The world’s best athletes are at the top of their game for a reason. You don’t accidentally become the fastest man on the planet or the world’s greatest tennis player overnight.
Yes, these guys and girls might be genetically gifted, but they've had to combine their talents with painstaking hard work and dedication to their sport in order to get to the very top.
What matters most is, they’ve gone and done it whilst the rest of us sat back and watched in amazement.
So, what can we learn from them?
What principles can we take from the world’s top athletes, and apply them to our own training in order to be the best that we can be?
This article isn’t just for elite athletes or those looking to compete. It’s for anyone who wants to get better results from their training and their day to day life.
That should be everyone, right?
As much as I’d love to, I know that I’m not going to be competing for Olympic gold medals anytime soon.
But what I can do is take time to learn from the very best in the business, so that I can get closer to my goals. Keep reading this article, and I’ll help you do the same.
#1 - Diet can make you champion: Novak Djokovic
In 2010, Novak Djokovic was a professional tennis player with suspect fitness levels, a poor injury record and an inability to close out important matches.
By the end of 2011, Djokovic had been crowned champion of Wimbledon, the Australian Open and the US Open. He sat proudly on top of the ATP world rankings, and has kept his title as world No.1 more or less ever since.
So, what changed?
Ask Novak himself, and he will point you to his first meeting with nutritionist Igor Cetojevic as the turning point in his career. Whilst Djokovic’s diet certainly wasn’t bad before he met Cetojevic, it wasn’t optimal. At least, not for him.
Cetojevic quickly identified that Djokovic had a sensitivity to gluten and dairy products. By cutting these out from his diet, and replacing them with more nutrient dense alternatives, Djokovic’s energy levels and performance went through the roof. Novak now enjoys a plant based diet based mainly around fresh organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes. He also makes a conscious effort to eat his food mindfully, focusing on enjoying his meals rather than eating them when distracted or rushed.
The lesson from this story isn’t to blindly follow Novak’s diet to improve your results. Just because a particular way of eating works for him, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you.
What it does show, however, is the unquestionable impact that good nutrition has on our physical performance. When you consume the optimum fuel for YOUR body, you’ll be amazed at the results you can achieve.
#2 - Sleep matters: Usain Bolt
I don’t care how hard you train or how well you eat. If you’re not sleeping properly, you’ll never reach your full potential.
Not only will a lack of sleep affect your performance and recovery, it will also increase your baseline cortisol levels – which is seriously bad news for your health.
Elite athletes know the importance of sleep, which is why it is scheduled in exactly the same way as a training session or healthy meal. Just ask Usain Bolt, who prioritises getting 8 – 10 hours of sleep each night.
“Sleep is extremely important to me — I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body,”
Let’s face it; you can’t argue with his results, can you?
I know how difficult it is to balance work, training, and social commitments with getting adequate rest and recovery. Usually, sleep is the first thing to suffer when life gets busy.
But optimising your sleep could well be the most important thing you do for your physical and mental performance.
I wish I could tell you a shortcut. A way to get more sleep in less time. Trust me; if one existed, I’d be using it myself.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing. You’ve just got to dedicate the time to proper sleep, each and every night. Commit to it. It matters.
#3 - The importance of work life balance: Lewis Hamilton
Few would question that Lewis Hamilton is one of the best Formula 1 drivers on the planet today.
Yet many people question how he stays at the top, given his habits of frequenting expensive bars and restaurants, going on impromptu vacations with friends mid-season, or spending time in a studio recording his first hip-hop album (yes really).
I’d argue that he’s not the best driver in the world in spite of his life away from the grid; he’s the best driver in the world because of his life away from the grid.
You see, whilst other drivers are exhausting themselves over-analysing their previous race and over-training for the next one, Lewis is in a fancy restaurant somewhere enjoying good food. He’s dis-engaged himself completely from the sport, meaning that when it’s time to focus again, he can turn it on better than anyone else. Lewis is the perfect example that you don’t need to spend the whole of your life thinking about training in order to be the very best.
In fact, you’d probably get better results by taking a step back sometimes, and just spending some time enjoying yourself. Believe it or not, that stuff matters.
#4 - Focus on you: Serena Williams
There’s a lot of pressure that comes with being the world’s best female tennis player. Throughout her career, Serena has woken up to thousands of negative newspaper headlines and fabricated media stories. But she doesn’t rise to them – she keeps her head down, and focuses on what she does best.
