Train Like an Athlete: Build Strength, Speed, Power, Coordiation & More

By Mike Donavanik

Ever wonder how athletes stay in such great shape all year round? Aside from the fact that being fit is basically their job, they adhere to strict training regimens in both the on and off-seasons. But their total fitness isn’t just a matter of hours logged in the gym—it’s also a function of how they train. Professional athletes know better than to just repetitively drill a single activity. Just because you specialize in the 1,000 meters doesn’t mean you only run to train. In fact, any serious athletic endeavor involves training not only for strength and/or speed, but for explosive power, coordination, quickness, and core strength. Bring all of these focuses together in a single workout and you’ll be training like an athlete.

Mix It Up
A truly balanced and comprehensive athletic training session will not only target all major muscle groups, but will challenge them using different methods, all tackled at high intensities to really push out of an athlete’s comfort zone. In a comprehensive athletic workout, look for a combination of the following major modalities:
  1. Strength Training:The most standard kind of weight training, this simply means using resistance to build muscle mass.
  2. Functional Training: Strength training often involves exercises and methods not found in nature; how often do you do a leg curl in real life? Functional training works the muscles used in daily life as they are used in daily life—in multiple planes of motion, rather than in the restricted fashion required by machines, and often multiple muscle groups at once. This involves work with stabilizer and core muscles in addition to major muscle groups.
  3. Plyometric Training: It’s not just what you do but how you do it that makes a difference in training. Plyometrics focus on quick, powerful, explosive movements to train both strength and the speed of nervous system reactions.
  4. Core Training: You’re only as strong as your core, the complex of muscles supporting your back and center. Core training focuses on strengthening these muscles, improving your base of support as the foundation for greater strength gains throughout the body.
  5. Cardio Training: Get your heart rate up and keep it up to increase overall fitness. This doesn’t only mean running on the treadmill. If you speed up your strength workouts, and use supersets where appropriate, you can elevate your heart rate, burn fat, and build strength all at once.
Getting Down To Business
Ready for a challenge? We’ve put all of these forms of training together in a single workout. Below you will find an intense muscle-building, fat-burning, sweat-inducing workout. Be warned that this workout is not for the faint of heart, and is not for everyday use. This is a workout to change things up and to break through a plateau.

This workout is so tough, in fact, that we’d like to lay down some ground rules:
  1. You should be in fairly good shape; this is not a beginner’s workout.
  2. You should be fairly coordinated, as many of the movements require total body movements and require you to cross different planes of movement.
  3. To do the plyometric exercises, your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, and wrists should all be in good shape. If you have had a previous injury to any of the listed joints, use caution when doing certain exercises.
You should do this routine no more than twice a week in addition to your standard workout regimen. Start with two sets of each exercise, but if you want a serious athletic challenge, you can bump up to 3 or even 4 sets of each. Whichever way you do it, that means two days a week of a condensed package of fast-paced circuit training, strength training, and plyometric training, guaranteed to help you break through any plateau and get your heart pumping.

