Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Training in a Group Vs Training Solo

At Bridge Road Barbell, we have recognised the benefits of group training over training solo.  Far be it for me to promote Crossfit as a serious form of training, the problems with Crossfit are too big to mention here so we'll leave that for another article.  However in spite of all its flaws, one thing that Crossfit does very well is encouraging people to train as part of a group.  Now if we ignore the fact that Crossfit often does not involve much , if any, real ongoing coaching, the simple fact that the participants are training as part of a group is largely what draws people to this form of exercise.
At Bridge Road Barbell, the group strongman and conditioning classes often are the times I see the highest levels of competition breeding with the members, and despite the fact that everyone has varying goals and requirements, often grouping people together on similar templates (with individual specifications depending on participants individual weak points and focus areas) can be more effective than a ton of people all training solo. We have a lot of members now, whose main goals are to improve upper/lower body strength and also gain some muscle in the process.  Athletes want to improve power and speed as well.  Having been a keen proponent of the Westside Barbell methodology and the conjugate system, and aware of the huge success that Westside Barbell, Super Training, Joe DeFranco's, Underground Strength Gym, Joe Pulcinella's Iron Sport Gym and many others have utilising training as a pack/team/group, I have been pushing my members to form groups for a while.
It has finally become a reality, but took quite a while to happen.  At first I could not make out what was preventing people from pairing up / forming groups but gradually it became clearer.

Here are just a few of the benefits that I see to training as part of a team / group.

  1. You will always have someone to spot you, ensuring safer training.
  2. It breeds competition. No matter how much you pretend you aren't being competitive, the fact is you will rank yourself against the others in the group and will always be jostling for position.
  3. No matter how motivated you are, everyone has bad days when they are not quite so focussed.  Training in a group means you have no choice but to suck it up and work harder.  Because you aren't going to let one of the other group members push ahead of you, if you have been fairly level pegged thus far.
  4. It makes you accountable for turning up and training hard.  When training solo, if you don't turn up, you are only letting yourself down.  Noone else cares.  When you train as part of a team, people notice that you aren't there and this should encourage you to feel a responsibility to yourself and to the team as a whole.
  5. It means that during a session you are never just sat there in-between sets, you will be either helping someone prepare for a lift, spotting, or preparing for a lift yourself.  This keeps your mind focussed on the job in hand.  You will also be called out if you are sat on your mobile phone texting your girlfriend when you are supposed to be lifting.
  6. You have the advantage of being able to watch other people make mistakes, and you can apply everything you learn to your own training.
  7. You will have multiple sets of eyes watching you lift and assessing you.  Therefore if you are falling forward on your squat, or your lower back is rounding too much when you deadlift you have people to tell you and cue you to improve it next time you lift.
  8. It makes you think carefully about your own training and what is working and what isn't, and will stop you from simply going through the motions.
  9. It will prevent you from 'taking it easy' too often, or 'having a light week'. No matter what you think, if you bottle out of working hard too often people will judge you.  Nobody wants to be known as someone with poor work ethic, so you will be encouraged to keep the intensity up and push yourself harder and harder each week.
  10. A group warm up is much more effective, normally because once again it stops people just going through the motions.  Sometimes one person will bring a warm up drill to the table which you had not thought of using and it will be the cure to that niggling pain you've been complaining about every week.
  11. As much as anything else, it makes training more enjoyable.  If you are the kind of person who is going to be successful with your training then you will get a buzz out of seeing other people work their asses off.  You will gain from this and it will drive you to work harder.  You will see others making progress and be pleased for them, rather than feeling jealousy and resentment.  You will all encourage each other and get behind someone when they are going for a PR, and you will receive the same treatment in return.
As you can see there are so many reasons to train as a team.  So why did it take so long for people to come round to the idea you may ask.  You would assume that once people were presented with the facts, and how much more effective it is to ally yourself with other strong-minded individuals, they would instantly seek to form pairs, then add more and more people to form small groups.  However this did not happen straight away and I now realise why.

Bottom line....    It takes guts.  It takes someone who can put their ego aside.  It takes someone who respects those around them enough to want them to succeed as much as they want to succeed themselves. It takes someone who can be reliable, dependable, and who will not let people down.  It takes someone who is prepared to put all excuses aside and accept that they and only they are responsible for their actions.

I realised that what was holding people back were the same reasons which I have listed as benefits to training in a group.  Its very intimidating, training with other people, but if you are going to commit to a group, you are going to have to come to terms with a few things.  
  • You will have to accept that you have weaknesses and those will be shown up.  You can't train around them anymore.  
  • You will have to turn up on time as no one will care about your latest excuse as to why your late.
  • You will have to come to terms with the fact that others may be stronger than you and you will have to train with them anyway.
  • You will probably be pushed out of your comfort zone frequently and this is tough.
  • No longer can you day-dream in-between sets, and go home when you've had enough because 'hey, doing something is better than nothing right?'.
Being pegged against other people who you may be friends with is quite daunting, it can be a hard pill to swallow.  However if you are going to be able to train as part of a group you must put your ego to bed and shatter your false illusion of yourself.  Training in a team, or part of a group, you will be exposed for who you really are.  If you are a hard working, reliable, strong-minded, dedicated individual who is an invaluable member of the team, then you will be seen as just that. However if you are a 'quit at the first hurdle', turn up late, skip the warm up, never offers encouragement to others and brag to your friends about how hard you 'smashed it in the gym' anyway, kind of guy, then this will become apparent to everyone.

So you can see why this would be a challenge for people to do, and why people might hesitate. However the ones who do choose to will always be more successful than those who choose to let their ego limit their progress.

I will be looking to form more groups for afternoon/evening sessions so anyone who has been contemplating joining up at Bridge Road Barbell but hasn't taken the plunge, now would be a good time to do so.

Yours. In Strength

Phil Horwood