Whether your fitness goals include burning fat, adding muscle or just improving your well-being, the best way to do it is to improve your athletic ability.
Fortunately, improving your athletic ability spans far and wide. A better way to think about it is increasing your body’s ability to handle the stress and challenges of daily life. The benefits go well beyond your physique or your performance in sports or athletics.
Better athleticism means better health. It means a stronger immune system, a higher ability to handle physical and mental stress, and recovering better from any problem that comes your way.
So how do you improve your athletic ability?
“Well-balanced training with strength training, cardio, mobility and play will improve your athleticism, confidence and ability to try and learn new activities,” says Matt Kasee, MS, owner of Trilogy Fitness Systems in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The following staples (plus some often-neglected extras) should be a part of any fitness routine if you’re looking to skyrocket your athleticism, health and overall well-being.
DO MORE AEROBIC CARDIOVASCULAR WORK
Recently, aerobic exercise has fallen out of favor as high-intensity training methods have taken over. While there’s a time and place for high-stress training, the need for aerobic exercise will always be there. After all, your aerobic system is the driver of your body and what fuels you during the vast majority of any physical activity.
At least twice a week, spend at least 20 minutes doing some type of steady-state cardio. For example, go on a jog, ride a bike, skip rope, use an elliptical or even go on a longer hike. The key is to spend time in the aerobic range (120–150 beats per minute) and strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system.
BUILD A DECENT LEVEL OF BASIC STRENGTH
The key phrase here is a “decent level.” Sometimes, people avoid lifting heavier weights in fear of “getting too big.” While you don’t need to set a world record in a back squat, athleticism is your ability to use the strength you have; if you have no strength, you have no athleticism.
“Focus on creating strength standards in basic exercises — goblet squats, kettlebell deadlifts and pushups,” says Kasee. “By using these joint-friendly exercises, we can simultaneously improve strength and range of motion.” Work on increasing the amount of weight you can use for a lower amount of reps. Not only will you build more muscle, but you also burn a ton of calories.
If you can bench press 300 pounds, but can’t bend over to tie your shoes, you’re not athletic. You’ve over-focused on one area of fitness and neglected another important one — over time, you could create more problems than solutions.
Moving well doesn’t mean being able to do the splits; it means having enough ability to move your body, muscles, joints and bones through a full and healthy range of motion. Having restrictions, however, means something is obstructing your natural movement, which could actually increase your risk of injuries.
Before any training, use a foam roller and do plenty of mobility exercises to loosen your joints, warm your muscles and prepare your body for exercise. For better results, spend a few minutes every morning doing the same type of warmup — you’ll see the difference in no time and feel a whole lot better.
EMPHASIZE RECOVERY AS MUCH AS TRAINING
Recovery is the missing ingredient a lot of people overlook. If you train a lot, work a lot and have a busy family life, you’re probably on a path to burnout. Instead, you need to carve out time in your day and week to decompress physically and mentally.
Always try to get eight hours of good sleep every night. Take some time in the middle of the day to unwind, meditate, breathe or do any type of activity that relaxes you and helps take your mind off any stresses. These basic things can boost your athleticism more than you could ever imagine.
Also, understand you can’t go 100% during every single workout. “Learn to adjust your training,” says Kasee. “If you have a big deadline at work and sick kids at home, it’s not the best time to go extreme (with your workout). Do enough and move on with your day.”
TRY NEW THINGS
Last but not least, a great way to increase athleticism is to do a variety of activities. If you only focus on working out, for example, you’ll get one-dimensional with your fitness; it’s better for your body (and your brain) to regularly perform all kinds of different movements and challenges.
Unless you have an elite goal, don’t overspecialize on one sport or form of exercise. “Balance training with ‘play,” says Kasee. “We encourage our people to play and express these improvements — shoot basketball with your kids, golf, go for a run or a swim.” Not only do you learn new skills, but you also get to use your strength, power and endurance in new, cool ways.