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How to Become A Better Athlete

I was asked over the weekend why so many elite athletes are impressive in one domain and physically unhealthy in another.

To answer that question, I’ll share the same graphic I shared last week when in one of the blogs.

This is a hierarchical development of an athlete — which means each component on top builds on the component below it.

First, I’ll explain what all of these “modalities” are. Then, I’ll answer the question of why some elite athletes are physically unhealthy in some of them.

Nutrition (and Sleep)

One of the members of our coaching staff was a competitive gymnast. On Friday he told me that he never had a coach in gymnastics coach him through nutrition. Unfortunately, his situation isn’t unique.

Andre Iguodala, 2017 NBA Finals MVP, admitted that he survived off of candy and video games up until he was 28-years old. When he started eating healthier and sleeping more in 2011, he was traded to the Golden State Warriors where he went on to win three NBA championships.

Any athletic endeavor is immediately improved when the fuel going into the athlete is of quality.

Metabolic Conditioning

Fitness is comprised of ten physical skills: endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. Metcons (short for “metabolic conditioning”) are generally performed with two or three exercises under a given restraint, with the intention of training multiple skills.

Sometimes you may complete a long run (endurance) and pair it up with push-ups (strength) for 40-minutes (restraint). Other times you may complete deadlifts (power), jump ropes (coordination), and handstand walks (balance) in a workout and cycle through that routine for three rounds (restraint).

That’s a broad definition, but just know that metcons develop multiple physical skills during the same workout. The goal isn’t to get good at a movement, but rather develop a general base of fitness.


Running, rowing, cycling, swimming, skiing, ice-skating, etc. are all examples of cardio movements. When you perform cardio sessions, the goal is to develop endurance or stamina.

Cardio comes before calisthenics or weightlifting because you nature naturally favors the athlete who has a strong cardiovascular foundation.


Push-up, pull-up, sit-up, pistol squat, rope climb, handstand, dip, levers, planches, presses, flips, splits, holds… the list is actually a lot longer than you can probably imagine. Essentially, calisthenics are any exercise that uses your own bodyweight as the resistance force.

Calisthenics develop strength, flexibility, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. Most strength and conditioning programs neglect this piece of fitness and miss out on tremendous gains.

Gymnasts, for example, are some of the most impressive humans on earth. Not only are they incredibly strong, but they are limber and quick. They are agile and coordinated. What athletic coach wouldn’t want a stronger, quicker, more agile, coordinated, less-susceptible-to-injury athlete?

Don’t skip out on what the gymnasts do.


Squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, clean, snatch, bent-over barbell row, kettlebell swing, wall ball, and anything else that requires you to move an external object falls under this category. Even “throwing” falls under this category as you are displacing an external object over a given distance.

The weightlifting modality develops the final two physical skills: power and speed.

Shockingly, it wasn’t until recently that athletes even started lifting weights — Michael Jordan didn’t start lifting weights until the 1990’s! Just in the past 30 years you can see how weight training has moved athletic achievement and prowess behind what we originally thought was possible.


If I were to add one more modality, sport would finally be on top of the pyramid. Sport is the manifestation of one’s fitness and brings all 10 physical skills together as athletes are moving and reacting in unpredictable ways.

In basketball, you don’t know which way the player with the ball is going to move. In baseball, you don’t know where the pitcher is going to throw the ball. In football, you don’t know if the offense is going to run or throw. Therefore, in order to perform optimally, you need to be ready for the unknown and unknowable. Nothing in training can resemble this except for sport.

Without argument, sports are and should make up any serious strength and conditioning program. The endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy culminates in a beautiful expression of fitness when under competition.

Your Answer and Takeaway

In summary, there exists a hierarchical development for athletes’ continuous progression. Nutrition (and sleep) are at the foundation. Then we can move to metcons where general fitness is developed. Then we see how specificity is prioritized through cardio, calisthenics, and then weightlifting. Then we conclude by training the unknown and unknowable in sport.

The reason you may find athletes who are physically unhealthy is because they (or their trainer) ignore this hierarchy. Nature naturally favors this structure, so ignoring it is at the own athlete’s expense.

For example, you will find competitive marathon runners who can’t jump up on to a 20-inch box! Similarly, you will find NFL lineman who can’t run a mile without stopping.

Fitness requires balance across time and modal domains. Training weightlifting and sport at the exclusion of nutrition or cardio hurts the athlete in the long-term. Just ask Andre Iguodala.


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