Eli Blackman: Former Major League Ultimate Player
I recently sat down with Eli Blackman who played for the Portland Stags Major League Ultimate team. I had a series of 15 questions for him to learn how to stay professional athlete fit while also maintaining a 9 to 5 job that requires sitting at a desk and flight travel.
This is the first interview I have ever conducted and all answers will be paraphrased as I didn’t think about recording until after I’d already completed half the interview. Questions 1-6 were asked on 1 day and questions 7-15 were asked on a second day.
Q. What is the number one stretch exercise, or activity someone with a desk job can or should do every day?
A. I try to focus on my posture throughout the day. Roll the shoulders back, engage the core. I pay attention to lower back related issues, those are what get me the most. If I check in with myself, that’s when I’m able to correct it.
Q. How do you stay active during the work day?
A. Planning starts on the weekend. I use my work calendar as a life calendar. I block out times during the workday to try and get some exercise in. If I have a lot of meetings I might only get out for a quick run or a short workout. But planning starts on the weekend to make sure I get all my work done and still fit in fitness. I also try to be diligent about drinking water. If there was a game coming up at the end of the week I started hydrating at the beginning of the week. I also try to include variation into my day to get up from my desk for things like water or grabbing a snack.
Q. how did you transition from a desk job to being competition fit?
A. Remind yourself its a process. You don’t go 0-100. You need to have manageable expectations for yourself and remember that part of your day includes being at an office job. You start slow and build up. Don’t be too aggressive with your training unless you are at that point. As your baseline for fitness improves you’ll gradually become fitter. Each small gain turns into larger gains when you’re building up to a high level of fitness.
Q. What are your personal keys to staying fit (ie diet, sleep, recovery, etc)?
Diet and exercise are my primary keys. Sleep is becoming more important to me. Recovery is last on my list, just because I’m not a full time athlete. If I have a workout Wednesday night then I’ll alter the Thursday morning workout. Thursday morning will turn into a recovery focused workout. Sleep is more important to me for my overall well-being as opposed to just being fitness related. In 2013 I focused very hard on my diet. A nutritionist came into the company to speak about the importance of nutrition and I dove right in. The benefits were immediate. I had more energy, even if I was light on sleep. Diet is a nice framework to use for the week and helps provide a routine.
Q. What would your advice be for someone who works a desk job and is just getting back into (or back into) fitness?
A. Start slow. Pay attention to your whole self. Take a holistic approach. Incorporate healthier food without over thinking it. Go shopping over the weekend so you can bring lunch to work. Start exercising in a routine fashion. Go in expecting that exercise will be hard sometimes and just embrace it. Trust the process!
Q. What did you do for recovery after training?
A. When I was working out hard, I would drink a smoothie within 30 minutes of ending a workout. Foam rolling while doing something mindless, like watching TV. Recovery is hard to prioritize, but if you can do it, it pays off. Focus on diet. I do acupuncture but it’s become more of a mental exercise than a physical one.
Q. How many days a week did you train during a season?
A. 5 days a week. 1 day is a super intense day. The other 4 are practices. If there was a game at the end of the week then the super intense day is done earlier in the week to avoid any muscle fatigue. Training could be up to 7 days a week where it consists of drilling or skill building.
Q. How many days a week did you train during off season?
A. Daily. There was a little more freedom in the intensity of each workout, depending on how regimented the offseason training program was. On a team the goals would vary per player. Focus could include improving power, speed, agility, etc. We each received custom tailored workouts from our team’s personal trainer to meet our particular goal(s). Check in’s were at least once a week with the trainer, with the number varying depending on how much guidance a particular player wanted.
Q. How many weeks before a season did you start peak training for top level performance?
A. Six to eight weeks before the season we’d start training. We’d hit peak performance with two to three weeks to spare before the start of the season so we could practice at full speed. As a professional athlete you’re expected to show up to training camp already in shape, of course. But game shape is still different than training shape, even great training shape. If you didn’t show up in shape, you wouldn’t get playing time. My first year on the team, I had no history with any of my teammates and had to prove myself at every practice. I did a lot of training.
Q. Are there any videos you would recommend to read on the subject of fitness?
A. We would watch clips of professional athletes such as Michael Johnson or Allen Iverson to study body mechanics. We’d watch for things like core stabilization to see how they moved. We’d look at the foundations for movement. This was technique-based learning and it was really interesting learning what to watch for and seeing the nuts and bolts of how it was applied at such a high level.
Q. Massage? Chiropractor? Acupuncture? Foam Roller? All of the above?
A. All of the above. There’s science and theory behind it all. People should try everything and go in with an open mind. You may find benefits that you didn’t expect. I expected there to be physical benefits with acupuncture but didn’t know about the mental side, and that’s probably the biggest benefit for me now. When you try things, you have to go in with an open mind. Give it 100% and believe it’ll work. Do that. And maybe it will pan out and maybe it won’t. But give it a fair shot.
Q. Favorite way to recharge?
A. Acupuncture. Or a light workout knowing it’s going to be a light workout. Not every session has to be a killer. Get loose, move your muscles. Maybe go for a light jog just to get yourself moving. I used to always go hard, not understanding the benefit of going light. If you do light exercises and are working with a partner make sure they are going light too. A light workout isn’t as enjoyable when there’s someone going hard next to you. And it’s less likely to stay a light workout.
Q. Favorite meal after a workout?
A. Eggs. I like doing a simple egg and kale/spinach scramble. Or something protein based. Meet/eggs with a good veggie.
Q. Favorite meal in general?
A. My wife makes a delicious rack of lamb. I love most cuts of meat. A good bone-in ribeye. Real tasty.
Q. Favorite non fitness related activity?
A. Home improvement projects. I also like traveling/getting away. Watching some sports if I care about the teams that are playing.