8 Techniques Every Athlete Uses to Build Muscle and Strength

By Anthony Yeung

They look strong, fast, lean and built like armor... pro athletes know all the tips and techniques for building a muscular, high-performing body. How do they do it? Take some cues from their approach to offseason training.

They Focus on One Phase at a Time

You can't get stronger, faster, leaner, bigger, more explosive and increase your endurance in the same training block — that’s just not how the body works.

The correct way to train is in “phases." The first training block should focus on increasing your basic, total-body strength.

To make it through this first phase, you should be doing a squat variation, a deadlift variation, heavy pulls, heavy pushes, and a lot of core — that’s it. There’s no need to do dozens of different exercises per workout. Perform the major lifts and ramp up the volume while keeping your intensity high (ex. 10 sets of 5 reps, 12 sets of 4 reps, etc.).

They Focus on Fueling Their Body

If you’re trying to gain 10lbs of muscle mass, you may have heard the advice, "eat like your life depends on it." While it’s essential to have a caloric surplus — more calories in than out — only focusing on calories can lead you down the wrong path. You can fall into the trap of prioritizing numbers instead of smart food choices (ex. 3500cal of In-N-Out vs. 3500cal of healthy foods).

Focus on eating a lot of the right kinds of foods. Eat three big meals a day and make sure you get lean protein, clean carbs, healthy fats, and veggies with every meal. Then, have a few high protein snacks throughout the day. 

They Train More Often

The hardest part about building muscle and strength — besides forcing yourself to eat — is trying to stay lean WHILE eating like a sumo wrestler. 

If you’re lifting heavy 3 – 4 times a week, that’s great. Keep it there. But when you’re NOT lifting heavy weights, harness the power of recovery workouts and active rest. Do a light, 30-minute workout of mobility exercises and very light bodyweight stuff on your off days and keep your heart rate below 150bpm throughout.

You’ll improve your recovery between heavy training days, improve your aerobic conditioning, and burn some extra calories to keep your body fat to a minimum. (You also send those extra calories to your muscles, not your gut.)

They Manage Their Intensity

Let’s say you’re eating a ton, lifting 4x/week, and doing 2 recovery workouts per week. That’s awesome. But even with those recovery days, you’ll still need to manage your intensity day to day.

Some nights, you might not get the right amount or quality of sleep. Some days, you’re more stressed and anxious than others. Some days, you feel tired and under the weather, etc. 

All those factors affect your training ability. Have your workout plan set, but if you’re just not feeling it, listen to your body and adjust accordingly. Go for a walk instead, cut your volume in half, or do some stretches at home.

Also, after a 4-week strength or hypertrophy phase, use a “deload” week of significantly lower volume to allow the body to recover and rebuild so that you’re stronger and more fit for the next training block. 

They Supplement Correctly

Eating lots of nutritious food is always a sound idea, but to push your potential and get the best possible results, take the CORRECT supplements for success.

For example, after a workout, drink a protein shake to give your body what it needs to start the repair, rebuilding, and growth processes.

Also, if you’re looking for the edge in your energy levels and focus, try a pre-workout supplement.

Think about your goals and supplement accordingly!

They're Careful With Technique

Want to increase your squat by 20lbs in just ONE training session? Technique, my friend. Enhancing your lifting technique puts your body in better bio-mechanical position to lift more weight without risk of injury.

Have your training partner or coach record your lifts from side and front/rear to see where you can make improvements. 

They Do Aerobic Conditioning

The only kind of conditioning you should focus on during your "building phase" is aerobic conditioning. Here’s why:

  1. It’s the foundation for all conditioning work. Good aerobic capacity means a stronger heart, more capillary density in your muscles and more mitochondria in your muscles.
  1. Having a powerful aerobic system will accelerate your repair and recovery phase after a hard workout. (You’ll want that after a hard lower body day.)
  1. Having light aerobic days 2x/week will burn off extra fat without fatiguing your body and nervous system. Throwing on sprints and HIIT conditioning into an already crowded workout routine could push your body into overtraining. 

They Approach Training with a 24/7 Mentality

By now, you understand how everything outside the gym — work, family, relationships, etc. — can affect what happens inside.

That’s why it’s important to think of your training as something that happens 24/7. Okay, so you benched 245lbs. Did you sleep 8 hours? Did you eat a healthy, home-cooked meal or did you opt for a Double-Double and fries? Did you foam roll at home or did you just sit on your couch and binge-watch Netflix?

If you’re serious about your results, concentrate on how you spend the ~160 hours you DON’T exercise each week. If you master that — along with all these other rules — you’ll reach your training potential for maximal muscle and minimal fat.

About Anthony 

Anthony J. Yeung, CSCS, is a fitness expert and columnist at Esquire and has been featured in GQ, and Men's Health. 


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