Are You An Exerciser Or An Athlete - Part I
By Charles Staley, B.Sc, MSS
Probably 90 percent of all American adults are sedentary, fat, and/or just generally soft and out of shape. The fact that you're reading this probably means you're in the remaining 10 percent, which is to your credit.
When I look at the active minority however, it's clear that 90 percent of them are what I call "exercisers." Allow me to explain and define:
Exercisers want to look better, and despite years of neglect and bad habits, they want it yesterday. They try to achieve this end through manipulating the law of thermodynamics. Eat fewer calories, burn more calories. In other words, create a caloric deficit and (hopefully) lose weight and be somebody.
Athletes want to perform better, and despite years of hard training, they still see new PR's in their future. They achieve this end through consistent and progressive training, directed toward a competitive goal
Most exercisers assume that the more an exercise hurts, the more calories it must burn, and therefore, the better it is for you. Similarly, exercisers assume the worse a food tastes, the better it is for you, and if you buy into the law of thermodynamics, it's not hard to see the kernel of truth in this assumption.
Ultimately, being an exerciser is a hard way to go. The exerciser lifestyle is about denial, self-loathing, and guilt.
You've got to make sure you put in enough punishment on the treadmill, and you've also gotta make sure you never eat anything that tastes good. No wonder people hate exercise as much as they hate dieting. I happen to hate both practices myself.
There is a better way however, and that better way is to adopt the mindset and lifestyle of an athlete. Athletes, don't exercise, they train. They don't diet; they refuel. They don't avoid, they seek. If you go into any Olympic weightlifting club, you'll notice that they don't do exercises, they do "the lifts." (meaning, the snatch and clean & jerk). In fact, most weightlifters refer to their workouts as "practices" as in "I'm going to practice."
Exercisers are perpetually trying to "lose weight." When a wrestler or MMA competitor needs to drop weight for a competition, they call it "cutting." Notice how the former sounds negative and reactive, while the latter sounds positive and proactive?
The biggest problem associated with having an "exerciser" mindset is that it compels people to make exercise choices that are contradictory to speed, strength, power, and generally, Type IIB physiology. Here's an example:
You read an article about "time under tension," and since the author is a world-famous strength coach, you decide to give it a shot. On your next workout you decide to squat using a "4-1-2" tempo, meaning a 4-second descent followed by a 1-second pause, and finally, a 2-second ascent. You quickly learn that "TUT" is a very painful experience, and since you associate pain with gain, you're hooked.
It's not until 3-4 weeks later however, that you begin to realize that your agonizingly painful squat routine hasn't put any beef on your quads or hams, and as far as strength goes, you actually feel weaker!
Any motor-learning professor could tell you why...your 7-second reps dramatically reduce the tension on your working muscles, which in turn reduce Type IIB (fast twitch) fiber recruitment in favor of more slow twitch motor units. This sucks, because now you're weaker and slower.
You might assume that the athletic lifestyle is beyond your reach. But being an athlete isn't the exclusive domain of elite performers. In fact, quite the contrary: by strict definition, most athletes are not elite! Instead, being an athlete is a lifestyle and a perspective. It's the way you go about business in the gym. It's a professional attitude, as opposed to an amateur one.
The exerciser does it because he has to; the athlete does it because he wants to.
Making the transition from exerciser to athlete is simple, but not necessarily easy.
Are You An Exerciser Or An Athlete - Part II
Last week I differentiated between the "exerciser" mindset and the athletic paradigm. I equated exercisers with an amateur approach, and athletes with a professional attitude toward fitness. Most importantly, I demonstrated how the fundamental distinction between these two divergent perspectives is one of attitude: exercisers hate what they do, they do it begrudgingly, and they wouldn't do it at all except for their certainty that they have to do it.
Athletes, on the other hand love to train. In fact, they tend to overtrain, because their work ethic has become so ingrained that they live and die by a productivity-based ethos.
Becoming an athlete doesn't require advanced pedigree, a nasty steroid habit, bulging biceps, or even jaw-dropping talent. What it does require is a commitment to a set of practices that define the athletic lifestyle. People who consistently practice these habits can call themselves athletes, while those who do not continue to reside in the exerciser caste.
As you continue to read, take a self-assessment to see how many of these five habits you already practice, and which ones are missing from your dossier.
1) Process Orientation:
The athlete pursues goals, but the bulk of his day-to-day attention is focused on processes. A premise is first developed which states "If I do this process, it should lead me to this end." Once the premise is established, the athlete trusts the premise (much like a pro golfer must trust his stroke under competitive conditions).
The athlete shifts his sights away from the long-term goal and devoted his entire energy toward the day-to-day practices and habits that will give him the best chance for success. These practices encompass everything from training tactics, to nutritional and recuperative strategies.
2) Delayed Gratification:
The desire for instant results is the hallmark of an exerciser. Athletes know that the big payoff is worth the wait. One telltale sign of maturity can be found in sound nutritional practices: many people can commit to an exercise program, because there are immediate benefits- endorphin production, muscle pumps, greater energy, etc. However, there are little to no short-term benefits to be gained from a sound nutritional program - the payoff takes time to accrue.
Athletes record, document, and analyze their training, and often, their food intake. In other words, they keep records. When you don't have systems, you need to reinvent the wheel every time a unique situation presents itself. Athletes tend to know their maximum capacities in various exercises, they know how they react to various nutritional practices, and they're also familiar with the psychological states that produce superior performances. All of this knowledge is gleaned through the process of record keeping. After all, the best way to predict future performance is to study the past.
The previous three practices are all components of professionalism, but here, I'd like to discuss a "root" habit that gives birth to all of them: distancing. This practice is perhaps best personified in the old weightlifter's credo "There is no joy in victory, no agony in defeat." Athletes maintain a certain impassionate distance from their craft. They know that if they identify too closely with their role, they'll be less likely to put themselves on the line, in the competitive arena.
Instead, they simply put in the work, do the right things, and resign themselves to whatever outcome might occur. Athletes know that commitment to the effort means more than the outcome produced by the effort. Exercisers on the other hand, are typically unwilling to put in the time, and instead resort to pills, powders, plastic surgery, and various other shortcuts that inevitably lead to failure.
Exercisers are concerned exclusively with "form:" an improved appearance. Athletes are concerned exclusively with "function," which results in better form than what exercisers typically achieve. Put simply: form follows function. When you train like an athlete, you'll look like an athlete
I hope you'll notice the consistent parallels between these 5 practices. They all stress means over ends, practices over outcomes, long-term growth over immediate gratification. All of which are expressions of maturity. If you're currently living an exerciser lifestyle, you're ahead of the curve, but why not set your sights higher and join the athletic community? All it takes is making a decision- taking action, right now.
Similar Bodybuilding Threads: