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The Everyday Athlete

Unleash Your Inner Beast

What is the everyday athlete? Over the past few decades fitness has taken quite a few turns. Many large gym corporations, gadgets and programs have butchered fitness into an unrecognisable and confusing concept. To do cardio or not to do cardio? Strength train or don’t strength train? We have gyms that look like the production line of an automotive company, with machines spread across the floor as far as you can see.

The truth is, fitness should not be this complicated. I’m willing to bet that anyone reading this has a few misconceptions of their own through being brainwashed by the fitness industry. You may have given up dozens of times because it’s all too complicated. But it’s really not. Fitness is a natural state of human function. Fitness is simply your ability to function physically. It’s a sliding scale from couch potato to elite athlete, with many stops in between.

Now back to the original question, what is the everyday athlete? The everyday athlete is what modern fitness needs to get back to. Think back to a time when humans were primitive. We hunted for food, we built our own shelter. There were no supermarkets or takeaway stores. Humans were athletes by default. They didn’t play sports because life was sport.

This concept is true today for wild animals. Have you ever heard of an unfit lion? Neither have I. The lion can sprint, drag down large prey and carry that prey to a suitable location for eating. Along the way he/she has to contend with the likes of hyenas, often having to fight for a meal they have already expended energy in stalking, catching, killing and transporting it. That is a lot of effort just to get a meal. The lion doesn’t get to give up on the hunt and just go grab a burger from McDonalds. There are no other options.

The modern human has become soft and inactive. This applies as much to the couch potato as it does to the person that heads to the gym after work, changes into some nice clean gymwear and does a cruisy, social workout on some of the machines in the gym, in the comfort of an air conditioned facility. We have taken a primal activity and made it too civilized and too comfortable.

Enter the likes of CrossFit. Crossfit has changed the way people look at fitness. It has taken the average person, the non-athlete and given them a program that is athletic in nature. It has essentially turned the average person into an athlete.

SIDEBAR: This is NOT a CrossFit article. CrossFit is used here as an example of real athletic movements and how it has impacted the fitness industry. This article is a guide to creating athletic ability, whether you do CrossFit or not.

CrossFit has made a big impact on the fitness industry, no doubt. It has taken people out of step classes and out of jogging and has made them take up Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, plyometrics etc. Real movements that produce real components of human performance. It’s time we capitalise on this and start truly turning the everyday person into an athlete.

Becoming an “Everyday Athlete”

It’s time to get back to your primal roots and become an athlete, even if you don’t compete in a specific sport. This is your NEW guide to fitness.

These are in a specific order for a reason. Follow this guide and do so consistently. You will be fitter, stronger and more physically capable than ever before. Become the everyday athlete.

Pick a Specialty

That’s right, I said pick something to specialise in. CrossFit teaches that routine is the enemy and you are training for the unexpected. This premise holds true, however it is impossible to develop a quality level of ability in multiple components of fitness that directly oppose each other. You can be a good marathon runner and a good sprinter at the same time, it’s biologically impossible. The result is that you will develop a low level of each.

When you train for two opposing fitness components you produce enzymes that cancel each other out. Aerobic training at a high level produces enzymes that support aerobic ability. These enzymes and the physiological adaptations they cause will inhibit anaerobic ones. By training for endurance you are not just developing endurance, you are also inhibiting speed and power. The same is true for the reverse.

Decide what kind of athlete you want to be. Do you want to be able to run 20km or more at a fast pace? Do you want to be able to sprint fast and develop explosive jumping ability? Do you want to be super strong?

Pick your specialty. Decide what abilities are most useful and appealing to you. This will serve as your hub. It DOES NOT mean you won’t be fit in other areas, it just means that this is where your primary ability lies.

Find Your Spokes

Your specialty is your hub, everything else is a spoke. Something that directly opposes the hub, or specialty, is not going to be beneficial to your conditioning. If you have chosen to develop speed, power and agility as your hub, trying to run marathons will be detrimental.

So what do you do about complimenting your primary training objectives?

Develop secondary abilities that don’t deviate too far. Strength focused athletes can develop the ability to sprint, jump and throw. These things are explosive and compliment each other. Sprinters need to be explosive, they need to be strong. Strength training is a major part of developing sprinting ability.

Take a look at wild animals. Most animals in the wild have a range of skills and abilities. However most of what they can do are things that compliment each other. A jaguar is fast, agile and explosive. It can sprint, just, climb and carry. It has strength, speed, explosive power and  agility. But it’s not capable of a great deal of endurance. Think like a wild animal, especially a predator.

Build a Flexible Training Program

Specific athletes such as powerlifters or sprinters follow very specific and very structured training programs. CrossFit athletes don’t follow a program at all. But what you’re going to do, even if you do CrossFit, is design a loosely structured training program.

Here is an example of what I personally do. As a bit of background, I used to be a sprinter. I favour explosive power, strength and speed. Now I am not dedicated to a specific sport, I have a few sports that I compete in. I still sprint but also compete in strongman and shotput. My training time is also limited, so I need to make best use of my time.

My primary program consists of a few key exercises that I do regularly. The main two are the Olympic clean and the power snatch. For the clean I do the full squat version, but for the snatch I do a power snatch, not a full snatch. These are the two movements I focus on improving progressively. Along with that I also regularly sprint and do plyometrics to increase explosive power.

My program is simple. I aim to do the primary two barbell exercises at least three times a week. I progressively increase the weight I am lifting from one session to the next. I also aim to sprint and perform plyometrics twice a week. Everything else is an add-on. Along with this I do gymnastics strength exercises, heavy barbell exercises and strongman training. I also do high intensity body weight circuits involving things like burpees, single arm push-ups, pistol squats, plyometrics push-ups etc.

Looking at what I do as an example, you can do something similar. Lets say your main focus is building strength. You might even want to compete in a sport like strongman recreationally. Pick a few key exercises or drills that form the regular basis of your training. Then insert other exercises and training methods that compliment that.

In order to have a broad range of useful skill you still need to train for the unexpected, to be ready for anything. But without a small amount of structure you won’t be able to develop a specific area of ability to a high degree. Again, think of the wild animal. The lion doesn’t follow a specific fitness program, but it does do certain things regularly. It sprints, it drags down prey and transports that heavy prey. These things are regular daily activities for the lion. But it also climbs, jumps and fights off intruders like hyenas and other lions. As a result of this daily pattern, the lion gets better and better at hunting prey and all the skills that go with it. It gets faster, stronger and more agile every time.

Copy the lion, it’s a great fitness instructor, even though he is shit at teaching step classes.

Find Something to Measure

I’m sure you have heard the saying “what gets measured gets managed”. What does that mean? It means that if you are not measuring it in some way then you are not actively improving it. But that does not mean you need to keep a strict training journal with everything you do written in it. For our purposes it simply means awareness of improvement/progression.

In my case I measure only two things regularly. I measure the power snatch and the Olympic clean. I don’t measure the volume of training or the breakdown of sets and reps. I measure only the amount of weight I am currently capable of lifting, that’s it. Then either every workout or every few workouts I aim to increase the amount of weight by a small amount.

I also keep track of my sprint times. But most of this is kept in my head, I don’t need a training journal. That’s simplicity, that’s minimalism. Don’t complicate things for yourself. Also in my awareness, but not measured with numbers, are things like single arm pull-ups, jumping height, the ability to dunk a full size basketball hoop (at only 5’9”) etc.

So find some simple things to keep track of and progressively aim to improve them.

Get Competitive

Fitness in a comfortable gym environment is the furthest thing from a true expression of fitness. It’s hard to get truly fit, strong, lean and powerful without a yardstick to measure from. Popular modern psychology is soft. It tells you not to compare yourself to anyone, to be happy being yourself etc. True in one sense. Don’t beat yourself up and be unhappy with yourself. But comparison and competition make the world go round. It is competitiveness that motivates people to improve. Competitiveness drives people to become better all the time.

But how do you become competitive if you are not an athlete in a specific sport? There are a few things you can do.

·        Take notice of people that are doing a similar type of training. Look at various levels of fitness. Look to people that are a similar age, a similar build and a little bit ahead of where you want to be. Also look at those that are the best in the world at similar skills. It will give you an idea of what is achievable at all levels. Yes, just so we are clear, I am asking you to compare yourself to others.

·        Train with a partner that has similar goals. Pick someone at your fitness level or a little bit above your fitness level. If you are trying to increase your deadlift, then deadlift with someone that can lift similar weight or more than you can.

·        Take up a sport recreationally. Time is sometimes a limiting factor. Personally with my business and family I am unable to put in the time to join a rugby team. But I am still a member of the athletics club and competing in strongman competitions. It gives me something to train for. You might want to train for a marathon, play Oztag/flag football, local CrossFit comps or whatever interests you.

·        Declare your results publicly. No one wants to share publicly that they only trained their squat once the past week and failed to improve. If you share it then you are more motivated to improve it. This is competing against yourself.

Get Uncomfortable, Get Primal and Get Aggressive

Fitness has become sterile and comfortable. If it’s raining outside how likely are people to head out and do hill sprints in the mud? Gyms are air conditioned. There are machines with padding that are comfortable to use. The social banter is generally very tame and civilised. The clothes are fashionable. All in all, the modern world of fitness is soft. It’s time to harden up and get a bit more primitive. Add some aggression to your training.

The following are a few things that will change the way you see fitness. You need to learn to get a bit more primitive and step outside your comfort zone.

·        Get outside more, regardless of weather. Running on a treadmill is banned, so is the cross trainer. The only piece of gym equipment you should use in the cardio room is the rower. Get out and sprint, do burpees, jump, climb, throw, do pull-ups at the local park. Spend a bit of time outside training in all seasons.

