Are You an Athlete?

by Kirby Bumpus, MPH
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Are You an Athlete?

If you asked me a year ago, I would’ve instinctively said “No.” I don’t run. CrossFit truly terrifies me. I’m not training to compete in any race — like ever. But, I’m active. I do work out religiously. I love a good spin class. I’m always trying to improve the way I feel and perform.

It wasn’t until I met with a trainer a few months ago that things changed. During our session, he referred to someone else he trains as his “8 a.m. athlete.” At that moment, I realized that he used the term “athlete” to describe all of his clients regardless of fitness ability. Even me. It then dawned on me that in his eyes, I, too, was an athlete.

Whaaaaat?

Honestly, I was empowered. I instantly stood a little taller and actually felt a little bit fitter, just knowing that’s how he perceived me. Just with this subtle shift in mindset, I found myself working out more intensely both physically and mentally, the way I thought “an athlete” would work out.

It sounds silly, but that simple switch can potentially change how you push yourself, too. You might even notice that you start eating better because you start to think more intentionally, too. You start to think like an athlete.


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I spoke with a few experts to understand their philosophies on what makes an “athlete”:

“Everyone is different. What’s hard for one person is easy for the next. As a result, if you engage in physical activity that increases your heart rate and gets your blood pumping, you are an athlete — independent of what that activity is.”

Jeff Knight, clinical exercise physiologist, Under Armour

“Life is a sport. We all play. Like it or not. If you are trying to play at a higher level, you are an athlete.”

Errick McAdams, certified personal trainer, Washington, D.C.

“An athlete is someone who puts consistent time and effort into something with the expectation of excelling! They perfect their craft to the point of achieving their highest level of performance.”

Lane Farmer, certified personal trainer, Under Armour Performance Center, Baltimore

But what if you don’t actually feel like an athlete yet? For those who need a little inspiration, try these tips from our experts to act more like an athlete (talk the talk, right?):

1. ATHLETES ARE STRATEGIC

You’ve got to create a routine if you want to engage in athletics, so set your clothes out the night before. Spend three minutes making a plan for when and how you plan on working out. Exercise doesn’t just happen accidentally. It takes planning.

2.ATHLETES SET GOALS

So set a goal. Any goal. Make sure it’s something you can meet. And when you meet that goal, celebrate it and set another. Your goal is as important as the pro athlete’s goal that includes holding up a giant trophy.  So, don’t beat yourself up if you miss a class — just don’t do it repeatedly.

3. ATHLETES HAVE SHORT MEMORIES  

Athletes know it’s OK to lose games. Sometimes athletes lose a lot of games but they don’t stop, they keep playing. So next time you miss 10 workout classes in a row, shake it off. Have a short memory. Every day is a new opportunity!

4. ATHLETES ARE PRESENT DURING THEIR WORKOUTS

You’ve got to be present during your workouts and avoid the temptation to go into autopilot. In a recent study, individuals who used their cell phones to text during a treadmill workout actually exercised at a lower intensity and enjoyed their workouts less than those who didn’t. So focus on the activity at hand and don’t forget to challenge yourself. Mix it up to keep your mind engaged. If your current routine focuses on walking, add a few power-walking bursts in there! You’ll feel better afterward. Let the office go for a second. Immerse.

5. ATHLETES ARE SMART

Sharpen your athlete IQ, and consider your holistic health. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating the foods to perform at your peak? Beyond training, are you stretching? You will spend the majority of your life outside of the gym, studio or workout setting, so be more thoughtful about how all of these other behaviors impact your fitness!

Embrace the “athlete” label because ultimately, we’re here doing our best to achieve our health and fitness goals. Whether you’re training for a marathon, looking to make your workouts more effective or getting your calories under control, your goal is to improve your performance (whether it’s a lot or a little). So go ahead and call yourself an athlete! Take a minute to shift how you view yourself and see how it changes your behavior.

Ultimately, the real question should be: Do you consider yourself an athlete? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts below.


