7 Ways Anyone Can Become an Athlete

The term "athlete" isn't just for the sports world's elite. Here's how you can bring pro-level quality to your personal fitness regime.

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Go ahead, call yourself an athlete

You may not be competing in the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your athletic endeavours seriously—or call yourself an athlete. After all, an athlete is defined as “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.” Nothing in there about competing.

So what truly separates the amateurs from the athletes? It’s not how well you play; it’s how hard you try. Here are seven ways anyone can become an athlete.

(Related: 5 Ways Elite Athletes Optimize Their Performances—and Their Lives)

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1. Find a sport you can be passionate about

Gym-going is a healthy habit, but you won’t find many people devoting their lives to keeping up in step class. For real athletic potential, find a sport or activity you truly love and commit to getting better at it. “If you enjoy exercising, your stress level is lower than if you’re trying to do things you dislike all the time,” says Brendan Brazier, a former professional Ironman triathlete.

(Related: 6 Canadian Sports Bras for Bigger Busts)

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2. Define yourself as a member of the community

What makes someone who runs a “runner?” It’s not the amount of miles they’ve logged-it’s the moment when they define themselves by what they do. The same goes for tennis players, figure skaters, rock climbers and yoga devotees: their sport is a part of their identity.

(Related: How to Choose The Right Type of Yoga For You)

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3. Make your sport a priority

Pro athletes make their sport a full-time job, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make your sport a priority in your life. Work dates with your sport into your calendar and treat them like you would any other important appointment—as a requirement, not an option.

Brazier also notes that fitting in a regular routine will improve your performance, which will then make your workout more fun, too. “I know some people who are new to running and never really like it because they do it sporadically,” he says. “But when they started doing it more, they felt so much stronger and fitter that there wasn’t that feeling of doing work.”

(Related: 3 Ways to Change How You Think so You Can Achieve Your Health Goals)

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4. Test yourself

Even if Olympic gold is out of reach, you can still set milestones in your training and record when you’ve reached them. Love to swim? Time yourself in a monthly 50-metre sprint and see how fast you can get. Prefer basketball? Set a target-say, number of baskets in a game, or perfecting your three-point shot-and see how quickly you can get there.

(Related: Expert Tips for Training for a Half Marathon)

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5. Cross-train

Professional athletes treat their bodies really well. That doesn’t just mean getting regular massages to loosen tight muscles (but go for it!)—its about knowing your body, understanding what your sport does to it, and making sure to strengthen and stretch the right muscles to keep yourself in balance. Consult a physiotherapist or coach about the stretches that are important for you to do regularly, or even sign up for a private yoga session to get a tailored routine.

As for cross-training, every sport has complementary activities. For example, high-impact athletes can benefit from a regular spinning session to give their joints a break, whereas swimmers should make sure to get in some weight-bearing routines to strengthen bones.

(Related: 9 Benefits of Stretching That Will Convince You to Do It Daily)

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6. Eat right

The pros pay a lot of attention to their food intake to make sure they’re consuming optimal fuel before a workout and the best foods to help them recover after they’re done. You can do the same by making sure you’re eating nutrition-packed meals all day long and targeting your pre- and post-workout snacks to your body’s needs.

Before a workout, aim for some easily digested carbohydrates, such as half a banana. When you’re done, make sure to eat something light but protein-rich, like a fruit smoothie with protein, within 45 minutes to speed recovery.

(Related: 10 Ingredients Every Smoothie Lover Needs in their Kitchen)

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7. Push yourself

When’s the last time you gave that much of yourself to your sport? Don’t do it all the time—you’ll be asking for injury—but once in a while, when the moment is right and you’re perfectly warmed up, see how hard you can go.

Next: Are You Limiting Yourself? This Olympian Says to “Have a lot of Goals”

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