·        If strength is your main goal then get out of the comfortable gym with the air conditioning and rows of machines. Pick a new gym. What kind of gym? I’m glad you asked. Pick a gym with plenty of free weights, plates clanking, Olympic bumber plates, plenty of squat racks, lifting platforms, chalk in the air and on the knurling of the bars, kettlebells, strongman equipment etc. The people you will see there are real strength athletes. You’ll see people of all ages deadlifting, squatting and doing Olympic lifts. You won’t see a lot of cable crossovers and leg extensions. You can find this at powerlifting gyms, Olympic lifting gyms or a CrossFit box. Or just come train with Unleashed Training here in my garage style gym.

·        Train with aggression, get a killer instinct. Fitness has become about gentle exercise, about mind-body-soul, pilates, yoga etc. Gym classes are very commercial and generic. If you are reading a book while pedalling an indoor bike then you are failing to create any lasting adaptations. Lift, sprint and jump with some controlled aggression. Remember the lion.

Nutrition

The final piece of the puzzle is what goes in your mouth. It’s so easy for us to over eat. We have 24/7 access to all kinds of food. It’s easy to get. The lion has to be fit to catch its natural food source. Food in that environment is precious. You need to start thinking the same way.

Nutrition in a nutshell…

·        Eat as close to whole and natural as possible. If it’s in a box you don’t eat it, or at least eat less of it. Choose meats that are in their whole form. Eat a steak instead of some processed meat source like a sausage roll or a hotdog. The steak comes straight from the source and hasn’t been altered by manufacturing. The same applies to fruits, nuts and vegetables.

·        Eat more protein. Most people over indulge on carb based foods. We need carbs, but not in the form that most people consume them. Fill up on protein first before anything else.

·        Eat more fat. Yes, I said fat. Eliminate fats like processed vegetable oils like margarine and the like. Eat more fat from egg yolks, raw olive oil (don’t cook with it), nuts, meat and other natural, whole sources. Fat is what hormones are made from and fat will keep blood sugar at a healthy level and stop insulin spikes. Basically, you will get leaner with a healthy dose of whole fats.

·        Load up the vegetables. It’s time to get used to eating more of the good stuff. No matter how many vegetables you eat now, start eating at least three time more than you do now. Cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens have no limit. Eat as much of these as you can possibly fit in. this does not apply to fruit. Fruit is to be eaten sparingly. Food like broccoli and baby spinach can be eating in giant quantities.

·        Cut out most sugars. From now on you will limit the amount of fruit you eat, cut out soft drinks, stop adding sugar to things, ditch the cereal, limit the amount of milk you consume and read the labels of anything man-made to ensure sugar content is low or zero.

·        Stop being carb dominant. We tend to eat a lot of foods that are dominated by processed carbs. It’s time to set carbs aside and make them a side dish or an extra, instead of taking up most of the volume of food. Insulin is controlled by carb intake and insulin will tell your body to store fat. If you’re eating rice for example, the serving size is small. Add extra meat and vegetables to bulk it up.

·        Eat less frequently. Yes, despite popular dietary advice that tells you to eat six meals a day, I am recommending a more natural eating pattern. Eat no more than 2-3 main meals per day. The rest are small snack and grazing. Spend at least 12 consecutive hours out of every 24 in a fasted state, meaning no food and only water during this time. The fasting time includes while you are asleep, so it’s not hard to do. I personally recommend limiting your eating to a window of six hours, with 18 hours fasting. Learn to be hungry sometimes, it’s a necessary feeling.

Please note that this is NOT a paleo diet. Many aspects of it resonate with a paleo lifestyle, but you needn’t exclude legumes, dairy and all grains. Just get closer to whole and natural foods.

Conclusion

I’ve said it many times throughout the article, fitness has become sterile. But people are gradually starting to adopt athletic training. Thanks to the likes of CrossFit people are starting to do Olympic lifts, sprint, do plyometrics and learn how to move again. Instead of thinking of exercise as punishment for being fat or out of shape, think of it as a lifestyle. Become an athlete, even if you don’t play a sport. Get competitive, start doing things that challenge you in an uncomfortable environment. Have something to aim for besides losing X number of pounds/kilos. Think like an athlete. Increase your squat numbers, do Olympic lifts, run a marathon, compete in a strongman event. Whatever it is that motivates you.

Train like an athlete, look like an athlete.

Lastly, age is not a barrier, neither is limited time. I have met 60 year olds that have taken up powerlifting and started competing. I had a 91 year old client that wanted to bulk up. I’ve trained busy mothers to run impressive 100m sprint times. And personally, I run a business and work a lot of hours. Some days I only fit in a 20 minute workout and I’m lucky to do two sessions a week exceeding 40 minutes. Yet I maintain a very high level of fitness. At 75kg I am deadlifting 225kg and sprinting 100m in 10.80 seconds, despite being 32 years old and raising two kids.

Get aggressive, get primal and claim back your innate ability to move freely and demonstrate some athletic ability.

Return to our home page from Everyday Athlete.

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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons

Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.

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