Do former athletes have an advantage when trying to get back in shape?

March 31, 2012

Q: In college I played two different sports, worked out on a daily basis and was very fit. However, that was 10 long years ago and life has changed for me. The daily grind of work and the responsibility of family have caused me to neglect my health and I have gained 50 pounds.

I have recently decided that it’s time to take control of my life and get back in shape. Do you think my years as a competitive athlete will give me an advantage in my quest to lose weight?

A: There is no doubt in my mind that former athletes have an advantage when it comes to getting back in shape. There are three reasons why I believe this to be true.

First of all, people who have played organized sports understand what it means to work hard to achieve a goal. They have already tested their will by taking their body close to its physical limitations. Working out and getting in shape is the same process. It takes hard work, commitment and the willingness to achieve a goal, all of which you are familiar with as a former athlete.

I sometimes reminisce on my days as a high school football player, practicing three times a day in 95-degree heat with full gear on. After all, what could be harder than that?

Memories such as these help give me confidence that I can handle any situation and go a long way in guiding me though everyday life.

The point I’m trying to make is most athletes have already experienced grueling workouts, and they are no strangers to hard work. All they have to do is refocus their goals and commit to changing their lifestyle. If they put the same amount of energy into trying to get in shape as they did on the sports field they will usually be successful.

Secondly, former athletes come equipped with a frame packed with muscle mass, even if it’s currently covered with fat. Years of working out and playing sports earlier in life have yielded the foundation needed to burn fat and accelerate their metabolism.

Remember more muscle burns more fat, and as you begin lifting weights, doing cardio and eating a healthy diet, your preexisting muscle mass will burn fat like gasoline thrown on a fire.

Last but not least, athletes have muscle memory. This means that it’s much easier to get back in shape if you’ve already been there.

It’s like riding a bike – once you’ve done it you never forget how. Therefore, athletes can usually return to their previous shape in a shorter period of time than the average person, even after taking several years off from working out and letting themselves go.

So if you’re ready to get back in shape, there is no better time than the present. Your experience as an athlete should give you all the tools you need to do it faster or more efficiently. After all, you’ve already done it once before. It should be a little easier the second time around. Just get started, and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.

So as you embark on your quest for fitness and your mind begins to drift back to your days as a college athlete, take time to remember that mean old coach who told you running an extra sprint meant the difference between winning and losing, and guess what? He may very well have been right!

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out