Training for performance is the number one goal here at Total Health Performance. We train many athletes so the goal is to improve performance in their chosen sports. Looking good isn’t our main goal as we are not bodybuilders. This is not to say that our athletes or general population clients don’t gain muscle mass and get lean. We just use a different approach than that of the bodybuilding community.
Being as strong as you look is important to us. It amazes me how often I see big puffed up blokes who can’t lift nearly as much as I think they could or should be able to. While being strong may not be their goal to me it just doesn’t make sense. The same goes for guys who are lean and look like they are athletic but then you see them run, jump, or play a sport and they look like a baby giraffe. Performing like an athlete while looking like a bodybuilder would be the perfect mix.
Even if your goal is to become a bodybuilder I believe your early training years should be focused on performance. Too many lifters walk into the gym and begin doing endless amounts of isolation work. They would be better off spending the first few years performing mostly compound movements and increasing their numbers in these lifts. This would give them a solid foundation to progress from. Also athletes tend to learn a lot quicker than non-athletes and they also have a much better mind-muscle connection. This would then carry over to a bodybuilder or someone training for aesthetics as they would be able to focus on using a certain muscle when they do decide to do isolation work and get the most out of the exercise.
I believe training for size and performance together gives the best results. In fact training to be lean, strong, big, and being able to perform well all go hand in hand. You can train for it all if you know your goal and plan accordingly. Christian Thibaudeau summed it up well when he said “With nutrition and supplement plans dialled in, the more strength you gain, the more muscle you'll put on, the better you'll perform, and the leaner you'll get. There's no doubt about it.”
Now you don’t want to try and achieve all things at once. You can’t be in a severe calorie deficit trying to get ripped and performing huge amounts of volume and expect to grow and hit massive 1RM’s all at the same time. If you have a sensible diet plan and train with big compound movements you can definitely stay lean and put on some good solid muscle mass. I like to use all squat variations, deadlifts, presses, chins, rows, dips, and with more advanced lifters the Olympic lifts and their variations. Adding in some jumps, throws, and strongman exercises such as farmers walks and prowler sprints, are also good to improve athletic performance and they are also a great conditioning tool.