder stability drills come to mind right away.  There is overlap, but to think that you always need to feel where a muscle is working is not the best way to think of athletic development training.


If you do follow a more bodybuilding-oriented style of training, the paradigm shift over to an athletic based mindset will provide you with more benefit on the field, ice or court.  You may not notice your kids looking any bigger, but the performance benefits will be immense in time.

Two kids can work out an equal amount of hours in the off-season, but not necessarily get the same level of development for their sport.  You don't want your kids to be the ones training hard without all the rewards.  



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