Why You Should Stop Training Like an Athlete


I was raised as an athlete. Rushing from swim practice to track conditioning while shoving down a granola bar was a way of life for me growing up. I used to brag about going 25 days in a row without a full day of rest. I pushed my body - and my health - to the limit in the name of athleticism. As much as I love lacrosse, running, and triathlons, it fed into my competitive spirit in a way that was harmful to my health. We live in a world of extremes. You are either a couch potato or training for the Olympics. Yoga isn't enough of a workout, and carbs are cut out altogether. While we preach that moderation is key, this quickly becomes all or nothing. Then, we start to use mantras like this:

Photo courtesy of teespring.com

We are told to train like athletes. To be relentless. To push ourselves. To commit our lives to our bodies. Although I am still an athlete at heart and there are so many things to appreciate about sports, there is a dangerous attitude that has permeated the fitness culture. It's no longer just in sports. Competition, whether with others or against ourselves, drives us to extremes and can be harmful to our health.

There are a few problems with training like an athlete. First, it often rejects self-care. In my experience with cross-country and triathlons, athletes are told to stop when they feel pain, but overtraining is real and injuries are everywhere. Why stop when your opponent is only 100 meters in front of you? The pressure to compete can often push us to race over rest. This can lead to injuries as well as obsessive exercise habits. Exercise addiction also happens.

When we are so focused on our goals, it is easy to put health on the backburner. For example, if your goal is to lose weight by attending a fitness bootcamp 5 days a week, why would you stop for a slight twinge in your shoulder? This attitude of unwavering committment to achieveing a goal can block important signals from our body that remind us to rest, recover, and take care of ourselves. We forget to make ourselves the priority at the end of the day.

Photo courtesy of changeinseconds.com

Yes, athletes have to take care of their bodies, but it is in the name of competition. We need to take care of our bodies in the name of health and happiness.

Additionally, you don't have to be doing crossfit for five hours a day to get the benefits of exercise. Study after study indicates that any exercise is better than no exercise at all. Benefits of cardio activity are achieved after just 10 consecutive minutes. That said, the goal is 150 minutes of moderate activity a week with strength training. At a certain point, too much exercise can be counter productive to health.

By all means, if you truly love racing and competiting and still have a focus on taking care of your health and happiness, please continue! This is for those who are perhaps getting started in exercise or are lost in their athleticism. It's a warning about the extremes of today's fitness culture. With all of the #fitspo accounts and gym junkies calling for rigorous logging, SMART goals, and heroic dedication, it's no wonder people end up quitting or not starting at all. If you have to "train insane," it might be better to actually just remain the same.

So instead of committing our lives to our bodies, let's commit ourselves to taking care of our bodies for a better life. Find forms of exercise that make you happy. You do not have to become a body builder, and you don't have to like running. Try new things, listen to what your body wants, and focus on you first. Take things slow when you're nervous, pick up the pace when you're energized, and rest when you need a break. Create habits not goals, and enjoy an active life of self-care.

MovingErin Thomas