I Am Not An Athlete

by Danny Kavadlo on March 7, 2017

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Danny Kavadlo NOOOO!

EDITORS’ NOTE: The opinions expressed in this column belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Dragon Door Publications, its staff or its affiliates.

As you may know by now, I am not one to get bogged down on semantics. Progressive Calisthenics, bodyweight training, and street workout are all terms that I use more or less interchangeably to describe the way I train. I believe that the tendency to over-categorize things is not a worthwhile pursuit. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

“Ice cream maker” or “front lever curl”? Say what you like. “Shrimp squat” or “skater squat”? Both work from where I stand. “Aussie pull-up”, “bodyweight row”, “plank pull” and on and on and on. They are all very fine to me.

Numerous items, concepts and phenomena can go by several different names. We often find that the same material has many monikers. Most of the time I encourage folks to use whatever word they are most comfortable with.  Danny Kavadlo doesn’t care if you “train” or “work out”—as long as you do it!

But despite the flexibility of linguistics and my openness to expression, words do in fact have meanings. I am a linguist, a grammarian and a fan of proper syntax. I believe in using words correctly, even if many terms are synonymous and phrases overlapping.

In fact, there is one word in particular, that I do feel is used inappropriately in fitness circles, to the point where it’s losing its actual meaning. Perhaps it’s lost its meaning already. The word is “athlete.”

The American Heritage Dictionary defines athlete as:

definition of the word athlete

To me, someone who exercises, even if they train with great intensity and frequency, is not an athlete. Not even if they hired a trainer. Not even if they’re really, really, really good at exercise.

To be clear, I myself am not an athlete.

Yes, I’m trained. (I’m definitely NOT gifted.) I have a good degree of physical strength, stamina and agility. I’m committed to my fitness.  Perhaps I’m a motivator, even a role model to some. But I’m not an athlete.  I do not compete in any sport, organized event, or other such game or contest. Nor do I train to do so.

I am a guy who works out – and I’m proud of it!

Like many of us, athletes dedicate themselves to their craft. But unlike us, their craft is athletic performance – not physical fitness or health. They prioritize their sport. Athletes train and work in extreme conditions to the point where they risk their own well being for a single competitive goal. I most certainly don’t do that.

Yes, I dedicate myself to my craft, but my craft is not a competitive sport. My craft is preaching the word of fitness, writing books and promoting health. My goal is not to out-perform anybody at any specific discipline. An athlete’s is.

That’s the key difference between someone who trains and someone who is an athlete. To us, the training is its own pursuit. Placing in a competition isn’t.

I have tremendous respect for athletes. Most of us do not have the desire to allocate our time the way they do, and I praise them for what they’ve given to the world. The fact that I can perform clean muscle-ups or that I have a well rehearsed human flag does not render me an athlete. We can revere our own outstanding performances while still employing correct language.

To be clear, being athletic does not make one an athlete.

To be clear, being athletic does not make one an athlete.

In Other Words

I’ve cooked thousands of meals for my family and friends. Preparing food with my own hands is one of the greatest sources of joy in my world. It feeds my soul as well as my body. But cooking a meal doesn’t make me a chef. My career does not consist of making food for paying customers, designing menus, sourcing ingredients and managing a kitchen staff.

I grow my own tomatoes, garlic, basil and cilantro. I harvest it, slice it, dice it and prepare it. But growing herbs does not make me a farmer.

I sing in the shower, but I’m not a singer.

See where I’m going with this?

The same culture that awards children who place last with trophies for participation wants to dub anyone who ever hits the gym an athlete. Well, they’re not. And that’s not a bad thing. I applaud each and every person in the world who makes fitness a priority. I am proud of everyone who works out. Our achievements are to be celebrated! But let’s not lose sight of the big picture.

Au Contraire

Because of misuse, the word “literally” can currently be used to mean “figuratively.” The word “humbled” is now used in place of “honored.” These words have changed to include definitions contrary to how they were originally purposed in language. Let’s not have the same thing happen to “athlete”.

