What Kind of Athlete are You?
Taking your game to a new level - lessons from my personal journey as an avid recreational athlete.
My Friends.... Mid-life is a time where we often reflect back on our accomplishments and plan the next phase of our life's journey. Our journey as athletes is much the same. Today I'm sharing my personal reflection and growth experience as an avid recreational athlete. Writing this piece was therapeutic for me. I hope it helps you too! Enjoy! -Carla
From the time I was able to physically throw a ball, I considered myself an athlete. At age 7, I played softball, took that into high school, played volleyball and became a gym rat at the age of 15 in 1985 when seeing a teenage girl in the gym was a rarity! My father, who played semi-professional football, always encouraged me to be the fittest, best athlete I could be. He also taught me about the mental game of sports and how to build an iron resolve under pressure. This was also a valuable life skill, which I took into my medical career often performing procedures and surgeries under life or death circumstances.
At age 36 (literally 2 weeks post-partum!), I took up tennis. I loved the singles game as I could sprint, was agile and fast! My cardiovascular reserve was strong and I could play for hours - chasing down any ball that came my way. My defensive game was a force to be reckoned with. - At age 40, I was competing recreationally as a 4.0 level United States Tennis Association (USTA) female singles player.
Alongside tennis, I was a BodyCombat instructor. This martial arts-inspired HIIT training program is no joke. I could teach multiple classes in a day and go to the Reebok conferences and take 5 different classes throughout the day. Then there was CrossFit - the avenue I pursued to take my fitness to another level at age 45.
But do you think I could run a mile without stopping? Nope. Despite all that I could do as a tennis player and a BodyCombat instructor, I STILL couldn’t complete that mile run without stopping. That was the one thing about CrossFit - it very quickly uncovered areas of athleticism that need improvement!
So why is it that I was successful in these other athletic endeavors, but yet unable to run a mile without stopping? Because I have been functioning in predominantly one energy system most of my athletic life.
In a previous post in Athletic Aging, Neuroendocrine Adaptation - Your "End-Run" Around the Menopause Transition, the three metabolic energy systems that provide energy for every type of Human activity are reviewed:
Phosphocreatine Pathway: Utilizes creatine phosphate to fuel movements lasting < 10 seconds (ex - a 1 rep maximum deadlift). Does not require oxygen (anaerobic).
Glycolytic Pathway: Utilizes glucose stored in the muscles (predominantly anaerobic) to fuel moderately powered movements lasting up to several minutes (ex- a 1-2 min high intensity running interval).
Oxidative Pathway: Utilizes carbohydrate, fatty acids, and protein to fuel low-powered, longer-duration activities in excess of several minutes. Requires oxygen (aerobic). (ex - long endurance run).
I am a “Glycolytic Pathway” athlete. Every sport and physical activity I have ever engaged in has been short to moderate duration bursts of intensity with intervals of rest. I always shied away from sports like soccer and field hockey because I just “wasn’t wired” for long stretches of endurance.
When we think of what fitness is, it can take on a broad range of definitions. You are elite in your sport - achieving a superior level of skill in one particular activity. At the opposite end of the spectrum is a broad range of skills and adaptation to the unexpected. Whether it is an Olympic lift, a 5K run, 300 double under jump rope or handstand push-ups, these athletes are up for the task, doing each of these well but certainly not at an elite level in any single one of these activities.
My personal evolution as an athlete has moved toward what is going to keep me feeling good and able to do any physical activity that interests me and that I find fun. But most importantly, as a mid-life peri-menopausal woman, what is going to keep my heart, bones and muscles strong and my spirit alive to be the best athlete that I can be no matter what this second half of life brings my way.
For my next “fitness frontier” I am training outside of my comfortable “Glycolytic” energy system. I have introduced myself to the “oxidative energy system” and have now progressed to the 5K running distance! I can’t quite do it without stopping just yet, but the mile run that I couldn’t do 7 years ago is now more of a warm-up! I have also targeted my Phosphocreatine system with Olympic Weightlifting - and still managing to achieve personal records with various lifts as I have been laser-focused on solid form and mechanics with the help of my amazing coach, Erika Snyder!
But there is a “fourth” energy system that I have found in my athletic evolution and that is mindset through yoga practice. Headstands, lizard poses and meditation were never on my radar in the past, but through this practice, I have learned a whole new level of body control, strength, balance and mindset that is the glue that ties all of my other training together.
So no matter where your strengths lie, taking a critical look at what kind of athlete you are and stepping outside of your comfort zone is the key to your next frontier in fitness and continued evolution as an athlete.
If you are an elite athlete, stay true to that incredible fitness achievement - but make room to evolve as life circumstances evolve with you. With this intention, your next fitness frontier may be even more exciting than your last! Your next podium just might be the top of a mountain!