Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

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December 10, 2023 | Max Jenkinson

The Secret Athletes Use To Look Great

Pro athletes in almost any sport look fu*king good.

How they look has never been the goal of what they do yet they look better than most people actively trying to look good through exercise.

Their bodies are a consequence of something we could all do, meaning we could all get a pro-athlete-looking body (or at least an athletic-looking one).

Most of us think we need to sacrifice the pleasures of life to get the body of our dreams. That we need to live like disciplined monks. But, by learning a few secrets from athletes, the body we want is all of a sudden attainable.

Have you ever wondered what your body would look like if you were a pro sprinter, an NFL player or a footballer? A body so impressive random people come up to you and ask what you are doing. Maybe not that impressive, but still, a freakishly athletic body. One with which you would destroy in a pick-up game with your colleagues or friends.

Maybe you were a savage playing sports as a kid. Maybe you, like me, know that a Viking is hiding inside of you. A freak athlete is inside you waiting to emerge, so why hasn’t he?

When I was young, whenever I told my dad I couldn’t do something he would say the letters SNE, short for Stories anExcuses. So, what excuse are you using? You don’t have time? You don’t have the genetics? You can’t sacrifice the pleasures in life? What is holding you back?

There’s only one thing holding you back. It’s something all athletes have in common. After reading this the only thing holding you back will be time. All you then have to do is live your life and soon enough the freak athlete inside of you will emerge.

I love Ben Patrick, also known as Kneesovertoesguy. He always dreamt of becoming a pro basketball player. As an unathletic, frail kid ridden with injuries, his dreams seemed to fade away.

One day he decided to take his fate into his own hands. He spent years obsessing about how to create a robust body. Today he isn’t a pro basketball player but he is a freak athlete. Something he spent most of his life thinking he’d never be.

We all want a better-looking, but more importantly more functional body. By looking at Ben’s story we can extrapolate some interesting ideas that we can apply to our own lives. He was an unathletic man suffering in pain, not being able to play the sport he loved. Today he is a total freak.

If Ben Did It So Can You

Lying on the hospital bed with a new partially artificial kneecap the doctors told Ben he might not be able ever to run again and definitely not play basketball. His entire life up until this point had revolved around basketball. He was devastated.

Like me, Ben grew up skinny and frail. As he moved into adolescence the other kids outgrew him in strength, speed, and athleticism. Injuries started to pile up and not one training session was played without pain.

The realisation that his dream of becoming a basketball pro was just that, a dream, slowly crept in. The hope that things were about to turn faded. After a major surgery, doctors told him he might never play again.

We all end up here at some point. We think we’re too old, or too injured, or that we don’t have the genes to become athletes in our own right. And so, what do we do? We quit.

Almost possessed Ben started scouring the internet for people like him that turned their bodies and lives around. He found example after example of people who should have never played their sport again coming back stronger and better than ever before.

He did not accept what the doctors had told him and decided to take his athletic future into his own hands and figure out how to make his body into the athlete he knew he could be. It was time to reach his athletic potential without any limiting beliefs.

Before this point, Ben had tried everything: ice packs, elaborate stretching- and strength routines, and of course painkillers. Nothing worked. You might be in a similar boat. You’ve gone to the gym for a while or had a stint as a runner. But, they all ended with an injury or lack of motivation.

As he scoured the internet he started to put disparate pieces together. He implemented some movements that seemed logical and low and behold they worked. His knees slowly got less and less painful. And, he realised he was moving better, running faster and jumping higher. He was onto something.

But, the secret here is not some special movement he figured out. It might have been for him, but the takeaway for us in a broader sense is something entirely different.

Our parents are not athletes, our friends are not athletes and our colleagues are not athletes. Because of this, we assume that we aren’t either. Being an athlete is secluded to professionals, right?

Unless we are kids, randomly doing cartwheels, handstands and wrestling is weird. We are moulded by society not to move. We sit at home, then we sit at the office and then we sit when we get back home.

It’s not surprising that most of us are frail, immobile, and domesticated. We have not been taught what athletes consciously or subconsciously do to maintain a lifestyle conducive to looking and feeling good.

It’s a lack of practical knowledge combined with limiting beliefs that keep the athlete inside of us hidden. We don’t need to be professional sportsmen to be athletes.

Once I realised what Ben had done to successfully create a lifestyle that allows the athlete inside to emerge I designed mine after his. Soon after my pain-ridden knees started to improve, my training volume increased without it feeling like an ought and my body looked better than ever without focusing on how my body looked.

Ben has done an amazing job making people accept that we are all athletes. He has helped thousands of people become pain-free while reaching athletic heights they never thought possible.

Once we design our lifestyle around our inner athlete we don’t need to force ourselves to the gym. We are intrinsically motivated to move more. It becomes a game that we enjoy playing and a game that we know we will enjoy playing for a very long time.


The Secret Athletes Use

So, what kept Ben pushing through years of trial and error until he started figuring it out? His secret may be the system of movements he created to build a bulletproof body. But, the secret that allowed him to develop the system was that his movement practice was in service of the game he was obsessed with.

The best diet is the diet you stick to. The best exercise program is the exercise program you stick to. The difficult part is sticking to a routine for long enough to reap the supposed benefits.

