You Don’t Have to Be Young to be an Athlete

Written by Jason Ferruggia Topics: Uncategorized


Written in 2006 For Todays Man magazine

Remember when exercise used to be fun; when you used to get endless hours of physical activity each week without ever dreading the thought of it? Remember when you used to be able to break out into a full sprint without the fear of pulling a hamstring? How about when you could stand up from your chair without your lower back hurting?

Oh, to be young.

Or maybe it’s actually what we were when we were young…athletes.

Sure as we get older we lose muscle mass and flexibility but this can not be blamed solely on the aging process itself. These problems can be attributed to the sedentary lifestyle that has become as American as apple pie. Those of us that try to combat the sedentary lifestyle usually do so by going to the gym, using the weight machines and then hopping on a stairclimber or stationary bike for a monotonous, mind numbing thirty minutes.

Whatever happened to playing? At what age do we decide that playing is no longer an option? Most of us played sports as kids; if not on a team, at least recreationally. Yet as we get older, life some how becomes less fun and care free as it used to be as a kid. On top of this, playing becomes a thing of the past. What with bills to pay, kids to raise and work to do, surely there is no time to play.

Right?

Well, if that is your line of thinking, I highly recommend you reevaluate your priorities in life. What is more important than your health? And what better way to maintain that youthful look and feeling than doing what you did as a kid?

If you loved playing basketball in high school and college, what made you decide to stop playing when you got your first real job?

It has often been argued that animals have no imbalances or need for static stretching or warming up because they are constantly on the move and rarely sedentary. Unfortunately, as humans we need to travel in trains, planes and automobiles and many of us need to make a living by sitting behind a desk all day. For this reason we can develop many imbalances and problems such as weakness and a lack of flexibility and mobility. Spending forty hours per week in a chair with your shoulders hunched over a computer is a long time. Do you really think that ninety minutes a week on the stationary bike and weight machines, where you are again in a seated position, is really enough to combat this?

And why would anyone ever choose to walk on a treadmill or a stairstepper when there is and endless amount of ground to walk or run on and stairs to climb outside in the fresh air?

It’s time to change the way you think about exercise.

For over thirteen years I have worked as an athletic performance enhancement specialist. In this time I have worked with over 500 clients. While the majority of these clients were usually high school, college or professional athletes, there were also a number of equally hard working weekend warriors. Many times these weekend warriors were average working people who came to me to help them get in shape and feel a little better. They usually expected me to stick them on the typical machine circuit that every typical gym goer is routinely handed. For cardio they always assumed that I would have them pedaling away on a stationary bike for hours and hours, week after week.

Boy, were they wrong.

I always have and always will treat every potential client as an athlete. Weather you compete or not is of no difference to me; you’re an athlete in my eyes and you’re going to train like one. Without fail, nearly every non athlete client who came to me just to get in shape slowly found themselves playing more than they had in years. Some joined softball leagues and others just got involved in games of beach volleyball that they usually would have sat out. In short, they all became athletes again. And more importantly, they felt better than they had in years, both physically and emotionally.

Training like an athlete has nothing in common with training like a bodybuilder or typical gym rat. With training routines like that, it’s no wonder people dread going to the gym. Training like an athlete involves not only building muscle and losing fat but also improving your strength, flexibility, mobility, agility and speed.

Even if you are vehemently opposed to playing a sport of any kind and just want to look and feel better, it still makes absolutely no sense to not train like an athlete. When people think of their ideal physiques, do they think of bodybuilders or Olympic sprinters and NBA forwards? More people would choose to look like a Pro Bowl wide receiver than a Mr. Olympia competitor. Everyone wants to look like an athlete, therefore the smartest thing to do would be to train like one.

But how exactly does one go about training like an athlete?

The first thing that needs to be addressed is the choice of exercises. Total body compound exercises always take precedence over isolation or machine exercises in the training of an athlete. These include power cleans, deadlifts, squats, chin ups and military presses. There is absolutely no room in the athletes program for wasted movements that do little more than temporarily pump up the muscles.

Next, athletes need to always include some single leg training in their programs. Since most sports include transferring strength from one leg to the other and many athletes develop imbalances between the two sides, this type of exercise must be included.

For strength work athletes should use heavy weights and do sets of five reps or less. For muscle gain, moderate weights and reps between six and ten should be used. To develop speed, Olympic lifts, jumps and weighted throws should make up a major portion of the program. Finally, for conditioning purposes and “real world” strength, athletes should use strongman exercises such as tire flips, sled drags, car pushes and sledgehammer swings.

When the focus of your training is on performance and becoming more athletic you automatically develop a great physique. The opposite, however, can not be said. If you train for athletics, you will develop the aesthetics; if you train for aesthetics you won’t necessarily become more athletic.

It’s time to put an end to the days of boring, monotonous workout routines. Skip the stationary bike and head out to the track or field for some sprints with a sled. Ditch the leg extension and go out and push your car down the block. Trash the ab roller machines and start swinging a heavy sledgehammer or throwing a medicine ball. Forget aerobics and tricep kickbacks and start doing heavy deadlifts.

When you go to the gym with a greater purpose than simply to look better, you separate yourself from the pack. Everyone else is there to peak their biceps but you have something a little less narcissistic in mind. Although you will develop an awe inspiring physique and a great pair of peaked biceps along the way, you will be much more than all show and no go. While plenty of people will be able to display a six pack on the beach next summer, how many will be able to display a 36 inch vertical jump on the volleyball court? And which achievement do you think most people will find more impressive?

To answer I’ll share a personal anecdote from a day this summer at the beach. A pickup game of touch football broke out with some of my friends and five other guys that I had just met. Even though I had probably spent more time in the gym than all of them combined and was in significantly better shape, no one was impressed. Everyone has seen that before. But during the first series of downs when my buddy got burned on coverage and I chased his man down from twenty years behind and jumped a foot over his head to grab the interception, people took notice. “Damn you’re fast,” said the guy who I had just out run and jumped over. “You play college ball?”

That statement and question that followed was so much more rewarding than any compliment on my physique ever could be.

For years I made the mistake of training simply to get bigger and leaner. Eventually it became a mind numbing bore and I decided I needed something else. I started joining flag football leagues and softball leagues again and decided that I would dedicate my training to improving my performance instead of just my size. Shortly after changing my training I was back on track again and getting better results than ever. My motivation was renewed and I was once again an athlete.

This is what training should be all about; being an athlete.

Competing is human nature and has been shown to raise testosterone levels in both men and women. Further, and maybe more importantly, competing can relieve stress. And as we all know, stress kills.

With the family and work related responsibilities we all have, it’s often difficult to find the time to play or train. Yet somehow everyone seems to be able to sit down and watch TV or go out and get pizza and ice cream. Skipping a few hours a week of TV to work out is probably a very real possibility for most of us. Instead of spending Saturday afternoons drinking and watching college football, how about getting off the couch and actually playing instead of watching. If you look, you can always find the time. And when you find time, if you look even harder, you can usually find even more time.

When you analyze what’s important in life, hopefully your health; physical, mental and emotional; are near the top of your list. And there is no better way to simultaneously improve all three than training like and becoming an athlete.

Contrary to what most people think, you don’t have to be young to be an athlete. But if you become an athlete, chances are you just might feel young again.

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