Developing An Athletic Physique

By Bryan Kavanaugh

From a physique stand point, the majority of people desire that lean ‘athletic look’.

Before I step on any toes here….

…I just want to clear up that I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING AGAINST endurance based sports, such as middle and long distance runners. These are tremendous athletes; the training requirements for these events are incredible and the athletes who partake in these disciplines deserve the utmost levels of respect and admiration.

HOWEVER, from a physical point of view, very few men and women would choose to have their type of physique.

So if the majority of us don’t want to develop the body of an endurance based athlete, then WHY ON EARTH do the training programs (especially fat loss programs) of so many people resemble that of an endurance athlete? Yes endurance athletes are skinny, but are they lean and do they have enough muscle to pull off a good look?

Similarly, just because you enter a gym, which is the training ground for the majority of body builders, doesn’t mean you should train like a body builder or take advice from them, as helpful as they are trying to be. They do not know your training background, goals and objectives, so they can’t guide you in the right direction.

There are so many sports and so many athletes out there with great physiques, but which sports and which athletes have the type of physique that’s most DESIRABLE?

The truth is athletes that perform bursts of high intensity exercise and recovery are the leanest and most athletic of all athletes. Sprinters, throwers and certain types of weight lifters…

The Appeal of the Athletic Physique

Now how often do you find yourself GLARING at an Olympic or pro athlete on your television screen or staring at the fitness model on the cover of a popular health and fitness magazine, AMAZED by their physique and level of leanness, WONDERING to yourself if you could ever look as good as they do?

Athletes embody the word athleticism and there appears to be something very striking about the lean look of an athlete’s body that seems to appeal to the masses.

Athlete’s… what’s so different about them? How the hell do they look so good?

Well the most important thing they do is they DO NOT focus on the outcome they are seeking.

An athlete’s GOAL is to improve his or her sporting performance.

Now in order for him or her to do that they need to focus on improving the physical performance traits of their chosen sport! So a sprinter obviously wants to become faster, but he does not become faster by simply focusing on speed training alone. He will need to address all the relevant speed performance related qualities. Strength, mobility and body-fat reduction are at the top of their list, with a long term goal of winning medals.

So for the person seeking physical appearance improvements, whether it is fat loss or muscle gain, focus on improving  physical performance. They should want to see improvements in strength, speed and their conditioning levels. They should not get overly caught up with the weighing scales! If your performance is improving then your physique will also be improving! It’s as simple as that!

3 ‘Athletic Body’ Tips To Help You Measure Your Progress And Start Getting Results

1. Traditional ‘Rest Periods’ Suck. Use Training Windows.

For arguments sake lets say you have 3 exercises in a full body circuit. Push ups, inverted rows and split squats. If you perform them one after the other and then take a rest you could be resting a few seconds between each exercise and then having a rest period after the final exercise.

Too much exercise specific rest! It could be 5 minutes since you last performed a push up and the muscle is fully recovered. If the muscle is fully recovered, it isn’t working hard enough and it will not grow!

If you are performing a circuit make a note of how long it takes you to perform the circuit. And then how long it takes you to recover. Add them together and this is your TRAINING WINDOW. Next time you perform the circuit try and beat your time. More work, less time…A little competition never hurt anyone 🙂

2. Pair Antagonistic Exercises.

I love Craig’s TT methods.  A-B exercise pairings are the basis behind most of my strength programs.

Not only are they great for getting more work done in less time but training a muscles antagonist with near maximal weights will actually activate the opposite muscle and relax the working muscle through a process called alpha neuron inhibition. i.e. If you perform a heavy rowing exercise just before you perform a heavy bench press, you will get stronger!

3. Jump, Sprint Move Your Body Dynamically to Accelerate Fat Loss and Muscle Gain.

If you look at the leanest athletes they are jumpers, sprinters and certain field athletes. I don’t think I need to continue writing about it, but I will. If you want to get lean and athletic looking, you need to incorporate jumping, sprinting and dynamic movement into your program. Simple as that.

TRY THIS: Get a gym bench or a chair/stool. (you may want to use something softer in case you trip over it) Don’t go blaming me 🙂

Try jumping over it for 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off and perform 8 rounds. Then you will know why you need to implement more jumping into your program.

Supplements – Are They Necessary?

Developing a lean body does require a large amount of hard work and discipline, both in the gym and in the kitchen, but does it require the use of supplements, are they really needed to develop a leaner body???

We are not against the use of supplements, they can be very useful, provided you are already training hard and consistent, and if you have your diet in check first. Once your training and nutrition is in order, you can look towards supplementation.

Supplements should be used to COMPLIMENT a good nutrition program, NOT COMPENSATE for a bad one.

During my recent visit to the National Strength and Conditioning Association Annual Seminar I flew through LA and couldn’t help but go to Venice Beach for a ‘workout’ and yes I did some curls! I had to for the pictures! Anyway back to the story….

…I couldn’t help but noticing there were a lot of people wearing a t-shirt with a ‘reputable’ nitric oxide supplement logo on the front. I did a little research and found that the t-shirt was FREE with a tub of this ‘wonderful supplement’. Lots of these t-shirts equal lots of this supplement being sold. There was another small observation I made; NOT ONE of the individuals sporting these t-shirts were in good physical condition – I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

The ONLY supplements I ‘RECOMMEND’ are a good whey protein, fish oils and depending on training level I may recommend creatine and caffeine.

Whey Protein:

Whey protein can help initiate protein synthesis a little bit faster than eating a protein rich meal can. Higher quality protein like whey hydrolysate is pre-digested and absorbed a lot quicker. It is not essential but can help. It’s also convenient to have if you live far from the gym.

Weight gainers are useless and a waste of money. Just eat more.


Creatine will not magically give you HUUUGE muscles, but it can increase your work capacity and help you work that little bit harder.

In time it may result in performance increases and muscle gain. In the short term it will cause you to retain water, not gain the 10 lbs of ‘serious mass’ like in the advertisement.

Fish oils:

Fish oils help reduce inflammation and may help reduce joint pain. They can increase insulin sensitivity which can be linked to a reduction in belly fat. Oh, and it can make your skin all nice and healthy… If you’re into that sort of thing.

Workout Finisher…Here’s a good circuit to try that you only need a BARBELL.

Wedge the end of the Olympic bar into a corner. Assume the position illustrated in picture

1. Perform 10 lumberjack presses on each side.

2. Move directly into the 10 lumberjack squats (picture 2) with no rest.

3. After completing the squat perform 10 of the lumberjack rows using a towel as illustrated (picture 3).

Perform 3-4 rounds of this lumberjack circuit back to back depending on your conditioning levels.

This is a good HIGH INTENSITY FULL BODY workout finisher that can be performed at the end of a training session to keep the metabolism elevated and keep you burning fat for longer.

As we discussed above, time how long it takes you to perform the circuit and how long it takes to recover. That is your training window.

Now go beat your time!

So to WRAP UP, developing an athletic looking ‘Ripped’ physique is not easy but if you follow a structured program to the letter, set realistic goals for yourself, compete against yourself and in the wise words of NIKE…

…’Just Do It’ , you cannot fail.

Thanks for reading, and thank you Craig for having me on here!

Bryan Kavanagh BSc. CSCS
Physique Transformation Specialist

Bryan Kavanagh and Ian Graham operate a personal training studio ‘The ABS Gym’ in the heart of Dublin City, Ireland and they are Co. Authors of the ‘Athlete Physique‘ Physique Development success system.