We are a game-oriented species. Our motivational structure is deeply linked to progress. This is why the gamification of anything we do works so well.

And, it’s no different when it comes to movement. Most people who go to the gym or do endurance training to be healthier or to look better won’t have the motivation to keep going over sustained periods.

However, some people stick to the gym or some other solo exercise pursuit for decades (like my dad). What separates them from the quitters? Gamification.

I call them the spreadsheet gamers. They track variables like volume, heart rate, watts, times, weights, and anything else they find useful to progress. They are cult followers of the saying “What gets measured gets improved”.

Over time they see improvements in their stats which motivates them to keep improving. They’re playing the game of incremental progress in single-player mode.

These are also the fitness influencers that influence us to go to the gym or put on our running shoes. We want to be and look like them. However, most people are not spreadsheet gamers.

I Took Me Seven Years To Figure This Out

I destroyed my knee at 13, quit my football “career” and replaced it with online gaming. At 17, I went to the gym for the first time. Five days a week for up to 3h I socialised and “trained”. After a year I had gone from 61kg to 73kg. (As I said, I was frail)

For the past seven years, I’ve tried a lot of solo player pursuits. I have done power-lifting, body-building, CrossFit, running, and swimming. Today I weigh around 76kg. If I had stuck with any of those games and played them seriously for the past seven years I wonder where I would be.

But, I guess I am just not inclined to single-player pursuits (yet). For the past two months, I’ve gotten into Jui-jitsu. It somehow took me six years to realise that I am a multi-player gamer even though I spent my childhood playing sports or competitive multi-player video games.

As we are a social species most humans are oriented toward multi-player games with a clear structure for improvement. Single-player games are not enough to motivate us to play the game long enough to reap the benefits we want.

What the rest of us need to do is find a physical game that already has a clear path forward. Once we find a game we enjoy playing we can attach almost anything to our progress in that game.

Doing Things In Service of The Game We Play

Take Ben as an example. His game of choice is basketball. His movement practice is in service of becoming a better basketball player. His diet is in service of becoming a better basketball player. His sleep, recovery, and rehab, are all in service of the game he is playing.

I’m currently doing three jiu-jitsu weekly sessions combined with two strength sessions. And, that’s not because I don’t want to do more, it’s because I physically can’t. My body can’t handle it.

I am obsessing over how to make my body more resilient so that I can do more sessions per week. In my mind, I cannot see a limit. I want to push it as far as I can. One jui-jitsu session per day combined with however many strength sessions I need to stay injury-free.

Do you now realize how easy it is for me to eat well, sleep well and focus on recovery? If I don’t there is a much greater risk of injury, and then I can’t play the game I want to.

The motivational structure surrounding health is now attached to a game I want to progress in. Everything I do (health-wise) is in service of my improvement within the game I am playing.

When what you do has a noticeable difference to something you value you will either be motivated to do more or less of that something. If it positively affects something you value you will be motivated to do more of it. That makes sense, right?

I wrote about something I called the noticeability threshold in a past newsletter. Your brain is a pattern recognition machine, but, the pattern recognition needs to be aimed at something. When you play a game you value your brain starts to recognize what affects your ability to play that game.

Things that previously went under the radar start to make themselves shown. You can’t help but notice them. As you do, they start bothering you. You then want to remove the negative emotion associated with the behaviour. You start to eat better, sleep better, move better, and all the rest.

Pick A Physical Game To Play

Most of us are not playing the game of longevity or the game of optimal health, they are both abstract single-player games. Once we make the game more concrete and (perhaps) multi-player our motivational structure has something clear it can attach to.

If you want to be healthy (we all do), find a physical game you enjoy playing. Depending on who you are, the games we enjoy vary wildly. But, once we find a game that works for us, being healthy is not hard at all.

It’s when we don’t play any games that we let ourselves go. Why would we make healthy decisions if the impact of those decisions has no bearing on what we value? Then the decisions we make do not matter.

As soon as you start to play a game you enjoy, your entire motivational structure will work hard to align your decisions and behaviours to make you a better player. Over time your total volume of movement per week combined with your recovery, diet and sleep will be enough to express the athletic body you possess.

Stop working out to look good, or to be healthy. Be a kid and do it for fun. Once you find your game you will want to create a strength routine in service of it because if you don’t you won’t be able to play the game you love.


The Game Does Not Have To Be Physical

To get the body you deserve and the energy you want you will need to play a physical game. There’s no way around it. We are physical beings that need a certain amount of movement to be healthy and happy. Why not move while doing something we enjoy?

However, we can apply this secret, to any game we play. All it has to be is something that you can attach healthy/productive habits to that have tangible effects on the game you are playing.

Perhaps you’re a comedian. As you sleep better, move more, and eat better you notice you have more energy, motivation, and brain power so your comedy improves. This will motivate you to become healthier as a consequence of the progress in the game you have attached yourself to.

What games do you play? The game of being a father, some intellectual game at work, or the game of being a solid friend?

When you start noticing how what you do affects how you perform in the games you play (and value), you’ll start to align what you do to improve yourself in the games you play. Hope that makes sense…

Report back to me if this made you realize that you need to start playing a physical game. And if you do, please update me if it worked as well as it did for me.

And, until next Sunday, do what makes your future self proud.

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Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.