6 Ways to Train to Compete at Any Age

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A colonel's wife leads a warrior-trained fitness workout.
Missy Cornish, wife of Col. Barry Cornish, 99th Air Base Wing commander, leads a warrior-trained fitness workout on the field at the track behind the Warrior Fitness Center Sept. 26, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. (Christopher Tam/U.S. Air Force photo)

If you have a healthy competitive mindset, you will find motivation in the strangest of times and places. There is a saying I created nearly 30 years ago as a midshipman at the Naval Academy when it came to meeting and exceeding standards:

Train to compete, not just survive. 

I noticed people who were exceeding the standards in anything (academic, PT tests, work tasks and little things) were competing either against themselves, a clock, the established record or others tasked with similar jobs.

On the flip side, I noticed people who were striving for the minimum standards were hanging on by a thread, failing or quitting. So if you are in the mindset of winning or performing better than previously, you never will think about quitting. Competition drives you to work harder and push yourselves with everything in life.

Here are some ways to add a healthy dose of competition to your life:

1. Train to compete, not just survive. Too many of us are in survival mode, just getting by one day at a time, with no real personal challenges to make life better. An easy way to start changing this mindset and "upping your game" is to try it with physical training.

Let fitness be the catalyst to helping you find the energy to make further changes to other areas of your life. Challenge yourself by training when you do not feel like it. You will start to see it affect your mindset at work and home. Strive to be the best spouse/parent ever when you walk in the door after a long day.

This works. You just have to remind yourself you are competing to live a better life, not just surviving on the minimum standard.

2. Workout partner or group. Working out with people can increase your abilities, and you almost are guaranteed to work harder with a group than by yourself. We push each other. We hold each other accountable at workout sessions or during other tasks, such as manual labor, chores, or any work or school project.

There is nothing wrong with doing things by yourself, but you may need to find other ways to push yourself. Consider competing against personal bests or time itself.

3. The clock. It seems we never have enough time to get a job done. However, if you challenge yourself by trying to beat the clock or last as long as the clock at any activity, you will surpass minimum standards easily and push next-level standards -- maybe even maximum scores.

If you have a two-minute test for some physical event, practice doing that event for more than two minutes, and it will make two-minute tests easier. The clock is our prime conditioning marker.

4. Project deadlines. Time is also a standard in many types of work and scholastic projects. There is always a deadline when something needs to be accomplished.

However, you can ensure a better grade and show professionalism and excitement to superiors by turning a project in before a deadline. If you can give your teacher or boss an extra week to consider your approach, recommend changes or quickly approve your work, you will stand out as an eager participant.

If I have a long-term deadline, I always try to bump my deadline to complete at least one week in advance. You can turn some B's to A's just by doing this deadline challenge with yourself.

5. Chores and yard-work challenges. Setting a goal with manual labor, chores or yard work can make mowing the grass, raking leaves or maintaining a home a little more fun.  For instance, I always time my self when I mow the grass, bag leaves or clean a section of the house. Striving to beat old times or just set a timed goal to complete the tasks actually energizes you to push yourself a little harder.

6. Exceeding the standard is the standard. This is another way of saying: "Train to compete, not just survive." If there is a standard to meet, there is a maximum effort to strive for.

Most professions, especially tactical ones, are competitive to get into. You need to train hard to get to the training, through the selection process and reach the goal of being an active-duty military, special ops, police or firefighter. Chances are that if your goal is the minimum standard, you will not meet the cut or get injured because of being out of condition to handle the strain of selection.

You may need a progression to start this process. One recommendation is to start moving, even if it is just for 10 minutes after every meal you eat. Eating for energy is also a consideration that enables you to have the ability to push yourself harder while meeting height/weight standards.

If you are over 40 and looking for a change in your game, start off by treating yourself like a beginner with the Tactical Fitness (40+) Foundation Rebuilding -- for beginners or recovering from injury. Phase two is Tactical Fitness (40+) Taking It To The Next Level and Phase 3 -- Tactical Fitness (40+) Ready to Compete (Preparing for the Next Challenge) -- that is out next month.

Remember, the goal is to compete, not just survive.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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