Note that this program uses supersets; if you are unfamiliar with the concept, read What Are Supersets?
Exercise Muscles Worked Weight Sets Reps Rest
Jumping Jacks N/A N/A 2 3 minutes 60 seconds
Superset #1
Exercise Muscles Worked Weight Sets Reps Rest
Flat Bench Barbell Press Chest, Shoulders, Triceps 70-85% of max 2 10 N/A
Dumbbell Renegade Rows Back, Shoulders, Core Medium 2 30 total N/A
Lateral Skaters Lower Body, Core N/A 2 1 minute 90 seconds
Superset #2
Exercise Muscles Worked Weight Sets Reps Rest
Backward Lunge to Press Lower Body, Shoulders, Core Medium 2 12 each side N/A
Medicine Ball Upper Body Shuffles Chest, Triceps, Shoulders, Core N/A 2 20 total N/A
Superset #3
Exercise Muscles Worked Weight Sets Reps Rest
Wide-Grip Pull-ups Lats, Biceps, Traps N/A 2 10 N/A
2-Point Single Arm Bent-over Rows Rhomboids, Lats, Biceps 70-85% of max 2 10 each side N/A
Push-off Box Shuffles Lower Body N/A 2 1 minute 90 seconds
Superset #4
Exercise Muscles Worked Weight Sets Reps Rest
Barbell Squats Glutes, Quads 70-85% of max 2 10 N/A
Barbell Russian Deadlifts Hamstrings, Lower Back, Glutes 70-85% of max 2 10 N/A
Jumping Lunges Lower Body N/A 2 30 seconds 90 seconds
Superset #5
Exercise Muscles Worked Weight Sets Reps Rest
Landmines Upper Body Medium 2 1 minute N/A
Hold Plank with Alternating Arm and Leg Raises Hamstrings, Lower Back, Glutes 70-85% of max 2 10 N/A
Stability Ball Pike-ups Core N/A 2 20 90 seconds
Cardio—Interval Training
Exercise Muscles Worked Weight Sets Reps Rest
Sprints N/A N/A 10 1 minute N/A
Incline Walk N/A N/A 10 1 minute N/A
Exercise Overview
Flat Bench Barbell Press Lie on your back on a flat bench with a barbell on the rack over your upper body. The barbell should be at a level corresponding to the distance from your elbow to your hand when your elbows are bent at right angles at your sides. Take the barbell in your hands with your hands wider than shoulder-distance apart and your palms facing toward your feet. From the starting position, and with the barbell still on the rack, contract your shoulder blades together and downward to raise your chest toward the bar. Engage your abdominals by pulling them in toward your spine to create a muscular "weight belt". You will use this technique to keep your back flat throughout the exercise—do not, at any time, permit your back to arch. Lift the bar off the rack and, keeping it steady, bend and lower your elbows to the side until they are at the level of your back. The bar should not touch or bounce off of your chest at any point. Keeping your head and neck in line with your spine and your back flat on the bench by engaging your abs, slowly press the bar directly toward the ceiling. Controlling the motion, return the bar to the position just above your chest, with your elbows at the level of your back. Repeat the exercise for a full set, keeping your abdominals engaged and the bar steady throughout.
Dumbbell Renegade Rows Get into the top position of a plank, or push-up, position holding onto two dumbbells with your hands shoulder width apart. Take a shoulder-width stance and shift your weight to your left side, creating weightlessness on your right side. You should be able to hold your right hand out without losing balance or having to re-shift your weight—this will prevent you from jerking the dumbbell while you row. Once you have shifted your weight and established weightlessness on the opposite side, begin your row: Lift the weight up in the row by pulling your elbow directly upward, keeping your elbow close to your body, and then slowly lower it back to the starting position. Next, shift your weight to your right side and row with your left arm. Continue to switch arms after each repetition.
Lateral Skaters Stand upright on the floor. Begin with both feet together and push off laterally (to the side) with one leg. Land on the outside foot crossing the inside foot behind you to keep it from touching the floor, and absorbing the impact of landing by bending your knees. Then immediately push off with the landing foot to skate to the other side, and continue the drill. The goal for this exercise is to jump as far out to the side as you can and to spend the least amount of time possible on the ground.
Backward Lunge to Press To start you will need a standard sized barbell. Begin by placing one end of the bar on the floor and holding the other end of the bar at shoulder level. The end on the floor should remain on the floor throughout the entire exercise. Line up the end on the floor with your right foot. Hold the other end in your right hand, resting at shoulder level. Step back with the right foot in a lunge, engaging your core to make sure the bar does not throw you off balance. As you step forward back into starting position, push the bar up into a press overhead. Your arm should be fully extended by the time you are standing straight up. Lower the bar back down to your shoulder then repeat the exercise. Alternate legs after each set.
Medicine Ball Upper Body Shuffles Begin in a push-up position with a medicine ball on the floor midway between your hands. Place one hand on the ball, allowing your body to move sideways to get one shoulder over the ball. Your body should be straight with one hand on the medicine ball and your shoulders parallel to the floor. Drop down into a push-up and explosively push off sideways with the hands so that your body passes over the ball and the opposite hand lands on the ball. Immediately perform another push-up, now with the opposite hand on the ball. Continue to alternate arms. Your feet should remain about hip width apart and your core should remain tight throughout the movement.
Wide-Grip Pull-ups Stand on the platform of a Gravitron machine and hold on to the grips at the top with your hands wide (about six to eight inches more than shoulder-width apart on each side) and your palms facing away from you. Step off of the platform and onto the foot rests, allowing your body weight to bring you down until your arms are fully extended. From the starting position, lift yourself up until your head fully clears the Gravitron's grips and your shoulders are almost touching the grip bars. Keep your posture tall, shoulder blades retracted, and chest up in order to keep the work in your lats throughout. From the top, reverse position and lower yourself back down to starting position.
