Strength Training for Athletes

How to train like an Athlete

As an athlete you should be aware of your off-season, pre-season and competitive season phases. Your strength and conditioning plan should change based upon the time of year. For instance, you should train different qualities such as strength, power and aerobic capacity at different parts of the year. 

Workouts should not be random or created based upon your favourite IG influencer or what your non-athletic friends like to do in the gym. However, it can be difficult to know how to train like an athlete in the gym or maybe you wonder how many times per week an athlete should do strength training. 

In this article we provide six simple keys that you need to understand if you want to train like an athlete and not a bodybuilder.

How many times do you need to strength train as an athlete?

Most athletes should include at least two strength and conditioning sessions each week into their training plan. Sports or activities that  have a high reliance on strength and power like rugby or field events in track and field should train two to four times per week.

If you train two times per week your workouts should be full-body workouts. If you are confused about how many exercises, sets and reps or what weights you should include in your training plan the next session of this article will provide some key insights from our experienced strength and conditioning coach, Kevin Barry. 

Best Reps, Sets and Weights for Athletes

As an athlete you need to vary the volume and intensity of your workouts throughout a strength and conditioning plan. Volume refers to the total amount of work completed in a session. Volume can be counted by adding your total reps in a workout or by using a simple equation: weight lifted x reps = volume of set. To find the total workout volume you would add all sets together. 

Measuring the intensity of a strength training session is much simpler. Intensity can be thought as effort or difficulty level and can be measured through your personal Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) or as a percentage of a predetermined one rep maximum weight. 

RPE can be gauged on a 1 to 10 scale while percentage based training for strength training is typically based on 40%  to 100% of effort. 

Prilepin's Chart and Powerlifting – Precision Powerlifting Systems

Prilipen’s Chart 

You don’t have to be a scientist or study strength and conditioning for years to make use of some simple principles that aid in your strength training. 

Prilipen’s Chart can be used to determine your total reps, sets and weights for main or compound exercises like bench, squat, deadlift, military press, power cleans etc. 

Use Prilipen’s Chart to determine the training volume for your workouts. As an athlete you need to move away from bodybuilding style workouts. By following Prilipen’s Chart you will find that you will likely perform less total reps within your strength training plan. 

 Multi-Directional Movement

Most weight lifting movements are performed in a simple line. For example, think of the squat and bench press. Both movements are performed in a relatively straight line up and down. Other movements like rows and lunges are performed forward and back – or in the sagittal plane. 

Yet most sports require fast, multi-directional and often single arm or single leg movements. A good strength and conditioning plan should account for this reality. 

Frontal plane movements that require side to side movement should be included in your strength and conditioning programme. Think of somebody (maybe it’s you) that had a groin injury before- a factor in the injury may have been lack of frontal plane exercises.

I see this a lot during the pre-season period. Many athletes assume that they are match fit as they have done a lot of long distance or straight line running and are frustrated when they get injured during preseason. This happens with the introduction of small sided games, change of direction and match specific drills into preseason training sessions.   

Train Explosively

The best athletes and performers in their sport are most often the fastest, most agile and most explosive on the field. You can see positive changes in attributes like your strength, power, change of direction and maximum running speed by adding explosive exercises to a strength training programme. 

Implement a combination of lower and upper body jumps/plyometrics, medicine ball exercises or kettlebells into your programme and you will see results quickly. If you have some gym experience and a foundational level of strength already you should add olympic lifts and/or olympic lift variations to your programme.  

Relative Strength

If you want to train like an athlete you must be able to master your own bodyweight in the gym. Press ups, inverted or ring rows, pull-ups, planks and other core exercises are great options to include in your programme. 

Add external resistance by using weight vests, dip belts or plates if you no longer find bodyweight exercises challenging. You could also add longer tempos to each movement or hold an isometric position at the most difficult portion of the lift for 2 to 3 seconds. 

Single Leg Strength

As an athlete you need to be able to absorb and transmit force safely through single leg movements like jumping, cutting and changing direction quickly. 

Building single leg strength and stability through a well designed strength and conditioning programme will help you do this. 

Single leg strength can also align closely to our previous topic of multi-directional movement. By focusing on single leg strength you can increase ankle stability, knee stability, and build hamstring as well as gluteal strength. 


We hope this article provides you with practical take-aways that you can use to develop your own athlete specific strength and conditioning plan. 

Kevin Barry has worked with thousands of athletes in America since 2016 and can help you take your performance to the next level. Send an email if you’d like to work with Kevin in person or get him to develop an athlete specific remote training programme for you.

Use this handy table below to help you design your next athlete specific strength training programme. 

Do  Don’t
  • Adjust your workouts to complement your training period
  • Keep the same workout for longer than six weeks
  • Be conscious about changing weight, sets and reps each day
  • Train like a bodybuilder every day
Multi-Directional Movement
  • Include 1-2 multi-directional movements in each session
  • Overly rely on the big lifts like bench, squat and deadlift to gauge your progress
Explosive Training
  • Include 1-2 explosive exercises in each session
  • Use plyometrics for HIIT or fitness sessions
Relative Strength
  • Include at least 1 relative strength exercise in each session
  • Think you are too advanced for this type of training
Single Leg Strength
  • Include at least 1 single leg exercise in each session – can be combined with multi-directional movement
  • Overly rely on squats or bridges to develop lower body strength