It’s natural for preferences to evolve over time. That’s why women often redefine what they feel is the ideal look.

Now, more than ever before, women come to me aspiring to achieve a more athletic, fit look – one that mimics a professional athlete rather than a runway or fitness model.

My response is always the same: If you want to look like an athlete, then you need to train like an athlete.

The wrong approach

The issue is that most women will approach a personal trainer in their local gym, who tends to follow a traditional bodybuilding split routine, training one body part a day to create size, symmetry, and definition. Interestingly, that’s not at all how athletes train. Rather, they engage in functional training – the kind you’ll find in specialized strength and conditioning facilities rather than the watered-down approach you tend to see promoted in commercial gyms. Functional training means training movement patterns, not isolating muscle groups. It’s about generating power from the ground with big compound lifts like squats and deadlifts. It’s about building strong, functional cores from lots of stability work. It’s about mobility and multiplanar movement.

Become more resilient

Above all else, it’s about creating transferrable (functional) strength that makes you more resilient. For instance, one of the most common injuries I see among my female clients is ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) knee injuries. This is largely due to poor glute medius activation. This causes internal (valgus) knee rotation on impact when walking, running or performing exercises that require deep knee bends. When you hyperextend in this position, you can easily snap the ACL. But by following a comprehensive functional training plan, you strengthen the muscles that conventional training usually neglects, which irons out imbalances and reduces your injury risk.

Better at life

Functional training also makes every aspect of your life easier. And, yes, it builds the toned, athletic physique that so many women today aspire to. But the allure also extends beyond the physical. For many, functional training offers a break from the normal bodybuilding approach so many women have followed for years. It’s also challenging and the variety in programming makes it fun and interesting. We also incorporate metabolic circuits into our programmes to replace conventional cardio. This not only delivers a bigger metabolic benefit to burn more calories and fat, but helps to add more muscle and strength rather than destroy it, like conventional cardio can.

The principles athletes follow

Beyond the training, you also need to act like an athlete between sessions to realise the full benefit. That means recovering and eating like an athlete. It’s a package deal because you can’t have one without the others.

Training quality is paramount for any athlete, but to get the intensity right you need to fuel your body properly before every session. As the popular saying states, “Athletes don’t diet and exercise, they eat and train.”

That means a proper meal 3-4 hours ahead of your session and a top-up 90 minutes before. You also need to start your recovery soon after your training by refueling with nutrients that aid muscle repair and replenish what training takes out with adequate protein and carbs.

How you fuel your body before and after training will also influence the rest of your day. And don’t forget to meet your hydration requirements.


An athlete’s main aim is to get back to 100% after every session so that they can perform at their peak again. That should be your goal, too.

As such, flushing out exercise metabolites and by-products is vital. Your most potent tool in this regard is a light 10-minute active cool-down after every hard session. Don’t skip it! Hot-cold contrasting can also help – athletes jump into ice baths for a reason!

You also need to keep active between sessions. Athletes don’t rest, they recover. I like to contextualise rest days as an opportunity to invest in your body. That means performing dynamic stretching, mobility work, foam rolling or massage on your days off, getting an extra hour of sleep or engaging in some light restorative activity like walking. Rest days aren’t there for you to sit back and hope you recover in time for your next session.

Another good option is to find ways to include as much incidental activity in your day as possible. Take the stairs instead of the lift or park at the far end of the parking lot and walk. Use every opportunity to keep moving because being idle can be really damaging to your soft tissue health.

Being mindful of these opportunities and following the training, nutrition and recovery principles that athletes adhere to is how you build habitual fitness into your life to live (and look) like an athlete.

This article was adapted from a Fitness magazine feature written by Wayne ‘Tails’ Taylor, director of Athletic Performance and a strength and conditioning coach at WT Human Performance. @wt.humanperformance

Author: Logan Leigh Rix

Logan blends her passion and profession by working as a digital and social media marketer and content creator in the fitness, health and wellness industry. She’s also a personal trainer, former Face of Fitness finalist and Fitness Magazine featured athlete.

Logan blends her passion and profession by working as a digital and social media marketer and content creator in the fitness, health and wellness industry. She's also a personal trainer, former Face of Fitness finalist and Fitness Magazine featured athlete.

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