I’ve read a few things recently that have me questioning whether taking an athletic approach to my training is really the best choice for me right now.
My friend Melissa over at Outside of the Comfort Zone recently posted about some old injuries that have come up, and anger she’s been feeling about her body rebelling more than in the past. Something that struck me is how much athleticism and sports is in her history and a part of her identity, and how that is so different from my own experience. I don’t remember liking sports much at all as a younger person. I was a loner and a bookworm and afraid of the ball. I never developed the eye hand coordination necessary to play the “ball sports” that are most often presented to young children. I did enjoy working as a team in music…but wasn’t due to any intrinsic need to be on a team. It was because the sounds of different voices in harmony intrigues me. I enjoy the feeling of creating those sounds. I enjoyed it equally with a music track with my voice part removed. I don’t need the team player aspect to enjoy it. So, team sports never interested me.
Then I read this post by Everyday Battles, which really got me thinking. She talks about what she sees as the advantages and challenges presented by having an “athlete brain.” (Again, I noticed how different her experience seemed from my own experience with “loner brain.) Then she draws some conclusions on how people with “athlete brains” can find more balance:
The athlete brains that have a solid grasp on their health and big picture wellness are willing to re-commit their passion to focusing on the present and make the most of it. They decide to be adaptable and open minded instead of resistant to change. They can differentiate between what they can do and what they should do. This pays off big time for their success and sustainability of performance and health. – Everyday Battles (Brianna Battles)
“They can differentiate between what they can do and what they should do.” Yes. This was the prompt I needed to continue on the train of thought I had started.Just because I CAN do something, doesn’t necessarily mean I SHOULD (and note the use of the first person in that statement. I am not talking about anybody else but myself. I am not in favor of people telling others how to dress, act, or live using that statement).
I had already begun to notice that every time I max out on my lifts, I need a lot of time to recover. More than other people seemed to need. More than just a deload week. I’d get sleepy enough for the next few days that I would need to take a few days to a week off from lifting. If I am honest, right now, with the things going on in my life, even just lifting for an hour seemed to have me more tired than I needed to be. I had a similar experience when I ran 2 marathons 10 years ago. I always needed a lot of recovery time (and sleep!) when I was training. It took over my life in the sense that I didn’t have time for anything besides eating, sleeping, running, and working.
In the same week that I read those posts by my more athletic-minded friends, I also saw this post by Go Kaleo.
The eating and activity habits that will improve and maintain your health aren’t necessarily the same as practices used by elite athletes to fine tune their performance, or by models to maintain a specific appearance. Those practices rarely have anything to do with long-term health or a balanced life. Unfortunately, a lot of fitness marketing and images in the media are based on them. – Go Kaleo (Amber Rogers)
It was a bit of a light bulb moment for me. What an important distinction this was, and how miserable I had made myself for years because I did not understand that distinction. Maybe it was time to examine WHY I was approaching my health and fitness from an athletic perspective in the first place.
Athletic achievements are definitely admirable and badass, and I think the focus shift in the fitness industry on athletic achievements over aesthetic goals is encouraging! However, that doesn’t mean that athletic achievements are necessary for good health, or that people who compete/race are healthier than people who train consistently and never compete. Some people are clearly motivated by competition, and I’m not not diminishing that. I’m simply realizing that who don’t wish to compete (or have reasons why competition isn’t possible or practical) shouldn’t diminish our own health efforts.
In fact, perhaps NOT competing could actually be healthier for people who have no trouble training consistently whether or not they are preparing for a competition. I’m guessing that people training for enjoyment and health have fewer injuries, less fatigue, and more energy for their other responsibilities in life.
Now that I am thinking in this way, it sounds crazy to me why I didn’t think of this before! Why did I try to be an “athlete” for so long anyway, when it didn’t come naturally to me?
Here’s what I came up with: in our culture and media, we tend to see two types of exercisers: people who want to change the way they look, and athletes. Therefore, if a person wants to be more active to improve their health or how they feel, and they are also sick of diet culture…..the role models available to them are mostly athletes. People exercising for health or to improve how they feel (without focusing on weight or athletic performance) are heavily underrepresented in the media. Therefore, I think I didn’t realize that not trying to be an athlete AND not trying to lose weight was a valid option. I didn’t know what that would actually look like!
But now that this awareness has kicked in, I am realizing that there are many good reasons for me to shift my priorities away from trying to improve my athletic performance, just as I shifted my priorities away from trying to lose weight.
My slow recovery time is a big consideration. If I try and push my limits too much, it means more time spent recovering, which means less time just MOVING.
My recent diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea is another consideration. I now understand that until I treat this condition, my recovery time is limited by the quality of my sleep.
My three year old currently makes longer training sessions impractical and not enjoyable. Not enjoyable = less likely to continue. I don’t want to go down that road. My goal is to stay active.
We have some financial goals and a tight budget, so I feel a bit stressed at the thought of competition entry fees, gear, travel, etc.
So, I’m rethinking the goal I set this year to enter a weightlifting competition. I’m not sure it really matches my priorities at this point in time. Meanwhile, I’m trying this new awareness on for size. Do I like thinking of myself as someone who is just moving for health and enjoyment….not as an “athlete?” What comes up? We’ll see how it sits with me over the next few months.
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4 thoughts on “Dieter or Athlete? We Need More Options!”
Most of my clients are not athletes. They are people wanting to maintain and/or improve fitness and health and function. They do not participate in competitions. It is possible when the focus is on health.
I realize that it is not in popular culture, but it is present in some sections of the training world.
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Great post. I was one of those exercisers who wanted to change the way I looked. When I gave all that up, I started weight lifting with much more of a continually-improving-performance mindset (not quite an athletic mindset as I never had a desire to compete) – so I was really pushing myself to do progressively heavier weights…and of course, I was continually injuring myself past a certain load, or I just didn’t feel good for days after…and finally I gave all that up too and decided I was only going to do what felt good for the short term and the long term. It has been a revelation. No more injuries, I love going to the gym to do whatever I feel like that day, and I exercise much more consistently with no expectations of either trying to look a certain way OR trying to life a certain amount or go a certain distance. I hate that people might assume I’m exercising to lose weight just because that is what they are doing! So you’re right, we need more people represented in the media who just exercise for health and to feel good!!
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YES! I always feel like such a slacker when I choose to be active because it feels good, but hate competing. And, frankly, don’t want to always push myself to improve my performance (get enough of that in my chosen field). Makes talking about activity difficult.
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