Bodybuilding follow up – A few common questions

I just thought we would follow up the last discussion on the bodybuilding approach to strength training for footy, or as we pointed out certain bodybuilding principles in the approach to strength training for footy, with a few of the most common responses or questions that this discussion inevitably leads to.

(Here is a link to the original discussion.)


'So that means you don’t want to be putting on size for football?'

No that isn’t at all what was said, merely that going about putting on size with the standard bodybuilding approach is not an optimal way to train when overall athletic development is the aim – as is the case in football. Putting on a little size will always be beneficial in a full contact body-on-body sport like footy, however only when other abilities are at the very least maintained, but preferably also improved in the process. This goes for the majority of positions and roles on the ground. There are of course certain roles or positions (especially at local level where there sill can be more of a traditional positional based game in play, rather than the zonal and constant 36 players moving the whole time that exists at the higher levels.) However in general, the aim is always for the size to also come with added power expressed in speed or agility or leap or whatever the individual players specific goals are. Therefore, simply putting on size with split routines and isolation exercises will not prove optimal, as whilst it will contribute to a development in size, it wont lead to the development of the important physical abilities. Additionally, if you are adding size/weight, you would hope that your other abilities are also improving, or you are actively slowing yourself down with added weight and potentially less agility (not a good thing in the majority of positions on the ground.)

Functional Strength Training Australian Rules Football develop strength tackling ability better vertical leap for Australian Rules Football

‘But my mate does bodybuilding and he is a gun.’

What we touched on late in the last article was that if you do bodybuilding style training, it wont take you from being a good player with good ability to being no good anymore. However it also will not contribute greatly to your performance when considering your current level as the baseline. In other words, if hitting the gym and bulking up is equally important to you as playing, then by all means combine them. Additionally if the gym and the muscle gain is your primary goal, and footy is an afterthought, once again, go for it. Doing so will not mean that you will no longer be able to take a mark and hit a team mate. But when your primary focus from hitting the gym is to improve your physical capacity to play the game (based on certain goals) then standard bodybuilding principles will not do this for you. Especially with a limited amount of real time at your disposal when considering running based work (speed, agility, work capacity) and the club and skill-based work.

Thinking back, there is a good chance that your mate who is a gun, was also a gun when he was 12 or 13 too, and its unlikely he was doing bodybuilding at that stage. In other words, he isn’t a gun because he does bodybuilding, he is a gun that does bodybuilding too. A good natural player who hasn’t diminished his natural ability too much by loading up on the bodybuilding training. And as we touched on earlier, the point isn’t that you will certainly go from being a good player to no good anymore, it is simply that you aren’t optimising training with this approach. And if footy is the primary goal, then optimising the limited time that you have at your disposal should be a priority.


'Not all bodybuilding is machines and isolation.'

No and never did we say it was. Once again we said certain bodybuilding principles and approaches weren’t beneficial, and the portion of bodybuilding that is isolation and machine based is ineffective time. Bodybuilding will also involve compound exercises and free weights exercises (to varying degrees, depending on who is doing it). However there is also a large component of machine based training (at a point in a session where the limiting factor for the individual lifting is the stabilising of the weight – that is, the onset of fatigue means that free weights aren’t an option if heavy weight and keeping the muscles loaded more for size remains the goal.) Ditto there is only so much high quality compound exercises you can do before fatigue takes over – especially if broken down into body parts/regions. And therefore various isolation exercises (which are far easier comparatively – regardless of how loaded up the bar in the squat rack is to bicep curl – than compound work) are required to fill in the session times and keep the muscles working. So once again, rather than it being all ‘black and white’ or ‘all bodybuilding is bad’, it is more a matter of the specifics – and whilst isolation and machine-based work doesn’t make up 100% of bodybuilding work, it tends to make up a considerable portion, and these are minimally beneficial at best, and actually detracting at worst.


'But I always thought by putting on size I will reduce my chance of injury?'

Yes putting on size can be beneficial, particularly in certain key positions or roles. The discussion point has never been that size is bad. Merely that extra size without inner stability, without enhanced speed, without enhanced jumping power, without a more powerful engine to carry it, without the added coordination to control it, without the proper linking of the legs through the core to the arms via appropriate movement-based strength, is a bad thing. It shouldn’t be controversial (and isn’t) that merely putting on size (and therefore weight too) without any improvement in athletic ability isn’t a good thing in a sport where such a vast range of athletic abilities are required – especially one that involves a large amount of locomotion.

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So certainly being functionally stronger can reduce injuries – being stronger in certain movement patterns, having a better tolerance to stress and fatigue (in terms of musculo-tendon attachments), and having strength trained together with movement quality. But this comes as a result once again of training strength in movements, not just muscles. Size alone means nothing in terms of reducing injuries – and in fact can actually increase the chance of injury if this size has been built with Frankenstein-style training (isolating body parts, no stability component, machine-based, etc.) As already covered, size, without underlying stability is a disaster waiting to happen, especially in an explosive sport like footy – where the ability to stabilise becomes even more crucial. If you have developed an imbalance between large outer-size and inner-stability underneath that size, you are walking a tight rope to avoid your next dislocated shoulder or lower back injury (as just 2 common examples.) So once again, functional strength will absolutely reduce the chance of injury, and any added size from a method aimed specifically at football or football-based capabilities as the end goal, will only be beneficial. But when we are talking about size without underlying function, there is no benefit here.


'So bodybuilders cant play footy?'

No, once again we never said that. At this point it feels like going over old ground a little, but hopefully if you have read this far (as well as the other information on the site – in particular the previous article), you understand why this isn’t what is being said at all, but rather understand the context.


Lets be perfectly clear

To a lesser extent, we also discuss Crossfit’s suitability to preparation for football in Functional Strength Training for Australian Rules Football, and although far less critical than we are about bodybuilding, due to far more ‘general functionality’ associated with Crossfit, we still highlight the flaws in following this exclusively as a way to get fit or strong (or the combination of both) for football.

There is already enough negativity out there in the ego-filled fitness industry and the strength and conditioning field. Elements from the bodybuilding world love throwing barbs at the crossfit methodology, and the Crossfit community love throwing them right back at bodybuilders in the ‘our way is the only way’ culture that exists in strength and conditioning, or fitness in general. So this negativity is the last thing we would like to add to.

The simple fact is that bodybuilding training – split routines, the associated set and reps schemes, isolation work and everything else that goes with it – is fantastic at achieving what it is designed to achieve – size and aesthetics. Just as Crossfit is an outstanding way of achieving what it is designed to achieve – the ability to perform a broad range of movements and fitness tasks in a range of combinations or challenges. It is not about what is better – they are both brilliant for what they are supposed to be, or supposed to achieve. And they are both extremely functional – for what they are supposed to achieve. This may seem strange reading something saying bodybuilding is functional – but it is – extremely functional – for its own end goal.

“Fitness is simply the ability to do a task. Throwers are fit for the task of throwing. Jumpers are fit for the task of jumping and sprinters are fit for the task of sprinting.”
Dan John

The purpose of this short article was to be clear about what we are saying, and it certainly isn’t bagging or devaluing other forms of training out there – as this is a ridiculous trait of the industry. The purpose is to highlight that when training – train specifically for what your end goal is – rather than following training practices that are designed with different end goals in mind. This doesn’t mean that one form of training is ‘better’ than another one when speaking generally, but certain training practices are certainly vastly superior than others when training for a certain purpose – and footy is no different.

Strength Coach


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