8 Tips for How a Pro Athlete Does Self-Improvement in Money, Fitness, Life, and Startups

Oh, and don’t forget love.

Aug 20, 2018 · 10 min read

If Life is a Series of HIIT Workouts then How do I Focus on Self-Improvement in Fitness, Life, and Startups?

“Life is an interval workout.” said Dr. Martin Gibala…


1. “LET’S GOOOOOO! Clap it up people, it’s high five Thursday! Keep the good vibes for your team!”

I constantly yell this in my adult basketball fitness class. The class is diverse, they all range from 23 to 55, all ages, sex, sizes, colors, and personality types. It’s a beautiful thing to watch as the sweaty smiles light up the gym with some Naughty by Nature busting in the background.


Then there is me trying to coach and teach how to master each technique over the loud blast of music.

“Ben, stay fast — fluid. Charlie, keep your pace up. You have rest coming, keep pushing...”

See, I’m helping launch a startup in Chicago that is a hybrid high-intensity basketball practice combined with sports performance exercises taken from decades of professional sports workouts.

Then it dawned on me: the growth mindset is a prerequisite for high intensity interval training, startups, and life!

Dear basketball fitness startup,

What drills did you love?

What ideas do you have to make this class even more challenging?

How do we make this fitness hybrid class more fun?

My answer is always aligned with what I know worked for me as a professional basketball player and athlete for 12.5 years (yes, I was the short white guy that got an NBA jersey with his name on it before heading to Europe):

2. The more variety of high-intensity interval training, the better.

The quote, “Life is an interval workout,” makes me think about all the facets of learning, success, and self-improvement in life needed to hit your deathbed with a smile.

Life is quick. Short really. If you want to succeed in different things, practice the art of quick learning or what I call, searching for micro-failures.

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” — Eric Ries

Just like basketball, my whole life has been a series of intense training sessions, recovery, watching tape on the competition’s tendencies, learning from mistakes, working to fix them, and adapting my next training sessions.

This sports self-improvement process is similar to The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, he says:

“We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.”

Using the philosophy of sports and interval training is how I approach much of my life’s self-improvement and growth in areas I want to master.

Intensity, variety, recovery, learning, small failures, and connection are the spice of life because they help us learn faster.

Learn in spurts. Write in blocks. Shoot and train for hoops like it’s CrossFit (without the heavy spine busting shit). Run in intervals. Lift in HIIT mode. Swim in pyramids, bike and sprint in bricks, love in, well, I haven’t figured out my love life (yet).

And after listening to a podcast with Timothy Ferriss and Martin Gibala, many of the suspicions I had about interval training before interval training was really a thing, were true.

But why is High Intensity Interval Training a good way for you to practice living?

3. My friend Charlie had his hands on his knees, “Dude, you need to trademark this shit.”

HIIT training can separate the fixed mindset from the growth mindset people out there.


Because it challenges you.

A year before Charlie took on the challenge of living a HIIT fitness lifestyle, he told me:

“No, man, I can’ t do that. That’s insane.”

“Why not? It’s easy. Just focus on the rounds and then recover in between. You can do it.”

My fitness workout was this: run 10 hills, flip a 100-pound tractor tire the length of a football field (broken into 10-yard flips), and then hit the court to make ten full court three pointers, do 10 thrusters, run a 400, and finish with ten plyometric jump burpees.

“First one up the hill wins.”

He shook his head in disgust.

“C’mon just try it.”

Charlie looked at me sideways and said incredulously, “Dude, I’m still fat. I’m going to die.”

“Well, if you don’t do it, you may actually die sooner you dumbass,” I said, winking, stretching my hamstring. “You’ll do fine. And you’ll lose weight, I guarantee it.”

4. First off, (can I say this?), talent is overrated when it comes to living a happier, more productive life.

A year later after our first workout, my friend Charlie had lost 40 pounds and was posting damn near professional sprint triathlon times. He was whooping my ass in all the weird HIIT training sessions we could come up with, and in return, the teacher (me), had become the student (him).

And I say talent is overrated because there is so much talent out there. There are so many people smarter than me. More athletic than me. Better looking than me. ;)

I see it all the time. At events. I see it at the gym. I see it on NBA TV. I see bodies, minds, and people that have endless potential.

But the difference between success and being stuck is razor thin because for every player or human that becomes free to do what they want, there are another dozen that didn’t.

For every American that becomes self-sustainable, reaches their life’s goals, starts a business, sells a startup, has a thriving marriage, another dozen doesn’t.

I like to define my success with strict parameters:

  1. Have freedom.
  2. Love my work.
  3. Make passive income off my savings.
  4. Travel like a nomad.
  5. Have meaningful, deep, funny, and thought-provoking friendships and relationships.

My success starts with the freedom to choose what I want to do. If I want to learn how to be a beekeeper, then goddamn it, I’m going to do it.





People that don’t challenge their fixed mindset, the status quo of what is possible, usually underachieve in their life — across all domains.

Want to live a happier, less stressed life?

Be less American.

Yes, actually buying more shit, paying off bigger mortgages, car payments, and just working harder isn’t always going to help you save for your next investment, small business (yes, build a tiny home and rent out your house while you live in it, you prude).


Investing money in passive income streams will though help you sprint towards that first rental house. Find that $25 Lending Club loan to hand out. Talk to that unconventional financial advisor. Read Mr. Money Mustache. Invest in your next small lean startup or business with your savings.

