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Top 10 Habits of Elite Athletes

A-Rod Hits 600th Homer

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez holds up the baseball he hit for his his 600th career home run ball during a post-game a news conference after the Yankees 5-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010 in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)AP

It’s been said that all it takes to be successful is to find someone else who has achieved what you want, and do what they do. Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." In this vein, there is incredible insight to be gained from the habits of elite athletes. 

While not every man has the tools to compete at a professional level, mirroring the habits of the great athletes will surely help you get in better shape and improve your athletic performance. 

These are the Top 10: Athlete Habits.

10.  Envision Success
Most athletes recognize that a significant proportion of performance is mental. Yet it’s uncommon for most men to spend any time on mind training and preparation. Elite athletes frequently report visualizing their success before it happens. By playing a “mental movie” of their conquests in upcoming competitions, they not only improve their performance, but also pre-emptively calm their nerves. The clearer the visualization, the more powerful the impact.

9. Cool Down
Athletes perform cooldowns specific to their activity. An athlete with an outstanding, balanced range of motion who just completed a lifting session may not require a cooldown at all. In contrast, an older athlete who just completed an interval training session will benefit from some low-intensity movement and calf and hip flexor-specific stretches. Cooldowns help facilitate recovery by processing metabolic waste products, restoring shortened muscles to their resting length, and allowing the athlete to unwind mentally.

8. Consume Sports Drinks
Optimal performance hinges on optimal fuel and hydration. Athletes consume sports drinks with easily digested carbohydrates and electrolytes. Consuming a sports drink during this type of workout also helps maintain blood glucose levels within the normal range so athletes don't have peaks and crashes in their energy levels.

7. Identify With Successes
Nothing will cripple performance like damaged confidence. Every mistake holds a lesson, but dwelling on mistakes will inevitably lead to their repetition. When athletes make mistakes, they try to learn from and forget them instantly so they don’t linger. Having a short memory and identifying with past successes helps athletes maintain a high level of performance, even after major setbacks.

6. Post-Game Training
Many athletes train immediately after a game. This comes as a surprise to many men, but it’s important to remember that the goal of in-season training is primarily to maintain improvements made in the off-season. Training after a game “clumps” competition -- and training-related stresses -- and allows for a prolonged recovery window. For example, instead of playing a game Sunday, training Monday and then practicing or playing again on Tuesday, the athlete will play Sunday, train immediately after and take Monday completely off. Increasing the recovery window is helpful in minimizing residual stress levels and optimizing one's hormonal balance.
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5. Pre- And Post-training Nutrition
Providing proper fuel before and after both training and competition can have a significant impact on performance and recovery. Athletes make sure they get the nutrition they need to maximize their intensity, energy and recovery. Pre-activity, this can be as simple as a meal with lean protein, vegetables and whole-grain rice. The goal is to ingest the right nutrients to provide the athlete the energy he needs. Afterward, the goal is recovery. Post-workout , the body is “primed” for shuttling carbohydrates into the muscle to replenish depleted energy stores and for stimulating protein synthesis (muscle rebuilding). Foods that contain carbohydrate and protein can do the trick. Milk, for example, contains carbs and protein to promote recovery. Even better, milk will include a host of minerals and vitamins (notably vitamin D), from which most men will benefit.

4. Get Quality Sleep
Sleep provides the environment and time the body needs to repair damaged muscles, restore optimal hormonal balance and facilitate mental recovery and overall freshness. Unfortunately, in a volume-driven society that emphasizes working harder over smarter, the importance of sleep is frequently overlooked. Athletes go to bed and wake up at the same times (within an hour) each day. During periods of increased training intensity or volume, they sleep more, taking a nap during the day if necessary.

3. Follow An Individualized Training Program
Most high-level athletes benefit from training under the supervision of a strength and conditioning coach. While some of these professionals are better than others, athletes will get better results following a structured program than they will on their own. It’s human nature to focus on what you’re good at, which isn’t always what you need. By following a professionally designed training program with components of individualization, athletes are more likely to improve their weaknesses and overall performance and decrease their injury risk. Quality training often allows less-skilled athletes to compete at higher levels and can add years to a career.

2. Set Goals
Nothing ensures success like setting goals and constantly working toward them. Athletes do this on a regular basis. Goals can be performance or habit based. Performance goals could be something like, “I will complete 75% of my passes today.” While completing a pass is dependent upon a teammate catching it, habit goals are less dependent on external influences. As an example, a related habit goal could be, “I will make sure my head is up before making every pass.” Other habit goals can be things like always drinking a post-workout shake or always going to bed at a specific time. Setting goals provides athletes with structure and constant motivation, which ensures continual progress.

1. Work With Coaches
Athletes are fortunate to work with a variety of coaches invested in their success. In many cases, coaches are what make everything else on this list possible. A strength coach can help design an individualized training program, a nutrition coach can make specific pre and post-workout recommendations, and a sports coach can help the athlete set performance and habit goals. Coaches help athletes stay focused and keep progressing. They remove many of the “planning” stresses from athletes and allow them to focus more on the implementation side of things.