We have all been there. You walk into the gym, studio, spinning room, and you just don’t want to be there. I mean, you showed up, which is half the battle, but your mind and heart are somewhere else. You’re not feeling well, or you’re tired, cranky, overworked, preoccupied…whatever it is, you are just not mentally or perhaps even physically prepared to face the next 50 minutes of exercise. Then, somewhere in those 50 minutes, something magical happens. It might be a high five or fist bump from the person next to you, or a smile, a friendly hello, word of encouragement or shout out from your instructor. And all of a sudden you are on fire! No one can stop you! You are pumped!! Ready to take on the world! Set a new personal best! You walk out of the workout high on endorphins, and it’s peace, love, and happiness for everyone. Who was that person that walked into the room? Don’t even know her. That’s the power of camaraderie in action.
It’s an interesting phenomenon. When we feel happy, when we are around our peers being supportive and all working towards the same goal, it’s inspiring. The energy in the room is infectious, and if that energy is positive and motivating, we are driven to perform better. Of course there are always those exceptions to the rule, the people who prefer to come in, do their thing, and leave. The lone wolf, who is impervious to anything around him. But by and large, in my experience, one of the most positive aspects of group fitness is the ability of the group to lift up and motivate, so that individual performance can actually be enhanced. Especially on those days that we need it most.
Look at how social media has augmented this further. Our experience doesn’t just end when we leave the class. Someone may post about it, take a photo, comment, and then a whole “Post-Game Wrap Up “ takes place on Facebook or Instagram, where people who all shared a similar experience can relate, build each other up, and continue that “feel good” factor long after the workout has ended. It’s truly a different fitness experience today than it was even 5 years ago. It’s the buddy system, only on steroids.
The workout then, becomes a type of “Cheers”, where everyone knows your name. You know for example, with a relative degree of certainty, that if you go to a certain class at a certain time, you will see your Cliff, Diane, Sam and Norm. You may even choose a class based on the pack you want to run with. Who you are sweating next to can become as important as who is teaching the class. And when you miss a class, you are missed. Just as we have our friends in the workplace, we have our friends at the workout, and those people matter to us. Quite a bit.
I recently heard someone comment on this topic, not positively. Her spin on it was that she found it cliquey, cultish, self-aggrandizing, and in some cases even excluding. Perhaps in the wrong environment, just as anything in life, or with the wrong people, it could lead to that. If you’re looking for the negative in any situation, you most certainly will find it. But chances are, if you’re interested in a certain fitness class, you have at least one thing in common with the people around you who are sweating with the same goal. If you go consistently enough, you may form relationships with those people, and you never know when the person you see every day may be the difference you need in helping to motivate you one day. If you’re going with the right frame of mind, and with the right intentions, the positivity of the group fitness experience can truly be special. Yes, you are the only person who can get yourself out of bed and can set your mind to walk out the door and into a healthier place. But sometimes it takes a village once you get there.
I know I have been really lucky. I have been able to be witness to and be a part of some truly special and supportive fitness environments. I can honestly say that a lot of the growth on my journey has been due to the group supporting me. Yes, I have the fire and motivation inside me, and yes, I have the “never give up” attitude. However with distinct clarity I can remember dozens of days where I didn’t remember I had it... but the people around me did - and that has made all the difference. At the end of the day, it's you who will be in charge of your fitness plan. You are the one calling the shots and the one putting in the sweat. But don't underestimate how powerful a friend or two, or twelve (!) can be in the process.
Taking it a bit further, do me a favor. The next time you're in one of your favorite classes - give the person next to you an encouraging boost. Maybe nothing will happen, maybe you will get a dirty look, but maybe you will make their hour a little better. And you may even find that motivating someone else helps your own internal motivation. As someone who's been a dedicated fan of group fitness for the past 3 years, I feel that just like gym etiquette, there is an unspoken responsibility that comes as a group participant in a class. No, you're not a coach or a cheerleader, you are not the instructor, and often times you are just trying to make it through yourself. But if you widen your gaze and you reach from beyond yourself in the mirror to include those around you, you just may find that this new perspective changes the dynamic for everyone. It just takes one person to spark an energy in the room. That energy is contagious, and before you know it, what starts out as one, turns into a pretty darn good team. “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together”.