Athletics versus Aesthetics: What’s the Difference?


Hell, even the words themselves are eerily alike. Indeed, the two couldn’t be more different. The strength culture, which is booming right now, takes a little time to clear up some basic science.

This is 85% of the problems / misunderstandings for most trainers.

I’m writing this because I was that guy a long time ago, not just as a coach but also as an athlete. A young person does not have the years of experience and a variety of tools in their kit to have the programming flexibility required to meet their needs.

They all assume that big is strong and powerful and fast.

And that’s just not the case. So I hope I can clear up some thoughts so that, with curiosity and a desire to do further research, you can move away from them.


I will likely piss off a lot of my colleagues; I don’t care 100%.

Sportiness is not a unique quality. It is the combination of several properties that occur naturally in a person. Of course, unconscious movement skills. You have to understand that.

Our greatest athletes do things instinctively without thinking.

Your gifts lie in the most optimal movement patterns to express:

The first and best way to find out is to look at a person’s feet when they are at rest.

  1. The more it turns out that the feet are (consistently), the more likely you have someone who is on the inathletic spectrum.
  2. The more neutral or slightly deaf-tough they are, the more likely it is that they are naturally athletic.

To further melt your mind, two things in what I say above don’t sound intuitive.

  1. Just being athletic does not automatically make you a good soccer player, baseball player, or basketball player. A good athlete then has to acquire a range of sport-specific skills in order to be considered a good (or great) athlete. Then and only then can natural sportiness be displayed.
  2. Athleticism is something that can indeed be trained. I’m sure a lot of my contemporaries get nosebleeds when they hear me say this. When even the most inathletic person has a radical desire for improvement, with time and masterful coaching and continuous drilling, they can develop a level of athleticism.

It has to be burned into their nervous system, but it can be done. Check out some of the great work being done here at Mater Dei High School, WeckMethod in San Diego, or GOATA in New Orleans.

These systems radically accelerate the qualities that we naturally see in someone we would say has great athleticism.

We have seen exceptional results in both sports and in reducing injuries.

Training for aesthetics

Who doesn’t want:

I’m 50 years old staring into the eyes, and the young man who is still alive and good to me would love another shot at all of the above – ahhhh, the good ole days.

Regardless of how old you are, much of the recipe for these things is very straightforward, such as: B. High volume sets, many sets per body part, isolation exercises, and a mix of free weights and machines.

The list goes on and this list is effective for building muscle, etching details, and sculpting the shape. Yes, it takes time, incredible discipline (not just in the gym), and a real willingness to suffer.

Add cardio of all kinds to your list of weight training exercises for reclining and weight training for building and shaping and you have the perfect mix.

While the conditioning work is to remove as much body fat as possible to see the muscles underneath.

The people who invest their time creating programs are true artists.

And the people who choose to live their lives wearing elite conditioning around the clock are some of the most masochistic people in the world.

When I was a kid, growing up in my teenage years and young adulthood, we only had access to muscle magazines for advice on exercise. And since our entire culture cannot distinguish muscle for looks and muscle for function, those of us who emerged in the 80s and 90s (though well-intentioned) have how bodybuilders trained for sports.

The result was some of the most gruesome sports-related injuries you can imagine.

Training for athletics

When I sit down to write a team program, dozens of factors come into play before I put pen on paper (or keyboard clicks on screen).

The first thing we need to consider is the handful of repetitive movements that a particular sport imposes on an athlete, such as:

  • Throw
  • Swing an object
  • Strong rotation
  • Sprint and / or change of direction / acceleration-deceleration tight
  • Range of motion dependent
  • Weight class concentrated

Once we have identified the qualities necessary for the sport, we lean on whether or not we have chronic use problems (due to these repetitive movements) the most likely catastrophic injuries this sport sees.

It all becomes a really complicated version of the math, desperately trying not to introduce anything harmful to the team while dealing with the preprogrammed nature of programming without losing sight of the head coach’s questions.

I promise I am not trying to make this more fantastic than it is for effect.

I am trying to give you a glimpse into the minds of a coach preparing to write a program for 30 teenage girls playing water polo and the demands of their sport are very different from those of my wrestlers. Soccer players or my mature kids.

