The physical qualities that are characteristic of athletes, such as strength, fitness, and agility.
My personal definition of what athleticism looks like has evolved a lot over the past 20+ years. At one point, I thought that it meant visible abs, a strict split training program and cardio a few times a week. Over the years, my answer has evolved toward moving my body in a way that feels good while maintaining a healthy life balance.
Athleticism is multifaceted; meaning that not only does it vary from person to person, but the shape, form and purpose differ as well. At a high level, it is easy to play the comparison game and think to yourself- “I wish I was as fit as ‘so and so’” or say, “I want to run a 3:30 marathon” because that’s what is considered the norm or “good”. However, I have learned that you never know the factors that went into their performance, both positive and negative: What has this person sacrificed? Is there an attribute of yours, or someone else’s that they are coveting? What motivates and drives them?
You Define What Athleticism Means To You
The formula for athleticism isn’t based on a cookie-cutter process. Meaning, you shouldn’t feel like you have to: lift weights for 90 minutes 5 days/ week, do 45 minutes of cardio “X” days a week or be able to run a 10K to be “fit”. YOU get to define what makes you feel good. Maybe one day it’s walking your dog or playing with your kids at the park, and the next it’s a Soul Cycle class. There are so many avenues that could define what fitness & athleticism mean to you.
Personally, I am a fitness competitor which exists in a grey space. Is it bodybuilding? Yes, kind of because I’m consistently building my body. Also, fitness competitors train & eat clean and regimented for a 12-20 week cycle when training for a competition. We do this because you’ll be on stage being judged on your physique (also being SUPER tan and wearing a small bikini… LOL). The thing to note is that just because this is the sport/ hobby I choose to pursue, it really does not mean I’m more fit than anyone else that’s choosing to do something else. In actuality, I think it’s quite the contrary for some that compete in the sport.
Don’t Let Your Hobby Negatively Impact Your Life
Over the past 14 years in my sport, there are a few things I came to realize. Firstly, that having a certain physique does not necessarily equate to being healthy. There are a lot of women I know who are shredded but don’t have the healthiest relationship with food. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some women who have a hard time gaining definition or building muscle. Yet, they are MUCH stronger and living a healthier lifestyle than a lot of leaner and more muscular women.
Another realization was that unless you are a professional athlete, your sport or activity is just a hobby. In most cases, you are not getting paid, so don’t let your hobby negatively affect your life. You shouldn’t be missing out on time spent with friends & family, major social or life events because you are overly committed to your “hobby”.
Mental Health Over Physical Health
Not long ago, I had a conversation with an individual who had once participated in a figure competition. She said it was the worst thing she could have ever done. Additionally, she was adamant that every single person who competes comes out of it with low self-esteem and an unhealthy view of food/ nutrition. Another competitor friend is coming out of retirement and says her whole perception has changed. At one point she thought a person’s level of fitness was measured solely on the appearance of their physique. However, after many years, she learned that physical health means nothing if you are not mentally healthy. The journey of these two individuals speaks volumes, and even more so, ties back into athleticism being multifaceted.
“I haven’t competed in years and my body feels better…” – the words of a trainer I work with who competed in powerlifting for years. When I recently asked him what his thoughts were about athleticism and his sport, he told me that he hasn’t competed in a few years and his body feels better. Things that would have been laborious while training for a powerlifting meet, like doing regular household chores, are now easier. He’s not as winded and has better mobility and agility. This is someone that was nationally ranked in his sport! I’m sure if you asked him while he was competing, his answer may have been different.
Athleticism Is Ever-Changing
One of the most athletic people I know has really tried it all- powerlifting, Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, CrossFit, Spartan races, half-marathons, trail racing, Mountain Climbing, Hiking, Canyoneering, Pilates, Yoga. She’s so focused and driven that when she commits to something, she’s in IT, lives it, breaths it and truly immerses herself in all the information and training she can access. In our 14 years of friendship, she is someone that continually inspires me and is constantly evolving.
When asked about what fitness looked like for her, she told me she’s come to the realization that she really enjoys being outdoors. So instead of training for an unreachable look that isn’t sustainable, she’s now interested in doing cool outdoor activities. The training comes as a byproduct and changes dependent on the goal. Most recently she did a long climb out in Las Vegas that included an extensive hike with a steep vertical incline, rappelling down from the top and then hiking back out.
To prepare, she worked on cardio endurance to withstand long bouts of movement, tactile work to keep her body used to climbing, strength training to keep a strong base, lots of grip work (pull ups and holds), all while keeping her body mobile and able to move naturally and safely in any/ all directions. She crushed this goal and now is on to the next, which I’m sure will be something completely different than the last.
The common theme I seem to hear and personally feel is that fitness and athleticism are somethings that are ever-changing. Those that are committed to living a healthy lifestyle have learned it’s NOT based on physical attributes. Not everyone has the same path and it’s always ok to change directions.
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