Whether you are an experienced endurance athlete or a beginner, there are many benefits to be had from training in a group environment. If you know how to use group training to your advantage it can elevate your fitness and give you a training stimulus that you would otherwise be unable to achieve. However, there are also some pitfalls that you should be aware of that can result in overtraining or reduced fitness.
Training in a group can be intimidating for a newcomer or a veteran athlete. A lot of athletes have anxiety over training with a group, feeling either socially challenged or worried about how they will fit into the pace of the group. These are very natural feelings that will fade away once you get in the mix and start to enjoy the synergy that a group can create. No matter the sport, there are a few unwritten and universal “rules.”
- Communicate – Always try to be proactive by talking to the others in your group. Find out what the route will be, what the pace will be, how the group generally works (will they wait for you if you get dropped?) and any other protocols that need to be followed.
- Don’t be a show off – Whether you are weak or strong during the workout, don’t push the pace beyond what the group is doing. In most cases there will be options for different paces within a given workout (swimmers may choose faster/slower lanes, cyclists may pull more or sit in the draft, runners may set the pace or follow in the pack). If you feel the need to go faster than your group, it’s time for you to go do your workout on your own!
- Play nice – Be respectful of others around you and mind your position in the group. This may be a safety issue (as in cycling) or just a courtesy issue (as in maintaining your position in your lane when swimming). It is your responsibility to avoid causing trouble for others within the group, and if you do, don’t be surprised if you draw disapproval.
How to Use the Group to Your Advantage
Depending on your goals, there are a number of ways to use group training to your advantage. The typical group ride, run or swim will give you the opportunity to either push yourself by going to the front or to sit in the pack and keep your effort controlled. For some, just hanging on to a group may take all the effort you have. This is one way to test yourself and don’t be discouraged if you get dropped. Anyone who has been around training groups for a while has been dropped at one time or another.
Masters swimming groups always have a number of differently paced lanes to choose from, so you can always move up or down depending on your needs. Also, you may find running and cycling groups of different ability levels to explore. Once you know where you stand in respect to the pace of various groups you can choose one to suit your training goal for the day. Swimming and cycling in groups will give you much more synergistic effect than running due to the draft that can help pull you along. As a result, it’s easier to train harder and faster with a group than on your own.
Group Training Pitfalls
It’s important to note that you can get yourself into trouble if all you do is train with groups. If the group is too fast for you it can cause over-training and if it’s too slow it can cause under-training. Having a sensible training plan will allow you to know when to train with a fast group, a moderate group, a slower group, or when it’s best to train on your own.
Get out there and explore the group training options in your area. You may check with your local pool for swimming programs, your local running store for group runs, and your local bike shop for group rides. You may find information in your local newspaper or regional sports and fitness magazines. Ask what the groups are like, when they meet, and when you go, be sure to get there early to talk to people. Enjoy the camaraderie and synergy of your group and reap the benefits from the training.
About the author
Tim Monaco is a Multi-Sport Coach, Licensed Massage Therapist, Corrective Exercise Specialist and CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach from Bend, OR.