Monday, October 8, 2012

Birds of a Fitness Feather Part II: Be a Product of Your Environment

Several years ago when I was fat, my friends were fat, the guy I dated was fat and we all did fat things together. We went out to eat (a lot) and ate (a lot) of French fries, pizza and dessert and drank (a lot) of beer. What we didn't do (at all) was exercise; well unless you call eating a sport, as some do.

I won't bore you with my Oprah "ahh ha" moment, but I decided I didn't want to be fat anymore. I didn't want to feel bad, look bad and get winded when walking up a set of stairs in the parking garage.

At least for me (and many other friends I have spoken with) there is a natural shift that occurs when we begin to make fitness and our health a priority. For me, I had to distance myself from the fat friends I had who weren't interested in making changes. They kept eating out at the same greasy spoons, kept drinking beer too late on weeknights and kept sitting on their bigger backsides. For me, it was hard not to engage in those same behaviors when I was around them, so I had to spend less and less time with that group. If anyone is familiar with addiction counseling, this should sound familiar.

When I started working out, I joined a local gym. Over the course of a couple months I met some folks there who were in a similar boat -- they were trying to lose weight or get in better shape. We would chat at the gym, exchanged email addresses and then would make plans to meet at the gym or take a fitness class together. After a few months of exercise, I felt like I was capable of running (okay, jogging, slowly) a local 5K race. I did several of these and discovered that I saw a lot of the same people weekend after weekend. I started chatting with them at the starting lines. I learned about a run club that met several times a week nearby my house. I joined, I met more runners.

I think this is a natural progression for the fit-minded person: Start working-out, stop spending time as much time with people who don't, meet people who do what you do, spend more time with them. But while meeting new friends is great, I think we can create an even more contagious environment by seeking out environments and people who challenge us.

If you want to progress in your fitness you must (by definition) overload your body -- do different activities, do heavier things, do higher intensities. In my experience, the best way to accomplish these things is to find people that will expose you to different activities, will educate you, will encourage you and most importantly, will inspire you. So rather than finding the group of folks who look like you, here's what I recommend:

1) Shop Around: Joining a new gym, class or group? Look for the folks you want to look like. I've moved around quite a bit recently and when I start shopping for a gym, I join the place that scares the heck out of me. If I walk in and am intimidated by the heavy weights, hard training and hot bodies, that's the gym for me.

2) Find People Who Make You Feel Dumb: Not really, don't hang out with people who tell you you're an iditot (unless you like that), but do seek out and train with people who know a lot more about training than you do (then marry one, like I did). When it comes to fitness, learning new techniques, movements and programs is key to progress. Ask questions. Most fitness-minded people like nothing more than talking about fitness. I have to yet to meet anyone who didn't answer my question about their training and suggestions for progression. If anything, they usually talk too much.

3) Get a Role Model: When I first started training Crossfit and then powerlifting, I attached myself to the hips of the women who were the best in the area. The women who lifted heavy things, who crushed my times and who had years of experience. In my opinion, if you aspire to be like someone, you should be around that person. Everyone needs a mentor. I bet you have one at work, but do you have one for your workouts?

I think all of us have a natural tendency to want to associate with people who look like us and perform at the same level we do -- we want to "fit in". We don't want to be the least fit, the least fast or the least strong. But when we are looking for a training environment, we want to fight those urges. Find the place and the people who intimidate you. Train there. Make friends there. Become a product of that environment.

Posted by Rachel May
School of Health Sciences


Post a Comment

About Me

Kaplan Center for Health and Wellness
View my complete profile