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The Athlete's Workout: Stay Fit By Getting (Mostly) Out of the Gym

By Mike Clausen

Athlete: "A person possessing the natural or acquired traits, such as strength, agility, and endurance, that are necessary for physical exercise or sports, especially those performed in competitive contexts." (Source: The American Heritage Dictionary)  

Recently, I was in Whistler, BC for WinterPride, and though the Olympics were just over, one still had a huge sense of what had just happened there.  All of these incredible athletes competing for their shot at glory in their sport—it's pretty amazing to see what these people can accomplish. It's enough to inspire anyone to get out of the gym and hit the slopes or the playing field. But when you do, you need to rethink how you handle your gym time. In fact, athletic endeavors demand thinking differently about "fitness."

Whether a medal-winning Olympian or just a weekend warrior in sports such as soccer, football, swimming or snowboarding, as members of this website, we all have that desire to be "athletic." I know how good it felt to hike up to the top of Flute Bowl on Whistler just so I could shred in some fresh powder and make my own tracks. It's this need that drives us to be better and stronger than what we think we can do. Knowing that my body is able to hike up to the top of a mountain at almost 9,000 feet, and then strap my board on and then ride three miles down to the bottom of the mountain is the best feeling. Hard work in the gym gets me fit enough to carry out my athletic endeavors—but, once I get to the slopes, I change my routine.  

Unfortunately, one common misconception of gay culture is the belief that going to the gym six days a week makes a guy an athlete. While it can help strengthen your body for your sport, just weightlifting alone and running on the treadmill is not being an athlete. If I have one thing I try to teach my clients, it's that actual functional activity is what they need to engage in to balance out the body they want and the body they need. But many of us don't treat functional activity as "real" exercise. As a result, it can be easy to over-train when supposedly engaged in recreation.

In Whistler, I saw a lot of guys ski or board all day, and then hit the gym and the treadmill in the evening. I know that these guys were doing it because it was WinterPride and they had to be "ready" for the parties that night, but putting those kinds of demands on your body does more harm than good. On a good day of boarding, you can burn anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 calories. Hitting the treadmill after that burns so many calories that you just start to eat away at your muscle. I also saw the guys using the ab machines, which just killed me. Again, on a good day of boarding or skiing you are using your abs and legs all day. There's no need for an abs machine in that situation. When you're out skiing or boarding, or, as the weather gets better, swimming or surfing, use your time wisely, and efficiently. Use what is around you: a pool, a mountain, an ocean. And when you do use the gym, use it differently. Think maintenance rather than calorie burn or muscle building.

  Here is what I did to stay fit over vacation, while snowboarding for five days. It is an excellent moderated workout for someone on an athletic vacation (skiing, snowboarding, ocean swimming, climbing or intense hiking). This will let you keep your muscle development while leaving you with energy for your daytime activities. In the mornings, go for a 10 minute swim to loosen up before starting the day's functionally athletic activity. Every other day (so, for three days of my five day vacation), use the free weights and cable machine for upper body maintenance, doing just a 35 minute upper-body circuit. My circuit consisted of:

  1. Cable Lat PullDowns
  3. Tricep Rope Extensions
  4. Push-ups
  5. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  6. Dumbbell Fly into Dumbbell Chest Press
  7. Dumbbell Bicep Curls
Do roughly four to five sets of each exercise with eight to 12 reps per set. The idea is to hit each body part while bearing in mind that you're going to be active all day: you want to keep what you have, without spending all day in the gym. Try to think outside of what you typically do. Your body is a machine that is built to be athletic, so make sure you only spend enough time in the gym to build your base.  Getting out and doing what you love to do, be it snowboarding or soccer or gymnastics, is what is going to make your body be as strong as it can be.  

About Mike Clausen: Clausen is the founder and co-owner of DIAKADI Body training gym, voted best personal training gym in San Francisco by CitySearch in 2006. He has been actively involved in sports and weightlifting since high school, and continues to use that knowledge when training his clients. Clausen is both A.C.E. and N.A.S.M. certified and has been training clients professionally for six years. He enjoys making his clients stronger, both physically and mentally, giving them the tools to create an efficient body and to do things they thought were not possible.