The Ten Commandments of Athletic Muscle

(Last Updated On: November 14, 2021)

So, you are looking to build some muscle, but you don’t want to look like one of those over-muscled fireplugs with the coordination of Frankenstein. You have come to the right website and the right article then. And besides when the zombie apocalypse happens the bodybuilders won’t be able to get away. They will be too slow and out of breath. The zombies will really like feasting on all that muscle though.

In this article, we are going to cover the 10 commandments of building athletic muscle. Athletic muscle is a bit different than your traditional bodybuilder muscle. Bodybuilders are going for size and sometimes aesthetics.

Athletic muscle is about strength, power, mobility, speed, and performance. It’s more about being a well-rounded ass-kicker if you will. Not just being huge.

If you want to look and move like a strong athlete, then you are going to have to train more as an athlete would train. This might mean getting out of your comfort zone a little which is good because not a lot happens in your comfort zone anyway.


Athletic Muscle

The Ten Commandments of Athletic Muscle

Let’s not beat around the bush any longer, shall we? Here are ten commandments to a stronger and more athletic body.


1 Thou Shalt Use Compound Exercises

Let’s get right into it with the first commandment. This is probably what most of you are here for anyways. You want to know what exercises you should be doing to build athletic muscle.

If you want to build athletic muscle you need to stay with mainly doing compound exercises. These are the exercises that work more than one muscle group at a time like the bench press and squat. This is how athletes train and this is how you should train too. Think about it, have you ever seen a video of NFL football players doing bicep curls? Probably not, they are usually doing things like the bench press, squats and power cleans. These are the exercises athletes use to increase strength and performance and build that athletic muscle.

You can mix in some isolated exercises if you want but make the meat and potatoes of your workouts compound exercises. They give you more bang for your buck and are the best muscle builders no matter what kind of muscle you are looking to build.

Ashley Horner

Here are the ten best weightlifting exercises to build athletic muscle.

  1. Power Cleans
  2. Deadlift variations
  3. Squat variations
  4. Bench press
  5. Pull-ups
  6. Rowing variations
  7. Farmer’s walks
  8. Kettlebell swings
  9. Lunges
  10. Overhead presses

There you have 10 good compound exercises, by themselves, these will have you looking more athletic and feeling stronger. You don’t have to do every single one of these exercises, but the more you can fit into your routine the better.


2 Thou Shalt Build Strength

Tire flip

We have already covered the exercises to focus on, now let’s get strong at those exercises, shall we?

To build strength you are going to want to use progressive overload. The most common way to do this would be to add 5-10 lbs, to the bar every week or so and your body will adapt and get stronger.

An example of this would be a person who can bench press 135 lbs. for 10 reps would move the weight up to 145 lbs. until he can do 10 reps with that weight, then he moves it up to 155 lbs. until he can do 10 reps and so on. This works well, especially for beginners. Over time as you get stronger it won’t work as well though and you will have to change up your strategy.

Here are some other ways you can go about progressive overload:

  • Do the same workout in less time (decrease rest periods)
  • Increase the speed of the exercise/do faster reps
  • Lose bodyweight, therefore, increasing your relative strength
  • Increase the number of sets
  • Increase the frequency of the exercise
  • Lifting the same weight and reps then extending the set past failure with things like forced reps, drop sets, rest-pause and negatives.

Once the traditional form of progressive overload no longer works for you mix in these other ways to do it and keep on getting stronger and building that muscle, don’t stick with the same method too long though or it will lose effectiveness.


Related: Best Muscle Building Supplements


3 Thou Shalt Build Power

Build athletic power

A lot of people think strength and power are the same, however, this is not the case. An example of strength would be how much you could deadlift, while an example of power is how fast you can deadlift a certain weight.

This one is important for athletes so they can be both strong, fast and EXPLOSIVE. Leave the strong and slow for the bodybuilders.

When you are training for power be sure to move the weights quickly, this is how you build power.

Some good exercises you can to increase power include:

  • Olympic lifts
  • Banded kettlebell swings
  • Plyometrics
  • Med ball throws
  • Sprints
  • Using bands or chains on the bench press, squat, deadlift, etc.

Be sure to get a good 2-3 minutes of rest between sets on these, they are not meant to be done fatigued.

Perform the exercises fast and explosively, but under control and with good form. Otherwise, you aren’t doing yourself much good and could injure yourself.


4 Thou Shalt SprintAthletic build

Sorry to say this but if you want to build an athletic body you are going to have to do more than just the weightlifting part. Another big component is sprinting. Sprinting has many benefits when it comes to your physique and athleticism.

These benefits of sprints include:

  • They burn fat like crazy
  • Preserve muscle
  • Build muscle on your quads, hamstrings, and glutes

And here is another thing if you haven’t noticed, most sprinters have athletic bodies.

Sprinting before you workout has even been shown to potentiate the nervous system for heavy lifts and explosive training leading to increased strength. Just be sure to stick with a few sprints before you lift so you don’t exhaust yourself for the lifting part of the workout.

If you are like me and sprinting before isn’t your thing that’s ok, sprinting after is still great. Mix in some HIIT sprint workouts after you lift for some great fat burning and conditioning.


5 Thou Shalt Jump

jumping athleticism
No, you don’t have to jump this high

Add jumping to your routine a couple of times a week. An easy and effective way to do this is by jumping rope. It works to increase coordination, foot speed, and conditioning. Try and get in a couple 10-15 minute jump rope sessions per week.

