Training should be hard and enjoyable - in that order. As exercise becomes more intense and harder, we tend to enjoy it less whilst we do it, but more once it is completed. The satisfaction of running a 10km PB in the morning can have us walking a bit taller all day, whereas a 10-minute walk is unlikely to have the same impact.
One way to make intense exercise more enjoyable - or tolerable - is to share the experience with others. Training with friends or as part of a group fitness class can be a great way to help push through the challenge of the session, as we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Even though our legs are burning just as much as they would doing that same session on our own, many of us can stay in the game for longer with others around.
Group fitness comes with the dual benefits of being part of a team during a hard experience alongside access to coaching at a cheaper price. However, there can be some downside to group fitness training that we see pop up as people’s work and family commitments increase during the family phase.
The first is that training with others means there is a set time to train, which can become an issue when work and family commitments are increasing. Set times are not bad in of themselves, in fact, we always recommend that people schedule their workouts into their calendar, whether that is two weeks in advance or on the day of, to make sure they have time allocated into their schedule to training. For people who are travelling, working late often or things keep popping up, they need to be more flexible with their scheduling but must be equally disciplined to ensure their training happens.
The second downside is that if we rely on others being able to train with us, we can lose the ability to train on our own. This is OK if we can always train with our group, but it can become an issue if our circumstances change and we can no longer consistently make the group training sessions.
These downsides of group training can show up during the family phase as we lose some freedom in setting our own schedules because work and the family take precedence. This does not mean we cannot exercise or that it should not be a priority, but it does mean we cannot exercise whenever we want and this makes it harder to coordinate with a group of individuals who are in the same situation.
As the time crunch begins to happen, many people find themselves needing to exercise at unsociable hours such as early in the morning, during work hours or later in the evening. It can be hard to find any company at these times, which means that we are likely to be training alone. For people who have previously relied on having a group to help them exercise, this can be extremely challenging to deal with and they might find themselves skipping sessions, dropping the intensity or giving up completely.
We preach to young professionals about to enter the family phase that they need a self-reliant training strategy that can be done at any time and almost anywhere. They need to know what kind of sessions they need to complete for the week and ensure they have access to the right equipment. This does not mean they only do bodyweight training that requires little equipment, but they may need a chain gym membership if they travel a lot.
We favour resistance training and cardiovascular conditioning for many of these clients about to enter this phase. Resistance training might include strength and hypertrophy work in the gym or bodyweight sessions outside in the park. Some people might do their strength training in a group while they are at home and then change to a solo plan when they are travelling for work. This ensures they have a strategy to keep training when the group is not available to them.
Cardiovascular conditioning can include a range of things but mostly comes down to running and swimming for our clients. These can be done almost anywhere, requires little gear to be carried with them and are entirely self-directed. Cycling is another great form of cardiovascular conditioning that is also low-impact, but for some reason, we do not have many cycling clients.
In the past, we jokingly called this training approach as ‘unsociable fitness’ because it prioritised fitness over friendships. While that may have been a bit over the top, it reflected that our first priority is that client's train and the second priority is that they do it with their friends or in the most comfortable environment for them. This phrase was a useful way to remember that order of priorities.
We do not have anything against group fitness - it is a great way to train for many people. However, we have seen many clients who were previously reliant on this form of training who fell away when their ability to make the sessions was compromised. We are happy for people to keep doing group fitness if it suits their lifestyle and goals, but we also want them to have the skillset to be able to train on their own if needed.
Building Self-reliance Into A Training Program
A good insight to help improve the ability to train in isolation will depend on whether someone is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated.
For someone who is intrinsically driven to exercise, setting targets and measuring progress can be a good way to increase their drive to complete hard work. These people usually find they enjoyed group training sessions because they were contributing to the overall vibe of the room and loved having things measured to either show they were high performers or making progress in the group.
For someone who is extrinsically motivated, joining an online community can be a great way to be part of something bigger even though they are training on their own. Runkeeper, Fitbit, 12WBT and similar programs do a great job of building communities around specific training and weight loss goals while allowing people to track their progress and build status in the community. These people maybe liked group fitness because it helped them turn up and maintain their intensity during the session.
Be Unsociable First
There is nothing wrong with becoming an unsociable trainee. As we enter the family phase, it becomes harder to make training a high priority and we often need to train at less sociable hours or cannot commit to sessions in advance. This means that we are likely to be training on our own, if we decide to make training a priority during this phase.
The other factor to keep in mind is that even if we can keep attending the session, often our friends are in a similar phase of their lives and we find ourselves training on our own because they cannot make it. We have a simple approach to this at Integrated Fitness & Nutrition - do not rely on anyone else to be at the gym unless you are paying them to be there.
It is not that our friends are not reliable or bad people, they just have other priorities that pop up, as we do. Maybe they can train at different times or maybe they cannot train at all, but that should not impact our ability to train. If they do not turn up, that is unfortunate because we like to see them, but it will not derail our training sessions.
So feel free to train with others and enjoy it when you can. But also be prepared to train on your own, because the reality of managing the family phase is that you will need to!