Friday, April 23, 2010

Should You Train Like an Athlete?

You'd have to be a really tough customer if you couldn't have been impressed my Hershel Walker's MMA debut several weeks ago. Already an all-time football great, he won his first fight, showing off an ageless physique at nearly 50 years of age. Naturally, this set off a ton of questions about what he's doing to be in that kind of shape. Walker's early training consisting of hundreds, if not thousands, of crunches, pull-ups, and push-ups come up at Bodyweight-oriented forums all over the place, offering legitimacy to the status quo in BW-training.

So, that brings me to the title of the blog: should you train like this athlete, or any athlete for a matter? I think that you ought to sit down and think twice about whether or not you should be doing 1,000 push-ups per day. Far too often, too many people, almost mindlessly, decide that they have to follow the training regimen of the latest, most-popular athlete. That's problematic for a couple of reasons.

First of all, we have to take into consideration that whatever athlete's training regimen really is what they use to get into shape. There is no better example of this then Bruce Lee's training. I've lost count of how different ways that Bruce Lee trained, both in print and on the internet. Even though Walker is well-known for his high rep calisthenics workout, he still lifts weights. Often times, the workouts that you see are abbreviated, for whatever reasons.

Then, even if we know that we have their exact training in hand to follow, we have to make sure that it's right for us. There's a tendency to forget the fact that pro athletes are pros, in part, because they're physically very gifted from birth. Yes, I hate to play the genetics card but we have to keep in mind that some people are born with physical gifts. This allows them to pull off training that would no doubt leave most of us hugging the porcelain goddess. Their training doesn't make them special per ce. They're maximizing the gifts that they were born with. If you don't have the same gifts, then you're not going to get the same benefit out of it.

Even if you're born with the same gifts, then you have yet another consideration: is this training practical to your life? I don't think that people take into consideration exactly how much physical breakdown occurs during some pro athletes' training. Their job is to train.

"There is no such thing as over training, just under nutrition and under sleeping"

In theory, yeah that's true. Let me ask a few questions: Have you ever tried to eat over 4,000 calories a day to keep up with the rate that you train? Do you have the time to sleep 10 hours a day so you can give your body adequate recovery time? My guess is that you don't have that time. Your training probably isn't your livelihood so you don't have the ability to treat it like it is.

I don't want to turn this into post on steroids. My opinion on steroid use is well documented here already but we have to bring it up because it has relevance to this topic. Many pro athletes use them and we all know it. It's a large part of why they're able to train like maniacs. Steroids speed up muscular recovery dramatically, enabling their users to train even harder.

Then, we have to think of this: does their training really accomplish the same things that we might be going for? I know that a lot of us have our health in mind in addition to our other, more visceral and material goals. Well, most athletes training really deal with the latter. Not too long ago, I made this comment on
The truth behind most sports (especially weight lifting sports) is that they don't really give a shit about being healthy. They only care about their health if it prevents them from doing their sport. Furthermore, their measure of their health is their ability to do their sport.

This is what Ross Enemait had to say:

Winning is what matters. An athlete who obsesses over health concerns would never be involved in a sport such as boxing. No one in their right mind believes it is healthy for a trained fighter to punch you as hard as he can.

It is a risk that competitive athletes are willing to take (at least temporarily).

I'm not here to pass judgement on how people train and why they train (well, not this time) but if you're in this for your health, then you really need to think twice about following your sports heroes.

Now, I don't have any problem with training to be athletic. I use my body for a living. I have to do physical labor frequently. So, I can't simply focus on making my body more sexy than it already is. I have wet dirt to shovel, hydraulic hoses to throw up on crane beds, pumps to lift, ladders to climb, and diesel cans to carry. I just don't see the point in training just like some of our favorite players and fighters do. It all goes back to the saying: you're unique, like everyone else. Train accordingly.


John Cintron said...


Another great post andI was wondering what you thought of Hershal Walker. I have lifted weight since I was 13 Icompeted in bodybulding at 135 lbs. I thought the show was natural but only for me. I thought I could get bodybuilding huge without any help.Anyway when I first got married I trained in thai boxing and I lost my job for almost 6 months all I did was go to school twice a week and do thai boxing just about everyday. Becasue of all the down time that I had I got more built than I ever have in my life and I didn't know it until someone asked me if I was a big weightlifter.I did not do any training but thai boxing which we did tons of calisthenics making a long story short I get so much more from bodyweights than weightlifiting and that was the closest I came to training like a proffesional athlete. So I can only imagine what they can do with all that time. Sorry for the long post

Justin_PS said...


Feel free to write as much as you please! It doesn't bother me at all.

As far as your experience with BW strength training, I'm not really surprised. I've shocked more than a few people when I told them, back in the day, that I only trained with BW. These days I may grab a weighted object to train with but still, a solid 3/4 of my training is still BW stuff.

Thank you for the kind words. I think that Hershel Walker is flat-out impressive. I'm not a football fan but it's not hard to spot a once-in-a-lifetime athlete when you see them! What I really like about him is that he didn't let himself go to waste after his pro football career was over. How many times have you seen a former great bloated, fat, and a complete shadow of what they were at their physical peak?

IMO, it's sad. Fortunately, Walker gives us inspiration that we can still be physically awesome at any age.

Bill said...

Wow the Barbarian Brothers pic! The mini tank top makes him look like one ugly chic.

Bob said...

Genetics play a role, but Hershel eats one meal a day, he has grueling workouts, he has done this most of his life. Has his body adapted, shaping itself to the demand, by utilizing the supply, to produce what is, Hershel Walker?

Anonymous said...

^ That comment grabbed my attention (April 24, 2010 10:53 PM). I always thought that to a achieve high muscle mass, the exercise component *must* be combined with a high caloric diet, usually done through frequent meals (say, 4-6/day). This part has always been huge challenge for me as I work long hours, which makes it tricky to stick to a training routine AND plan out so many meals day in, day out.

Is it true that Hershel looks like that from just eating 1 meal per day? I don't even want to go down to so few, but I just want to know - is it possible for an ectomorph of average genetics to achieve even a fraction of his muscularity, given a solid training routine, combined with only say, 2-3 meals/day (i.e. the meal frequency of a normal person who doesn't work out)?

Justin_PS said...

I suggest you remember what I said in the blog comment. Who knows for sure what EXACTLY Walker does to be who he is?

Anonymous said...

To the guy who wrote this: you need to learn the difference between the words 'then' and 'than'. Very distracting.

Justin_PS said...

Get a life!