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Jan 24, 2017 12:11PM

Fitness with friends: Group workouts offer support and more

By Chris Cashion
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Leah Miller, Bettendorf; Anne Roush, Coal Valley; Radish writer Chris Cashion, Davenport; and Vickie Felger, Princeton, Iowa, raced together in the Junior League of the Quad Cities' I AM Strong 5K Mudventure Race at Case Creek Obstacles, Coal Valley.
We find strength in numbers.
It's true in many areas of our lives, but it certainly is the case when it comes to entering a fitness class for the first time — or for the 100th time — when you're digging for motivation to keep at it.
I didn't give company much thought early on in my fitness pursuit. As a runner, I laced up my shoes and hit the pavement alone. Other than joining in a road race here and there, running was a solitary activity for me for many years, and I was fine with that.
When I started writing for Radish magazine, an editor discovered I didn't mind being sent out to try fitness classes and write about them. The group setting was a little out of my comfort zone initially, but I have to say I've never felt alone on these assignments. In my mind, I have always felt as if the Radish readers are along for the ride with me. I haven't been attending these classes solo — all of you have been right there, and a photographer now and then, too, to document the adventure.
After reading my articles about my various outings, friends asked if I would go back to some of the classes with them. As word spread, other friends wanted to come along as well, so I created a Facebook group and extended invitations to various outings about once per month. Whoever is available and interested joins in. We've branded ourselves the "Class Crashers," and even had T-shirts made. Friends who normally wouldn't set foot in a gym have been sweating alongside me, trying out dance routines, mud runs and yoga classes.
So what's the deal? Why are we so much more likely to try a new activity with familiar faces alongside of us, when we'd never even consider attempting it on our own? What is it about this pack mentality that makes us so brave?
I decided to ask a couple of area fitness experts for their thoughts on the matter.
For Rock Island's Michael Kinney, a co-founder of the fitness group Plan for Adventure, one of the answers comes down to simple math.
"Let's say you try a class with five friends. You're dividing your fear with those five people instead of holding it all yourself," Kinney says. "And even if everything else sucks, you're still having fun with those five people."
He says it's that support system that helps us believe in ourselves and conquer what we once thought to be impossible — and, according to Kinney, very few things are truly impossible.
"Even tying your shoes seemed impossible for you at one time. Then, one day, it happened. Now, you do it every day," Kinney says.
Kinney knows a thing or two about things that once seemed impossible. He began Plan for Adventure with his friend Nathan Tackett a few years ago. Initially, the group did stair climb events every Sunday at the sky bridge over River Drive in Davenport. As time passed, they added other events, including fitness classes at a building they've since secured in Moline.
Kinney says sometimes the big picture can feel impossible, but they continue month after month, and the community has embraced them.
"Now, we're training 70 to 90 people a month," Kinney says.
He says he sees the group mentality spur people on in training groups all the time.
"The support is tremendous. You get there, and someone is always happy to see you," he says, adding it's this type of camaraderie that keeps his group members improving and coming back for more.
Wellness coach Evangeline Geist, of LeClaire, agrees.
"I do both at-home and group workouts, and you can't beat the energy you find in a group workout. There will be times when I try something at home, and I can't do it. Then, I'll do the same move in a group workout, and because I am so pumped on the energy of the music blaring and following the instructor, I end up doing it without even thinking about it," Geist says.
Geist says peer support is a huge factor in overcoming your fears in a class setting.
"I remember the first live class I went to. I was terrified. It seems so silly now. I thought everyone would look at me and make fun of me for messing up or being overweight. If three of my friends hadn't talked me into staying, I would have left before it started and missed out on something I now love," she says.
Geist says there are things about being a part of a group that you simply can't replicate as an individual.
"In groups, there is more energy. You play off of each other, you become more competitive, and it adds a whole new level to the experience," she says.
Geist says if you want to create your own group of fitness lovers, just find a class or activity, invite a friend and go for it.
"That's how I got started. I was challenged to do something I had never done but wanted to. Several friends of mine went to group classes, so I asked if I could tag along. Now, I sign up for classes all the time, and I invite others to go with me," she says.
If you're wondering what sorts of things will make a good group activity, it really depends on the interest level of your group — but don't be afraid to try something outside of your comfort zone.
"It can vary from person to person. I love yoga, but I have friends who don't. I have friends who love 'Insanity' and high-impact, high-cardio classes that I am not into. I say trying anything at least once, twice is even better because the first time you are just figuring it out. The second time you know more of what to expect, so you get a better feel for it and if it will be something you enjoy," she says.
The interesting thing is how contagious the group enthusiasm can be. What began as a way for me to invite a few friends on Facebook to join me for a class has taken on a life of its own. Now, friends post events and see who is available to join them.
The momentum of the group has taken over — because there's strength in our numbers.
Chris Cashion is a writer on staff with Radish.

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