Are You An Exerciser Or An Athlete? - Part I By Charles Staley
Probably 90 percent of all American adults are sedentary, fat, and/or just generally soft and out of shape. The fact that you're reading this probably means you're in the remaining 10 percent, which is to your credit.
When I look at the active minority however, it's clear that 90 percent of them are what I call "exercisers." Allow me to explain and define:
Exercisers want to look better, and despite years of neglect and bad habits, they want it yesterday. They try to achieve this end through manipulating the law of thermodynamics. Eat fewer calories, burn more calories. In other words, create a caloric deficit and (hopefully) lose weight and be somebody.
Athletes want to perform better, and despite years of hard training, they still see new PR's in their future. They achieve this end through consistent and progressive training, directed toward a competitive goal
Most exercisers assume that the more an exercise hurts, the more calories it must burn, and therefore, the better it is for you. Similarly, exercisers assume the worse a food tastes, the better it is for you, and if you buy into the law of thermodynamics, it's not hard to see the kernel of truth in this assumption.
Ultimately, being an exerciser is a hard way to go. The exerciser lifestyle is about denial, self-loathing, and guilt.
You've got to make sure you put in enough punishment on the treadmill, and you've also gotta make sure you never eat anything that tastes good. No wonder people hate exercise as much as they hate dieting. I happen to hate both practices myself.
There is a better way however, and that better way is to adopt the mindset and lifestyle of an athlete. Athletes, don't exercise, they train. They don't diet; they refuel. They don't avoid, they seek. If you go into any Olympic weightlifting club, you'll notice that they don't do exercises, they do "the lifts." (meaning, the snatch and clean & jerk). In fact, most weightlifters refer to their workouts as "practices" as in "I'm going to practice."
Exercisers are perpetually trying to "lose weight." When a wrestler or MMA competitor needs to drop weight for a competition, they call it "cutting." Notice how the former sounds negative and reactive, while the latter sounds positive and proactive?
The biggest problem associated with having an "exerciser" mindset is that it compels people to make exercise choices that are contradictory to speed, strength, power, and generally, Type IIB physiology. Here's an example:
You read an article about "time under tension," and since the author is a world-famous strength coach, you decide to give it a shot. On your next workout you decide to squat using a "4-1-2" tempo, meaning a 4-second descent followed by a 1-second pause, and finally, a 2-second ascent. You quickly learn that "TUT" is a very painful experience, and since you associate pain with gain, you're hooked.
It's not until 3-4 weeks later however, that you begin to realize that your agonizingly painful squat routine hasn't put any beef on your quads or hams, and as far as strength goes, you actually feel weaker!
Any motor-learning professor could tell you why...your 7-second reps dramatically reduce the tension on your working muscles, which in turn reduce Type IIB (fast twitch) fiber recruitment in favor of more slow twitch motor units. This sucks, because now you're weaker and slower.
You might assume that the athletic lifestyle is beyond your reach. But being an athlete isn't the exclusive domain of elite performers. In fact, quite the contrary: by strict definition, most athletes are not elite! Instead, being an athlete is a lifestyle and a perspective. It's the way you go about business in the gym. It's a professional attitude, as opposed to an amateur one.
The exerciser does it because he has to; the athlete does it because he wants to.
Making the transition from exerciser to athlete is simple, but not necessarily easy. Next week, I'll present 5 Critical Practices that'll help you make the switch.
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