I really enjoyed Tracy’s post about solitude and working out alone. It offered a very different perspective to my own approach to physical activity. There’s so much we agree about and yet in some areas, we’re ‘chalk and cheese’ as my mother might say. I’m enjoying exploring our differences in light of our shared starting points.
In contrast to Tracy, almost all the physical activities I do involve communities and teams. Aikido, rowing, and Crossfit are all group efforts. I suppose I could ride my bike alone but I don’t. It’s more fun with others. Crossfit style workouts (this morning was 60 sec box jump, 45 sec rest, repeat x 4, followed by 10 min of ‘on the minute every minute’ 7 push press, 7 pull ups) I can’t imagine doing by myself. I’d give up and quit half way through, I think.
For me working out meets social needs. I like meeting people with similar goals and values. Healthy living abounds in running, cycling, and martial arts communities. I like that and I find support for my goals and lifestyle choices in these communities. I also spend so much time doing various physical activities that I often find myself getting friends to join in. That’s especially true with road cycling and Aikido. I’m passionate about both and I want to spread the joy.
I’ve also learned a lot about physical activity from other people and it’s that value I thought I’d try to articulate here. I’ve written about some of the training advantages of running and riding with others here.
An aside: I’m not writing with the goal of persuading anyone that my way is the right way. Mostly I’m trying to articulate for myself what I get out of the company of other athletes because lots about Tracy’s alone time sounds attractive too. I’m a professional philosopher and spend a fair bit of time offering arguments for my conclusions and trying to show that I’m right. That’s not what I’m up to here at all. I’m offering reasons in a much more exploratory fashion, trying to understand what works for me and showing those reasons to others to see if they fit.
Here goes. What I’ve learned from working out with others:
- Fitness comes in all different shapes and sizes. When I first started cycling, I assumed that cyclists were thin and that speed and size were correlated. But I’ve been passed enough by bigger people and done lots of passing of smaller people to know that’s false. Ditto assumptions about size and strength in the case of weightlifting. I no longer assume that people smaller than me can’t lift heavier. It’s one thing knowing intellectually that fat people can be very fit and that thin people can be very strong, but having the actual embodied reminder chat with you after a ride or after a round of power cleans, is another thing all together. I see people in the world in a different way and make almost no assumptions about size, shape, and physical abilities.
- I’ve also been shocked by how different we all are when it comes to responsiveness to physical training. We all follow various plans for fitness that are written in a ‘one size fits all’ way but in every group there are outliers. In my first 6 weeks to 5 km group there were people who did all the workouts but couldn’t manage 5 km at the end, and people who could run 5 km, within a couple of weeks, without much effort at all. It seems that in each sport there are people who can do half the workouts and still make gains. I hate those people! They’re blessed with bodies that are extremely responsive to training. Others slog along, working very hard, doing everything exactly as prescribed, but never seem to get much fitter or faster. They’re known as the “non-responders.” That would be so sad. I first heard about this when a friend took part in a study on the effects of training as a research subject. And I read about this in Gretchen Reynolds’ book The First Twenty Minutes but again it’s much more striking to see it in action. Gretchen Reynolds blogs about this here. You can read a bit about it in this blog post too, Are You a Non-Responder? It Could Be Your Genes.
- Most of what I’ve learned about the value of competition comes from training and racing with others, but so too the value of teamwork and cooperation. I love in team sports that a group of people with very different skills, strengths, and abilities can all contribute something to the mix. In soccer, I don’t have the drive or killer instinct to play forward. I’m one of those people who when shooting for the net seems instinctively to aim for where the keeper, or goalie, is rather than where she isn’t. It would be funny were it also not tragic. Luckily I don’t have to play forward. I play defense and I can guard our net and keep other players away with intensity and focus. In defense, I don’t have to run too far with the ball. I get it up the sides to our midfielders, strong and agile runners, who get it up the field to the other side’s net, to our forwards. Teamwork is key.
- I’ve also learned about the sport that I’m doing from participants who’ve been it much longer than me. My favourite example of this was racing with the Vets in Canberra. Some of the older guys had been racing their whole lives and they loved to pass on wisdom and tactics. Yes, I’ve taken classes and had coaches for various sports but you learn a lot more, I think, from the people who run/ride/row with you. I often encounter this over breakfast after a run or a ride, but sometimes, these days, it happens in online discussion forums with teammates. Where can I get a spare battery for my old polar bike computer? Someone will know and they might even bring the battery in to the next ride and swap for coffee!