Should we all train like athletes?
Athletes are often the pinnacle of physique and performance. When you want to get really good at something, people will tell you to “look at what the best people at that are doing”. More often than not, people who have achieved success tend to do a lot of things right.
So, in context of the post, athletes tend to be the people who we look at for our physical goals. Want to be leaner? Faster? Stronger? Surely this is a good starting point: do what they do?
You’d be right, and also very wrong, all at once.
For me as a strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer, my approach is the EXACT SAME- whether I’m working with an elite athlete or a businessperson looking for fat loss.
Approach is the same. The methods are often very different.
Once you understand what REALLY matters when looking at your training plan, things become clear. You’ll stop wasting time working on exercises that won’t help you move towards your goals, stop following systems built for a different person (with different goals, at a different time), and you start to make rapid progress towards the things YOU really want.
So, here’s a simple question to consider. Do you want to look like you’re doing great for a few weeks, with flashy methods that look great on insta, or do you want life changing results?
If you want the later, do what athletes do, not what you get told they do!
Let me explain…
First off, the CrossFit example (don’t hate me)
Before we start, I wanted to highlight what was (about a decade ago) the biggest misconception I would see with when it comes to how people think athletes train. Maybe it still is, but I’ve seen far less of this recently.
Remember when CrossFit started?
I do. I was a young coach, just starting out on my Personal trainer journey, about to start my degree in sports science, and was already starting to attend workshops for strength and conditioning (S&C). You know how CrossFit was introduced to me?
“It’s great! Everyone trains like an athlete!”
Now, before someone throws something at me, I’m not suggesting “CrossFit” was the issue here. It’s not, it can be a great approach for some. The real issue was the perception of “how athletes train”. The strength and conditioning industry probably has almost as much to answer for with these early misconceptions, as there’s a huge emphasis on complex lifting from newbie coaches.
Let’s be honest. Coaches love lifting. They love to see how these lifts can optimise performance in sport, and they (we) love to be inventive by finding methods that will increase this carryover to performance, and make people more injury resilient!
Sounds great! Where do I sign?! NOT SO FAST!
Even back then, alarm bells were ringing for me, and my knowledge of the subject was basic (at best). How can everyone train like an athlete? EVEN ATHLETES DON’T ALL TRAIN LIKE ATHLETES!
Do you think a marathon runners plan looks like a powerlifters?
Athletes train based on their needs. Some need more strength, some more power, some need mobility, some more transfer of strength to performance. The point is, their training isn’t one size fits all. It’s specific based on what ADAPTATIONS they need to achieve their goal.
So, for me, the idea of train everyone like an athlete was over. As a PT and S&C coach, individual programme design was the best way to help everyone to progress, and general people should approach training differently.
A few years later, it hit me. I was looking at this wrong. I was looking at methods.
With an appropriate plan, athlete’s don’t train off methods, they train off principles, and there’s a process to figure out what needs to be included. That’s a system everyone can follow.
I’ll show you how, but first, let me explain what I mean.
Methods vs Principles
Understanding methods of training is the first thing coaches learn. How to do this exercise, how to write this workout, even how to put together a programme.
It’s rare that people get methods wrong. It’s hard to F up. In fact, most of my clients were able to put together a training session that was relatively appropriate after just a short time working with me. Hell, most could probably run a mean bootcamp! But here’s the problem.
Methods are simply tools to achieve fitness success. And there’s an almost unlimited amount of options!
Does HIIT training work? Absolutely!
Can I use CrossFit methods and make progress in the gym? Yes!
Can I get in shape using a bodybuilding split? 100%!
Could I stick to steady cardio and lose weight? Sure you could!
So, what makes the difference?
Simply put, we need to know which tools to use, and how to use them.
The wrong tool, at the wrong time, can lead to a host of problems that ultimately result in injury, lack of motivation, or lack of results. Often, all of the above.
So, the job isn’t finding methods we can use. It’s finding THE RIGHT methods for the individual. What will have the biggest impact right now to move towards the goal?
We do this through principles. These are the overarching concepts that we need to be aware of to understand which methods may be appropriate, and which probably aren’t.
These are the “laws” of training. The things with solid research and theoretical basis, such as progressive overload, stimulus-recovery, accommodation, etc. These are the boxes that must be ticked.
Good methods are built using these principles, and applied when appropriate, but if we can understand the principles, we’re never tied to any individual methods. You always have options.
And the best bit. All RESULTS come from the right application of principles, not the methods themselves.
This is why I honestly feel ANYBODY can make progress towards their fitness goals.
You don’t hate eating healthy, you hated that method.
Nor do you hate exercise; you hated that method.
There are hundreds of other options that will yield the same results on paper, but you will much prefer, and most importantly, stick to!
I was wrong, and so was everybody else I spoke to at the time. CrossFit didn’t train people like athletes, it simply used some of the methods certain athletes were using. This isn’t the magic potion for fitness and performance, so what is.
Let’s look from a process and principles standpoint and leave methods until we have more information.
Here’s how you can reach your potential.
Applying the principles of training athletes to EVERYBODY
Clearly, elite athletes don’t all follow the same type of programmes. They have very specific needs from training to take them outside of the norm, and to what is literally the extremes of human performance in their chosen sport.
Athletes need to get results, as effectively as possible. This is often for the benefit of the team. This means they need to put their health and adaptations from training as a priority- and this benefits everyone!
Would it benefit you and those important to you to get your results as fast and efficiently as possible? I’m pretty sure the answer to this is yes, but it means MAKING YOURSELF A PRIORITY, for the benefit of YOUR TEAM (family, colleagues, etc).
