How I Build Lifetime Athletes

By nature, being an athlete for life means being Hard to Kill. But what does that really mean? Let’s start out by defining each of the preceding two terms.

An athlete for life is a Lifetime Athlete. A person who looks, moves, and lives in a natural, elastic fashion, practically through their entire lifespan. This is someone who views herself as an athlete regardless of their pursuits. He’s a being with more energy, more vitality, and more possibility. One who defines winning on the playing field and in the game of life. A runner, lifter, triathlete, team sport player, skier, backcountry hunter, avid gardener, or a super-granny. It all counts.

Hard to Kill means resistance to death and defeat. A more robust and resilient human whose susceptibility to infection, disease, and breakdown is much less than the genpop. A beast whose ability to perform and excel is much higher than his or her peers in most cases. A getter of the greatest results and satisfaction…this goes with the territory when you are HTK.

Being a Hard to Kill Lifetime Athlete is my own personal goal and it’s the desire and drive of the people I coach. I’m going to describe the method which I’ve developed to build Lifetime Athletes. It’s the process I use to coach, consult, and design programming to help each person achieve their goals and the highest amounts of success and enjoyment.

We need to start out with assessing basic competency in several key areas. These are developmental sequence positions, major movement patterns, general capacities of athleticism, specific skills/demands, and unique body characteristics. I’ll briefly review each of these aspects.

The developmental sequence is the progression of position and motion which infants utilize to morph into standing and walking humans. The variations in lying, rolling, creeping, crawling, and kneeling are employed as the neuromuscular system develops. As adults, we use these same motor programs to get up and down off the floor, to access or manipulate objects, and to negotiate our environment. We should possess the ability to use these positions with relative ease. However, many adults — including accomplished athletes — lack full access to these options. This is not just a problem for “old people” but a great concern for all of humanity. I like to run my clients through a quick screen in which they flow from one developmental sequence position to another. Inabilities or difficulties can reveal issues of stiffness, weakness, or motor control that may be causing or bleeding into other movement insufficiencies. When we identify an issue with the developmental sequence, I’ll address it in training in several ways. I may incorporate some rolling into the warmup. Or we’ll perform some of our exercises in kneeling or quadruped, use variations of the Turkish getup, or any other creative intervention that is warranted.

The major movement patterns, around which daily function and exercise programming revolve, should also be assessed. These are squat, hinge, lunge, rotate, push, pull, and locomote. In seamless fashion, we blend and use all these patterns to complete our daily tasks such as moving from place to place, lifting, carrying, working, and training. Proficiency in each pattern is key to good overall function and it also enhances movement variability, or the ability/option to create effective movement in all planes. Injuries, compensations, or substitution patterns can reveal themselves anywhere and addressing dysfunction is critical to enhance efficiency and to decrease overall wear and tear on the body. Asymmetry isn’t always something to get excited about, especially if it is mild. But modifying exercises to both better fit the individual and “clean up” the major patterns is often extremely helpful. We should all have the goal of becoming movementsmiths.

Next up, I look at the 5 capacities of athleticism which are strength, power, speed, agility, and endurance. Strength is maximal force production. Power is explosive energy output. Speed is maximum velocity potential. Agility combines mobility, stability, reactivity, and fluidity. Endurance is fatigue resistance. Every human needs a reasonable baseline in each of the 5 properties for optimal function, health, and longevity. And every athlete needs more capacity in the one or several properties which his/her sport or activity requires. Nobody can max out all 5 at once, but we can bias the areas of gifts and goals while we shore up any deficiencies. It’s an art form.

You can take a deep dive into my Athletic Assessment, which explains all these concepts further and helps you to score your abilities in each of the aforementioned categories. It also contains links to a podcast on the same subject, as well as the long and short version videos with examples of all the movements.

If you’d like to learn more about the capacities of athleticism, check out my article on The Capacity Rating System (CRS) which helps you to rate your abilities in all 5 areas. You can also listen to Episode 148 of The Lifetime Athlete Podcast for more information. Or watch the video Identifying and Leveraging Your Assets and Liabilities in Training.

