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.
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.”
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!