Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
23 Jan

What Is Your Inner Athlete?

AthleteVisualization time… Take a moment and picture a world class athlete in your mind. What image is coming? If you’re like most people, you’re probably visualizing a tall, lean, muscle-bound (or at least very muscular) man or woman, the epitome of brawny human form. On the flip side of this exercise, of course, that means you’re likely not thinking of anyone who’s short, stocky, slight, overweight, exceptionally tall, etc. And yet athletes, even world class athletes, come in literally all shapes and sizes. You may have seen these pics (a few of which are embedded below) making the rounds recently (or remember them when they were first published by Howard Schatz about twelve years ago or so). On the surface, the idea of body “variety” isn’t all that novel of an observation, but I’m still struck when I look at these photos.

The pictures themselves drive the point home in a way that the general concept can’t touch. The broad diversity and profound individuality of body shapes, forms, and musculature jumps off the page, and yet all of these people are world class athletes. (Inherent to this message, too, is the diversity of sport itself as physical endeavor that uniquely cultivates the body). It’s fascinating, I think, to see what the human body is capable of – not some “perfect,” standardized, conventionally “ideal” physique but a real body with individual uniqueness and stunning utility. In this case, it’s a wide spectrum of body types. When you look at these folks, it makes the fluffy enhanced images on magazine covers look that much more ridiculous.

Athletes Athletes

It also makes me think how many people assume they aren’t “athlete material” because they don’t believe they have the body for it – or so they’ve been told (directly or indirectly). Sure, most of us will never be professional athletes. Most of us are not and never will be 7-foot tall basketball player material. But the fact remains: if you have a body, you’re an athlete. The identity and intention dwell in your genes themselves. Whether you’re a 5 foot tall rhythmic gymnast waiting to happen or a lanky dude who’s built for covering long distances quickly, there’s a niche for you. You embody in some way the athletic mission of our species.

Maybe you haven’t figured out what that embodiment is yet. It’s always eluded you, or you always shunned the prospect so entirely that you struggle against identifying with it at all. (What too often passes for physical education in this country can do this to people – as much of a shame and an irony as it is.) We tell ourselves a whole lot of self-limiting stories, and this arena might be prime territory for that unfortunate tendency. Let me say point blank: find your athletic embodiment in your lifetime. You won’t be sorry you did and will likely always wonder if you don’t.

With that in mind, find your niche. Find your sport. Figure out – or flat out decide – what kind of athlete you are or want to be. There’s no need to play perfectionist and opt out because you can’t be Lebron James or Lindsey Vonn. We don’t let ourselves play defeatist that way in our careers, hobbies or social lives. (Right?) Why on earth would we hold ourselves back from enjoying cultivating our bodies to their full and creative potential because someone on the T.V. can do a skill better (that they get paid millions of dollars a year to do of course)? It should be about vitality and fun. It’s about self-actualization and the unique thrill of it.

When someone tells me they’re not an athlete “type,” I often tell them they haven’t found the right sport for their inner athlete. Maybe they bristle against the athletic “type casting” their build suggests to people, or (again) maybe they rejected the athletic potential of their bodies period. Maybe they shrug off the possibility now because of age. (Another lie to discard…) The fact is, your body is so much more than your build – or your years.

Here’s a novel thought perhaps – an extension of what those photographs suggest. Do what you want to do. Do you think you have to be lean and willowy to be a yoga guru. No, you have to be committed and passionate to be a yoga guru. And guess what? You have to be committed and passionate to be a soccer player or a wrestler or a dancer or a body builder. The same holds for every activity and sport. If you can show up with a good attitude and consistent determination, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself and develop within a sport. It might not be the “natural” fit for your body, but it can be the best, most fulfilling choice for your personality. When we do what we love for exercise, it doesn’t feel like work. How much more ideal can it get?