And so this idea that growth can’t happen in spurts and sprints across different domains in your life is just ridiculous to me because the way I see it, Americans just keep putting the spoon they’ve been handed into their mouth, eating unhappy corporate jobs, expensing most of their profits away with bigger things to collect, while weird dudes like me live in a state of perpetual freedom trying new ideas and practically living in a utopia of self-made days tending to bee pollen and camel rides.

I love to live unconventionally, which is exactly what HIIT training is:

Unconventional. Challenging. Thought-provoking. Efficient. Hard to do.

5. Anyway, I digress, talent is over-rated, but high-intensity interval training isn’t.

And I’ll tell you why:

Because it’s hard. Really hard. And some things that are hard for you are actually good for you in the long run. And not everyone will enjoy the HIIT lifestyle or fitness protocols. Not everyone will enjoy the suffering, the challenge, which means that if it were easy, then anyone could achieve high levels of fitness, success, freedom, and that just isn’t how life works.

Kris Gage isn’t the top writer on Medium because she teleported there. She writes every day. Publishes almost every day. And so, winning titles, championships, getting to the top, building a free life, being the best you can be, dominating a field or career is supposed to be hard.

If it weren’t, more people would become what they dreamt of becoming:

Yeah, you’d have the six-pack and no fat on your body.

You’d have the million dollars of passive income a month.

Your social media game would have 10,000,000 followers.

You’d be the top writer on Medium (hey, I’m HIIT-ing people, I am. I’ve published over a 100 articles since I started writing a few months ago)!

yoda, you da man.

6. Yoda said it best.

You need to stop trying and start doing.

Don’t try to wake up before school. Just wake up.

Don’t try to lift weights. Show up and lift weights.

Don’t try to do high-intensity interval training workouts three times a week.

Actually, like seriously, just do them.

7. Martin Gibala, Ph.D., is a professor and chair of the kinesiology department at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

His research on the physiological and health benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has attracted immense scientific attention and worldwide media coverage.

Your fitness, in my opinion, is always at different levels. These levels are different for everyone based on your genetics, amount of previous training, and ability to work and slide towards either end of your spectrum of potential.

As a pro point guard, since I wasn’t the fastest, quickest point guard in the world, it meant I had to train differently than my competition. I had to not only train myself to be the fastest motor I could be, I also trained to have the longest lasting, highest RPM motor as well.

This was what HIIT did for me.

I studied Steve Nash. John Stockton. Magic Johnson. I watched Serbian and Croatian youth skill development coaches teach their youth. One thing that always stood out: if you play the game at a high intensity for a longer duration than most players, you win.

So this chart kind of outlines what we are wanting from our high intensity interval workouts. You could even say this could be used as a graph for your HIIT lifestyle.

You get the gist.

Break up your day and workouts with high bouts of short intensity followed by even shorter stints of recovery (until night time, regarding REM sleep, you need to sleep hard to train hard).


  • 30 seconds to 1:00 minute of high-intensity work x 4–10 repeats
  • 4.5 min rest after 4–10 high-intensity reps,
  • 3 times/week

Professional basketball training intensity feels like:

  • All out, balls to the wall on:
  • Creating 500 Watts (on a bike) for 20–30 seconds
  • 20–30 seconds of sprinting on track should get you to around 200 meters/yards
  • 30–60 seconds of hard swimming in a pool should get you 2–4 laps
  • 60 seconds of continually sprinting and shooting, should get you making 10–12 threes from baseline to baseline

Gibala says weekly training time can still be as low as 10 minutes PER session to see the results!

Whatttttt, Gibala, you serious?

8. So I don’t have 10 minutes a day to work intensely in HIIT mode?

Where is my calculator? What are 10 minutes of 24 hours? I know one hour is 4% of your day. If you can’t spend less than 4% of your day on yourself, get real with your self-respect and self-love, and life, (wo)man.

Talk to your partner about this, if you need the time.

Everyone needs to practice moving their bodies and putting effort into their potential.

Does your lack of discipline mean you lack mastery of yourself or are you destined to be controlled by your monkey mind?

By training in the HIIT style, Gibala talks about how your V02MAX can substantially improve over 6–8 weeks of consistent training, which effectually prolongs your life, your athletic career, and enhances your fitness game.

Gibala says that 100% of conditioned and de-conditioned athletes through a proper training protocol can improve VO2MAX substantially. Gibala says that V02MAX also correlates to the longevity of your life, just like flossing your damn teeth (I bet you find time to do that, don’t you?)

Who knew interval training benefits also helped you live longer?

If you can increase VO2MAX by 20% through training (some increase it by 100% in 6 weeks), depending on your genetics and training, imagine how much better you will start feeling!

Last story.

Roger Bannister, the first sub-four-minute miler only had 30 minutes a day to train during medical school. He used interval training at lunch time. Little did he know, he was practicing what Gibala has studied scientifically as HIIT, and much of what I was doing during my pro basketball career without knowing it!

He went onto break the four minute mile mark because of a new way of thinking and training.

You can too.

I enjoy writing, please follow me here and please leave comments, feedback, or editorial advice (since I’m a newbie writer) @ Trevor Huffman !

Ps. Keep pushing! You’ll rest soon enough!

Trevor Huffman

Written by

A pro athlete sharing what I’ve learned from my love of the game. I uncover the stoic mindsets, habits, routines, and hacks of top pro athletes in the world.

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