I subscribed to Instagram recently and while it is a great time waster, it is largely useless unless you want to look at pictures of people posing, food or inspirational memes. However, one thing I do have a lot of on my feed is fitness personalities, and most of them men and women who love to post selfies showing off various body parts. I’ve written before about how this is not real life and how very few members of the population will ever be able to (or should) achieve a defined abdomen, bulging muscles and be able to look like they could hop onto the pages of a fitness magazine tomorrow.
Then there is the athlete side of the equation. I’m not talking about your NFL professionals, I’m talking about the average amateur person competing for a national or possibly even Olympic ranking within their respective chosen sport. They still manage to look incredibly athletic and perform at a very high level of athleticism consistently, day in and day out. Genetics play some part in this, as does guidance from coaches and parents over their lifespan.
That being said, there are some things that these people do that brings them success that anyone can do, even if you work long hours and have other things going on in your life (like we all do).
They train consistently and make it a priority
Anyone who looks fantastic or performs at a very high level rarely (if ever) got there quickly. Olympic athletes train consistently for over ten years before getting to that level. Endurance athletes usually take about 5-7 years to build a proper base for performance at endurance sports. Even that girl who is doing the photo shoot with airbrushed abs still worked hard 5-6 days a week for a period of many months before taking their clothes off. There is something to be said for simply sticking to a program day after day and prioritizing effort – this is something that will get results over time.
Another thing about these people is that it is high on their priority lists and part of their lifestyle. I know guys with families who get up at 4am to train, work full time jobs and still manage to be home for dinner. Some people train shorter amounts but 2 times per day. It is possible if you prioritize it. Amateur athletes often have at least one job and sometimes two (I had three in college for a time), but still manage to get their workouts in daily. I’ve written before about time management and this is a prime example of it.
They realize that nutrition is really, really important
Any athlete prioritizes their food and eats for function, not emotional happiness. They don’t drink as a general rule. They focus on macronutrient profiles and eating things that aren’t processed and packaged. While there are times when they will have a good solid meal that isn’t about nutrition, it is the exception, not the rule and probably happens less than once a week and is geared towards either reloading glycogen stores or giving themselves some relief from fanatical eating. They prepare meals ahead of time and take them to work. All quite easy things to do – people just don’t do it. If you have a problem with time management feel free to read my 3.5% article.
Some fitness people and bodybuilders overdo it on supplements, but sometimes that is necessary for them to hit their macronutrient goals due to time. What is a better option, getting in the macronutrients you need or skipping a meal altogether? Food is fuel – and if you put crappy fuel in, then you’re going to get crappy output. Another simple thing that just requires time and attention and prioritizing.
They know that recovery is another component of fitness
Sleep, taking rest days and listening to your body are all things that any athlete needs to be successful. Having good habits like going to bed early and keeping to a schedule that sustains your training is a priority. My clients have programmed rest and recovery days and if they need extra time off, they take it. Things like massage and even physio or other recovery related appointments can also be important parts of this in order to maintain proper performance. As long as you are consistent (see point 1) you won’t have to worry about it. Skipping social engagements so that you can rest is a good example of this type of prioritizing. If you want to perform at a high level, you need to be disciplined.
One classic example I remember was a high level triathlete who used her off day to get a massage and then do her recovery work so she could train hard the rest of the week for 3-4 hours a day. Recovery doesn’t have to mean doing nothing, it can be doing what you need to do for the next day.
They have a plan and stick to it
I have a client who is a successful marathon runner who has his plan laid out for the next year and a half, culminating in doing a full Ironman triathlon in 2015. Sure, his training will get modified along the way and we have many sub goals set between now and then, but the long term plan is in place. My job as his trainer and coach is to make sure he gets there and performs at a high level. Your goals might be different, but having a laid out path is always better for focus than just going at it without guidance. You can feel free to change it, but you always need a path to start with.
I can’t count the amount of times people walk into a gym thinking they want to do something and then get confused, lose momentum and then just stop rather than figuring out and planning. Likely in your job you have annual goals you need to achieve – why not in your fitness as well? Plan long term and give yourself a realistic view of what you can achieve. Don’t rush results, because odds are it isn’t going to happen. A good coach can help with this type of thing.
I only point these things out because people sometimes need perspective. When you see people who perform well there is a good reason for it, and many of them are right above you on this page. They didn’t get there overnight, and neither will you. But anyone can start at any time and make a commitment to themselves to make some simple changes to start going down that path. Like I always say, it is never too late to get started. Don’t get discouraged because it doesn’t happen overnight – just remember, that athlete or even that random Instagram person never, ever got there quickly and neither will you.