I understand that this post is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, but please hear me out.
Bill Bowerman, Nike’s co-founder, once said, ‘If you have a body, you are an athlete.’ This later evolved into Nike’s mission statement: ‘Everybody is an athlete.’ While I agree with what Bowerman (and Nike) were trying to achieve (i.e., get more people moving), this way of thinking and training has snowballed in the health and fitness industry. These days, I think it might be doing more harm than good.
And so, I’d like to suggest and edit to Bowerman’s statement: ‘Everybody can be more athletic.’ Sure, we’d love to be more athletic (physically and aesthetically), but we’re not all actual athletes. The current norm in training programmes does not highlight our different starting points or consider our final goals. Rather, it creates more problems for us in the form of injury, exhaustion and mental burden.
Athletes dedicate huge parts of their lives to gruelling training schedules, typically adhering to scientifically developed diets, strict sleep and recovery schedules and often very limited (or zero) alcohol intake. Most of us simply rock up to the gym for a few hours a week… best case scenario!
Magazines constantly provide insights into athletes’ nutrition plans for us to replicate, and the ‘Gram is filled with influencer’s videos on ‘how to train like an athlete’, showing highly complex workouts. And I don’t mean ‘complex’ in a good way. Most of these videos seek to catch your attention with totally elaborate and completely unnecessary combinations in the interest of being different, but be careful, because some of these exercises are dangerous! Neither traditional nor social media consider their audience: non-athletes with non-athletic needs and people who have yet to master the basics!
We want to achieve our health and fitness goals, but can our busy lives accommodate the changes these media advocate? And do we really need all those supplements? Can I really eat 10,000 calories if I train like Olympian Michael Phelps? This may sound absurd when repeated out load, but in a world where most of us are looking to achieve maximum results with little to no effort, you can see how appealing these sorts of articles can sometimes be.
There are many reasons as to why people attend the gym, and usually revolves around the fact that other aspects of their lives are unhealthy. Athletes on the other hand, eat and train in pursuit of performance goals. Rarely do they chase body fat percentages or weight goals unless they need to in order to compete, or if doing so will improve their performance.
So why would we follow a diet and training plan geared for someone who’s trying to increase high-calibre performance when all we’re trying to do is lose a little timber and feel better? Athletes’ diet plans are created to fuel multiple sessions daily, not your thrice-weekly, 45-minute spin class. Their training schedules are often highly targeted to their specialty, although they’re often very simple.
The reality is most people haven’t mastered the basics. Hell’s bells, it would appear most health and fitness influencers haven’t mastered them, either!
The reason athletes succeed isn’t because they’re doing 100 highly complex, varied workouts a month. It’s because they’re constantly repeating a small number of workouts, with the aim of consistently getting better. A little variety is great for stimulation, growth and enjoyment, but too much complexity can lead to injury, and too much intensity (which I see in most training programmes floating around Instagram at the moment!) can lead to burn-out and derailment. For example, modern-day exercisers generally lack mobility in their shoulders and hips (due to deskwork), yet training programmes advocate lifting heavy weight overhead, moving through a range over which they have less control, all while feeling fatigued in a mixed modal with cardio.
Finally, let’s talk sleep and stress. Athletes prioritise sleep and have protocols and tools in place to minimise stress. Sleep is the most under-utilised and under-rated health and weight management tool which many are still neglecting. But, not athletes.
Essentially, EVERYTHING in athletes’ lives is geared to their needs and the improvement of their performance, whereas all most of us want to do is look and feel better.
In a nutshell, most of us need to focus on the basics in every aspect of our health and fitness. Build more complexity and variation as and when it’s needed. Until then, keep it simple and perfect your form.
I’d love to know what you think.