The fact that we are not athletes is what makes our achievements in progressive calisthenics so cool anyway. We are just people who want to work hard and earn something, while having fun doing it. No one here is willing to get a concussion or a pill addiction to do so. Our goals are not about winning; they’re about improving!

And, yes, I’ve done more pull-ups than most. But if you beat my record, I’m happy for you. It’s not a loss. Maybe you’ll inspire me to do more, not so I can beat you, but because we help each other be the best we can be. It ain’t a game. It’s life.

Keep The Dream Alive,


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  • Danny,

    This may be one of your best (and I don’t say that lightly as one of my favourite fitness writers).

    I could not agree more. Calling ourselves ‘athletes’ does the athletes themselves a disservice, which I’m sure is no one’s intention. Being dedicated to a goal is to be celebrated and admired but let’s not get carried away people.

    Great read!

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Thanks for the comment, Carl,
      I know that you, as well, are a student of the written word and you take your linguistics seriously! I appreciate your words. I hope to see you soon my friend.

  • Mike Duffy

    I really enjoy reading your work, Danny, and this is a another great article!

    As a runner & a cyclist personally… I often struggle with this very question. Am I an ‘athlete,’ or a ‘hobbyist,’ or something else? I compete in races, yes.. but typically only at the local level. I’m certainly not a professional since I don’t get paid. But in the end, I do it because I enjoy the challenge and it gives my training focus & purpose.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Hey Mike Duffy!
      This is a tricky one. It’s all about the challenge and purpose. I believe that there is a legitimacy to doing this stuff at any level, but yeah, that word gets thrown around A LOT, particularly online.
      Thanks for the comment!

  • Marcus

    Message received and understood Danny.

    A very enjoyable and interesting read =)

    I love words but have been known to take a few liberties with them LOL.
    And I believe the right words in the right order can help people to change and grow for the better.
    You certainly have this gift.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Hey Marcus,
      We all take some liberties here and there. Thanks for the comment my friend!

  • Simon Thomson

    Prior to reading this I would like to consider myself an athlete. I felt that because I train hard and am athletic, the title could be deserving. But you’ve presented your argument very well and I have to agree with you Danny. As you said, training is it’s own pursuit, I don’t compete with anyone bar myself and I don’t need a medal. Bravo sir.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Thanks for sharing your perspective Simon. I appreciate the comment.

  • Jack Arnow

    I really like this article. Danny and the entire PCC teach personal improvement, not competition. That’s rare in our society, but it enables more people to take part in exercising and feel good about it. It builds community and cooperation too. I have been an athlete in the past and there can be value in competing. Unfortunately, though not always, competition often brings out the worst in people, especially if winning is their only concern. But remember there are fantastic athletes too. I’m not referring to their physical abilities, or their winning percentage. I’m referring to their values of honesty, fairness, and concern for others.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Well said Jack. There is ABSOLUTELY a value in competing! I would never imply otherwise. Ideally competition brings out the best in every one. BUT… sometimes people call anyone who goes to the gym or does a workout here and there an athlete. I have great respect for athletes; I’m just not one myself.

  • Angelo Gala

    Good work Danny!

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Right on amigo!

  • Marina Aagaard

    Well said, very motivating personal post
    (from a word ‘n’ calisthenics fan).

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Thanks Marina! Great to hear from you!

  • Anand Nagaich

    Now this! Is the real thing.. I love logic talks… N this is a master piece Danny!! Good one!

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Hi Arnand!
      I’m pleased that you enjoyed this one. Thanks for your words.

  • Giuseppe

    Thanks for all of your inspiration, all I can do to repay you is inspire others by practicing what you and all of the dragon door family preaches. Thanks for inspiring me to keep the dream alive. One day I will come to a PCC class and actually meet you guys. You all changed my life, you don’t even know.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Hellyeah Giuseppe,
      I am thrilled to have inspired you to keep the dream alive! Don’t Stop! Continue!
      Stay Strong

  • Clancy Ross

    People use the word beast too much as well, you can deadlift 500LB’s? good for you, you are not a beast. do people realise a zebra’s strength outclasses even the strongest most drugged up athlete? it’s annoying and lame. Great article Danny, you’re one of the few non bull shitters out there.