Better Than Ever

We all strive for wellness and to live better! Every month, this column will bring you advice on how to feel and perform Better Than Ever. Check out tips to improve various aspects of your health: everything from fitness, nutrition, sleep and recovery. Have a topic you want to hear about? Feel free to reach out here (I’ll be checking the comments!) or on Twitter or Instagram. I look forward to hearing from you!


 

Related

  • Kristin Mitchell

    Wow- I would have never imagined myself to be labeled as an athlete, but after reading this, I AM AN ATHLETE. I really felt motivated after reading this. More importantly, after reading this, I realized that I fail as an athlete by not making a plan and setting goals. I plan to do this going forward- this article is informative and inspiring!!

    • Kirby

      Thanks Kristin! I love to hear this- embrace it! I hope that you notice a positive change in your workouts and approach to fitness. Thanks for taking the time to engage, really appreciate it!

  • Richard Maurice

    Interesting perspective. And you are absolutely correct that a subtle shift in our mindset can dramatically change how and why we workout

    • Kirby

      Richard, thanks for reading! Glad to hear you’ve already embraced the shift!

  • Safa

    I always thought that once I am at the correct BMI, I o OK I’m JV of train to be an athlete… But after reading this article I feel ‘i am an athlete!’ and no questions about it…. And yes we can miss workouts but definitely every new day awaits new opportunities !

    I am going to push harder day by day and go through the process and carve it myself no matter whoever bulleys me at the gym! 😛 I can do 5k in a decent 30 to 35 minutes already and I was a lazy obese slow person couple of years back with treadmill speed of 3.5 to 4.5 kph and sprints at 6kph for 30 secs. Now I be like 9.5 to 11 kph and 13.5 kph sprints of max 30 secs…..

    I can do a 7k too and practicing for 10k..

    Life is great only if u live great and healthy!

    • Kirby

      Safa, I could talk to you forever about this…the number of times I’ve thought “If I can just get down to X weight, I’ll feel good”…So true that life is only great if you live great and healthy. Congrats on crushing it and accomplishing your goals!

  • GMSav

    Yep I’d consider myself an ‘athlete’, although the term from my view includes a fairly broad group of people and abilities. I train most days, with my routine including 2 CrossFit classes, 3 to 4 road and mountain bikes rides, and 3 running sessions a week. I’ve just completed a program to train for a 5km run and in January I’ll be training for a 10km run in participating in on the 13th of March. I also watch what I am eating using the MyFitnessPal app and plan my training using my Polar M400 smartwatch and Polar’s training software. So far I’ve improved my Polar running index score from low back in June to averaging Good as of now. I’ve also lost 8kgs in weight, which is my halfway point towards my goal of returning to a normal BMI within 12 months. My increased focus on fitness and my general wellbeing has been driven by a health scare earlier in the year, which made me realise I had to change my lifestyle, and at 55 years of age I’ve also proved to myself that it’s never too late to become an ‘athlete’. So thanks for the article, it made me reflect on myself and re-evaluate myself and my fitness training, and where I am in my life plan 🙂

    • Kirby

      Wow, congrats on embracing your athlete status at 55- you are right, it is never too late! So glad you took time to not only read this piece, but to also reflect and re-evaluate! Thanks for chiming in

  • A. P. Thorsen

    It always surprises me when I read someone in the forums saying something like “I’m not an athlete, but I got a PR in my 10K race last weekend.” WTFlip?

    My first rowing coach, who called us “athletes” from the beginning, has us write down 3 things we’d need to accomplish in order to *feel* we were athletes, then fold the paper & file it away.

    I found mine a year or two later; I had achieved those things. I’ve called myself an athlete ever since.

    Such a powerful exercise!

    • Kirby

      Hey A.P.- Thanks for the comment! Love that writing activity- great for anyone, regardless of where they are in their fitness journey, since we can all do better!

  • Sharon

    What a fantastic article – it’s exactly what I needed! I’ve lived with muscle weakness & limited range of motion my entire life (I’m 52) and even though exercise is difficult, it has been my saving grace too because I feel my very best when I’m finished a workout. I’ll admit it, I’ve compared myself to what others could do better than me, but I also impressed myself for making fitness a priority. Thanks for your perspective. I have another word to add to my repertoire – Athlete.

