Training Like an Athlete: What Changes?

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“I started thinking of myself as an athlete and everything just changed.”

The recent black/blue or gold/white dress debate is a great demonstration of the power a subtle shift in perception can yield. I believe the same goes for a person’s approach to their health and fitness. For me personally and as a trainer, I have seen the power a subtle shift in perception can make on a person’s health and fitness goals, and in the end their lives.

The rise of the Body Positive Athlete movement is seeing an increasing number of people embrace their ‘inner athlete’ and flourishing as a result. Many find it hard to put into words how or what changes, all they know is that something big has shifted for them and they find themselves training harder, respecting their bodies more and their relationship with food is completely altered. The health benefits then flow from there.

Due to the fact that I get questioned about this training ethos all the time, I have tried my best to encapsulate what changes actually occur when you start to train like an athlete, and why for some people it is a completely life changing event.

1. You set Goals.

Personally I used to be terrible at setting goals. Not only did I have a fear of failure, I had an equally serious fear of success. I have found that people with long term weight and self esteem issues generally struggle in this area. As a trainer you are educated to always have clients working to a goal, and this can be very difficult when someone can’t quite pinpoint a goal other than weight loss that is motivated by an obligation to do so.

Generally most people will have a burning, underlying desire that will be athletic in nature. “I’ve always wanted to be a runner;” or “I’d love to do a Spartan race.” I remember the time I told a trainer I wanted to do a triathlon – I quite often used to recall his raised eyebrows when I was training for my first tri – without his assistance of course.

Accessing that big athletic dream and then breaking down into small, achievable increments takes it away from being the ‘impossible dream’ and moves it into a possible reality – with hard work and discipline of course. It is a realisation within the ‘self’ that you can actually achieve it, and that someone else believes you can. Suddenly you have a plan which is made up of lots of little goals, and by focusing on achieving the little ones, the big goal becomes less intimidating.

Once you achieve the initial ‘big’ goal, the ‘if I did that, then what else can I do?’ mentality kicks in and you seek the next goal or event. All of a sudden you find yourself operating in a goal-oriented manner on a daily basis, which, for some people, is a very empowering shift in their daily life.

2. You Start Training with a Purpose

In an athlete mentality everything you do has a purpose. Each session makes a contribution to achieving the overall goal. When you shift to this nature of training you no longer ‘go do a workout’, you are doing a speed session, a long set, or a strength session. You start and understand what role each session plays in the big picture of what you are trying to achieve, and once this understanding happens, you tend to no longer require ‘motivation’ to complete each one.

When you change what I call the ‘Training Language’ like this, you find a complete new respect for your efforts and no longer cheapen your experiences or what you are doing simply because you don’t feel you physically fit the ‘athlete’ mould. From what I have experienced and watched with clients, your training then becomes more assertive, less prone to mood/motivational shifts, and you train harder. Your ethos really does become the old ‘just do it’ slogan.

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3. You Rest and Recover

There is a big difference between someone who is undertaking a 12 week weight loss program and someone who is undertaking a 12 week event preparation program – the latter begins to understand the role of recovery. Whilst the former is busy stair mastering off their last low-cal meal, the athlete is training hard and then resting accordingly. They are becoming educated to the role and power which recovery and rest plays in advancing your fitness and achieving your goals.

In order to progress in your training you must push in the efforts and rest when it is scheduled. If you do not rest, you will not recover. If you do not recover, you will not place your body in a position to benefit from the next training session. If you overtrain you will be prone to injury, illness and experience minimal performance gains.

Once you have this understanding, you find yourself having that nap without feeling obliged to get up and ‘run it off’. All of a sudden you find that you’re actually being kind to yourself and beginning to respect and nurture your body. This realisation that your body is the machine that will get you where you need to go sees some people, especially long term dieters or those with negative body image, have a completely different relationship with their bodies.

4. Your Relationship with Food Changes

This is a biggie. As a serial dieter for nearly 30-odd years, food for me was either complete restriction or overindulgence. When I started out on my own athletic journey I knew that restriction and observation of food was a mental weakness of mine and I couldn’t go there, so logic told me that movement was the answer. As my fitness began to develop and I started working towards the goals of running and then training for a tri, I started to get wise on nutrition. I began to research how to best fuel my efforts and support my recovery. For once in my life, food became fuel for performance and not not an obsession.

I have seen this happen to people who have had almost a lifetime of toxic, binge-or-restriction relationships with food. When the focus actually moves to the physical efforts and achieving fitness goals, food becomes a means to an end. People are no longer thinking ‘I can’t have that, its worth 230 cals!’, and are either just having the item and not experiencing any guilt which makes them prone to eating more, or they are asking themselves the question: ‘is there something I can have that better serves my training/recovery?’

5. Your relationship with your body changes.

When you are training like an athlete, everything you do serves a purpose to some part of your body. Be it a long run to build up your aerobic endurance, or a strength session to develop your core, you begin to have an understanding of the role different parts of your body play in the overall success of your efforts. This functional understanding of your body sees you change your perception of it. You start and appreciate your strengths, and look upon your weaker parts not as undesirable, but as areas that need to be developed in training. Your journey no longer becomes about your ‘big bum’ or ‘tuck shop arms’, it becomes about building your glute strength for more stability and injury prevention and strengthening your arms for better swim performance.

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6. Your relationship with yourself changes.

When you start respecting your training efforts, push yourself harder and nurture your body with rest and good nutrition, you find your whole relationship with your ‘self’ has changed. In achieving things you never dreamt of, you develop a seemingly endless curiosity about what you are truly capable of. You start and lose that fear-based thinking when it comes to your potential and you find yourself acknowledging that anything is achievable – with the right plan and hard work.

Everyone’s journey to athleticism will be uniquely different, which makes it all the more special. So many people have been generous in sharing their personal stories with me, and I would love to hear how starting to ‘train like an athlete’ has changed your perceptions and perhaps even your life. Feel free to leave a comment or email me on bpaaust@gmail.com

If you would like any advice on how to start ‘training like an athlete’, please feel free to contact me.

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