If you’re actively involved in strength and conditioning, I think it’s safe to say you live among people that are “different.” Supposedly, there are all these people out there that don’t even lift, hate their lives, and eat horrible things. Meanwhile, everyone I know is fairly active, loves their lives (for the most part) and eats pretty well.
For most people, working out is simply a way to improve health and longevity and that’s probably its most important function. But let’s face it, there is a next level. Having worked with tens of thousands of people, I can definitively say that food is only a small part of what gets you to there. Think about it – the most athletic people you know don’t tend to be too restrictive with the way they eat. Some people find this frustrating but it’s actually the missing piece for a lot of people. The people we look up to must be doing SOMETHING different right?
I thought I would provide you guys a list of things that the best athletes I know do that you might not do. Once again, this is not a judgment by any stretch of the imagination, but that ideal physique that you want comes with a price that I don’t think most people are aware of.
This is one of the best podcasts we have done, the topic is how bodybuilders and elite athletes train and why it’s a bit of the secret for us regular folks too.
1. They don’t look for a quick fix.
The best athletes with the best physiques – the people you admire – have been working on their bodies for a long, long time. They’ve been dedicated to their craft for years or in some cases decades. It’s simply unreasonable to give up on a dream because you couldn’t make it happen in a matter of weeks. Likewise, if you’re dissatisfied with your results, you won’t improve by throwing in the towel. You need to be in it for the long haul.
How do you shake the defeated mindset and make fitness a part of your life? Enjoy the struggle. At some point, “winning” becomes more about the journey than the destination and you find yourself delighted over the smallest accomplishments. If you can find something that excites you, that keeps you going even when you’re not moving as fast as you might like to – if you can remain passionate and motivated – you’re almost guaranteed to succeed.
2. They know where they are, where they want to go, and how to get there.
The best athletes move from goal to goal, constantly setting their sites on new horizons to maintain a sense of interest along the way. Even if they aren’t competing, they are training for something.
If you find yourself in a state of listlessness with no clear direction of where you’re going, do not despair. Set a goal like putting 50 lbs. on your squat or PRing your Fran time, give yourself a realistic deadline (3-6 months), and commit to it. Picking out a sport to compete in and entering a competition is a great way to motivate yourself and remain accountable too. If competition doesn’t seem worthwhile because you don’t want to embarrass yourself, remember that your first and foremost competition is you.
3. They don’t try to reach their physique goals by cutting Calories.
The best athletes are rarely looking to be in a calorie deficit – they view food as a way to enhance work capacity and they focus on maintaining and building the muscle they are earning in the gym.
4. They don’t obsess over their abs.
Ultra endurance athlete, elite powerlifter, and beer enthusiast Alex Viada once said (I’m paraphrasing) “The best athletes I know don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about how to get abs; the work they do ultimately just lands them in that spot.” Our opinion at Eat To Perform is very similar. We believe that form follows function, and that if you want to look athletic, you need to BE athletic. Stop worrying about your abs, focus on performance, and things will fall in place.
5. They don’t worry about putting on body fat due to overeating.
Fat is easy to lose but muscle is hard to gain. Most athletes spend a good part of their life chasing the latter and so they don’t have to worry so much about the former. For that reason, the best athletes in the world actively seek out weight gain. They do this by lowering their activity level and building their bodies for a specific result. In that process, they are often intentionally put on a bit of fat.
The best way to say it is “ass moves mass”. Want to squat more? You need to put a lot of quality work into developing your quads and glutes, perfecting your form, and increasing your work capacity. That cannot be accomplished in a Calorie deficit, and it’s a lot harder to do if you’re worried about your scale weight.
6. They train smart and focus on incremental performance increases.
Most people think that to perform at the highest level possible, you need to train 24/7 and push yourself to the point of exhaustion every single workout – more of everything, harder workouts, longer workouts, etc. News flash: the best athletes don’t work out this way. Their approach doesn’t even resemble the casual athletes approach.
The fittest people on the planet vary their training with a combination of intensities, activities, and modes of training. You might for instance see someone doing high intensity interval training in the morning to build anaerobic capacity, then weightlifting in the evening to develop maximal strength. They didn’t start out like that (and they typically do either or).
The biggest difference is probably that almost all of them have coaches that are focused on a smart (not always harder) approach. Progressive overload is applied over time to bring the athletes abilities to a peak when they need them to be – nothing is random. It’s all part of a program.
7. They don’t feel guilty when they miss workouts.
The fittest people take time off or reduce their work volume as part of the plan to get better. When you’re pushing the limit of human performance, rest isn’t just beneficial – it’s necessary.
Yeah, if you’re chronically missing workouts and you haven’t been to the gym in months, you might want to do something about it and work on your time management…but don’t feel guilty if you have to push a workout a day late or you miss one session after months of consistency. Consider it extra recovery and get back at it hungrier than you were before.
8. They surround themselves with people who’re better than they are.
The “Big fish-little pond” effect is what happens when you’re the strongest/fastest/best athlete in your gym and you no longer have anyone to compete with; you’ve caught the biggest fish in your little pond and it’s time to expand your horizons. This concept can be applied to pretty much any situation where you’re no longer challenged by your environment.
When a lack of competition stifles your growth, what do you do? The fittest people on earth change perspective. They put themselves out there and seek out new challengers. They don’t shy away from a reality check that perhaps their squat could be stronger; perhaps they could stand to work on their conditioning. The potential for failure forces them to find new and innovative approaches to their individual needs so that they might reach a new level of performance.
9. They constantly seek out new information and develop a broad knowledge base.
Elite athletes don’t have access to any training, nutrition, or motivational materials that your average person doesn’t, but they are constantly studying and applying new methods.
Whether it’s through formal education in pursuit of a degree, through certifications, or interning with the best coaches around, the most successful athletes in the world are smart cookies with a thirst to know more about how the human machine thinks and works. If it’s been a while since you read an anatomy text or dusted off your copy of “Supertraining,” it might be time to get some reading in.
10. They do EVERYTHING they need to do to be the best they can be.
Many of the best athletes we work with are moms and dads. They serve our communities as firefighters or police officers, and some are serving/have served in the military. They have very demanding lives, but they make no excuses when it comes to training, eating, and recovering.
Being the best version of yourself is largely mental; it’s about starting on the path that is the opposite of the one you were on and just never looking back. When you spend enough time living your life, striving for constant improvement, nourishing your body, and being in control of yourself, you realize how much it sucks to live any other way.
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