We are inherently social beings. Our motives, emotions, and decisions are regularly shaped by others, whether we are aware of it or not. This is no different when it comes to physical fitness.
In the beginning of the science of exercise psychology, Norman Triplett showed that when bicycling, being joined by a fellow cyclist led to higher performance. These findings remain clear when considering the social pull of modern fitness groups such as community-based running clubs, November Project, or Crossfit. Potential physical benefits aside, there is no doubt these groups create incredibly motivating exercise communities.
The role of peer pressure in creating exercise accountability is often lauded, but in many regards overpraised. Yes, guilt can be an incredible motivator, but at the end of the day it cannot match the inspiration of a caring and connected fitness community. The pull of positive social connections truly trumps the push of pressure.
“Healthy’’ is the key word when considering any and all exercise. Choosing physically beneficial activities seems obvious, but it is equally important to find exercise environments that are socially healthy. Misguided support networks can be demotivating, psychologically stressful, and even, at times, encouraging of poor fitness decisions. Consider the values and actions of optimal exercise communities:
•Cheerleaders, not motivational speakers. Inspirational ranting and raving makes a wonderful YouTube clip, but daily encouragement from others provides long term aspiration that trumps momentary inspiration.
•Appreciate effort, not outcome. Sure the latest fad is making fitness a competition… yet the only true exercise scoreboard is how often you show up. Communities that acknowledge showing up are fitness inducing.
•Compete together, not against one another. Competition is a funny thing, it can lead to great achievements, but it also can be tremendously divisive. The best fellow exercisers know that the better their neighbor is, the better they can be.
•Support through the setbacks, not just the successes. Setbacks and struggles are inevitable part of physical fitness. Whether it be an ill-timed injury or an ego challenging fitness plateau, empathizing with the struggle and sharing a self-deprecating chuckle helps another find their resolve to stick with it.
•Accepting, not intimidating. People can get pretty intense about their approach to exercise… this can be both inspiring and intimidating. Great exercise supporters put their personal zealotry aside and welcome others and their uniqueness to the exercise party.
While there may be appeal to the image of the independently, fierce exerciser, it is more myth than reality. Others shape and drive our strides towards and efforts in the gym. Choose those groups and communities that surround you positively and wellness will follow.