Working in the collegiate strength setting, you see a team of athletes about 2-3 times per week. When they train with me, we focus on more functional training, which is more of a well-rounded program that integrates exercises that will contribute to improving performance for their specific sport. When they are not with me in the weight room, what do they do on their own for their workouts? They all usually do “bodybuilding” workouts. Bodybuilding training is more cosmetic, meaning their programs are based off of their appearances and certain body parts, mostly to increase muscular size. Now, the real question is, how should they be training?
From my point of view, that depends. One reason why they can focus on more bodybuilding is for the individuals’ who needs to put on muscle mass for their sport, for example, a football player that needs to put on size for his position. Another reason when bodybuilding training isn’t a problem is for a couples postseason. After a long season, they should take a few steps back in intensity from their training and just focus on some isolated body parts since they aren’t specifically training for any sports competition any time soon.
Athletes want and need functionality! They need to work through ranges of motions, multi-directional movements, and multi-joint movements.
Now, there are many reasons why I don’t believe they should be training like a bodybuilder while they are in pre-season and in-season. Reasons why is that bodybuilders’ programs most of the time do not focus on strength, flexibility, endurance, speed, agility, coordination, balance or other athletic factors. In a functional training program, the development of strength is focused to carry over into sport to be able to hold their ground against an opponent, as well as strengthen imbalances an athlete may have which will prevent injuries.
In regards to flexibility, it is very rare that I see a bodybuilder that is not stiff or inflexible. This is usually the case because they are over-developing and overworking certain muscle groups, and they most of the time do not take care of their bodies after their body building by rolling or stretching. For example, a big thing that is common for males is to grow their chest/pecs. In this case, they do a lot of pushing exercises. If you continue this pattern, you will develop an imbalance from pec tightness, and from there you will see shoulders start to round forward, poor posture, and even a lot of shoulder pain. Now, imagine a baseball player who already does a lot of throwing and adding constant pushing loads into their programs their shoulders will be shot, and they will feel tighter than ever. I’m not saying that benching for a baseball player is bad, but to the intent of a bodybuilding program it is completely unnecessary for what their sport and body demands.
Athletes want and need functionality! They need to work through ranges of motions, multi-directional movements, and multi-joint movements. Please tell me how bicep curls will help any athlete in any sport? It only works one joint, and there’s no real sport that requires that curling movement. Athletes need very high levels of neuromuscular integrations to recruit fast twitch muscle fibers and to activate postural and stabilizing muscles. They need to go through exercises with purpose, and explosiveness. When was the last time you saw a bodybuilder do box jumps or broad jumps? They don’t, because they don’t need to.
The answer to the question "should athletes train like a bodybuilder?" is there needs to be a purpose as to why they are. There’s a time and place to do those type of workouts. Bodybuilding is not the worst thing that can happen to an athlete. Bodybuilding methods will help with exactly what it is intended to do, which is to build the body. If an athlete needs that then it will work for them. A successful athlete has a tool box of training methods and the bodybuilding method is in that toolbox, but is that the most appropriate tool to use to accomplish what you want as an athlete? All about purpose and clarity.