You see, my program can never be the reason we have a loss of performance, an injury trend within a team, or the primary reason an athlete has a touchless injury at the end of the season.

And what most of you readers will find out, we have more ways of manipulating things both ways than you might understand.

And here lies the most pressing reason for the difference between training for aesthetics and training for athletics.

My exercise menu for sports is enormous. 25% are standard problems you would find in either program:

But where we start to see the most radical differences is that my facility has no machines. We are based on free weight only and use all kinds of equipment that you would never find in Planet Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness, or Golds.

The main reason for all of this is that I need performance, not sexuality.

Aesthetics are not always sporty

My final statement in the previous section is in the seeds of this article.

Most coaches fall in their faces for being so blindly loyal, as we have always done, that the exercises chosen have no legitimate benefit to the athlete on the field.

Big for Big Sake is not a reason to program certain exercises. Yes, there are some positions in some sports where a significant increase in body mass is part of the job. However, most of these situations are fairly isolated and can still be carried out in more complex ways.

Part of the reason traditional bodybuilding workouts are ineffective and somewhat dangerous is because of the focus on single joint exercises.

An athlete is left to his own devices (and I know that because I was many moons ago) and overemphasize the exercises that strain the arms and upper body because they equate form and function.

And, let’s face it, they want to look puffy in the mirror when they brush their teeth in the morning. This over-focus on things that really do not matter to athletics creates enormous discrepancy from segment to segment of the body.

The best way to grasp this is through my own experience.

I was a great bench press. Without drugs, I hit 485 pounds for a set of 5 in my sophomore year. If you use percentages, that’s more than a projected single of 525 pounds.

During that time, I hit 42 reps on the 225 bench press test (which they use on the NFL Combine). I was tall and had triceps for days and was really strong … unless … at that point, I couldn’t do a single pull-up– Yes, all of that front force and literally nothing behind it.

As a result, after my junior year, I had to lie down on the surgeon’s table and put my shoulder back together. It didn’t slip or I suddenly had a football-related injury. I just wore my shoulder off due to a massive imbalance. I couldn’t use it anymore. When my surgeon walked in, my labrum and much of my rotator cuff were frayed in several places.

This is a simple, straightforward example. If you look at injuries to the lower body, you end up with soft tissue injuries to the thighs, hip flexors, groin, and calves.

If the programming is bodybuilder-esque and the athlete has some of my tendencies, you can see where overemphasis on one area exposes the rest of the body to forces that cannot be handled.

Another example of this is, from personal experience, tears in the thigh. My hamstrings were the cause of my athletic death. Repeated stress and poor rehab practices eventually resulted in a low back that absolutely affected my career.

There was no professional football in my future, but there were the last three games of my senior year that I saw from the sidelines. Thirteen years of football … ended with a thud.

Most aesthetic lifting programs create significant front-to-back and top-to-bottom imbalances. This enables an athlete to move their entire body in one large motion to put a task in real danger.

If you notice a lot of soft tissue injuries in your athletes, you need to pay long and careful attention to how you are doing::

  1. programming
  2. Your choice of exercise
  3. How to Teach Certain Techniques

I had to take those long, lonely walks along the way, only to find out that it was actually something I was teaching, stressing, or programming that led my athletes into a situation where they were more likely to have an X injury.

As you sort your programs, my best way to navigate these sometimes choppy waters is to ask, “What is your reason for this?? “

I tell my coaches all the time; You can program any way you want, but you better have a quick and satisfactory reason to write as you are. If you’re programming ten sets of 60 seconds of the hula hoop, tell me why.

And if you can’t give me a reason why it’s there, it has to go –This one question about the reasons was one of the most instructive experiences for me. I think very rationally.

Still, I give my coaches as much programming leash as they could ever want. Most of the time, when asked why they put that down, they think about an exercise, rep range, or practice location (within the session of the lift) in a way I never thought of, and it’s brilliant.

As you scour your programming, ask yourself why and if your answer has more to do with what this athlete looks like, it’s time to reconsider your recipe.