Why You Don’t Need to Train Like an Athlete

When we are higher than the 5th priority in our clients lives, we are doing something wrong  Steven “Coach Stevo” Ledbetter

The above quote gave me few thoughts that I want share so you can get the absolute best out of your approach to health and fitness. It also got me thinking what I can do better with my movement and habit coaching. Since I am someone who’s seen others as well as myself who’ve had fitness as a number one priority in life and the downside of it, I want to be sure that your training and eating will add positive energy, productivity, happiness and joy to your life. It shouldn’t be something that makes you as miserable as the kid who gets denied the fairy floss at the carnival.

The more fitness blogs you read the more you’d think that to be successful with your health and fitness the more uncomfortable you have to be. You’d think that to get anywhere with your training you need to keep adding weight to the bar, squeeze out couple more reps, only squat ass-to-grass. That you must eat chalk and curse the baby Jesus when you miss that lifetime-best on a deadlift.

Train like an athlete and eat clean (the latter is the worst term that the fitness industry has ever spat out) they say. You can cheat on Saturdays but outside of that your calories have to be spot on and every macro has to have it’s place in the diet. Most of all, you have to earn the “bad” food you eat! Otherwise, why do you bother showing up in the first place.

As long as we keep putting on labels such as “bad” and “good” on our habits we keep digging ourselves into this hole where every eating choice and decision has to be justified. We keep burying ourselves under the dirt by giving morals to the foods we eat.

Let me set the record straight here. If you fit into any of the following categories, you probably shouldn’t train and eat like an athlete: you have a job that requires you to get shit done in order to get paid, you have a family that needs you, you have friends that mean a lot to you, you have pets that want your attention, you have a hobby that you enjoy, you have a partner who deserves some of your time, you have bills to pay so you can keep the heating (or cooling) going in the house. If any of those are something you need to deal with on a daily bases, you should not train and eat like an athlete.

Now, if you happen to fit in any of these following categories, you should train and eat like an athlete: you are an athlete who competes in athletic endeavors. That’s it. Other than that, if you are not an athlete but live in your parents basement and don’t pay rent or cook your own food you shouldn’t brag how hardcore your life in the gym is and how everyone is too weak and unmotivated and full of excuses. You shouldn’t tell people that to get there you just have to want it hard enough. It doesn’t work like that once you are in the real world where mum’s not cooking you meatballs every dinner.

So why you shouldn’t you eat or train like an athlete if you are not an athlete? Because it sets an unrealistic expectation of what you should be capable of when you most likely have at least 3-4 things in your life that should always take priority over training. If your  important relationships, family, work or health suffer because you train like an athlete, your life is out of balance. If any of those suffer because you have to always “eat clean” (god, I hate that term) or hit the iron dungeon, your life is out of balance.

What this all means is that sometimes when you go to the gym you squat the same amount of weight that you did before. You don’t have to add more reps, more weight or go harder in any way, you don’t have to “drop lower”. If your program takes sixty minutes but you only have fifteen it’s ok to do the absolute minimum. If you are not an athlete, you are still winning by showing up and moving. Even if it’s not “better” in any shape or form compared to what you did last week.

Don’t let trainers, coaches or anyone else tell you that you need to do something. Don’t let us tell you that you need a six pack or that you need to look a certain way. Don’t let us tell you that you can’t have a glass of Shiraz on the weekend. Sure, we can give you ideas, encourage you to try something new or uncomfortable or challenging and work together with you but we shouldn’t push our own ideals to you. You need to decide what you want and we’ll get there together by dancing, not by a coach pressing you down with a force of a dictatorship at the height of his or her power.

Whatever you do, do not look up to the ultra fit trainer who has a 14-pack as an prime example of what is possible. Don’t even look up to him for inspiration. Because us trainers and coaches spend our days in a gym, moving around, exploring and experimenting. Because that’s our job. Most of us do it because we love it. But you don’t have to be passionate about it the same way as we are. Nor, should we expect you to be.

As long as you move well and do it often, eat healthy more often than not, wear a seatbelt, don’t smoke or go on juice cleanses and have all your other health markers in check (blood pressure and weight come to mind) while doing the things that make you happy, you are winning. Doing those will assure that you are probably doing better than the majority of the population.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love if everyone would be as excited about overhead pressing and eating sauerkraut as I am. Yet, I acknowledge that is not the case for most people. And to most people good enough is, well, good enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

When Harvey shows up for his training session 10 minutes late because he had a really bad day at work and didn’t sleep the night before because their one year old son was screaming his head off, the last thing he needs is me to make him feel awful about running in late. The last thing he needs is me to push him to go heavier on the weights or to hit the new record on prowler sprints. The last thing he needs is me to question why he didn’t eat any protein for breakfast. Most likely any of those things will only make him feel worse.

Because against all those odds Harvey showed up to move anyway. Even if he is only going through the motions and yawning at me while doing so. He is still winning. He doesn’t want to talk about macros, micros, the level of oxygen in water or the antioxidant in blueberries. And that’s fine.

Of course, there will always be people who love being pushed and love to keep reaching for their personal best in training every single time. And that’s great, have at it! I’ll support you all the way. But again, unless you are an athlete your training and obsession over food shouldn’t be higher than the fourth or the fifth priority in life. Health, sure keep it on top of the list or close to it but being healthy doesn’t mean sacrificing the other aspects of life. It’s not about being perfect. When you are there 90-95% that is good enough. That last 5-10% is where shit is starting to hit the fan, big time. Wrong things will take priority. So, unless you are an athlete with athletic endeavors, don’t train and eat like an athlete. Your good enough is good enough and you don’t have to convince anybody when you’ve had enough and just want to go through the motions.

Because, training has to fit into your life, not the other way around. That’s why.

Further reading:
If you are keen to read more on the downside of attaching moral to our foods, I recommend you pick up a copy of
The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat, a brilliant book by Alan Levinovitz.