Athletes in the Game of Life
According to Merriam Webster, an athlete is “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.”
Based on the definition above, we are all athletes. Even if we don’t play or compete in sports, we compete in the game of life every day. After all, our daily lives require us to be physically strong to do our jobs, to have the stamina to withstand life’s hardships and develop mental agility to get things done quickly and efficiently.
“If you’re strong, then train for speed. If you’re quick, then train for strength. If you’re neither, then just train!” — Loughborough University Gym Maxim
Just like in any sport, without training, our daily activities become a struggle. We become physically de-conditioned and fight an uphill battle just to get off the couch. We fail to develop the skills and resilience to turn our ideas into action. Instead of playing offense—where we proactively accomplish our daily tasks—we play defense, reacting and adjusting to whatever life throws at us. We need training. We need to get stronger not just mentally but also physically. At the end of the day, we are what we do and not what we think.
“While your thoughts can become your reality, it’s only though your actions that your thoughts actually become your life.” —Gary John Bishop
Don’t be afraid to be a beginner. Know that to have a strong and durable body, you will need countless hours of mastering the basics. Not only will you need to train your muscles but also your tendons and ligaments. A house is only as strong as its foundations and our bodies are the same.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” —Shunryu Suzuki
Train Movement NOT Muscle
Before you even dream of jerking 300 pounds, you will need a body that can properly lift an empty barbell. Before you succeed in walking with your hands, you need sinewy tendons, mobile joints and a strong core.
As a coach, I always prioritize strengthening the pillars of the body. It consists of the hips, shoulders and core. Building strength in these areas is setting the foundation for all kinds of movements, sports, and degrees of intensity.
“Effective workouts train the body for athletic, functional movement. It’s about training movements, not body parts.” —Mark Verstegen
Strength is important but without practical application, it is pretty much of no use. So, more practical than building a strong foundation is translating that strength into a functional body. To achieve this, you need to train movement and not just isolated muscle groups (unless your goal is bodybuilding). The reason? Our bodies are engineered in a way where all of our muscles are integrated while performing any kind of movement. Think about it. You deadlift every time you pick up something on the floor. You engage your back, core and legs when you bend over to brace your torso and lift. Although you need to strengthen these individual muscle groups, the most effective way to pick up heavier things off the floor is by training… the Deadlift!
“Be general in your foundations so you can be be specific in your goals.” — Ross Edgley
This is what is means to be functional and what functional training is all about. During the Deadlift, whatever happens to the big toe affects the knees, hips and ultimately the shoulders. Our muscular system and fascial bands work seamlessly to produce efficient movement to keep us safe and not moving like robots. Many workout programs do more harm than good because of using inefficient movement patterns producing muscle imbalances, which can lead to injuries.
Here’s a simple beginner’s workout routine where you can incorporate training the hips, core and shoulders while staying functional and fit:
Light jog for 5 minutes
- This gradually gets the heart rate up and circulates blood to the muscles—preparing the body for physical activity.
Muscle warms faster than the joints. Doing mobility work prior to strength training allows the joints, tendons and ligaments to warm up and achieve full range of motion.
2 Rounds of
- 20 Bird Dogs
- 1 minute Perfect Stretch
- 1 minute Couch Stretch
- 1 minute Pigeon Pose
Movement starts from the core to the extremities. That is why as a beginner, it is important to develop strong abdominals, obliques, low back, glutes and shoulder blades.
3 sets each
- 15 Scap Push Ups
- 10 second L Sit
- 30 second Side Plank
Rest for 5 minutes. Then,
5 giant sets of
5 Bench Presses + 8 Suitcase Deadlifts per side + 12 Goblet Squats
Also known as metabolic conditioning, this type of workout shocks your metabolic pathways—forcing and training your body to use stored fuel/ food in doing intense physical activity. In line with this, your cardiorespiratory system (aka your heart, lungs and their network) is strengthened for efficiency.
AMRAP 8 Minutes
16 Dumbbell Snatches
20 Battle Rope Whips
After exercising, lactate builds in the muscle— a sticky byproduct released from muscle contraction. This causes tightening and hard spots. Stretching the muscle allows it to return to its normal length so that blood can circulate better and to clear out byproducts.
2 Minutes each
- Quad Stretch
- Seal Stretch
- Child’s Pose
- Pectoral Stretch
“There’s no magic formula. Too many people get caught up in programming and formulas. It’s the movements combined with intensity that’s the secret. It’s much simpler than people think.” —Dave Castro, Director of the CrossFit Games
Always use proper form and technique when lifting and hold back on intensity until you master the basics. I advise working with a coach so you can properly progress or scale down each exercise and monitor your results accurately. Each part in a day’s routine is important and should not be skipped as it consecutively leads one part to the next. Needless to say, individualized and proper programming is key so as to better understand your results and appreciate each step you take in your fitness journey.
As athletes in the Game of Life, what’s truly essential is that we go back to basics—to build our foundations from the ground up. Every great endeavor is driven by a strong core—physically and mentally. To keep on showing up in the gym and at work day after day, we need physical resilience. In the same light, our core values permeate every fiber of our being. Our deepest values translate into action. But it is our daily actions that express and actualize who we are. It’s true that what we think, we become. But what we do also influences and forms how we think. Ultimately, we are not our thoughts, we are what we repeatedly do.
“Action may bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” —Benjamin Disraeli
By keeping our core strong and our actions aligned with our values, we are set for life. We can be resilient and purposeful not only in training but also in our journey of becoming better individuals and better athletes.
Keep it simple. Go back to basics. Build your foundation and set yourself up for success.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” —Albert Einstein