By Jonathan Thompson

To a large extent, the difference between an athlete and a casual exerciser has to do with mindset – not fitness level. When most people hear the word “training,” they immediately think about the time that they spend in the gym.

For athletes “training” is about many daily choices, not just their workouts. Each of these decisions build upon another to support the athlete’s ultimate fitness and performance goals.

So, what are these powerful choices disciplined athletes are making? Here are just five small changes you can make to live like an athlete.

1. Set Clear Goals

Athletes know exactly why their dedicating so much time and energy to their training. While most people head to the gym thinking “I want to lose weight” or “I want to be healthier,” athletes think “I’m going to cut 10 seconds off my mile by my next race.” Do you see the difference?

When goals are vague, it’s extremely difficult to measure your progress and have a definite plan. This, in turn, makes it easier to deviate and make… counterproductive decisions. Without understanding precisely what you’re trying to accomplish, you might start to skip workouts, make poor dietary decisions or pick up other habits that could slow your progress.

To help you set good; motivational goals, use the acronym SMART. Championed by the; American Council on Exercise; and plenty of other fitness authorities, SMART stands for:


2. Plan Your Meals

Most of the food that’s easily available to you throughout the day – while you’re working or running errands – isn’t going to be the healthiest thing you could be eating. But you’re going to get hungry. So, if you leave your diet up to chance, you’ll likely struggle to keep your diet clean. To get around this athletes take ownership of their diet and plan their meals ahead of time.

The most disciplined way to do this is through the increasingly popular practice of meal prep. By setting aside a few hours on one day of the week, you can prepare all of your food for the week and have it neatly packaged for easy transport as you’re running out the door. How you chose to prep your meals is entirely up to you and will depend on your preferences, needs and individual circumstance.

Even if meal prep – in the traditional sense – doesn’t work for you, you can still think ahead. You probably know what food is going to be around you as you go about your routine. Before you get voracious and eat everything in sight, think about the menu options of the nearby restaurants and make a conscious decision about what you’re going to eat.

3. Focus On Form

Athletes tend to take a measured, scientific approach to exercise that the average exerciser might gloss over. Instead of just grabbing some weights and cranking through their sets, athletes carefully study the proper form of movement in question. More importantly, they scrutinize their own form and compare it to the standard.

While this approach takes a little more time and thought, it is the safest way to work out. By sticking to proper form, athletes force themselves to slow down, learn to listen to their body and allow the machine of their musculoskeletal system to function the way it should. 

Of course, the easiest way to do this is with a trainer or spotter around to keep you in check. That’s not always an option. What can you do then? Thankfully, there are many smartphone apps available that allow you to record and then review your form later. Some even let you measure the angles of your joints to make sure that every aspect of the movement is being executed correctly. Do some research and pick an app that’s best for you.

4. Focus On Skills

Successful athletes understand that each larger movement can be broken down into smaller, often ignored skills. Simply put, skills are the fundamental elements of sport.
The skills that you could benefit from might be obvious things like catching, throwing or kicking. But certain mental attributes are also considered useful athletic skills. According to Jack J. Lesyk, Ph.D. at the Ohio Center for Sport Psychology, successful athletes:

    1. Choose a positive attitude.
    2. Maintain a high level of self-motivation.
    3. Set high, realistic goals.
    4. Deal effectively with people.
    5. Use positive self-talk.
    6. Use positive mental imagery.
    7. Manage anxiety effectively.
    8. Manage their emotions effectively.
    9. Maintain concentration.

Each of these extremely beneficial mental skills can be practiced as you go through your daily routine outside of the gym. Pick a few to work on each week until they start to become routine for you.

5. Remember Recovery

Fitness progress doesn’t happen while you’re working out. Instead, muscle building happens while your body is recovering from exercise. In order to see progress, athletes understand that their body must have everything that it needs to thoroughly recover.

This includes proper sleep, time off from intense exercise and a diet that provides all of the nutrients needed to rebuild those hardworking muscles. Protein powders are a convenient and easy way to add more protein into your diet. Whey protein supplements are quickly and easily absorbed and used by the body to help repair muscle torn during intense exercise.

The Real Point

All of these habits boil down to one, underlying principle: always be training. All day, everyday, athletes are making decisions and disciplining their actions to help accomplish their goals. Rather than being “off” when you leave the gym, make it a practice to think about how your everyday choices will impact your fitness progress. Once you get into that mindset, you’ll be living like an athlete.

Jonathan Thompson
Jonathan Thompson

About the Author:

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist who has written extensively on health and fitness since 2009. Thompson is also the author of Weighted Vest Workouts and two science-fiction novels. Additionally, Jonathan has been able to apply his love of storytelling and journalism into the realm of film-making as the director and co-founder of Signal Film Company.