Three women tell us how joining a team keeps them motivated, wards off boredom and even comes with serious health benefits.
Playing sports isn’t a new trend when it comes to fun ways to get fit, but talk to anyone who participates in activities from baseball to water polo and she’ll likely sing its praises. You’re sure to hear about the merits of group activity: the camaraderie, increased motivation to get out there and work out, and the unique way that having people to train with lessens boredom on the field (trail, ice, swimming pool). But what you might not know is that there are plenty of health benefits you’ll reap just from getting your sweat on with your teammates. See how these three women rock their group workouts.
Maria Topalovic found her soccer groove at age nine, and she hasn’t stopped playing since. “I always wanted to play because my dad loved soccer,” says the Hamilton-based team-sport aficionado. Although she enjoyed a variety of athletic pursuits while growing up—including dance, figure skating and gymnastics—soccer was the one that stuck. “It was the only sport or activity I never wanted to quit and never wanted to miss.”
Now 32, Maria has been playing with a house-league team, the BilaBallerz, for about a decade. Astonishingly, she’s competed with some of her teammates since childhood, on one team or another. “It’s great to share the passion for soccer with some of the same women each season and to be able to support each other in our own fitness goals.”
“I love the game! I love the cardio, too—after a game, I’m exhausted. I feel like the past hour and a half has been worth the activity, and I know I’ve had a good workout. I love the challenge of the game because anything can happen: You can meet a more difficult opponent, set up a beautiful pass, get an amazing goal, save tough shots, have the stress and excitement of shoot-outs and, most of all, have fun with a bunch of friends.”
The way Faye Visser saw it, “I could sit at home and feel sorry for myself or I could get out and remember there is life after breast cancer.” It was 2005. Faye had been diagnosed in February, had surgery in March and, by July, she’d joined Women Alike Abreast a River, a New Glasgow, N.S., dragon-boat racing team comprising cancer survivors and women in cancer treatment.
The team was “like a lifeline for me,” says Faye, whose strength and confidence grew during weekly practices and seasonal competitions. “As a person who was scared of the water, to be paddling a boat with 20 other ladies was quite an accomplishment.”
The team-training approach makes it possible to get through intense workouts you might give up on, says Faye. “Our coach trains us like we would never do ourselves. We are pushed to paddle until it hurts, but we laugh and think, We’re building muscles and having fun at the same time. And when we come off the water, it’s a great high.”
Why dragon-boat racing?
“Dragon boating is all about exercising both the body and mind. Out on the water, all your worries disappear—[you have to] stay focused on what you’re doing. It empowers us to be the best we can.”
Jennifer Northrup never pictured herself cycling 100 kilometres in a day. But thanks to her cycling team, the Vancouverite is training to do just that, with a handful of “century rides” planned for this summer. “This year, I’m on a team for the Ride to Conquer Cancer [a two-day 250-kilometre road-cycling challenge] and I plan on doing the Rapha 100 [a 100-kilometre road- cycling event] with the ladies of Tight Bike Cycle Club,” she says.
Never an avid cyclist, Jennifer discovered the sport last year when her fitness club launched a women’s road-cycling team. Road cycling has a steep learning curve, with its specialized gear, road etiquette and safety rules, not to mention the physical challenges, but for Jennifer, being part of a team was key to hurdling the beginner hump. “I was hooked after our first ride,” she says. “There was something about being among this group of women. Some have been riding for years, but most were just as intimidated and new to the sport as I was. The ladies who led the rides were always supportive and encouraging as we learned how to clip into the bike pedals, how to shift gears and the dos and don’ts of sharing the road with cars. I don’t think I would have stayed on a bike if I didn’t have this group expecting me every week.”
For Jennifer, team training and racing go hand in hand. “I don’t think I’ve signed up for one race that didn’t involve a friend or a group I would be participating with. It’s social, fun and a time to connect with others. Team accountability and camaraderie are huge motivating factors for me.”
Why long-distance cycling?
“I love a new challenge and working toward a big ride or event. Having a goal in mind keeps training fun and motivating. I work for the BC Cancer Foundation, so the Ride to Conquer Cancer is near and dear to my heart on both a personal and a professional level.”
There really is strength in numbers. Here’s why working out with a team is more effective than exercising solo and how to get the benefits (even if you’re not a joiner!).
Group-fitness participants exercise more frequently, are more likely to stick with their workout plans and enjoy a greater surge in feel-good endorphins than those who work out by themselves. And that endorphin rush is key: It improves pain tolerance and encourages a sense of social bonding, which boosts your cooperativeness and generosity.
Choosing A Sport
There are two things to keep in mind here: your interests and maximizing convenience. You want a location that’s easy to get to from your home or workplace. Registered classes may have a slight edge in terms of social benefits (you’ll see the same workout buddies each week), but drop-ins are great if you’ve got a hectic schedule or want to sample different workouts until you find the one that best fits you.
An Alternative Approach
If you don’t want to, or can’t, join a team, classes are a great alternative. Pam Cox, manager of health and fitness programs at the University of Calgary’s Active Living facility, says an instructor-led group setting is appropriate for all fitness levels. And even experienced athletes will appreciate the cross training. An avid runner, for example, may be at a loss coordinating a weight-training routine.