Big Athletic Muscle: 6 Ways to Build It

Performance Meets Muscle Gain

Build more muscle and perform like an athlete. Get the best of both worlds with these six strategies.

Whether your goal is to build a solid physique or become a well-rounded athlete, training in a way that supports both performance and muscle gain is very possible. In fact, it’s a necessity for longevity and optimal results.

Here are six ways to make it happen:

1. Substitute Traditional Compound Lifts for More Versatile Variations


Squatting is great, but it’s even better when you switch up HOW you do it. Add some different versions that’ll give you unique benefits missing from the traditional front and back squat.

The Zercher position, for example, is rarely used. It’s a bit uncomfortable and doesn’t have the same loading capacity as traditional back-loaded squats and split squats, but it transfers extremely well to everyday strength and performance.

Because of the bar position, the core and upper back work harder to stabilize the weight and execute the movement with sound form. Core strength and mid to upper-back strength are two key features of a more resilient body, and the Zercher position delivers it in spades.

The positioning is more practical for everyday heavy lifting compared to a back-loaded movement. Think lifting a couch, moving a fridge, hugging a garbage bin, or carrying your dog back into the house. The weight is almost always front-loaded against your chest and sternum in a modified Zercher position.

Zerchers build some solid muscle on your lower body, too. You’ll feel it especially in the glutes and hams because of the high demand required to maintain the correct posture.

2. Do Rotational Stuff

Performance training without rotational exercises is pretty much an oxymoron. Your body needs to learn the skill of control and stabilization while it rotates. This leads to better athletic performance and a body that looks the part.

Rotational training is an underrated muscle builder since it’s novel for many lifters. And nuanced movements are great for building strength and muscle. Rotational movements also place a large demand on the muscles of the LPHC (lumbar pelvic hip complex), which builds a more resilient, muscular trunk.

Rotational muscle-building exercises can be simple. Imagine taking a single-arm landmine press and turning it into a rotational landmine press. Or you could take a dumbbell rear-foot elevated split squat and make it a rotational rear-foot elevated split squat.

I also love using the landmine for core exercises, such as a rotational landmine oblique twist.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with crazy exercises to reap the benefits of rotation. Instead, look for ways to sprinkle in an element of rotation to proven muscle and strength builders.

3. Enhanced Mobility Lift

Traditional strength exercises can improve mobility, but it’s wise to include movements requiring a higher demand for true full-body stability and mobility. A great exercise to add to a performance/muscle-building program is the bent press.

The bent press is great for full body flexibility, thoracic mobility, core strengthening, improved posture, functional stability, and building a base of raw strength. It still requires you to perform a fairly challenging concentric as well, but you’ll have to coordinate your body in a way that requires more mobility.

The Turkish getup is another solid choice, but it’s more of an isometric in regards to muscle and strength-building.

4. Include Plyometrics with Heavy Lifting (Contrast Training)

Adding contrast training (a heavy lift paired with a plyometric movement for the same muscle) is one of the most effective tools for merging performance with muscle and strength gains. Contrast training can increase upper and lower-body power output. Most notably, it’ll improve sprinting and jumping performance while increasing total-body strength as well.



Exercise Sets Reps Rest
A1. Bench Press with Chains (using 80% of your 1RM) 5 3
A2. Medball Chest Throw 5 3-5 3 min.


Exercise Sets Reps Rest
B1. Banded Zercher Split Squat (at 75-80%) 6 5
B2. Single-Leg Box Jump 6 3 2.5 min.

5. Add Some Frontal Plane Work

Frontal plane training is essential if you want to move with superior control and develop an even greater degree of baseline strength. It’s also a great way to build muscle, especially in neglected areas of the body that support our big lifts, like the glutes, hamstrings, hip adductors, and hip abductors. Lateral lunges, lateral squats, and even more unique movements like lateral sled drags should be staples in your programming.

You can also keep things interesting over the course of a training block. Think in terms of tools and loading positions: an overhead reach, single-arm goblet, dumbbells by your side, or kettlebell front rack. You could use any of these while doing the lateral lunge, for example.

Ease in. Your stabilizers will fire up when introducing exercises like this, so be conservative and prioritize form and technique.

6. Sprint!

Sprinting is a no-brainer for increasing muscle and performance concurrently; nothing really compares. It’s one of the most effective ways to engage fast-twitch fibers, which directly correlates to muscle growth and has major transferrable effects on improving performance, coordination, and overall athleticism.

Sprinting is a youth-inducing exercise. If you want higher levels of testosterone, greater force production, and improved vitality in life, it can help with that.

Find a hill, run up it 5-10 times and watch your body adapt. Approach sprinting like any new exercise, start slowly, be conservative on total volume and intensity, and hone in on great technique.


  • Do 5-10 sets of 8-12 second hill sprints
  • Rest: Walk back down
  • Repeat twice per week on non-lifting days
  • Add a set or a second to each hill sprint each week

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