Every gym-goers main fitness goal is to either get stronger, build muscle, or lose weight. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with these goals, have you ever wondered what the benefits would be if you shifted your mindset a little and aimed for real-world performance?
Have you ever thought about why some of the world’s most impressive physiques belong to the likes of elite athletes, such as footballers, swimmers, gymnasts, CrossFit athletes, and high-level sprinters?
Well, this is because performance, strength, and body composition all go hand-in-hand. Many recreational gym-goers and lifters will not be striving to become elite athletes, mainly due to genetics, but aiming for “real-world” performance would make it a more realistic goal.
Wouldn’t it be better to focus on becoming the best athlete you can be while reaping the benefits of becoming stronger and having your dream physique?
This article explores the concept of real-world performance, how you can shift your training goals to become the best athlete you can be, and some of the best exercises to do so!
Firstly, let’s explain the characteristics of real-world performance.
Real-world performance can be described by 3 characteristics:
This is essentially being able to perform at an elite level, whether this is sprinting, jumping, and lifting, to putting on your best performance at a low-league Sunday football game.
This is similar to resilience, but more so. To be anti-fragile means being able to resist stress more easily, using stress to adapt, improve, and better withstand the lemons life can give you. This is more about adopting an athlete's mindset than a physical adaptation.
3) Strength & muscle
This means not just being able to lift a 200kg barbell off the floor or squatting double your bodyweight, but more about expressing your physique and strength in all forms, from a functional point of view as well as in the gym.
Let’s take a look at some of the best exercises for boosting performance, bulletproofing the mind and body, and building functional strength and muscle mass!
5 Best Exercises for Athletes and Real-World Performance
1) Front Squat
Squats in general are a must-do exercise for anyone, however, for real-world performance, front squats come out on top.
They require an upright torso, which resembles most athletic movements. They are superior for improving the rate of force development, enhancing the ability to accelerate and decelerate, and eliciting peak core activation.
The front-rack load acts as a counterbalance, which allows for a better posterior weight shift and a lower depth squat. This also means that front squats can open up extra range of motion in the hips and ankles.
The front squat works the quads more than any other squat variation, thus helping towards growing a big set of wheels!
2) Trap Bar Deadlift
In regards to performance, the trap bar deadlift is a direct byproduct of how much force you can exert into the ground, which transfers over to movements such as sprints and jumps.
As a multi-joint movement, the trap bar deadlift can help build strength and muscle in the lower and upper body, making it a great exercise for bulletproofing the body against injury.
As an elite squat-hinge hybrid, the trap bar deadlift hits the posterior and anterior chain harder than squats and deadlifts, respectively. They are also safe and simple - an unmatched exercise for building all-over body strength and size.
3) Hand-Release Push-Up
Hand-release push-ups, particularly when loaded, can mimic the effects of bench press. Though, it is arguably better than the bench press due to training the “push” from a dead-stop. It requires engagement from the core, hips, and spine to stay aligned while the upper body works in a smooth motion.
The hand-release push-up also enables the shoulders to move freely around the ribcage, something which the bench press does not allow. This can contribute to improved overhead mechanics as well as shoulder robustness.
4) Ring Chin-Up
Any variation of pull-ups and chin-ups is great for building strength and muscle. They are a direct reflection of relative strength.
Ring chin-ups can help strengthen the upper back as well as heavily engage the core for stability, much more so than regular chin-ups and pull-ups. They also allow for a greater range of motion, providing a massive stretch in the lats and thoracic spine, thus improving shoulder function.
Ring chin-ups are initiated with a pronated grip akin to a pull-up. This helps hit the lats and lower traps harder than any other variation. During the ascent, the biceps are also heavily engaged due to the rotating of the hands into a supinated position.
5) Medicine Ball Slams & Throws
Slams and throws are all about functional power. They are an extremely effective explosive movement that engages the hips, knees, and ankles.
Increasing your ability to exert force quickly (power) can be a big game-changer for strength gains. Development of your power can make the difference between hitting a PR and failing a lift.
When doing medicine ball slams and throws, try to remember they are about speed, not strength. Do them regularly and with power!
There are many other movements and exercises that are considered elite for real-world performance. Here are some other special mentions to consider:
- One-arm landmine push press
- Suspension row
- Split squats
- Single leg deadlifts
As you can see, there are a lot of mentions of single-leg or single-arm work (unilateral). These are key movements in any exercise program as they allow the ability to train both sides of the body equally, thus preventing overusing and compensating with the dominant side.
Real-world performance should be the goal for any gym-goer or fitness enthusiast. It is a goal that combines body composition, muscle strength and size, and fat loss.
Some of the best exercises for real-world performance include unilateral work, as well as functional and compound movements.
So, instead of focusing on a singular goal, try to change up your workout routine while adopting a more athletic mindset!