So, why would you not want this?
Should athlete’s have a different approach to principles (as is often advised) than anyone who just wants to get in shape and be healthy? Should you be left guessing, whilst the information is out there as to how you guarantee results?
No, I don’t think it’s right either, so here’s the process of athletic training, and how we can apply it to ALL situations to maximise your results!
Whether you want to improve overall fitness, develop health, hit bigger numbers in the gym, or simply run around the park with family, here’s 5 key elements of any programme written to help you to reach your potential!
5 Key elements of athlete plans that will help everyone to reach their potential
The needs analysis
All plans start here. For athletes, these look not only at the specific goals, but at what are the requirements to achieve those goals. In athlete development, it’s specific to the individual, the goals, the obstacles and opportunities to develop this, the sport and the position.
Simply put, it’s working out exactly what we need to work on, what results we want to see, and by when. But why is this missed out of plans for the general population?
An athlete may have tight muscle due to training that need addressing and may need to be highly explosive. A businessperson looking for fat loss may have tight shoulders and hips from all the sitting, and need to build an aerobic base so they can bring their stress levels down and manage a steady jog around the park!
Sure, the specifics are different, but if we start with clarity on exactly what we need to achieve, by when, how much time we have to do it, and what are the obstacles, then we can lay out a plan. As long as we meet the overarching principles understood, we can make this work by planning something that will achieve the main goals, in the available time, with considerations for other lifestyle factors.
So, what do you need from your training and nutrition plan?
Here’s something that get’s missed, but is the number 1 factor in every plan I write. Health comes first. Sure, there may be times where short term, we make sacrifices in sport- but on balance, dig deeper, and even these decisions are not as far removed from the health first approach as it may seem.
What I mean by all of this is that although your training plan and nutrition plan is important, I personally believe this should never come at the cost of your health. Most plans I work on with athletes is predominantly covering the basics of recovery and healthy nutrition for overall health.
Of course there’s some fairy dust in there to make their performance improve, but the basics of lifestyle factors can improve recovery, improve focus, improve adherence, reduce injury and illness and make for all round better performance. Think of the additional time you can stick to the plan if you stay healthy! Not to mention the benefits on overall health.
As one of my mentors once told me, it’s all super important, until you get sick. Don’t put your health second.
Mindset and consistency
If you want success in fitness, it comes down to being able to keep to the plan. This means sticking to plans even when its less convenient. Sure, there’s plenty of methods to make things work better for you, but one thing I’ve NEVER seen from anyone who’s achieved fitness results, and that’s them finding every step easy. You have to make sacrifices. It won’t be a smooth ride all the way. Whether this is a fat loss of performance journey, mindset and consistency is key.
Understanding that some days, you just need to get it done, and hit that session with just as much intensity, that’s the mindset of a winner. Some things you’ll get right, some things you’ll get wrong, but stick to it. The ability to turn up to every session, make better nutrition choices, even to take time off to recover when needed, are all essential points of success in fitness long term.
It’s not easy, but you can make it happen. I’ll add a blog post about this at the bottom of the post.
Professional and expert coaching
This one sound obvious, but have you ever heard of someone who achieved fitness results close to their potential just by chance? It doesn’t happen. Building fitness and changing body composition is complex, and I know plenty of coaches who dedicate their lives to understanding it.
Is it surprising then that plans never seem to work long term for people when they guess at what’s the best approach to take? As we’ve mentioned, it comes down to applying the principles correctly, and at the right time- the methods are just a tool. Guessing won’t get you results, just as start athletes won’t reach their potential without a coach (and generally a team of coaches!).
Find a professional who can help you on your journey. If you’re close to us, we’d be happy to help. Contact us here. (For online training, please complete the form, as we occasionally have online coaching opportunities).
Multi- disciplinary approach
The final point is that elite athletes need to reach their potential. This means that they have to recover from each session as efficiently as possible, address limiting factors (both physically and mentally), and perform at their best on the day- often week in week out.
They do this by working with a team of professionals. Basic nutrition support is required for recovery and performance- and this needs to have a clear understanding of the training programme. Injuries may arise, meaning communication between the coach and the therapist is essential- after all, these are different roles. And all of this needs to fit around the goals of the athlete as an individual, as well as the overall plan for competition.
Now, admittedly for most people, the detail needed in each area is far less than for athletes, but having a team of professionals able to advise you, and someone objectively looking over the plan as a whole will always lead to better results, as you’ll always be able to tackle the biggest limiting factors as they arise. Obviously, this is our approach at FX.
My goal with this post was to highlight the facts that your improvement towards your fitness goal is no less important than an elite athletes. It’s different, and the methods you need may be different.
Athletes get the best results through the approach, not the methods. The same approach and principles can apply to you. The goals are not the same. The stressors are not the same, and the obstacles you face are not the same.
But they’re not the same for anyone. Individual approaches to training are the most effective way for you to make progress towards your goal. Lot’s of methods can work, and lots won’t be appropriate right now.
If you want the best results, do what the best do:
- Work out what you need to achieve specifically
- Focus on your health
- Build a strong mindset and a high level of consistency
- Work with a professional to guide you
- Consider a multi-disciplinary approach so you have support in the areas you need it the most.
I’d love to hear your opinions on this one! Leave it in the comments, or fire me an email!
If you’re ready to get started, whether you’re looking to reach your potential for sports performance, or looking to simply take back control of your health, contact us now.
Josh Kennedy, MSc, ASCC, CSCS
P.P.S Check out the podcast, we go into some topics that will be game changing for you