Health and Well-being Training

Discovering your inner athlete

On the first floor of the Norville Center, where the barbells clank and the speakers thump, Dave Vitel feels right at home. As Loyola University Chicago’s assistant athletics director for sports performance, it’s his responsibility to prepare the Ramblers for the physical demands of NCAA competition. Energetic and impressively bearded, Vitel takes a professional and holistic approach to collegiate training, having honed his craft during a five-year stint in the NBA, working as the strength and conditioning coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“It’s not just about lifting anymore,” he said. “It’s the nutrition, it’s the recovery, it’s doing the right conditioning work for your sport.”

According to Vitel, there’s no one-size-fits-all rubric for successful exercising. Watching a stray YouTube video or chatting with a friend can only get you so far. Each athlete needs his or her own “exercise prescription”—“Just because LeBron does it,” Vitel cautioned, “doesn’t mean that we should.”

Below, he offered up some useful tips for both the weekend warrior and the novice who just bought track pants:

Establish a baseline

With any new athlete at Loyola, Vitel’s first step is measuring performance numbers: running, jumping, lifting. Then he’ll look under the metaphorical hood. “We’re going to delve in-depth into the body—looking at the ankles, knees, hips, core, shoulders, back. We’ll look for deficiencies that we can correct. We start at Ground Zero.” A personal trainer, even in one appointment, can do a similar analysis and offer detailed observations from which to work.

Set goals

Working out consistently requires commitment. Be clear with yourself about your motivations. Vitel’s advice: “Think to yourself: What do I want to get out of this? Having it laid out, having a plan, will definitely keep you more accountable.”

Keep it simple, stupid

Vitel doesn’t see any reason to complicate matters, especially early on. “A lot of times, coaches get too complex. We want athletes to do the basics correctly, and then we build off that. There’s a progression.”

Build your squad

Find people to work out with so you can motivate each other. “That’s how we train at Loyola. We’re in it as a team. We want people to push each other and cheer for each other, no matter what.”

Know your limits

There’s no need to go from zero to 60. Take your time. “You see a lot of guys and gals that sit behind a desk for eight or 10 hours a day before they go out and do these high-level plyometrics or technical lifts. That’s where a lot of injuries come from. When you have the right progressions, you’ll start to see results. That becomes contagious. It’s better than starting off too strong and getting so sore you can’t move the next day. You won’t feel like going back.”

Remember to smile

Most importantly, working out shouldn’t feel like a punishment. It should be something to look forward to, something you crave. “Pick exercises that you enjoy!” Vitel said. “Create an atmosphere that’s fun and alive.”

The path to health and well-being

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