What the Olympians brought home

I loved the Olympics, I was engrossed.  Pre-games I’ll admit to being fairly ambivalent about the whole thing (traffic, tourists and the rest!) but when it all kicked off the athletes and the games themselves were unbelievable and the atmosphere in London was electric.

From the perspective of someone who spends their professional (and it must be said a lot of personal!) life engaging in physical activity, researching training, nutrition and performance and working to help people achieve and exceed physical goals I find it fascinating.  What is it – other than obvious genetics and god given talent – that gets these girls and guys to the pinnacle of their sport and drives them to the achievement of their personal goals?

Yes, they’re blessed with decent genetics and talent but these on their own don’t take you to the very top and the realisation of your physical potential, you actually have to go and ‘do’ it.  So what separates them from the rest of us when it comes to achieving our fitness (performance) goals?

Four key things came to mind for me, all of which will be timely food for thought for those picking up their gym programmes again post summer breaks.

They had a goal.

For me it’s the same for elite athletes as it is for us lay-folk.  Granted, we were not born with the raw materials to compete on the world sporting stage, but we all still have goals right?  I certainly do.  When it comes to health and fitness goals these are more often than not about aesthetics (“I was to lose weight, tone up, ditch the moobs”), for others its strength related, for others of us it is simply about moving better.  Regardless, we have (or should have) goals.

Goal setting in fitness, as in all other aspects of life, is where success starts.  This goes beyond macronutrient ratios, intervals vs steady state and the latest BS fitness systems.  Regardless of how you choose to do it you need to know what your actually trying to do.  This holds true in fitness as in any other aspect of life.

We all need clearly defined goals.  This might not be a time or distance but a certain look, weight, shape or size.  No matter, but it’s important to have a vision.  Define your goal(s) and go for it.

They had a plan (which they followed).

There’s a term in sports called periodisation which refers to stages or cycles within a longer term training programme.  In the case of the Olympics this is akin to a four year business plan, the athletes blueprint to success if you like.

‘This is where I want to be in four years time and these are the stages that I will go through to get there.  There will be the odd curve ball which I can’t account for now (injures, fatigue, etc), but this is what I need to do, and if I follow these steps, I’ll get it done”.

This plan would have extended beyond, but centred around training, nutrition and recovery.  They had a coach(es) who worked with them to come up with a goal specific programme and they stuck to it.  No doubt they got frustrated along the way and they probably didn’t want to do certain things at certain times (pretty often I’m guessing), but they will have stuck to it.  It’s just what needed to be done.

We all need to stick to the plan.  Successful and effective programmes are often not the most entertaining or the easiest to do, but there’s nothing like results to keep you motivated.  Forget twenty minutes ab workouts, doing ‘extra cardio’, or and any other distracting BS that will inevitably surface.  Invest your time in a programme you trust, and follow it.

They made the sacrifices.

This is the probably the key for me.  In nearly every interview I listened to with the athletes they all talked about the ‘hard work, dedication and sacrifice’ that it had taken to get to that point.  Talent aside they all put it in and made the necessary sacrifices.  Early mornings, nutritional abstinence, social curtailment and so on.  They lived according to their goals.

We all need to live according to our goals.  The issue for most of us is that there’s a divide between what we want out of our programme and what we are actually prepared to do (sacrifice) to get there.  The difference between those who get to where they want to be and those who don’t is not the programme, system, diet, method etc (although these are important), it’s the hard-nosed dedication and sacrifice it took to get there.

To get the outcome we’re after we need to either change our behaviour and live according to our goals or we need to change our goals.  Identify what it’s going to take to get it done, and do it.

They had a good team.

None of the athletes had gotten to that point on their own, they all had plenty of people to thank for contributing to their success.  Coaches, family, physiotherapists, etc – people who’d got behind them and given them support in many different ways.  People who’d pushed them, kicked them, encouraged them, put up with them, and no doubt occasionally put their arm around them at a time when all were needed.

We all need a supportive network.  Friends, family, coaches, training partners, gym environment, etc are all important – we need people around us  who are invested in what we do.   It’s important to surround yourself with positive people who give a sh1t!

Olympic athletes we may not be but we can all achieve our fitness goals.  We just need a clear goal, a decent programme, determination and decent support network.