    • Matt Schifferle

      LOL so true never thought of it like that Clancy. Well said!

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Thanks Clancy. You may not remember this, but about 25 years ago, on the FOX network, there was a short-lived series called “MAn Vs Beast”. It was awesome! One episode had an Olympic sprinter race a giraffe! Another had a sumo wrestler in a tug-of-war with a gorilla! A competitive eater in a hot dog eating contest with a grizzly bear! It was amazing. Totally illustrated your point haha.

  • Kimberly Mcquay

    Well said! Just as the running community has had to contend with 5-hours-plus
    marathon finishers now being considered “marathoners”, I’ve felt uncomfortable since I first noticed Cross Fit calling all participants “athletes”. I always reserved that label for those worthy of the title but never felt I’d earned the right to lump myself into that club, being fairly average and middle-of-the-pack in all I undertake. Now, if I could get a muscle up or human flag or hell, even beat you at pull ups, I’d call myself a real athlete! Thanks for your humble perspective.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Hey Kimberly,
      Yes that is a very good comparison, as far as the marathoners goes. I had not thought of that. Athlete is a word that should be reserved for a few. It doesn’t diminish anyone’s performance NOT to be an athlete. Many NON-athletes have accomplished amazing feats. (We just need to use a different word 🙂 )Thanks for your comment.

  • Beth Andrews Rkc

    Absolutely love it and couldn’t agree more. Great blog DK!!

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Hey Beth!
      Thanks for commenting girl! It’s one of those words that gets thrown around a little too often. Always great to hear from you 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Matt Schifferle

    Bravo Coach!

    I especialy like the point about how an athlete trains for their sport while a fitness enthusiast trains for health and fitness. I used to be an athlete, back in college I was a bike racer and there were plenty of times I did what I could to win but at the cost of my health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, I took this mentality with me into the fitness world and it’s taken me years to learn that health is my top priority.

    Another case where this applies is when doing an activity for sport efficiency and ease are ways to improve performance, but fitness is often the opposite. I used to be involved in a push up competition with the goal to do as many in a week as possible. over that week my technique regressed in any way possible to make my numbers go up. Shorter range of motion, wider hands, creating momentum ect. Then I turned over with CC where Coach Wade was recommending the complete opposite with using big range, narrow hands, pausing ect. My numbers or “performance” plummeted but my strength grew like crazy.

    Thank you so much for your words of wisdom to help me validate my experience.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Great anecdotes that really illustrate the point. Again, there is nothing negative about being an athlete–it is an incredibly noble pursuit. We just gotta call it what it is… and thats not a bad ting! Thanks for sharing, amigo!

  • Tyler Durden would agree too: “Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken”. 😉

    • Danny Kavadlo

      WOW! You may not believe this, but I was seriously going to put that quote in this article! I typed it and deleted it many times, ultimately deciding to omit it. I’m glad its spirit was still there!

  • Matthew

    “We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in their place”. Daniel J. Boorstin

    Thanks Danny keeping it real!!

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Great quote! Thanks Matthew.
      Keep the dream alive!

  • Wade Race

    I think people get caught up with labels that they forget that we are all brothers and sisters in this: that it doesn’t matter if you consider yourself a bodybuilder, a powerlifter, a CrossFitter, or even a damn Zumba dancer. Whatever gets you off the couch is what counts. I just consider myself a student of physical culture, nothing more, nothing less. Thanks for your words of wisdom, Danny.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Well put, Wade. I think you and I are on the same page.

  • I Must Have Power Absolute ™

    Semantics. Someone who trains in physical performance over purely aesthetics is an athlete. An athlete isnt just someone competing in a sport. Thats an outdated definition from 50 years ago.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Tomato, to-mah-to. I do not consider anyone who trains for performance to be an athlete. And there are some people who train for aesthetics who are athletes. We can agree to disagree about this one 🙂

  • Muhammad S

    Thank you, Danny, for this post.
    I think the world would be a nicer place if people would concentrate more on “improving together” instead of “beating each other”. In every aspect of life.
    Keep it up.

    • Danny Kavadlo

      Thank you!!! Well said!

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