From these essential constructs I like to move into the assessment of a variety of athletic skills. General abilities like cutting, jumping, landing, throwing, catching, and tumbling are important and evolutionarily consistent. As natural human beasts, everyone should maintain a repertoire of these qualities. Movement is a skill and an art form to be practiced and polished. I don’t view having a toolbox full of athletic movement options to be an option…it’s a necessity. You might say “I’m a runner or a cyclist and I don’t play xyz sport.” I’m gonna say I still want you to be able to move like an athletic animal. In an evolutionary sense, the absence of athletic movement ability is a precursor to extinction. In modern times, it’s a relative inconvenience which we can temporarily ignore, until we really want to play with the grandkids, try a new activity, or quickly escape the oncoming bus. Lifetime Athletes are better prepared for LIFE.

Once I have a general sense of the athlete I’m coaching, I progress into learning more about that specific athlete’s body type, genetic gifts, and goals. This is the backbone of my book AnimalFIT, which contains a specific system for identifying your athletic traits and characteristics and then personalizing your training to best fit your body and your goals. This is next-level stuff which allows you to Unleash Your Inner Beast and Unlock Your Athletic Potential. AnimalFIT is a fun read and it can really help you to gain a better understanding of your own body and feel empowered to use it to its full potential. 

Using the tools in AnimalFIT, I can easily determine if an athlete has a small, medium, or large diameter skeleton. The relative amount of joint mobility can be identified. The predominant muscle fiber type (fast or slow twitch) will be established. We can examine various movement problem-solving strategies the athlete prefers to use, and even how their personality traits can drive training and competition preferences. We can find out which sports best fit the athlete’s unique set of gifts, or how to train for a desired sport knowing more about the individual athlete’s body. 

In terms of assessment, the final thing I’ll examine will be the specific demands of the athlete’s chosen sport(s). What energy systems are used most? What positions and movement patterns are critical? What will this athlete need to have the greatest potential for success in this endeavor? How does my client stack up in relation to these requirements and what do we have to emphasize more? Answering these and other questions allows us to design and implement results-oriented programming.You should run from any professional who says “you should always do this and never do that…or it’s this way or the highway” because there is no one size fits all and cookie cutter, canned approaches will only work for about 30% of the population anyway. At TLA, we’re after 100%.

All of the aforementioned assessments can be conducted in a simple online consultation. I have a template that allows me to guide a client through the examination process and then explain the findings. This session is usually preceded by an initial one in which the client discusses goals and issues as I listen and record. Once we’ve established a solid foundation to our objectives and relationship, we move into the implementation phase.

Enter the 5-3-1 Lifetime Athlete System. Here’s the skinny. You start with a foundation of the 5 Components of Lifelong Health to which you apply the 3 Essential Elements of Peak Performance to become the 1 Lifetime Athlete you deserve to be and for which your genes are programmed. We’ll break down each of these ingredients next.

The 5 Components of Lifelong Health are food, sleep, ergonomics, awareness, and movement. These can be presented in any order and are the constituents of health, longevity, and performance. No athlete can achieve peak performance without optimal health, but some kids and “genetic freaks” can cheat the system for a decade or two. In the end, though, we must value a health-first approach to athleticism. I’ll touch briefly on the 5 components below.

  • Regarding food, I advocate for what I call the Planet-Based Diet (PBD). This is a bit of a play on words but it is basically a dietary approach that relies upon the consumption of natural, wholesome foods which are endemic to planet Earth, not outer space. The PBD is more about the don’ts than the do’s in that it emphasizes avoidance of the Evil Triad which are processed sugars, industrial seed oils, and refined grains. This means limiting the amount of processed and packaged foods in your diet and doing so gets you most of the way there. Thought leaders and research literature continue to debate over plant-based versus animal-based diets, low versus high carb, etc. While there is room for argument and personal adjustment, the PBD represents a common sense, broad middle ground that works for most and is evolutionarily consistent. 
  • Sleep is Vitamin Zzz and it’s the powerful gamechanger in hormonal regulation, metabolic health, and recovery. I recommend a series of sleep hygiene practices to help my clients ensure they are getting what they need for restorative sleep.
  • Ergonomics is all about the study of human performance at work and it can be extrapolated to the optimization of the personal environment everywhere. When your workstation, job habits, hobbies, and home environment are ideal, you have less stress and more effectiveness in everything you do. This is an often overlooked secret to success.
  • Awareness is the umbrella term that I use to describe self-knowledge, relationship harmony, and life satisfaction. There are many tools and paths available to enhance this condition. I always try to help clients look for ways in which their awareness of a contented and productive state can be achieved.
  • Movement is almost a no-brainer. While exercise and training are key ingredients, it’s that total daily activity which research has shown to be absolutely necessary for maximum health. I call it GDA for General Daily Activity and it includes things like carrying in the groceries, mopping the floor, etc. Everything you do that keeps the metabolism idling and the circulation moving is important. 