Use box jumps to build explosive power. Don’t use them for conditioning though as they do in CrossFit, that is a recipe for injury. Do a few sets of 5 jumps and use full hip extension. Do them correctly and not like a tool and you will get more out of them. These improve the nervous system to fire more efficiently and that can lead to more gains in the weight room as well.

Start off with jumping rope for a few weeks and work your way up to

box jumps if you are a couch potato to prevent injury.


Related: Plyometrics for Explosive Power


6 Thou Shalt Cardio

Battle Ropes

You didn’t think there wasn’t going to be any cardio involved, did you? Sprints are good but you need to be able to have some type of endurance. No marathon runners needed, but if you are any kind of an athlete you should be able to run a 5k without much trouble. And please don’t give me that “If I do cardio my muscles will shrivel up and disappear” bullcrap. You don’t really think jacked athletes like Vic Beasley or Alistair Overeem don’t do cardio, do you? Let the over-muscled fireplugs skip the cardio, you, on the other hand, should have the endurance of an athlete.

Your cardio shouldn’t be just jogging on the treadmill for 15 minutes though, that is lame and non-athletic. Get outside and run a trail, play a pick-up game of basketball or some flag football or volleyball, do an obstacle course race like a Spartan Race, swim, go mountain biking, do battle ropes, the list is endless really.

Just get out of the gym and off the treadmill. It will make your cardio much more enjoyable. Try and get in at least 15 minutes of cardio 3 times a week.


7 Thou Shalt Build Mobility

Athletes need to be mobile. Strong, tight and immobile doesn’t work. You don’t want to get into a game of basketball with your friends and embarrass yourself out there, do you? Then you are going to need to be more mobile.

In today’s world, a lot of us sit in chairs all hunched over at the computer or sit in the car and our joints tighten up, particularly the hips, shoulders, and back.

The video below shows a nice, short little exercise by Max Shank you can use to loosen up your shoulders, hips, and back. Try this in the morning when you wake up stiff or before your workout to get loosened up as part of your warm-up. If you can just do this 30-second exercise once a day you will be much better off in the mobility department.


8 Thou Shalt Eat Right

You didn’t think we weren’t going to talk about food, did you? Diet is easily the most overlooked part of most training programs. You can kill it in the gym all you want, but if your diet sucks your results are not going to be what you hoped for. We have this broken down for you pretty thoroughly in our article what athletes should eat, but we will give you a condensed version here.

When it comes to feeding your body all foods can be categorized as protein, carbohydrates or fats. Let’s take a quick look at each of these in further detail:


Protein is the building blocks of muscle so if you are looking to gain muscle you need to be sure you are getting enough protein. 1 gram of protein per lb. of body weight per day is recommended to build muscle. All protein is not the same though you want to go with high-quality protein like:

  • Chicken breast
  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Grass Fed Beef
  • Fish
  • Cottage cheese
  • Greek yogurt
  • Lean ground beef

Try and get a serving of protein at every meal, supplement with protein shakes if needed. Real food is preferred though.



Many people still think eating fat is what makes people fat but actually, it’s usually eating too many carbs, especially simple carbs.

If you eat a lot of simple carbs your body likely will not burn them unless you are very active. The carbs that don’t get burned up will end up being stored as fat.

This is why when you eat carbs you want to be sure you mainly eat good carbs that are slower to digest and will be less likely to be stored as fat.

Good carbohydrates you should be eating are:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Veggies
  • Oats
  • Whole-grain breads
  • Fruits

Carbs you should avoid include:

  • Sugary snacks
  • White breads
  • White rice
  • White pasta
  • Fruit juices
  • Soda pop and other sugary drinks
  • Alcohol – especially fruity drinks like margaritas. If you must drink light beer.

Keep your carb intake around .5-1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight on moderate activity days, lower or increase it slightly for higher and lower activity days.

Stick with the good carbs as much as possible. Try to keep the bad carbs down as much as possible but you can cheat once or twice a week if you must to maintain your sanity. Just keep it reasonable.


Just like with carbohydrates there are healthy fats and unhealthy fats. You want to stay with the healthy ones of course. These include:

  • Avocados
  • Olive oil
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Natural peanut butter

Healthy fats are great for your brain, joints, blood sugar levels, and energy levels.

Healthy fats won’t clog your arteries or raise cholesterol levels either. In fact, they can reduce cardiovascular symptoms.

Keep your calories from fat in the 15-25% range and you will be golden.


9 Thou Shalt Change Things Up

Tony Robbins quote

No matter who you are or how long you train most everyone gets in a rut of doing the same thing over and over. Us humans we get comfortable in our routines and when we find a workout routine we like and we just keep doing it. Then we can’t figure out why we aren’t making any progress.

You need to change things up. Change your rep ranges, your number of sets, use less rest, use dumbbells instead of barbells, try some new exercises. Just make sure you don’t get stuck in the same routine or your progress will likely get stuck too.


10 Though Shalt Be Patient

Sweaty girl athletic

This might be the tenth commandment but it is a big one. You need to be patient whether you are just starting out or looking to improve.

Body changes don’t happen fast. Many people don’t see results in a few weeks and give up, just look at all those New Year’s resolutioners who don’t even make it until February.

Don’t let this be you. If you are just starting out commit yourself to your workout routine and diet for 3 months. Once that three months pass 2 things will happen. You will see and be motivated by your results and you will develop a routine. Your workouts will become part of your daily activity, it will be a habit, a good habit. This will help keep you going and push you harder toward your goals.

There you have it. Follow these 10 commandments to building athletic muscle and you will not only look more athlete, but you will actually be more athletic.

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