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What is an Athlete?

Lifting Weights

By Joey Adduci, Level 3 CrossFit Trainer, TRS Movement & Mobility Specialist

It’s common for people to believe that only elite competitors are real “athletes.” The aim of this article is to debunk this type of thinking. Athletes can be broken down into two categories:
Lifestyle Athletes and Sports Athletes. It’s possible for an individual to move back-and-forth from each category based on their current stage in life.


Being a Lifestyle Athlete is about longevity, freedom, and quality of life.
The training of a Lifestyle Athlete isn’t for a specific sport or event, it’s
about building a physically capable body. This starts with developing
well-rounded fitness through proper training, nutrition, and lifestyle. The
training of a Lifestyle Athlete should consist mostly of General Physical
Preparation (GPP). This non-specialized training will develop a wide range of
fitness skills and promote all-around physical development. Lifestyle Athletes
can become Sports Athletes and vice versa. In fact, part of the freedom of being
a Lifestyle Athlete is having the physical foundation developed to jump into
training for a specific goal or sport without needing to start from scratch.


Being a Sport Athlete is about training and preparing for a specific goal,
sport, and/or event. The training of a Sport Athlete is dependent upon the level
of the individual. For example, Lifestyle Athletes and young Sports Athletes should
keep the majority of their training to GPP, while implementing more specific
training as their season or event approaches. On the contrary, the elite Sports
athletes will need the majority of their training to be more specific, based on
the timeline of their sport or event. For example, an Olympic Athlete cannot
train on the same cycle of development as a professional football player. The
olympian develops over a 4-year cycle, while the football player follows a
1-year cycle. All Sport Athletes should take time after a season/event to
rebuild GPP (their fitness foundation), in order to promote longevity, improve
weaknesses and fix any imbalances that inherently come with sport-specific

Regardless of the individual is a Lifestyle or
Sports Athlete, there is a very simple framework that addresses the lifestyle
factors that will enhance or diminish the progress of an athlete. We like to
call this the “Athlete Framework.”


Being an athlete is a mindset that requires a commitment to 6 lifestyle

1. Training – Build the body

2. Practice – Develop skills

3. Sleep – Refresh, rebuild and recover

4. Nutrition & Hydration – Fuel performance, nourish the body and promote recovery

Maintenance – Prevent injuries and promote recovery

Stress Management – Promote health and recovery

This framework serves as a blueprint for
athletes. The factors will be approached differently based on the needs
of the athlete. For example, the nutritional needs of a powerlifter are
significantly different than those of a marathon runner. Although the specific
needs may vary, the 6 factors are relevant for every type of athlete. It’s also
important to note that these factors are interrelated. While training may build
the body, if an athlete does not get enough quality sleep and nutrition, they
will not be able to reap the benefits of that training due to a lack of recovery.
Balancing each of the 6 lifestyle factors is essential to the long term health
and performance of an athlete.


Being an athlete is a mindset and has nothing to do with your ability
level. An individual can choose to be an athlete simply by committing and living
by the Athlete Framework. The common objection is “but I’m not athletic.” We
believe there is a big difference between being an athlete and being athletic
(more on that in another article). Seeking progress from where you are is what
makes you an athlete. If you’re just going through the motions for the sake of
moving (exercising), you are not an athlete. This “participation award” mindset
is stifling. The intention is everything and ability should not determine who gets
to be an athlete. Abilities can be developed with intentional effort, learning, and persistence.
To learn more on this topic, read “Growth Mindset” by Carol Dweck.


“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” – Peter Drucker

If the goal of an athlete is progress, there must
be a constant cycle of testing and retesting for the intended area of
development. The tests must be clear, consistent, and objective. The frequency
in which you repeat tests will be based on your individual needs as an athlete.
There are two ways to measure progress:
sport/competition or standardized testing.
Sports and competition inherently provide us feedback on the big picture of our progress
through statistics and win/loss records against other competitors.
This unbiased feedback is what helps athletes go back to the drawing board
and continue to fill in the holes (weaknesses) within their development.
If you’re a lifestyle athlete, having a set of
fitness standards are key to managing progress. For example, say you
periodically measure:

3-rep-max Back Squat,
Shoulder Press and Deadlift

5k Run

Max Strict Pull-ups and Push-ups

1-mile Run

500m Row

These five standards test a wide range of
fitness skills. If one of these areas is not improving, or even getting worse,
it may indicate that more attention temporarily is needed to that area.
Adjustments can subsequently be made to a training plan as needed.
Having clear, consistent, objective measurements over time will allow you to manage
your training and lifestyle to continually make progress.


Whether you’re a Lifestyle or Sports Athlete, the ultimate goal is progress.
Ability is not what determines whether someone is an athlete, or not.
Intentionally living the lifestyle of an athlete (Athlete Framework) and
regularly measuring your progress in either sport/competition or fitness
standards is what determines if an individual is an athlete.

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