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Here are 5 Ways To Stay Fit After You Retire From Sports

Sometimes I feel like I’m on a never ending episode of A&E’s tv show Fit To Fat To Fit, but instead of taking 4 months to get fit again, it’s taken like fourteen. I have never been the skinny type. I was always that athlete who had to work really hard to stay at my optimal weight and just about every year from high school into my professional years, I had to shed a few pounds.

Believe it or not, when I won Olympic Gold as part of the US Track & Field Team in Sydney, Australia, I was 12 pounds over my running weight, but it didn’t stop me from running the race of my life around that 400 meter track! #alwayswinning!

But what I was able to work off as an athlete who was training every day as a collegiate and pro, I wasn’t able to get off so easily once I retired. One day after climbing a flight of stairs, I had to stop halfway up. I was out of breath, my legs were burning and all I could think was “Elevator Please!!”

How did it get like this? What happened between then and now that could possibly explain why I can’t get up a flight of stairs or jog a lap around the track without feeling like I was going to pass out?

At different times since I retired, I’ve oscillated between exercising like a PRO and sitting on the couch like a BUMB. Being healthy is a lot of work, and truthfully it’s easier to procrastinate and tell yourself “I’ll start tomorrow.” But if you want to be great and do great things in life beyond sports, you have to be responsible to yourself.

So how do you stay fit as a former athlete who’s no longer burning upwards of 5000 calories a workout and training 6 days a week?

Here are 5 Ways To Stay Fit After You Retire From Sports

Set Realistic Goals

Every time I go to the gym, pop in a workout DVD or embark on yet another exercise regiment, I always without fail have visions of my former self. A lean, mean, muscle machine. I envision regaining that beautiful athletic physique but no matter how hard I try, it always seems like a distant reality.

As athletes, our bodies where are everything. We worked on our bodies more than anything else because our body was the tool we needed to carry us across the finish line. I was obsessed with the way I looked and every morning I’d flex and suck in and pose in the mirror to see if I could pick up any minute changes.

Don’t act like you didn’t do that too!

But really, as athletes we and others idolize our bodies in a way that for normal people would seem borderline OCD.

So when we are no longer maintaining a lifestyle that is conducive to producing a chiseled specimen of a body, it’s easy to lose motivation. Something that used to come naturally is a chore and we all know what happens when we’re forced to do chores.

As a result, to stay motivated I had to start setting more realistic goals. Instead of trying to get back to my running weight, I started striving for my feel good weight.

I had to ask myself how did I want to feel? Instead of looking at the scale, did I feel good in my clothes? Did I feel good when I woke up in the morning? Did I feel good when I was hanging with friends in a social setting? Did I feel good when I looked in the mirror?

When I started to chase “feel good” instead of “pounds” I was more motivated, less stressed and less likely to fall back into old habits.

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Know What You’re Training For

“For most former athletes,” says Tim Conley, who played offensive line at Oklahoma and Sacramento State before a career in professional football, “the sole motivation to exercise is their sport. Once that is done, the motivation ends. It becomes, ‘What am I training for?’ ”

This hits close to home because not only was I training for the love of my sport, I was training because I wanted to help my team win. Sometimes the greatest motivator is not accolades of winning for ourselves, but the feeling of accomplishment we get when we show up for our team. Nobody likes letting their team down. For most athletes, team sports creates an atmosphere where you have others supporting and encouraging you on a daily basis. Cheers, high-fives, butt-slaps, inspirational speeches from coaches and those occasional out of body practices that made you feel like a God (or Goddess) – these are all triggers that keep us on top of our game.

But when you lose your sport, you lose the team, you lose the coach, you lose the fans – what are you left with? It’s just you, all by your lonesome, trying to figure out how in the hell you’re going to finish this workout!

We all see the commercials of former athletes (Terry Bradshaw, Charles Barkley, amongst others) who use and promote popular weight loss systems but their pot of gold comes in the form of a fat paycheck. Without that extra $15 million dollars in endorsement money driving every pound off your body, staying motivated can be a struggle.

One of the ways I stay motivated is thinking of all the people around me I need to show up for. My husband, my kids, my friends, my business partners, my students and clients. If I’m not at my best or feeling my best, it’s not only a disservice to me, it’s a disservice to them as well.

Get A Workout Partner

After years of trying to get and stick with a consistent exercise routine, I discovered I lasted longer when I had a work out partner. Whether it was the hubby (also a former collegiate athlete), a girlfriend, my mom (who goes to the gym religiously every single day) or my kids, I always tried to workout with someone else.

Partners, in athletics and in business, keep you accountable. So how do you find a workout partner? The same way you’d find a mentor to help you build your business. Ask someone who’s where you want to be and doing what you need to do to succeed.

