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If your goal is to look like an athlete, you have to start by training like one.  If you’re anything like me and your goal has always been to achieve a healthier, more muscular, leaner physique while still being capable of doing extraordinary things physically, then you’ll want to continue reading to gain some insight on how to achieve just that. Here are a few basic fundamentals are an excellent starting point to incorporate into your routine to give you that competitive edge you’re looking for.

Lift heavy 

Lifting heavy will help pack on lean mass and break down fat like no other form of exercise can.  Not only that, but gaining strength is the number one driving factor in muscle size. Start by testing your 1RM (one-rep maximum) on compound exercises like the Bench Press, Deadlift, and Squat.  Once you have determined that number you can calculate anywhere from 80% to 95% of that number. Within this range you are lifting what is considered strength-based percentages. This will trigger the neural adaptation known as gaining strength.  


An example strength progression:

Week 1 4x5 @ 85% 1RM 

Week 2 5x5 @ 85% 1RM

Week 3 5x4 @ 89% 1RM

Week 4 6x3 @ 93% 1RM


Get jumping 

Plyometrics have been the athletes go-to for centuries.  You simply cannot overlook jumping when trying to become a more powerful and explosive athlete.  Not only does jumping help build lower body strength, speed, and power, but it also forces the neuromuscular system to react quickly and efficiently to produce and reduce force that helps produce an athletic and functional body.  Make sure to work in all planes of motion.


Reduce volume 

Overdoing it with volume (total amount of work performed within a specified time period) can suppress progress and lead to overtraining or even injury due to the toll it can take on our nervous system.  Performance isn’t dictated by the tons and tons of reps or even muscle size for that matter.  When you look at an athlete, by nature they sprint and jump in multiple directions, all of which are very neutrally demanding. This means it takes a lot of energy and effort to complete the task. The more neutrally demanding an exercise the more recovery you need to perform at peak performance.  

Quick tip: never train to failure.  This trains the nervous system to fail when handling heavier loads.  Always leave a rep in the tank and never grind out reps to the point of needing a spot to get through the rep.


Train the core properly 

Stop using a crunch machine!!  Throw it out the window and promise me you’ll never use a crunch machine again. Promise? Okay. Good, because that machine reinforces poor posture by internally rotating the shoulders. Crunch machines are basically designed for constant spinal flexion which in turn can cause a broad range of neck issues over time. 

How should I train my core??

Load traditional exercises differently and focus on anti-movements.  Anti-movements are simply that, resist movement in different planes of motion while keeping a neutral spine.  For example, a classic anti-rotational movement is a pallof press (pictured below). Set up some form of resistance anchored to your side and grab onto the handle.  Next, you’ll bring that resistance to your chest, stand up tall, and press out in front of your chest. The resistance will try and pull you to the anchored side and you will have to keep a neutral position.  Perform for 8-12 reps. These types of exercises are endless when it comes to variations. You just have to put your mind to it.  

When loading traditional compound movements differently, we can put more stress on the core so that it has to work harder to protect the spine and keep it neutral.  An example would be single-arm dumbbell bench press. We’ve now created means for natural rotation at the torso, add in a press and you’ll be forced to turn that traditional movement into an anti-rotation movement.   


Test yourself

Get your baseline.  Have a multitude of different tests and assessments/re-assessments that you can use to judge whether or not you are actually getting more athletic, stronger, faster, or whatever it may be that you’re after.  Some examples of some performance tests that you may look to as a reference are:

  1. 1RM (one-rep maximum)

  2. Vertical Jump/ Broad Jump

  3. Max Reps in Pull-ups/Push-ups

  4. 40-yard dash



Athletes spend most of their time working hard, but not everyone sees the amount of time put into recovery.  I’m willing to take a bet that every top athlete in the world has some sort of recovery plan. That’s just what you need as well, a plan for your recovery.  We need to plan for our recovery just as much as we plan for our workouts. Schedule in some recovery days or even complete rest days into your weekly routine in order to stay healthy and injury-free.

Example of recovery day:

  1. 1-mile walk, jog, or bike

  2. Static stretching 

  3. Foam roll or massage therapy 

  4. Deep breathing exercises (or yoga)

  5. Corrective exercises 

  6. Good night's sleep

Schedule one, two, or maybe even three recovery days per week.  This will ensure we have a day that isn’t so demanding on the nervous system. The intent of having a recovery day is for our bodies to get some rest, some blood flow, and complete rejuvenation so that we can attack our upcoming training sessions full go with no restraint.  We cannot forget about nutrition, which lends a helping hand to our muscles recovering and healing. Our workouts help breakdown our muscles and our recovery is what sparks the healing process. Finally, we must not neglect our sleep. Sleeping is when our hormones get an opportunity to jump into action and further the process of recovery.  We want to shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep for optimal recovery. 


TJ Alvarez, a personal trainer/sports performance coach based out of northern New Jersey. His clientele is diverse, ranging from the general population to Olympic level athletes. He has a passion for helping others achieve greatness and is continuously educating himself with the most up to date research to help his clients achieve the best results possible.  When you train with TJ, expect a well-thought-out program with continuous forward progression. 
Instagram:  @Lifeaschal
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