Primal exercise is a flexible set of general principles that mirror the basic patterns of our ancestors’ exertion – period. How you fulfill these in your modern life is entirely your choice. Be whatever Primal athlete makes sense to you and you alone. By all means, make it as fun as possible. Your fitness should enhance more than your physical health but be a meaningful, self-affirming, self-exploratory part of your life. It’s the best of all Primal worlds.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on the photo collection and the journey you’ve taken to find or develop your inner athlete.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I have to say that tennis has been a very rewarding sport for me as an adult. I started with a beginners class at a local club back in 2000 and have enjoyed it ever since. It is such a social sport ( you have to play with at least one other person for a singles match!) that my husband & I have made many friends and continue to socialize thru mixed doubles matches and get togethers as well as our own teams. Most tennis clubs have beginners programs where you can start with others at your own level. I play several times a week and get lots of sprinting in! You don’t have to be a superb athlete to start, but you will find many rewards, both physically and mentally, if you continue. I agree – there is an athlete in every one of us!

    Janet wrote on January 24th, 2014
  2. I started my fitness quest in November 2012 with one of my goals to become a better golfer. For me that identity aspect is easy, even as someone who is 5’8″, 150.

    Lifting a lot, eating a more primal diet, and lots and lots of stretching has gotten me from not being able to touch my toes, to being able to palm the ground.

    I always think about cultivating the Tiger Woods or Adam Scott body. It is unlikely I ever get to their level, but that isn’t the point.

    Major improvements in strength and flexibility along with better stamina for long and hot summer rounds has and will continue to pay dividends.

    Great post Mark.

    Keith wrote on January 24th, 2014
  3. My inner athlete is gravity defying. I imagine being able to move my body in any way that I want to despite gravity’s pull. Probably some sort of gymnast-ballerina-yoga-parkour-ninja. I think I’ll start by increasing my strength and flexibility :)

    In the meantime, my husband and I have decided to take an introductory archery course.

    Elysia wrote on January 24th, 2014
  4. I feel sport has suffered a lot over the last 50 years. With the advent of electronic media and the commercialization of the Olympics and other major sporting events, sports have gone from body culture to an ultimately destructive obsession.
    I cringe when I hear people talking about how a 23 year old athlete is “growing too old for competition”, or about all the performance-enhancing drug use and the fascist methods used to fight it.

    Being a top-class athlete is no longer in line with the Greek ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body. It has a lot more to do with Aztec human sacrifice rituals.

    Amateur sport (originally known as “sport”) is in a real pinch, and I have no idea what could be done to bring it back to the forefront.

    Sigmoid wrote on January 24th, 2014
  5. Wise words – we are all beautiful and blessed with physical bodies of infinite complexity and capability. Our bodies do the most amazing things all the time, and I believe that as a race our diversity has been key to our survival. We are the enlightened and lucky few – so sad that so many people are at war with their own bodies. My 6 year old daughter is lean, light and runs barefoot like the wind – I’ve never seen a more natural, fluid runner. Because she’s not confident doing conventional sport she thinks she’s “useless at P.E.”. This inspirational post is a reminder that we all have individual capabilities and should never have our athletic potential constrained by conventional ideas of sport and athletic achievement.

    ChrisW wrote on January 24th, 2014
  6. I like to shake my ass, dance is great fun, it’s my religion. I also like to be strong, lift weights. It’s all good. I used to walk everywhere and enjoy the view. Now I drive to work and walk for exercise. You see so much when you move at a human pace. I wish I could do parkour but I think I’m too old now. I’d have loved it. It looks so expressive. Yoga is a nice meditation. I’ve learned not to push too hard. You have your whole life to learn how to move. Don’t hurt yourself. Listen to your body. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can do. Find out for yourself. I can’t believe it when people tell me they exercise even though they hate it. Why? Find what you love to do. Honor your body.

    dmunro wrote on January 24th, 2014
  7. I just finished the book “the sports gene” by David Epstein. He stresses as well the large variety of body types. For example, long forehands are a must for certain ball sports but short forehands are a great advantage for weight-lifting.
    He goes even further by saying that certain athletes are gifted with high training response while others cannot handle high training volume.
    There is no one-size-fits-all even at the highest level

    Virginie wrote on January 25th, 2014
  8. Awesome post, thanks for showing those images, they are very encouraging!
    I’m tall and thin, but a decent boxer. Athletes definitely come in all shapes and sizes.

    Jim wrote on January 26th, 2014

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