Are You an Athlete? Or Do You Exercise?

What is the Difference Between Someone Who ‘Exercises to Move’ and Someone Who ‘Moves to Exercise’? What is the Reason You MOVE?

When you look in the mirror, dressed for your workout, how do you see yourself? Is the reflection that of an athlete, or is there an exerciser looking back at you? How can you tell the difference? On the surface, an athlete and an exerciser may look very similar in certain ways: their stance, their build, and even their apparel. However, the biggest difference is not something you can see: it’s all in how they think.

Although the traditional exerciser and the athlete both desire movement, the reasons they move are completely different and are critical to understand when discussing the difference between the two. Movement is something we all need, athlete or not. That being said, taking a cycling class or running up and down a soccer field during a game may feel very different to the participants, but they are still activity and still deliver the many benefits that movement provides. One just might be more enjoyable for its participants or players than the other, but you get my point: movement is beneficial to the human body and mind.

Athletes are driven to move for a purpose, whereas an exerciser does it for a certain necessity. There are undeniable health benefits that exercise provides such as mood enhancement for depression or weight loss for those who may carry some extra weight. Granted, an athlete may begin a sport due to the many health benefits it offers, but they stay involved in sports for the sole reason that it is play and play equates to fun. The fact that their health and wellness improves because of it is purely a positive byproduct.

Think about it. As children we gravitate towards games, whether or not it is anything that involves a ball. So why is that? Why is “play” something that is engrained in us as humans? “Play” is something that is engaging, and fun; as children, “play” results in the positive development of many essential skills that reinforce the necessity for “play” at a fundamental level. It has been proven that “play” builds confidence and self-esteem, along with imagination and self-expression. “Play” helps us to develop physical skills such as fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Problem solving, concentration, language and social skills like cooperation are also developed when children “play”. There are many other things that develop while we “play” as children and as we continue to grow and continue to “play” these skills are constantly tested and refined.

So how does this translate to movement? All of these skills that have been developed at a young age are used and continually improved upon when an athlete uses them for sports. An exerciser may use some of these skills, but rarely are they developed any further as a result of the exercise they are doing.

For many ‘typical’ exercisers, they attend a gym and enjoy taking different classes such as a cycling or dance class. Most participants become good at these classes and have mastered all the moves and routines. There are no surprises and there is no problem solving. They go through the motions and at the end of an hour they feel great for getting in a workout. There is nothing wrong with this. But for the athlete and the athletic mindset, it doesn’t make any sense. An athlete moves for a purpose: to score a goal, to hit a homerun, to make it to the end-zone for a touchdown. No athlete participates in a game just to get to the end of the game. In fact, at the end of the game, most athletes are still thinking about the game and continue to think about the game for days – analyzing how they did and how they can do better next game. I certainly could be wrong, but besides the instructor, I don’t know that many people who participate in a cycling class become preoccupied with how they did during the class for hours or days afterward.

So the question still stands: what do you see when you look in the mirror? Are you the person who needs to be staring down the field sizing up your opponent for a one-on-one in order to move? Or do you enjoy strapping on a pair of cycling shoes and clipping in for a ride? Either choice is a positive one as long as you enjoy it and it gets you moving. But at the end of the day, can you tell me why you move?