Ask your fit friend (not your fat friend) who’s already in the gym and exercising on a regular basis. The biggest mistake I made when trying to lose weight was working out with someone else who was in the same boat as me. Find someone who has a solid routine. Find someone who’s working out on a regular basis. And most of all find someone who’s not going to complain about how torturous it is getting back in shape!

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Never Stop Setting Goals

Athletes are goal driven creatures. Whether it’s finishing a set of reps in the weight room or finding our way to the podium, we measure our success in milestones, meters and metrics.

Every year before the season, I’d get a poster board and chart out my goals. For each race, of every meet, every season, I had a personal goal I was trying to hit. My life was measured in goals and I’m sure you can relate to this too. It took me about 5 years post-retirement to really start exercising again and it was sparked by my desire to look super-fly at my wedding!

But until recently, nearly 15 years after I ran my last race, I really couldn’t put my finger on why I was so damn unmotivated to work out for any extended period of time even though I complained every single day about how fat I had gotten. But then I really had a come to Jesus moment when I realized that I had stopped setting goals for myself in almost every other area of my life, too.

I was living in a state of contentment, but I wasn’t challenging myself to be better like I once did as an athlete. As a person who operated and thrived off of setting and crushing goals, I had to find a way to regain a sense of purpose that would give me the fuel to start living my greatest potential as a person (not just an athlete).

I made a point to connect to my purpose, find new passions beyond sports and re-discover the things that made me happy. I began exploring new activities, pushing myself to go beyond my comfort zone and as a result I began to set new goals.  And as I began to feel better about my life, I began to feel better about my body, and when you feel good about your body, you work on your body!

Reward Yourself Often

Medals, awards, ribbons, hugs, high-fives. As athletes, every time we did something well, we got rewarded for it.

Former Rice hurdler Frank Miller Jr., was quoted as saying, “My biggest challenge is exercising with no clear goal. Being healthy in general isn’t enough to motivate me. I need a ball to chase and a score of some kind. I get bored without a semi-immed­iate reward.”

As you hit goals and milestones, reward yourself. It could be a glass of wine, a night out, a trip. Whatever prize you want to place at the end of the rainbow, put it there and then go chase it! And once you’ve found it, enjoy it!

With only 40% of former collegiate athletes meeting “healthy guidelines” for exercise, it’s obvious that finding financial stability is not the only thing that athletes lack when transitioning into life after sports. One day you’re competing as a world class athlete, the next day, you aren’t and for most of us, we’re left to figure out what’s next. There’s no score we’re taking, no PRs to crush, no championships to chase and the lack of daily incentive can have a devastating affect on your well-being. The structured routine, the lifestyle you’ve built around a sport you’ve been involved in since you were a child is fractured which affects you physically, mentally, financially and emotionally.

If you want to be fit and have fitness become a priority in your life once again, it begins with a game plan, a network of support and most of all the will to be great again.

It could look something like this:

  • Find out what you like: Explore new activities. Create new ways to work out, get fit and challenge yourself physically. If going to the gym sucks, try aerial yoga (super fun) or surfing. Getting fit doesn’t have to look the same way it did when you were playing the game. Stick with the things you like and take a customized approach to creating an exercise regiment that keeps you engaged and motivated for more.
  • Guidance and personal training – Go get a coach! As an athlete you already know the power of having a coach or mentor who can motivate and keep you on track. Find a coach or training partner who can meet you where you are right now in your physical and mental state and be willing to move you back to healthy, hot and fit without judgement.
  • Develop a game plan: Educate yourself and seek resources that will help you reach your goals. Write down a daily game plan. Set reminders to keep you motivated and on top of that plan. I use a super cool app called “If This Then That” and I can create recipes that send motivational reminders and mid-day pick me ups to my phone. Create your WHY for working out and email or text it to yourself each and every day at a specific time, to push yourself closer toward your goals.
  • Check-ins and accountability: This is the most important piece. If you set a goal or make a plan, keep your promises. The best way to do this is to find ways to stay accountable. As I stated earlier, when you are used to having support and direction, it’s going to continue to be necessary to create constant and consistent results.
  • Have fun: Well maybe this is the more important piece!!! Life is too short to be bogged down with failure, frustration and half-baked dreams. Create an atmosphere that allows you to thrive in happiness. Exercise those facial bones and smile more often! The richness if life comes from your ability to create joyful memories. No matter where you are in your life, find time to have fun. Every week I’ll schedule “Fun Time With Friends or Family” and I block out half a day (maybe more) to spend time with the people I love. When you’re happy, you’re healthy and that is the most important thing to remember. So find your happiness again and every thing else will fall into place.

Do you have experiences or challenges with going from fit to fat (and not quite back to fit) as a former athlete? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.

And if you need a little more motivation to get your body back, download my Wired To Win: Master Your Body Workout Plan