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Strength in Numbers: How to Find Your Fitness Tribe

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Just like couples who play together, stay together…communities who exercise together, improve their wellbeing together.

It may not be catchy, but it’s true: There’s a heap of evidence that fitness communities can help members stick to an exercise routine and enhance their fitness level, among other benefits. Major brands have recognized the advantages of group workouts, too. So much so that they offer several opportunities to find your tribe. For example, there’s Nike’s in-person run clubs and fitness-friend-finding function on the NRC app, as well as Strava’s new online community feature and Athleta’s welcoming fitness studio and Power of She campaign. Daily Burn 365 also has user message boards and a community chat function during workouts. As you can see, group interaction is increasingly the name of the (fitness) game.

Read on to learn why experts back more group sweat sessions than ever, plus how to find the right tribe for you. It just might be the answer to waning workout motivation.

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The Benefits of Joining a Fitness Community

First things first: The definition of a fitness community can encompass several interpretations, from group exercise classes to studios with a devoted following. It could also mean online forums and apps that let you interact with other users.

No matter what form it takes, a fitness community allows you to connect with other athletes. Members might share their challenges and successes, discuss different training techniques, solicit advice or support, and celebrate each other’s achievements. This communal element offers benefits that run the gamut from physical to mental to social, says Megha Doshi, local marketing director for Strava.

For starters, access to group fitness programs can increase physical activity levels overall.“The number one benefit [of joining a fitness community] is accountability,” says Michelle Hobgood, an online coach with Daily Burn 365. Whether you just need a little encouragement to get to the gym or you’ve gotten off track for several weeks, your peers can provide the positive encouragement you need to get back in action.

“If you state a goal to your community [be it digital or real-world], you know they are there watching and… supporting you,” Doshi says. Saying, “I’m going to do a marathon” to yourself is one thing, Doshi explains, but when all your friends know your goals and they lend support, advice or an inspiring mantra, it can really push you to keep moving forward.

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“It’s when we push beyond what we thought was possible that we feel stronger.”

Not only can a fitness tribe inspire you to exercise more often, but it can also inspire you to go harder during each sweat session. One study found that working out with a partner motivated people to work out longer and at a greater intensity than if they were training solo.

Heidi Kristoffer, yoga expert and creator of CrossFlowX who regularly teaches at Athleta’s community studio, often sees this play out in her classes. “You work harder if there’s somebody next to you, especially if it’s somebody you’ve gotten to know,” she says. Additionally, attending the same class each week allows your teacher to get to know you and when you need a nudge to keep going harder. And that’s when the magic happens. “It’s when we push beyond what we thought was possible that we feel stronger,” says Kristoffer.

In addition to these physical benefits, fitness communities can also make you happier and can lead to quality friendships. “When you regularly work out with others, you make connections and start to develop a group of friends with similar interests,” says Erin Bulvanoski, marketing director and coach at BRICK, an New York City-based CrossFit box. “It makes a workout more than just fitness for your body. It enhances your life.”

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Photo: Twenty20

How to Find the Right Fitness Community for You

Ready to discover your tribe? Find the right group with these six tips.

1. Figure out what you like.

If you don’t already know whether you enjoy running or biking, yoga or weightlifting, CrossFit or Pilates, then it’s important to explore, says Kristoffer. “If you hate what you’re doing, you’ll stop,” she says. So identify what types of physical activity you like before searching for a group that will join you for the fun. Take advantage of free classes or introductory specials at local studios to test the workout waters.

2. Identify your workout personality type.

Do you like a drill team atmosphere, or do you require more emotional support? Are you looking for a community that focuses on the science behind working out, or the mental hurdles that come with sticking to a fitness routine? Do you want to work out with people who are all at the same level as you or surround yourself with more experienced athletes? Are you hoping to engage with other athletes in person or online? Answer these questions to help determine the fitness culture that will make you feel most comfortable, says Hobgood.

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3. Scope out groups online.

“When looking to join a fitness community from the outside, check out a group’s social media pages,” says Bulvanoski. This can give you a sense of their values, the way members interact with each other, and whether the community has a team-building mindset, encouraging interaction and connection.

4. Maximize the bang for your buck.

If you’re hoping to find a real-world community (rather than a digital one), “look for a place that offers multiple workouts in the same house,” Kristoffer suggests. This will ensure you avoid boredom. It’s also important to find a community that offers group workouts at an affordable cost. That way, you won’t end up stopping when you’ve spent too much.

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“The human connection is vital for happiness in life.”

5. Don’t give up after one bad class.

Sometimes a certain type of workout or a certain instructor simply won’t feel like the right fit. But that doesn’t mean you have to reject an entire community based on one poor experience, says Kristoffer. Instead, sample a variety of classes and teachers at a given studio. Then decide whether or not it’s the place for you.

6. Just get up and go.

“What’s most important is that you get out there and try it,” says Doshi. “That’s the only way you’ll get to experience the vibe of the group and see if the types of workouts they do and their locations, schedule, etc. meet your goals and needs.” When you’re shopping around, be sure to engage with other students and teachers. This will give you a sense of the personalities of those who make up the core of the community.

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You’ll know you found your tribe when you feel genuine rapport with other members of the community. You’ll simultaneously feel supported, encouraged and challenged to rise to new heights. Not only will this community help you take your fitness to the next level, but it will also enhance your life overall. “The human connection is vital for happiness in life,” says Kristoffer. “Together we’re stronger than when we’re apart.” We’ll sweat to that!