2-Point Single Arm Bent-over Rows This exercise is almost identical to a traditional one-arm bent over row, except that the exercise will not be performed on a bench and therefore will have fewer points of contact. Begin by taking a staggered stance with your left foot forward and your right foot back. Start to widen that stance laterally so you have a big base of support. Place your left elbow on your left quadraceps and keep it there throughout the exercise. This will help keep your back neutral. In your right hand you should have the dumbbell ready. Keep your shoulders parallel to the floor for the entire exercise. You should also try to get your torso as parallel to the ground as possible. Keep your back straight and slightly arched. After you have established these points of contact and are in proper position, begin your row, pulling your elbow directly up and back, keeping it close to your body, until your elbow is at least at the level of your back. Alternate after each set.
Barbell Squats Before starting, place the barbell comfortably on your upper back just behind your shoulders. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart or slightly wider. Engage your abdominals to prevent your lower back from getting injured or strained. Start to descend slowly by bending at the knees and hips, sitting down as though on a stool placed directly behind you Descend as far as you can without losing form. Do not allow your feet or knees to cave inward or outward. In addition to this, your knees should stay in line with and behind your toes. Once in the bottom position, drive through your heels and extend the ankle, knee, and hip joints to end up in the starting position. The descent should be performed slow and controlled, while the push phase of the exercise should be done controlled but slightly faster.
Barbell Russian Dead Lifts Stand upright in front of a weighted barbell with your feet wider than shoulder width apart and take up a modified squat position, with your knees slightly bent, hips pressed slightly back, and back flat. Your chest should be high, head forward, and neck in line with your spine. From the modified squat, grip the barbell with both hands about shoulder-width apart and palms facing you. The barbell should be at the level of the middle of your shins, either resting on the floor (if the plates are large) or held off the floor in your hands. Keep the majority of your weight back on your heels, while still applying pressure through the balls of your feet. From the starting position, keeping your chest forward, use your legs to lift the barbell and stand up straight to a fully upright position. Focus on using your legs to lift and your core engaged throughout to protect your back. When you are standing upright, hold for a moment, and then press your hips behind you and bend your knees as you sit back down into a squat. Keep your back flat as you squat down. Lower the barbell to the floor or down to your shin level starting position, and then immediately move into the next repetition.
Jumping Lunges Start in a staggered stance, in lunge position. Slowly descend all the way to the bottom of a lunge. Take a big jump up and switch leg positions in the air, landing with your opposite foot forward. Absorb the impact by slowly dropping into a lunge position, controlling the drop of your back leg; then immediately jump back up and switch again, landing with the opposite foot forward. Continue to alternate sides throughout the exercise. The goal is to spend more time in the air and less time on the ground.
Landmines Wedge one end of an Olympic barbell against a wall or machine, or in the hole of a large weight plate lying on the ground for stability, and pick up the other end. Stand with the barbell perpendicular to your body, holding the elevated end in front of you at shoulder level with both hands just below the plate stack holder. Your right hand should be above your left, and your feet should be about shoulder-width apart. From the starting position, bring the end of the barbell over to your right side, until it is at the level of your right knee. Your shoulders will turn and your weight pivot off of your left foot as your left knee drops toward the floor to accommodate your twisting motion. Your arms should be nearly straight, with the elbow soft. Using the strength in your obliques combined with a powerful shoulder push, swing your end of the barbell up and over to the opposite side, while the other end stays on the floor. Try to keep a consistent arc, so that the barbell ends up on your left side by your knee. Repeat the overhead swing in alternating directions for a set, then reverse your hands, putting your left hand in the top position for the next set.
Hold Plank with Alternate Arm and Leg Raises Get into plank position with hands directly under your shoulders. Slowly lift up your right leg and left arm so all your weight will be supported in your left leg and right arm. Try to hold the lifted leg and arm parallel to the floor. Hold this position for 10 seconds, monitoring your breathing as you do so. Bring the raised hand and foot to the floor and repeat with your opposite side. Maintain a tight core and proper breathing throughout the exercise.
Stability Ball Pike-ups Take up a push-up (plank) position, with your hands under your shoulders and your back flat, but with a stability ball under your legs. The ball should be beneath your shins and the tops of your feet, with your toes pointed. Engage your abdominals so that your hips do not droop toward the floor. Use your abdominals to fold your body upward, pulling your hips and buttocks straight toward the ceiling. Keep your feet pointed, so that the ball comes under your toes as your hips rise. At the top of your lift, the ball will be held under your pointed toes, and your back will nearly be in a straight line with your arms. Your shoulders should remain above your hands or slightly behind them—never in front. From the top of your lift, lower your hips as you press the ball back carefully with your feet, allowing it to be captured by the tops of your feet as you return to the starting position. Do not allow your hips to dip below a flat line with your shoulders and feet.
About Mike Donavanik: Mike is a personal trainer based in the Los Angeles area. Visit him on the web at