    • Kirby

      Sharon- thanks so much for taking the time to comment, I’m so glad this resonated with you! Way to make fitness a priority while managing limited range of motion AND muscle weakness…it’s very important to focus on what you CAN do, as opposed to what you can’t. Well done!

  • River

    5 years or so ago I was on an instructional whitewater trip in Chile. One evening the subject of obesity came up and I said I’m obese. One of the instructors looked at me and said no you aren’t. I said by my BMI and doctors and society I am. He responded “No you are an athlete. I’ve watched you move your kayak and your strength and ability”. This was an amazing mindset change for me. I am according to all the charts obese and yet I box, i kayak, lift weights, swim, ride a bike. To me an athlete had always implied a certain body type. So to hear this about myself was a bit of a shock and really allowed me to stop beating myself up over my weight. I just started working with a new trainer and she has been impressed by my strength and stamina and also refers to me as an athlete.

    • Kirby

      First, that sounds like a pretty fantastic trip!!!!…AND I love the range of activities you engage in.
      You definitely got the athlete memo before I did! So glad to hear the mindset change helped you too. True that there is so much more to health/athletic ability than your standard BMI and number on the scale…I used to go CRAZY about “the number” and now i’m more focused on how I feel and my clothes fit.

  • Ashlee

    Wow’ thanks l’m 60 , I work out every day,treadmill,squat,race walking but I never thought I was athlete,so I say “wow” Here I Go!!!

    • Kirby

      YES- embrace it! Working out everyday is impressive at ANY age- go Ashlee! AND you race walk?! Nice work

  • thisstinks…again!

    Love the article. Also, as an ‘Athlete’ don’t forget to set those electric BMI gadgets (weight scale, handhelds) to the athlete setting and you’ll realize that your body fat isn’t as high as you think. Keep charging ahead everyone!

    • Kirby

      Thanks for the kind message and words of encouragement to the MFP community!

  • Timothy Dayton

    OK, I’ll take the athlete title but will also try not to forget that I’m not exactly “athletic”, never have been. That way I should avoid getting into trouble thinking I can do something I shouldn’t. Injury, no matter how slight, upsets my training approach. This is especially important as a 60+ person concerned and concentrating on keeping good mobility and healthy tone as long as possible. I’m never going to run a marathon or climb a rock wall but I might ice skate or even water ski.

    • Kirby

      Thanks Timothy! Great point about not overdoing it- always listen to your body!

  • Jaclyn

    I have been an avid Crossfitter for over 3 years now, but never considered myself an “athlete.” During the Opens this year, by gym/box created a bunch of tanks and sweatshirts that said “Opens Athlete” and wearing it IMMEDIATELY shifted my thinking and my behavior. Granted, I completed all the workouts as scaled (not RX), but I pushed myself harder than I thought I was capable, because I was an ATHLETE, and that’s what an athlete would do! The Opens are over now but every time I wear that top, I find I push harder and harder, and already I can feel my fitness level improving, where I had previously been comfortably (and happily) stagnant. It’s amazing how one little word can change so much.

  • Amanda N Devendra Bachan

    i have to say, if i didn’t read this, i’d never make the correleation. thanks for the articel!

  • G.D.

    This is a great article – very inspiring! I want to be an athlete – I don’t feel like I’m there – but I understand this is about “mindset” and aiming for high-performance as a lifestyle. I’m reading this on the MFP app and I wish could save this article link on this app without logging into another app. I definitely was to re-visit this article!

  • Brodie Hudson

    I was called an Athlete by my Dr, and I just thought he was being polite. But I workout first thing in the morning every day, put my clothes out the night before, set my alarm early and try to challenge myself every day. I love working out and it makes me a happier person and I do it for me, not for anyone elses approval. I am soo going to embrace this instead of shaking that awesome compliment off 🙂 Great article!