The 3 Essential Elements of Peak Performance are training, recovery, and mindset. With a solid foundation of lifelong health established, we now layer these elements into our programming. 

  • Training is the major wheelhouse at TLA. Once we have all that data available on the athlete, and lifelong health is ensured, we dive into the nitty-gritty of scientific, results-oriented training. We customize the training plan and programming to the athletes goals, training age, injury history, lifestyle, schedule, and more. We follow a flexible plan that revolves around key performance indicators (KPI’s) and the elements of joy and play. Seasons, periods, and cycles are used where appropriate and we adjust the training in accordance with the progress we observe.
  • Recovery is the changemaker. Conditioning and fitness are the result of training plus recovery. This isn’t just the passage of time. It’s the artful adjustment of workload, volume, intensity, duration, frequency, and density. It’s the use of proven practices to accelerate adaptation and supercompensation.
  • Mindset is well-supported by research to have massive beneficial impacts on health and performance outcomes. We apply techniques from various fields to frame a state of mind that is both realistic and positive. This helps the athlete to stay focused and to become skilled at dealing with and overcoming adversity.

Combining the 5 Components of Lifelong Health with the 3 Essential Elements of Peak Performance allow you to become the 1 Lifetime Athlete you deserve to be. This is a unique and rare condition in which specialization meets versatility and durability. Through the intelligent application of the principles we’ve been discussing, you can reach your full potential in your desired sport or activity. But at the same time, you can preserve the durability to be tolerant of just about anything life throws at you. And…you maintain your athletic versatility which not only gives you tons of options for athletic enjoyment, but also helps to prevent injury and support your primary pursuits. You become a BEAST!

Let’s use the word good. I want you to feel good. I want you to look good. I want your performance to be good in your chosen sport or pastime. But I also want you to possess the skills and abilities that can keep you going at your best for the longest time possible. It’s what being a Lifetime Athlete is all about. When you are a Lifetime Athlete, you truly are Hard to Kill…in every sense of the term. You perform highly and compete strongly, but you also just have more energy and participation in life. 

This method we’ve covered came from my observations in working with clients, patients, and athletes of all ages and abilities and from all walks of life. The ones who were healthy and well-conditioned always, ALWAYS did better on game day, over the course of their athletic career, and in recovering from injury and surgery. Attaining the state of HTK is an artful dance that requires thought, persistence, and adjustment through the lifespan. It’s not easy but it’s totally worth it.

I’d like to offer a very quick review of how to build a Lifetime Athlete.

  1. Ensure competency with developmental sequence positions and transitions.
  2. Achieve mastery of the major movement patterns with some individualization.
  3. Assess, rate, and appreciate your abilities in the 5 capacities of athleticism which are strength, speed, power, agility, and endurance.
  4. Develop and practice specific athletic skills like jumping, change of direction, etc.
  5. Understand your body type and know your strengths and weaknesses (everybody has them).
  6. Know the specific demands and requirements of your chosen sport or activity.
  7. Apply the 5 Components of Lifelong Health as the foundation of your program.
  8. Utilize the 3 Essential Elements of Peak Performance to get the most out of your training and potential.
  9. Adjust and adapt your athletic program as you go through life, but stay relatively consistent.

I’d close out by saying that these are the secrets that you can use to have your greatest success. But in reality, it’s just an assemblage of information that I’ve found incredibly useful and that deserves to be shared. If you can use any of this method in your own pursuits, please do so and let me know how it’s working for you. And if you’d like to work with me in a consultative or coaching relationship, just let me know. Thanks for reading!

Become and remain a Lifetime Athlete!  Get and stay Hard to Kill!

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