4. Why believing you are an athlete hurts you

Uncategorized Feb 10, 2020

This is Rick. 

When him and I met he would tell you he was an athlete.

He chose multiple races to participate in each year and prioritized some as practice whereas other were the more serious competitions that he tried his hardest at.

His annual exercise schedule was designed to get him ready for those one or two bicycle events each year. The goal was to 'peak' his cardiorespiratory and muscular endurance systems to produce the best possible effort on the day of the race. This practice is called periodization and it involves planning chunks of time dedicated entirely towards one aspect of fitness. As each chunk goes on and the athlete moves closer to competition new skills are added to the mix of training until race day shows up and the planned, organized, periodic training leading up to the day would best prepare the athlete for competition. There is plenty of research to show this works.

Periodization's original intent was to showcase at the highest level of sport: the Olympics. Throughout the 20th century the Olympics served as platforms to promote nationalism and the leaders wanted their countries represented by their best. To ensure their athletes were best prepared the leaders spent money on sports science for the first time ever. With the Olympics being every 4 years it made sense to train athletes in a very organized and periodized manner. The margin for error was small and window of competition limited to once every 48 months. Periodization began as planning structure to prepare athletes to compete for their countries at the highest levels.

Then recreational sport and sports as business became a thing and the year round athlete was born. This I believe, is when we all got lost.

In America, kids were raised to participate in sports for recreation. But soon after a competitive element evolved and instead of Tim and Tommy playing at the local complex once a week parents could now PAY to get them playing six times a week across a 2000 mile radius. With tournaments on the weekend and trophies bigger than the kids.

What's worse is that the methods used to prepare professional athletes for leagues like the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL (periodization) was being looked at as the model to teach our youth the benefit of physical activity. When those youth grew up the only thing they had ever known that kept them physically active was being involved in a sport. This made them an 'athlete' and subscribed them to dogmatic practices all recreational athletes fall prey to that trickle down from Olympic and professional athlete preparation. 

Rick was a dead ringer for the 'training like an athlete but not one' camp. He was needlessly complex with his exercise. His nutrition was also focused on some minutia only pertinent to racers who derive money from the sport. And that was the factor that differentiated an athlete from a generalist. Do you make money from your athletic ability? If not, at best you're a passionate hobbyist. Simply put, you're a generalist and can forgive all of the methods, tools, and techniques you learned from the specialists in sports. They are intended for a population that doesn't include you. 

Breathe out because things get a whole lot easier when you understand the simple exercise and eating practices of a healthy person are more than enough to get you all the results you thought only training like an 'athlete' would deliver. 

Rick here was bicycling 15 hours and sometimes more per week. In forgiving his athletic pursuits he cut his weekly exercise time in half, got better results, and improves his life by way of time with his wife, daughter, and hobbies. Not arbitrary work for an even more arbitrary competition. 

Rick and his wife are very happy with how things have changed in his exercise and eating life and it all stems from his forgiveness of being an athlete. He let go of all the overly complex stuff and instead focused on getting really good at the basics: sleeping, resistance training, walking and hitting his macros. 

Opponents of being a generalist tout training like an athlete as superior because they "train for life." As if danger were lurking around every paved corner and physical altercations dominated domestic life. They in fact do not. There has never been a more peaceful and prosperous time to be alive the world over. Citing your reasoning for exercise as "being harder to kill" or "training for life" is a good indicator you have no clue about what era you live in and the trajectory of the future. Your threat of war or any enemies are slim and quickly approaching none. 

Embrace being a generalist. Not an athlete. Athletes have too many concerns and their only focus is often on competition. There is little room left for family, work, or leisurely life when you believe that as a 40 year old you need to exercise for 15 hours a week to get ready for a races that don't matter. Or prepare yourself for battles that are never coming. 

Grow up. 

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