3 Ways Train Like an Athlete is False; and 3 Ways It’s True!

As private strength and conditioning facilities attempt to bridge the gap into the more lucrative small-group adult training market, we seem to hear the sales pitch “Train Like An Athlete” thrown about regularly. As cool as it may sound to train like [insert athlete name here], the reality is, its just not true and furthermore, for general health and wellness, not necessary.

CLICK TO TWEET: “As cool as it may sound to ‘train like [insert athlete name here]’, the reality is, its just not true and furthermore, for general health and wellness, not necessary”

While I was fortunate to work with athletes almost immediately after completing my career as a student/athlete, like many strength and conditioning coaches, my early career consisted of training anyone who would let me. This means new moms, family members, aged populations, special needs, young athletes and professionals. During one summer, in the same day, I would go from working with an NHL all-star, to training a 72 year-old grandmother of 22, to challenging a 16 year old with autism. This experience was critical to my development as a coach and communicator. One thing I can tell you for certain, there are some definite gaps in the approach to training athlete and non-athlete populations.

Three Ways “Train Like An Athlete” is False:

  1. Specificity – high performing athletes know that they need to be working towards specific qualities which transfer to their sport and fill in gaps in their performance/mitigate injury risk. Goal setting takes on a much greater importance in the sense that they must be precise, actionable, multi-layered and completed inside of specific windows of opportunity. General population clients are playing the long game, building a healthy, happy body, that is maintainable over time.
  2. Intensity – unless someone has ever been through a true high performance program, they cannot fully understand or respect the intensity, drive and mental fortitude required to truly push yourself to the limit. This level of intensity is not necessary and often not sustainable for the person that just wants to be healthy. The ability to show up on a regular basis and challenge yourself,  is directly related to number 3…
  3. Purpose –  for professional athletes, training is their job. They follow properly periodized programs, accounting for the various training modalities that will be completed; focusing on proper rest and recovery, inside and outside of training. The stakes are much higher. An improperly designed program could mean the difference between making a team and not. Receiving a contract or not. Overtrain or undertrain, performance can be severely impacted. For general population clients the negative impacts are not directly correlated to their livelihood (injuries aside).

Three Ways “Train Like An Athlete” is True:

  1. Individualization – no two clients are the same. This goes for general and athlete populations. Well there may be similarities, each person needs to be approached with a fresh mind considering a myriad of factors and programmed for accordingly.
  2. Stick to the Basics – whether for performance or general wellness, all programs should adhere to the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle. Troubleshooting and improving squat, lunge, hinge, push and pull, in various plains will go a long way. In fact, sleds, ropes and the more flashy looking items in my gym are almost strictly the realm of the personal training client, to foster engagement and provide variety in training.
  3. It’s a Process – regardless of your goals, its important to first identify what the path achieving them looks like. Acknowledge your desired outcome but focus on the steps to get there.

While I agree that consistent training and challenging yourself is important for athlete and general population alike, keep in mind your ‘why.’ Remember, training like an athlete does not mean doing a bunch of crazy circus acts and pushing a sled until you puke. Be wary of the sensationalism of the fitness industry and seek out a professional who understands your goals and capacity, and works WITH you to find the most suitable approach.

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