I encourage participants of my Stretch Plus class to utilize the bar along the wall when practicing balance if they feel unsafe doing the activities unsupported. A week ago, someone burst out with, “I’m not a wimp.” This comment wasn’t intended to be harmful, but it speaks to the approach many people take to exercising in groups; that if you don’t match the level of the fittest participant, you’re somehow failing. This simply isn’t true. As an instructor, I emphasize the importance of working at individual fitness levels and as a student, I urge you to adopt a wise and educated approach.
When exercising in groups, always consider your own fitness level and limitations. It can be tempting to try to emulate others and overdo. This can lead to undue muscle soreness or even an injury such as a muscle tear or fall. Never allow yourself to feel pressured during a group activity. Most instructors constantly offer options; a way to make a move low impact, a method to add support during a balance activity or to do a different version of an exercise.
If you only remember one sentence from this article, remember to only compete with yourself. If you are experiencing pain during an exercise or feel afraid you might fall during an activity, don’t be afraid to ask the instructor how to modify if she/he hasn’t already presented options. If you’ve worked a muscle group to fatigue, you may simply need to stop and rest for a moment! The instructor’s job is to provide a safe environment for everyone in the class.
If you belong to a hiking, biking, swimming or other activity group, you may also be tempted to compete with others in an unfavorable way. Striving for the next step higher in your fitness is great, but trying to achieve greatness overnight is not. The best thing you can do on a long bicycle ride, if you feel dehydrated and dizzy, is tell your companions you are feeling out of sorts. The worst thing you can do is push harder because you feel frustrated with your struggle and end up suffering heat exhaustion or having a heart attack because pride overtook common sense.
There’s an innate desire in all of us to be part of a community and an accepted member of a group. Being one of the most proficient swimmers or hikers or class participants isn’t necessary to acquire this status. Amazing camaraderie and support can be found in SaddleBrooke classes and in activity groups. Usually we are the ones that create this need to keep up when most people will embrace us because of our smile, friendly greeting and mutual passion for the group activity. Approaching each session with common sense will enhance your experience and enjoyment.
Author and fitness writer Susan Dawson-Cook is a Vital Moves personal trainer and group exercise instructor (850-4089).