There is an increasingly pervasive statement that is being used by more and more trainers on a seemingly daily basis. 

The statement I’m referring to goes along the lines of, “if you have a body you’re an athlete” or, “all humans are athletes.” Not only are these statements annoying but they can be potentially harmful in some respects. Today, I urge you to stop calling all of your clients athletes! 

By definition, athletes are individuals that compete against other individuals in some sort of specific sport or activity. Furthermore, those same individuals spend a good portion of their days, weeks, months and even years training in order to beat their competition or compete at a higher level relative to their abilities. 

To be considered an athlete you have to have a certain mind, body and even spiritual connection to your sport or athletic endeavor. One does not necessarily have to be world class or even mediocre but you have to, at the very least, be training for something.

Some examples of sports that the everyday person can get involved in are powerlifting, weightlifting, Crossfit, bodybuilding, cycling, tennis, and golf. There are a myriad of other examples but I think you’re picking up what I’m putting down. 

The lay person does not typically possess this sort of commitment but more importantly they do not compete in anything. Exercising is not training. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, just going to the gym to get your sweat on isn’t enough to consider yourself an athlete. 

I’d like to further this assertion by saying just because you USED to be an athlete doesn’t make you an athlete for the rest of your natural born life. If I have to hear one more washed up former football player tell me how much they used to bench press back in their playing days – which often equate to their “glory days” – I might blow my top. 

Telling someone, especially a coach or trainer about what you were once able to do, does little to tell me what you’re capable of now. It’s about as useful as me telling you that I used to be able to eat an entire pound of bacon in one sitting back in high school. Gross right? Also irrelevant and I bet you didn’t care to know that. 

It’s great you used to be first team all conference from a high school nobody has ever heard of, but that doesn’t speak to where you are now. Sure, you may have an edge when it comes to your athletic ability compared to the person who didn’t play sports but it’s probably minimal at best when it comes to lifting weights. 

Then again, maybe you’re in a worse position athletically than the non athlete during this post-competition stage of life. Both sides of the coin happen at about an equal rate. Injuries and specializations love to rear their ugly heads later on in life. 

That covers the individual but I started off this post speaking to the trainer and coaches that now love to label people as athletes. 

Coaches, having someone perform an exercise that you deem athletic does not make the client that’s performing said exercise an athlete. They are doing something that is athletic but that does not correlate to the person themselves being an athlete. It just makes the client human. 

We’re all born with certain physical capacities. Some are able to express certain capacities better than others but an athlete leverages their abilities against another’s. In the end the best man/woman wins. That’s being an athlete. 

Now, I understand the premise we’re trying to go with here. It’s a nice sentiment to consider everyone as an athlete. Here’s the pitfall as it pertains to coaching: athletes sometimes need very different things to perform well at their respective sport. Not only that but athletes, especially the more experienced ones, can tolerate more complicated and intensive exercise as well as protocols. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about specifically.

Person A is a sedentary individual who hasn’t done any intensive training in about a decade. Person A decides to do an exercise regimen that calls for hill sprints and some “light” plyometrics consisting of split squat jumps and vertical jumps. They do their day 1 with minimal issues other than being winded. The next day, however, they feel like they’ve been mulled over by a steam roller. Everything aches to the point where walking up and down stairs has become a monumental ask. 

Now look what we’ve done. We’ve taken an “athlete/athletic” based program and mistakenly put someone through it that wasn’t ready. 

My final point is merely this, be honest with your client. That honesty should come all the way down to what you consider them to be. Of course, anybody can compete in a sport even after college.

In fact, I encourage all those I work with to train FOR something, like a competition. It heightens their training and gives them inherent goals that they can manage. And who knows, maybe they get hooked at that one competition and then they truly become an athlete. 

Because, you know, now they compete in something. 

Stay strong my friends. 

  • Tyler Curtis