Somebody is peculiar who takes on a dangerous trail or scales up the highest peak, without the support of a team and the encouragement of a partner making the trek with them. If some person does hike up some monstrous mountain alone, they probably have done it many times before with others. They first relied on the help of a guide and the aid of a band of people taking on the task with them before they could do it by themselves.
The desire to share an experience is practically the same for anyone beginning a new physical or fitness practice. It could be taking up a new sport or going to the gym for the first time to start working out. And if you think, why would it be the same? It's human behavior. In both cases, you need guidance and companionship with others who want to share in this experience and take on the same labor.
The Typical Gym
What kind of turnover rates in memberships do the big box gyms see? I imagine there are statistics on this somewhere, but even without them, it's a safe conclusion to reach that it's high. Some health clubs have also created a structure where members are automatically charged dues every month even though they rarely, if ever, come and use the facility.
The entire membership funnel from marketing to after-sale is designed and arranged to do just this. These health clubs are, of course, dishonest about their intention. Still, the entire framework fragments members and isolates one from another so they can never bond together in groups or receive the support they need from each other to keep coming.
What We Crave
Ultimately, most of our behaviors and drive come from seeking connection. This includes ambitions to get in shape. When people can and do come together to share in an activity like lifting weights, they connect. But there's more than just feeling a connection because of shared interest.
When you improve yourself physically, your health, stamina, performance, and appearance changes for the better, and your mind, whatever you may think, is not disconnected from your body or your spirit. If your physical health improves, so does your mental health, and vice versa.
When the mind and body are in harmony,
- You can connect more deeply with every experience and with every person.
- You have better direction in how to live out your life.
- You can receive the energy of the shared experience.
- You are more at ease with yourself, and this will show through to others.
- You'll genuinely connect with others when you function from authenticity.
With connection, the experiences we share can become the narrative we all want to build with friends. We want to create a story together that we can later recall and relive together.
Gyms can be a great place to find this. Sharing physical struggles without a doubt brings friends closer. It's why we make training partners into friends, and we make our friends into our training partners.
The bonding experience is much more likely to happen at a smaller independent gym rather than a significant corporate type. These smaller indie gyms with close communities immediately provide a connection with others who are working at this focused strength or high-intensity discipline.
And you should work to find a place like this to train at if you're seeking out fitness inside four walls. This is when we'll find a place to satisfy what we crave with people who can identify with this desire.
The need for a struggle with which to grapple is built into human beings. We have not progressed passed this primary need, and it isn't a matter of opinion.
If we have no apparent external struggle to tangle with, we create a mock battle in our heads, our daily lives, our relationships, and sometimes out into society. Creating an imaginary conflict is a path to self-sabotage—something about which I can speak.
Choosing and strategically challenging some physical struggles to go up against daily keeps us from creating artificial mental conflicts that are harmful rather than instructive. But here's the rub—the physical battle needs to be severe enough and significant enough in our heads, according to our standard, to keep us from creating more contrived mental strife that breeds self-sabotage.
It seems we each have an inner judge that decides if what we're doing is deserving of our efforts and undistracted focus. If it's not, our minds will wander, and we'll look for other conflicts.
But when we spend time with others that share in the same type of struggle like us, physical or otherwise, and we see them enthusiastic about wrestling with it, the mountain itself intrinsically seems worthwhile.
It's essential to our group, so we believe that it is undeniably crucial. And this is why training a physical discipline or playing a sport with teammates is necessary to keep from quitting.
The Role of the Struggle
My powerlifting coach and employer, when I was a college strength coach, was also my training partner for many years. He chose to keep the struggle to be the strongest he could be early in his life and never deviated from this.
When I trained with him, my life was uncomplicated, and my mind uncluttered. My concerns were few, and my mind was on my work and my training. I took on my coach's struggle and focused my will toward it, and it kept me on a direct path. I improved singularly in this, and my concentration kept me from unnecessary complexity in my life.
Then, I left that job, place, training partner, and that particular labor. And without that worthy effort, I complicated my life. The complications then drove me further from training, and without someone to share the practice with, I stepped away from any focused physical pursuit.
Years went by; I began again with Olympic weightlifting, but without consistency or diligence. However, eventually, I found myself in the fortunate position of having great weightlifting coaches and former world-class Olympic weightlifters come to my gym. I was instructed by them and had the opportunity to train alongside them.
I got to live out new stories and share them with new people. They provided support and friendship, and I advanced and matured in weightlifting and in learning to channel my energies into a greater focus, my season of life.
I kept my aim to share in a physical struggle and began adding more. I connected with Muay Thai fighters and after that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu players. I spent time with more experienced opponents and learned how they thought of their work. I found that combat sports athletes and martial artists have an unusual way of joining together to move personally and individually forward.
In weight training, training partners support each other to overcome some external barriers. But in martial arts school, they test and fight against each other to push and grow internally. It's not just about contesting the person in front of you; it's about pushing against your internal struggles and barriers and utilizing the fight with others as the instrument to do so.
Most everyone in these places understands this even if they don't recognize it. So when the sparring and practicing are over, they feel a greater connection with each other than before. They are thankful to the other person for the gift each received. They shared an experience that will aid both of them on their paths to progress and understanding.
Determine Your Vehicle For Growth
Jiu-jitsu seems to be one of the best vehicles for personal growth, and with that comes a need for a community of supportive people. I'm speaking as an absolute beginner with no experience and only a fresh perspective to compare patterns of behavior I've observed elsewhere.
All martial arts can be described as a physical chess match between opponents. And Jiu-jitsu seems to be one of the most difficult of chess matches. Grappling and striking require instinctive responses that need to develop into a habit.
But, there is also an active intellectual struggle as you alter strategies, read your opponent, and adjust your movement as the person standing across from you reacts to your moves and actions.
The complexity and possibility of attacks and defenses in Jiu-Jitsu makes all this even more complicated. So, it's necessary to roll with different types of people at a school to exercise your strength and faculty. Everyone on that mat understands this, and it creates a wholly shared acknowledgment that this is a worthwhile struggle. They form a group of people who believe this practice will create a better person.
Share the Successes
Anything done is better when shared with others. It makes the good, better. There's a spirit among people when they win together and accomplish something together in cooperation and support. When they collectively advance, it's almost as if there is another force with them, a discernable spirit independent of any one person.
There's also accountability when you share your efforts with a group. Not one person can be flawless in their efforts or be utterly objective about where they are coming up short and where they need to focus on improvement.
Everyone needs training partners to be honest with them to pull them, push them, drag them, or pick them up at times—and they also need to learn what it's like to do that for others. If they do, they will understand and get to know that spirit. By giving this, they can receive it better and with more significant effect.
This is the beauty of the group that shares the adventure. It's why finding this group and your training partners, regardless of what fitness or movement you choose, is undeniably essential. A partner will keep you doing it and will give you purpose. And with this purpose, you can stay on track even when life appears to be doing everything it can to push you off track.
Jesse competes in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, and he was also formerly a competitive powerlifter. He was featured in main strength and fitness publications. You can read more of his work on his website.
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