As someone who is still an athlete concerned about performance with an interest in having an optimal body composition, I often try to find or create exercises that will serve both purposes. For some background, athletes should not, I repeat should not be concerned with the appearance of their physiques. This is the main reason why bodybuilding style training is terrible for athletic performance. Bodybuilding is a sport, not to be used to train for other sports. There are some useful exercises that will cross over from sport to sport, but I do not care if my athletes have a six-pack or 20 inch arms unless they are bodybuilders or the trainee looking for an improvement in cosmetic appearance.
Unfortunately, some strength coaches still employ a bodybuilding oriented program to try to improve the performance of their athletes. Usually, these are coaches that have a background in bodybuilding and are therefore only teaching what they are comfortable with. There can be instances when bodybuilding principles could be useful in sport specific training (i.e. if the athlete needs to be bigger). If we do some reverse engineering, we can also see that some sport specific exercise principles can yield significant changes in body composition (fat loss and muscular hypertrophy). I know I have been writing a bit about single leg training, but the area has captured my attention as I am writing a paper about it for one of my graduate courses.
Let me highlight two exercises that can be used for improved performance and improved body composition. The first exercise is the inverse row. This can be done with a TRX or by lying under any barbell. This exercise looks like a horizontal pull-up and can be progressed by keeping only one leg on the ground. If we focus on the principle of time under tension for muscular growth, we can extend a set of 10 repetitions for 40 seconds by focusing on slowing down the negative part of the motion. At the same time, we will be satisfying our pulling movement of the human movement model and we can even supinate the wrists as we pull up (keeping the shoulder girdle healthy by employing that corkscrew like action).
The second exercise would be the single leg bent over dumbbell row. This has the advantage of strengthening single leg stability and strength, working the hip region thus having a great carry over to sports performance. We again satisfy the pulling movement and it is much more ‘real world’ for sport by virtue of performing two actions at once. The demands on the grounded leg are huge and will lead to a great deal more hypertrophy over time than any leg curl machine will ever yield. Just be sure to keep the knee bent at about 20 degrees to keep the glutes activated. I will be providing video on my website in the weeks to come.