How do I get back into athletic shape?

Have you noticed that in the years since college your mid-section has gotten a little bigger and your abs do NOT look like abs of steel? Don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s common for former high school and college athletes to lose a little bit of motivation when there’s no coach around to yell at you, or teammates to push you harder in the weight room. But there’s hope.

Oddly enough, most athletes just don’t know how to work out when there’s not a championship to be won, and let’s be real – when you were done playing competitive sports there was a certain amount of relief that came with it. Burn-out is a bitch and it makes sitting in a chair with a beer and a bag of chips look incredible.  

But now, with a little time between you and those awful 5 AM conditioning sessions, you kind of miss them. Sort of like missing your crazy ex-girlfriend… you’re glad she’s gone, but you know, she had some good qualities too.

College athletes are in the best shape of their lives
College athletes are in the best shape of their lives

How Does a Former Athlete Get Back in Shape?

Excellent question!  One of the more natural conclusions that a lot of former athletes come to is to try powerlifting. It makes sense. You get to hang out in the weight room with a bunch of other guys, and that was how you got into the best shape of your life as an athlete anyway, right?

While that is true, you may need to ease back into it depending on how long you’ve been away from regular physical activity. As we get older, our bodies can betray us and you might want to ease up on the gas a bit until you get going. That doesn’t mean you won’t see massive improvements, but you may need to go about it in a little different way by following a high rep, lower-weight routine with an additional focus on improving flexibility.  

What Are Your Workout Options?

One workout option would be similar to your old routine of heavy weights with Olympic-style movements, like deadlifts, squats, power cleans, overhead presses, etc. Doing exercises like these allow you to use multiple joints at once. You’ll gain more muscle with these moves since more muscles are involved in the movement.  

Another workout option would be to go with a moderate plan involving higher reps/lower weights, with a side dish of cardio training and a focus on flexibility. Following this prescription is quite possibly more sustainable because it isn’t putting as much stress on your body. To put it another way: more stress on the body equals more potential injuries.

Olympic-style weight lifting allows you to use more joints at once.
Olympic-style weight lifting allows you to use more joints at once.

With either of these options, it is a good idea to incorporate a heavy dose of balance and agility training. This would include using BOSU balls or balance balls in combination with strength training. For example, sitting on a balance ball while lifting dumbbells will improve your core strength and balance, while also building muscle.

Adapting To a New Workout Reality

Yeah, we get it, there may be some “identity crisis” type stuff to deal with if you pursue any of these training options that don’t mirror what you did in high school, college, or pro ball.  After all, you’ve been taught that bigger weights are a better measure of your athletic performance and a quicker way to playing time. Kind of like the annual NFL Scouting Combine where the marquee strength test is the bench press. Specifically, how many times each athlete can rep out 225 lbs. What better way to beat your chest than to bang out 32 reps of 225 lbs in 90 seconds? Crazy! 

But there are some ways to adjust to a potential new strength training reality.  

Make a Plan

You’ll want to start by mapping out a physical fitness program with end goals in mind. Having a clear set of defined and achievable goals is a perfect jumping-off point for your workout success.

When developing your workout plan, it’s important to determine your motivating factors. After all, it’s a heckuva lot easier to keep your head in the game and focus on your end goals when you have a solid set of “whys.”

Some possible new motivators might include reducing stress, achieving and maintaining a suitable weight, or increasing your energy levels for when you’re playing with your kids in the backyard (or coaching their hoops team). 


Work with your trainer to create a training plan.
Work with your trainer to create a training plan.

Taking this a step further, setting up realistic daily fitness goals can give you a finish line to cross with each workout. One idea would be to have defined numbers you want to hit for a specific exercise or cardio-related event.  Maybe it’s “I want to get my mile time under five minutes today,” or “I want to get into my fat-burning zone for 30 minutes today.” 

These daily fitness goals could also be as simple as, “I want to make sure I hit the gym today,” or “I know it’s cold outside, but I want to make sure I at least get in at least 20 minutes of walking today.”  

Create a Routine

Another best-case practice to follow is to develop a consistent routine for your workouts (and your non-workout days too).  Having a routine helps you to get into a rhythm, and to know exactly what you’re dealing with every day.  

Within that daily routine, it’s very important that you include a realistic amount of attainable physical activity.  Some days that might be walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes, or a 40-minute walk around your neighborhood.  Remember, the keywords are “attainable physical activity,” and keep in mind that you have to take what your day brings you.

As a former athlete coming back to a physical fitness program, it’s really important to remember that there are a lot of different ways to achieve the same end goal. You could choose to go with what you know, as in a program similar to what you did coming up as an athlete. Or if you decide to dial it back and go in a more chilled out direction, that’s alright too.

Remember, dialing it back doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve lost your old athletic mojo….you’re just taking a different approach this time. The real key is to put a solid, achievable plan in place and to work hand in hand with people that can help you achieve your goals.  


iRISE PERFORMANCE is a Shawnee, KS-based fitness facility that will help you develop a fitness plan to achieve your goals.  With over 30 years of combined personal training experience, our personal training staff has seen it all. We can work with you to set fitness goals, then determine the best route to get there. It could be a program just like your old strength and condition coach had in college, or we can cook something up that’s more moderate and incorporates whatever works for you today.

Group of iRISE clients
Come join the iRISE community!

At the end of the day, the iRISE PERFORMANCE training staff is here to help you reach your goals, and we believe that there are a ton of different ways to get the results you’re looking for.  

We support our clients in a way that works best for them – personal training sessions, a daily workout uploaded to our “My Accountability” app, or just by having a workout community for you to come “home” to every day while you achieve your fitness goals.  We even send out regular fitness and nutritional tips to our members through text messages or social media. In all seriousness, how many gyms do that? Not many at all, that’s for damn sure! 

So if you want to get in shape again and relive your high school or college glory days alongside a community of people who will push you to be your best while making you laugh along the way, you need to be at iRISE PERFORMANCE. Contact us today to schedule a workout and see what it’s all about.