Strength in Numbers

Are your workouts an exercise in solitary refinement? Supercharge your performance with a little help from your friends.

Mar 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

Critical Mass: members of California's Mountain View Masters Swim and Social Club

REMEMBER THIRD GRADE, when working out consisted of a rubber dodgeball and ten friends? The 10:45 recess bell would ring and you'd sprint to the playground to peg your classmates in the head—probably burning 500 calories in the span of 15 minutes. Exercising was nothing more than goofing off with pals; performance goals and losing the spare tire never entered the equation. But now you're an adult, and workouts have become dutiful and often lonely interludes—you running alone on a trail or grinding away on a stationary bike—with as much appeal as a trip to the dentist.

It's not too late to put playfulness and group dynamics back into the mix. From Boston to Burbank, thousands of like-minded outdoor athletes—cyclists, runners, and swimmers—have banded together to form clubs that add camaraderie to their cardio routines. These groups aren't like the anonymous shoulder-rubbing of health clubs. In return for modest annual dues (between $35 and $300), you'll get professional coaching, new regimens, and a workout schedule that reads like a social calendar (sprints on Tuesday, distance on Thursday, competitive bottle-lifting on Saturday night). "When you only train by yourself," says David Keating, a coach with the D.C.-based Washington Running Club, "it's like a really miserable, bad-paying job. But a club is like another world you can escape to."
Companionship isn't the only benefit. Paying dues and peer-group pressure may increase your motivation to make early-morning workouts; coaches can correct bad habits; and most important, a little friendly competition will ramp up your own performance.

"The best way to improve," says Mark Wilson, coach at the Hudson Valley Triathlon Club in Woodstock, New York, "is to train with people who are better than you. It rubs off."

On the following pages you'll find a behind-the-scenes peek at three of the country's most active clubs—the Washington Running Club; the Mountain View Masters Swim and Social Club in Mountain View, California; and, for cyclists, the Century Road Club Association in New York City. With spring approaching, we asked them to divulge their favorite group workouts for getting in shape for the upcoming race season. Take their lessons back to your own club or start a new one. Working out won't be as easy as dodgeball, but the surprise truth is, misery hates company.

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