Top 7 Tips for Building Strength and Muscle: A Guide for High School and College Athletes

1. Eat Right or You’ll Never Make Progress!

This might seem odd coming from someone known as a “training guy” and not as a nutrition guru, but it’s true nonetheless. If you want to gain maximum muscle size, lose maximum body fat, or gain muscle while losing fat, the real key lies in proper nutritional habits.

There’s no one-size-fits-all nutrition program. What works for one person might not work for another. For example, if you have a fast metabolism, you’ll need a high amount of both protein and carbohydrates to grow. Your caloric intake should be very high, and you should eat at least six times per day, eight being even better.

On the other hand, if you have a slow metabolism, you’ll need to keep your carbs low to avoid gaining fat. You might do well on low-carb diets or cyclical diets.

Then, there are those with an average metabolism. These individuals will do best on a balanced diet containing plenty of all three macronutrients. It’s important to remember that dietary individualization is paramount!

2. Don’t Lift to Lose Fat!

When you’re trying to lose body fat, strength training should be used to prevent muscle loss or even stimulate muscle gain. It shouldn’t be used to stimulate fat loss. High rep exercises with very light weights won’t help preserve muscle mass and might lead to muscle wasting if the training volume is excessive.

Most of your fat loss will come from your dietary approach, energy systems work, and maintaining your metabolism through muscle mass gains.

3. Train the Muscles You Can’t See in the Mirror!

A strong athlete is strong in the back of their body. With most athletes, the fastest way to improve performance is to get stronger and more powerful in the muscles you don’t see in the mirror: hamstrings, glutes, calves, erector spinea (lower back), lats, rhomboids, traps, and triceps.

Performance can be increased significantly by doing a “backside specialization” program along with maintenance “frontside” work. Aim for a 2:1 ratio of work for the backside muscles compared to the frontside muscles.

4. Rotate Accumulation and Intensification Phases!

Periodization of training is essential. Periodization simply means dividing training into “phases,” each with a different focus.

Accumulation Phases are aimed at increasing muscle mass or placing an athlete in an overreaching state by using a high volume of work.

Intensification Phases decrease the amount of physical work and drastically increase intensity, leading to significant strength and power gains.

Here are some guidelines for both phases:

Accumulation Period for Athletes

  • Frequency: Train each basic movement structure 2-3 times per week.
  • Volume: Moderate, around 6 to 9 sets per movement structure.
  • Intensity: 75-85%.
  • Techniques: Straight sets, medium rep cluster, overcoming isometrics for time, Olympic lift variations, superslow eccentrics.
  • Rest Intervals: 2 to 4 minutes.

Intensification Period for Athletes

  • Frequency: Train each basic movement structure 3-4 times per week.
  • Volume: Low, around 3 to 6 sets per movement structure.
  • Intensity: 90-100%.
  • Techniques: Straight sets, pure cluster, overcoming isometrics for intensity, Olympic lift variations, manual eccentric overload.
  • Rest Intervals: 2 to 4 minutes.

5. Don’t Abuse Plyometrics

Plyometrics can significantly increase jumping capacity, power output, and sprinting speed. However, overdoing them can be counterproductive and increase the risk of injuries. Use plyometrics in blocks of three to four weeks with at least four weeks between blocks.

6. Don’t Sweat “Sports-Specific” Training

Strength training will never be entirely sport-specific. The objectives of a strength program should be:

  1. Increase strength and power in major muscle groups.
  2. Improve overall CNS efficiency.
  3. Increase tendon strength.
  4. Correct muscle imbalances.

Avoid trying to duplicate sporting movements in the gym. Instead, focus on getting strong in all major muscle groups and training heavy and explosively.

7. Avoid the Shotgun Approach

Trying to combine multiple training programs into one “ultimate program” is ineffective. Each training program is designed to work as a whole. Instead, divide your goals into blocks and focus on a single goal at a time.

Work these seven tips into your yearly training, and you’re sure to see faster progress and improved gains. Stay focused, train smart, and eat right to maximize your athletic potential!