Top 10 Exercises to Achieve an Athletic Build

(Last Updated On: April 5, 2022)

An athletic build is desired by many, it is similar to that of a bodybuilder but they are not the same. While a bodybuilder is built for size and strength an athlete’s body is built for power, speed, quickness, explosiveness and agility. Typically the body of a bodybuilder is more bulky, sometimes VERY bulky.

The body of an athlete is usually more slight. Then there is a grey area where some athletes look like bodybuilders. If you want an athletic build you need to train like an athlete does. These are the top 10 exercises athletes do to give you an athletic build.

1) Power Cleans

Power cleans and other types of cleans are a mainstay in most athletic programs. Cleans are a total body exercise that uses your quads, calves, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, deltoids, traps, forearms, and the core muscles that come into play to stabilize your spine throughout the movement.

Cleans develop power and explosiveness essential to an athlete. If an athlete could only do one exercise, this would probably be it and if you can only do one exercise to achieve an athletic build, this should be it as well.

power clean athletic build


Related: Best Exercises to Build Explosive Power


2) Squat Variations

Squats are the king of the lower body exercises. Any athlete who needs power in his lower body is doing squats. Don’t be one of those people with a built upper body and chicken legs.

Squats target a number of different muscle groups all over the body: the core muscles including the abdominals and lower back, the glutes, and the thigh muscles. Hit the squats hard and hit them often.

You don’t just have to do back squats either. Bulgarian split squats, jump squats, goblet squats and air squats are all good alternatives,


Squats for athletic build


3) Bench Press

If the squats are the king of the lower body the bench press is the king of the upper body. Athletes that need upper body power use this as a mainstay of their training.

The bench works the chest, shoulders, triceps, and even the abs are used to help generate power and stability. The bench press is a must, whether you do it with a barbell or dumbbells.

Bench press for athletic build


4) Sprints

Sprints are another biggie in an athlete’s training. Athletes not only want power and explosiveness, but as the old saying goes, “speed kills!”

Speed can be a tremendous asset to many athletes; whether it is going deep on a passing route, a fast break in basketball, or stealing second base in baseball, having speed is essential.

Sprinting builds speed, but doing sprints in interval training will burn fat like crazy, which we talked about in this article. If you haven’t noticed, pretty much all sprinters have an athletic build.

Athletic build


5) Core Training

As an athlete, you know that a strong core is essential for peak performance. But what exactly is the “core”? The core refers to the muscles of the torso – the abdominals, back, and hips. A strong core provides stability and power for the entire body and can help prevent injuries.

There are many ways to train the core muscles, but some of the most effective are planks, dead bugs, bird dogs and ab wheel rollouts.

Athletic build


6) Pull-ups

Pull-ups are a common exercise for many athletes as part of their training to improve pulling movements, they will also help you get that nice V-shape we all love. If you are unable to a pull-up or can only do a few, check out this article to get yourself doing more pull-ups in a matter of weeks.

pull up guy


Related: Four Training Splits to Build an Athletic Body


7) Med Ball Throws

Med ball throws football power


When it comes to getting an athletic body, few exercises are as effective as med ball throws. This simple yet powerful move can help you build strength, power and explosive speed – all essential qualities for any athlete.

There are many variations of med ball throws that you can do, but the basic move is simple. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and holding the med ball in both hands in front of your chest. From here, explosively throw the ball as high as you can, using your legs and hips to generate power. As the ball reaches its apex, catch it (or let it land) and immediately throw it back up again. Repeat for reps.

While med ball throws are great for athletes, they can also benefit anyone looking to build a strong and powerful body. If you want to give them a try, make sure to use a light weight at first until you get the hang of the movement. Once you have that down, increase the weight and intensity to challenge yourself further.

For a lot more detail on med ball throws and variations check out our article on the best med ball exercises for building explosive power.



8) Rows

Rows build strength for pulling movements useful in wrestling, football and other sports. They work primarily the lats and traps as well as the biceps and shoulders. Doing rows add thickness to the back muscles.

athlete barbell row


9) Farmer’s Carries

Farmer’s carries are an excellent exercise that builds muscle, endurance, and massive grip strength.

Carry a set of dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, a trap bar, buckets of sand or anything else heavy. Try and carry your own bodyweight 100 yards; it’s not easy.

Farmers carry



 Related: Farmer’s Carries To Build Muscle and Strength


10) Lunges

Lunges are widely used to build strength in the quads, glutes and hips. They will also help you get a nice round butt we all like.

walking lunge athletic build


Honorable mention- Plyometrics

Plyometrics are very popular with athletes to build explosiveness, quickness, and agility. They involve many different jumps and other movements.

The most common plyometrics you see in a conventional gym is usually box jumps. Use caution when doing these, as they can lead to injury if you are not in good shape or do them incorrectly.


box jump plyos athletic

There you have the top 10 exercises you need to get you an athletic body. Notice all the exercises on the list are compound movements that use multiple muscles at the same time. Athletes generally do not do isolated movements like bicep curls or calf raises as part of their everyday training, you can feel free to mix in movements like that if you desire, however.

If you are looking for a complete athletic body workout system to build strength and athletic muscle, check out Ultimate Athleticism from fitness expert Max Shank. It is an excellent program that has everything you need to build a solid and athletic body.

Ryan Douglas

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