Fitness for the Lifelong Athlete: Find Your Circle(s)

As a two-time NBA failure and 12-year pro athlete, I get why fitness and training alone doesn’t get you as far or happy

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Fitness Life | LifeLong Athlete | Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

When I retired from pro hoops, my fitness routine looked like Gandalf the Grey fighting Balrog in The Lord of the Rings. I’d slam down my fist and yell, “I WILL NOT PASS into this gym.”

Then as the days turned to weeks, weeks to years, I could see my health and mindfulness diminish. Panic set in and after my laziest (and loneliest) years of Taco Bell, Netflix, insufferable bouts of binge eating, sleeping, depression, and Espolon tequila, I realized happier humans are ones that choose to suffer together for a meaningful cause — even if it’s their fitness.

It doesn’t have to feel fun, to be fun, if you know what I’m saying.

Humans are wired to be tribal, but I tried to act like I wasn’t.

I don’t need fitness, I thought. Screw it. I was a pro for 12 years. A basketball player for 20. I can take days off. I can let go.

But after years of shelving my best self, I learned one important thing. It’s much easier to stay moving then get moving. Life doesn’t have to be linear. We don’t have to be the best to be happier, but bringing people that want us to be our best self in the areas of our lives that matter to us, will ultimately, be a healthier way to live.

That’s the key. If we can figure out how to make our passions, jobs, relationships, hobbies, and days into circles of meaning, motivation, and community, we will go further. Live better. Smile more. Be healthier. Connect more.

“Hey Gandalf, you want to hit this run today?”

“Sure Huff, then can we do some magic?”

“Sure. I love magic.”

What am I talking about?

Okay, imagine you have a circle and inside that circle, you have three circles for everything you want to do in life. Now let’s say one of those circles is “fitness and health.”

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Source: Good to Great | Jim Collins

Then design your “fitness and health” circle to be a combination of three circles. The fitness circle will actually be the intersection of three circles, much like above:

  1. What gives you “meaning” and what are you deeply passionate about doing?
  2. How will you find “motivation” when you don’t feel like doing it in trying to be your best self? John Goodman said, “There are 10,000 streams spread out in front of you, the thing is, they are all headed upstream.”
  3. And “community” (your connection/support) when you don’t even realize you need it.

After my 20-year professional and college basketball career ended, I thought my fitness routine and life would get easier, but I was wrong — mucho grande wrong.

I needed to raise my consciousness.

I needed to live in circular fashion, not a linear one. Like Gandalf the White, after he was slain, he came back stronger, more wise, and kinder to his tribe, understanding the connection of the connection we all have.

If you live a linear fitness life, you may miss the things that enrich your life — friendship, laughter, love, support, challenges, people, new connections, helping others, meaning, and motivation — and if you live without self-awareness of why you need the circles within the circles, you may just be Gandalf the Grey living with Balrog in the Underworld.

I had the circular fitness routines with basketball once, but then I lost them.

I realized fitness, health, and growth wasn’t meaningful to me after my professional basketball career ended. Taco Bell took it’s place. Yelling “meatloaf” at my mom when I was home for two months in the summer. I thought I enjoyed not caring how I felt or what I could do athletically. I had no reason to recover faster. To motivate myself or take things personally when I lost to someone faster, or fitter than me.

Worse, I had no locker-room banter to laugh inside of and no community to lean on when I was having a bad day. Running or working out alone, on an open road, or in a weight room full of brohans drinking nitric oxide drinks (alone) and flexing in the mirror offered little.

Great job with the thankless tank top, bro, I’d think.

My college strength and conditioning coach told me, “If you train soft, you’ll be soft.”

Damn, Coach Long, you aren’t kidding — really, fitness routines train and prepare us to live life better — they are a reflection of our inner state.

Before I retired from pro basketball, I thought the world was my oyster. I’ll have all the time in the world to be in the best shape of my life, I confided with friends.


I lost my team. My community. I gained weight. My body fat went to 3900 percent. I waddled around like a Teletubby. I couldn’t do anything like I used too. There were some motivated American nine to fivers that were in better shape than me. They could run longer than me. They put effort into their Cross Fit or Orange Theory or their endurance sports like I had with basketball. I became friends with one and he lost 40 pounds training with me and now beats my ass like a pledge at Alpha Pi Alpha house.

How to Create Your Fitness Circle

After awhile linear fitness, my mental health and fitness suffered. I knew I needed to get back in shape, so I started designing my circle of circles. I designed fitness workouts with close friends that used basketball, running, swimming, biking, and lifting to push myself. I took my shoes off and did RDL’s on a foam pad and then I put my shoes on and sprint through a speed ladder, do 20 medball wall balls, 10 plyo-burpees and then make five jumpers. The next day, I’d design something different. But I kept coming back because I wanted to beat my friends.

I loved not having fun while I was having fun. Suffering together is always better to me. So I choose it intentionally now.

What I’ve found in my fitness routine is this: lifelong athletes require more variety and depth in their circles.

The moment you do something too long, your body and mind adapts, and you stop growing. I started running longer distances to begin shocking my body after the years of high intensity work I’ve always done. I use cold tubs and hot tubs for contrast therapy. Stem. Recovery boots. The technology out there is amazing.

I work hard, recover hard. I try to do it with a community. I lose, I win, I use it for motivation to come back. I complete the circle.

Fitness must sound as circular as it feels.

You can’t fake this shit a majority of the time, it will just fizzle out.

Circular fitness sounds like community interactions:

“Hey Tina, how’s life?”

“Ahh, awesome. I got a raise at work and I’m met a guy.”

“Damn girllll. Let’s just go get this workout.”

“You betcha.”

Circular fitness sounds like motivation:

“Hey Bob, what was your time in the 5k?”

“I set a PR.”

“Great stuff Bob.”

“What was your time?”

“19 minutes.”

“Damn, you want to get a workout in tomorrow?”

“Let’s hit it and get it.”

Circular fitness sounds like meaning:

“Hey, I love how I feel after I do a tough running workout.”

“Me too.”

“Do you want do that sprint tri in Miami?”


Honestly, without circular fitness design, I can’t train, workout, or get myself to show up as much as I’d like or do stuff I normally wouldn’t. I don’t like to train alone post professional basketball. I don’t like to suffer by myself on a treadmill or in a musty smelling gym.

This is where fitness should evolve— to the circles people already have living passionately inside them. Whether it’s extreme fitness, or Zen meditation, yoga retreats in Costa Rica or 50k races.

Circular surfers connect to nature, to their peers, to loving the feeling of their board slicing through water, to sharing surfing stories with their community.

Circular runners connect to the road, to their running community, to their coaches, and making their bodies stronger.

Circular lifelong athletes find a way to come back to what sport sustains them next, even as they evolve from their past identity or circle.

It doesn’t matter what you want to do, it matters how you get there, what gives you meaning, motivation, and who you connect with while you do it. And if your fitness routine is circular, rather than linear, you’ll go further than you imagined because you’ll keep ending up where and why you got off your ass in the first place.

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“Do it or don’t do it.”

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