The idea of emulating star athletes can be a little bit problematic for even the most serious fitness junkies. When you consider all the resources these people have at their disposal, it’s usually a little bit unrealistic to assume you could approach the same level of fitness. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up some good habits anyway. Plenty of famous athletes set extraordinary examples for the rest of us, and while we may never reach their peak fitness levels (and hey, who knows?), we can still follow their lead to a healthier lifestyle.
So, here are my own top picks, out of innumerable candidates, for the best athletes to emulate in fitness and nutrition.
Along with his long-time rival (and friend) Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal put forth one of the best examples of peak fitness we’ve seen in 2017. Largely counted out of professional tennis after a few years filled with injuries and disappointing comebacks, Nadal finally seemed to rediscover his form, winning two of the year’s four biggest tournaments (the “Grand Slams”). Federer actually accomplished the same feat, and is several years older, so you may want to research his routine a little bit as well! But Nadal is arguably the better picture of fitness: a strong, fast, and relentless athlete who overpowers opponents with his body as much as his technical skill. By all accounts Nadal actually has a fairly ordinary routine. He claims to eat what he likes (including sweets), and says he does nothing special for his arms, which get a lot of attention for their muscular appearance. During the season, he says he mostly just plays a lot of tennis to stay in match shape.
The one important nugget we can glean from his discussions of his routine even this year, however, is that he mentions stretching a lot. Nadal takes post-workout recovery very seriously, and that undoubtedly speaks to his endurance. Given that thorough stretching is something a lot of us ignore (or at least don’t devote proper time to), it’s a good tip.
If you aren’t familiar with this name, you may want to make sure you weren’t in a coma for the entire summer of 2016! Biles was the leader of a legendary U.S. women’s gymnastics teams that met and perhaps exceeded some of the loftiest expectations at the games. Referring to her as undeniably the world’s best gymnast, Sports Illustrated recently ranked her as the single fittest female athlete in sports, and it’s certainly tough to think of a viable alternative. Biles doesn’t necessarily suit our typical image of a star athlete given that she stands just 4’9’’ – within an ordinary range for a gymnast, but quite small in most other sports. Nevertheless, Biles is of course incredibly fit, and has dished a little bit on how she got this way over the past year or so. Mostly, she’s a good example of how turning workouts into a total lifestyle can pay off. Biles wakes up early, eats a light but healthy breakfast, and spends three hours in the gym. She has protein for lunch and then does three more hours. That’s not something most of us can do, but it’s still a good example of consistency and regularity. We can also take a lesson from the gymnast’s tendency to mix up her cardio routine. She’s talked about doing intermittent spurts of running, swimming, and other forms of training along with her gymnastics work.
There may not be a better model of consistency in sports today than Tom Brady. Possibly the best quarterback to ever live, he’s now 40 years old and seems to be defying history by maintaining his elite level of play. After leading the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl title at 39, he had them set as clear favorites to scoop the title again heading into the 2017 season. So how does he do it? By all accounts and examples a quarterback this age should be in visible, physical decline, and yet Brady just keeps on churning. This is why he stood out to me as an example – and sure enough, when you do a little research, you find a strict routine, focused more on lifestyle than workouts.
Sure, Brady has a relentless work ethic in the gym and on the practice field. But he’s best known for regular massage treatments on his throwing arm; for meditation and proper sleep; for consuming no caffeine or white flour; and for going vegan, at least for most of the year. He’s an interesting study in how these kinds of changes can lead to feeling younger, longer.
Lindsey Vonn-Alpine Skiing
Lindsey Vonn is about as accomplished a winter sports athlete as there is today. The same Sports Illustrated piece that singled out Biles noted that Vonn is one of just six women to have won World Cup races in the five major divisions of Alpine skiing, which is of course a remarkable accomplishment. Making it even more impressive, however, is the fact that Vonn has experienced multiple serious injuries and varying degrees of damage to her body. To overcome those injuries and generally maintain her level of peak performance, Vonn has become arguably the best example of the benefits of a comprehensive gym routine on this list. Just a quick search for her routine will turn up exercises for agility, core strength, leg strength, flexibility, and even upper body strength (which doesn’t always seem as vital for skiers). Vonn is inspiration to simply work on all parts of your body to make it more durable and able to perform.
Also published on Medium.