You will also face your own share of negativity on your fitness journey (and life in general). And the better you get, the more people will try and shoot you down.
You’ve just got to shut it out as best you can. Or even better – you use it to get stronger.
Serena has been accused of doping, cheating, and everything else in between. These accusations would have derailed many a competitor; but instead, Serena used them as ammunition to become arguably the greatest female tennis player the world has ever seen. #5 - The power of routine: Kobe Bryant
Recently retired Kobe Bryant, widely regarded as one of the best basketball players ever to walk this earth, credits his success to his unwavering commitment to his day to day routine – both on and off the court.
People these days tend to shy away from routine. It’s not as sexy as spontaneity and living off the cuff, which has it’s time and place. But you only need to look at the lifestyles of the world’s best athletes to realise just how important it is to have a set of rituals that help you get better every day.
Kobe’s dedication to his diet, workouts, sleep, rehab and training is the stuff of legends in the NBA. Combine this with a formidable work ethic and a relentless pursuit of greatness, and it soon becomes pretty clear how Kobe became the athlete that he did.
Unless you’re a professional athlete, you don’t need to be as dedicated to your routine as Kobe. But, employing the right habits and rituals in your day to day life can have an overwhelming impact on your end results.
#6 - Love what you do: Julie Foucher
Training to compete at the CrossFit Games is no laughing matter. CrossFit athletes are widely regarded as some of the fittest and strongest humans on Planet Earth – so just how does Julie Foucher compete with the best of them, year after year after year?
Simple answer: she loves it. She doesn’t drag herself out of bed in the morning to training because she has to – she does so because she wants to.
If you want to be great at something, you have to love the process. You can’t push your body to places it doesn’t want to go to. And you definitely can’t be the best if you’re not prepared to enjoy the journey to get there.
Julie Foucher’s love for her sport was epitomised in last year’s Crossfit games, her last as a competitive athlete. In the third event at the finals, Julie tore her Achilles tendon performing a box jump. A few hours later, she was back and competing in the remaining events wearing a protective boot. Julie’s story has gone down in CrossFit history as the stuff of legend. It’s a shining example of her grit and determination – but also her unconditional love for the sport that has given her so much.
#7 - Keep it simple: Jessica Ennis-Hill
It’s easy to get caught up in all the crazy fitness and nutrition advice that’s out there these days. But Olympic gold medalist Jessica Ennis-Hill is the perfect example of how keeping things simple will deliver the best results.
Jess eats well, but doesn't count calories. She trains hard, but doesn’t over-complicate her programme. As she balances being a mum with media and sponsor commitments, there’s no time to make things too complex.
When it comes to your own health and fitness, follow Jess’ advice and don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. Train hard, eat well, and enjoy the process. Be consistent and stop hopping between workout routines and diets. Find what works for you, be patient, and the results will come.
#8 - How much do you want it? Manny Pacquiao
Hard work beats talent. Especially when talent doesn’t work hard.
You only need to look at the case of Manny Pacquiao to know this to be true. Growing up in one of the poorest areas of The Phillipines on less than a dollar a day, Manny’s path to success was one of the toughest in professional sport. But as he now sits comfortably amongst the world’s richest and most successful athletes, he has proved that anything is possible.
There were no shortcuts in Pacquiao’s journey – he simply did it by working harder than everyone else. Manny lived on the streets so he could pour all his focus into his training. He worked his way from rock bottom to his first world title in 1998. 18 years on, and he’s still going strong.
I have no doubt that Manny’s unquenchable work ethic is the reason he has enjoyed one of the longest and most distinguished careers in professional boxing history.
He’s the perfect example that hard work can take you anywhere. You’ve just got to want it enough.
#9 - There are no limits: Sir Bradley Wiggins
Limits only exist because we create them in our mind. If someone tells you something is impossible often enough, it’s easy to start believing what they say.
Clearly, Sir Bradley Wiggins didn’t get the memo. As other professional cyclists dedicate their entire career to a specific discipline, Wiggins has spent the last four years dominating cycling across the board, taking home the Tour De France, Olympic gold medals, time trial gold medals and most recently, breaking the all-time record for most distance cycled in an hour.
What limits are you facing in your training?
Do they actually exist? Or are they just in your imagination?
As Bruce Lee once said; "there are no such thing as limits, only plateaus". Apply this to every aspect of your life and watch how far you go.
What athlete inspires you and why?