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You can get fitter faster with friends

posted by Musings from a Multisport Mama
Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 7:33pm EDT

A multisport blog by a multitasking mom in graduate school for anthropology and part-time web designer with 2 awesome kids and husband. I've done 2 IMs, 1 ultra (50K), 17 marathons (w/Boston), and too may triathlons to count since 1988. Lately, my fitness challenge is healing two injuries: plantar faciitis (left) and hip bursitis (right). I write about the cultural and physiological aspects of the sports of running and triathlon.

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Well, leave it to science to explain what most runners and triathletes already know: that you can get fitter faster if you train with your friends. "Exercising in a group can be more effective by making things easier" declared the subhead importantly in Fitter with friends in the September 19, 2009 issue of The Economist Magazine.

That's not news to me but it's nice to feel that my experiences training with friends has been validated by science as the best method! What was interesting in the article to me was the physiological process that causes a person to get fitter by training with others. According to the research of anthropologists Emma Cohen of Oxford University, and Robin Ejsmond-Frey there is a heightened tolerance for pain in athletes working out in a synchronized group. In their studies of competitive rowers they found that the usual production of endorphins that are released during extreme physical exertion (and which serve to numb the pain from lactic acid buildup in muscles) are increased. From their studies, they found that endorphin levels of athletes working out in a group are significantly higher than when the same athletes are working out alone. Working out with others is less painful. Sign me up.

Swimming with others

When I'm not joining my friends for our group open water swims at "dawn-thirty" on the weekday mornings (see photo above), my swim speed declines down to my slow baseline "yawn" pace of about 50 meters at 50 seconds. Too slow! Plus, I usually get bored after several weeks of solitary pool swims (no matter how creative I try to get with intervals, etc.) and usually climb out of the pool after 30 minutes with a lame self-promise that I will make it up later. If you are new to swimming and are looking for swim pals the best bet would be to ask about a Masters Swim group at your local public, university or club pool. Another option, if you have a background in swimming, is to see if there is a local swim or triathlon club. You can also take a swim class at a local community pool or university through a continuing ed or extension program. I improved my swim technique last summer at a month long group swim Stroke Refinement class at our lcoa Ventura Aquatics Center. It was fun; and I got faster.

Here are few online resources for group pool and open water swimming:


Running with others

Running with others has always made me faster. It has also brought me countless hours of communal fun, gave me new friends and has strengthened the friendships of old friends. ("Friends who play together, stay together..."). There are actually military studies that show that coordinated physical exercise can strengthen social bonds.

The best way to find others to run with is to find a local running club. Most clubs are based around either a geographic location or non-profit fund raising organization such as the Leukemia Society's Team In Training (TNT). Another group running source would be enrolling in a running class at a local university of college or finding a coach (which is sort of the same as joining a running club).

Finally, you can sign up for a trail or road race. I recommend this especially when traveling as it's a really fun way to get the know the local culture and "color". As a race participant at races far away from home, I've been happily surprised how inclusive the local runners were to myself, a stranger to the area. For example, I'll never forget the friendly invitation I got from a few locals who worked at the Patagonia Boston outdoor gear and clothing store when I did the Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, I was too exhausted after the race to accept the party invite. But it was really nice to be invited and I'll make sure and visit the store the next time I'm in Boston. If you are visiting for a while check online for a local running group. One of my favorite places away from home to run is Washington, DC. It's a really wonderful experience to cruise through the The Mall at dawn on foot and see so many historical places and enjoy the serene vistas along the Potomac.

Here are a few online resources of group running opportunities:


Bicycling

Well, since I'm still nursing a running injury (the dreaded plantar faciitis) I've been riding my road bike a lot. And, frankly it gets boring. By accident (serendipity really) I hooked up with the some local riders of the Channel Island Bicycle Club the other day on a group ride. By far, these are the friendly folks on two wheels that I have ever meant. No "Freds" or "Big Head Todds". They were inclusive, fun and they had some inspiring hill climbers in their group, too. Another way to find people to ride with is to check out a local bike shop. If they don't have shop rides they will certainly know about club rides, popular riding routes (road and/or trail) and should be a good resource for all things bike-related. I bolded "local bike shop" because the local bike shops can be a terrific resource. (Full disclosure: I used to be a sales representative for Diamondback Bicycles. There will always be a place in my heart for the local bike shop..:))

Here are a few online resources of group bicycling opportunities:

Well, that is it for now. There are so many great group workout resources that I haven't mentioned and I apologize. I haven't worked out yet today and I've been itching for a hilly road ride since before work. And, that was nine hours ago! Ugh....must get outside and workout now...

'Bye!

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