*NEW* #TeamEverlast Contributor: Greg Chertok
Greg Chertok, M.Ed., CC-AASP, founder of New York based Chertok Performance Consulting is the newest contributor to #TeamEverlast. Greg has nearly a decade of experience and specializes in sport and exercise psychology. His experience working with athletes and coaches ranges from youth to professionals with a list of clients that include high performance athletes, high school & NCAA champions, Super Bowl champions, Stanley Cup participants, and Olympic athletes. Greg will bring his vast knowledge and expertise on training and competition to our #TeamEverlast readers.
We are excited to welcome Greg to our list of contributors! Be sure to keep an eye out for all of Greg’s articles each month starting with his first installment below!
Competition: Compete WITH, not against
Coaches preach of “being your own best” and “focusing on your own net/lane/ball.” They argue that peering over your shoulder towards your opponent is distracting and harmful to performance, and that focus must remain on your own game. These are widely-suggested, and often helpful, pieces of coaching advice.
And yet, inherent within the human condition is the desire, even the need, for community. We’re a social and interactional species who thrive on feelings of relatedness and connectedness. We’ve got an evolutionary yearning to be in the company of others; surely this concept can be used beneficially in a number of domains, including athletics and exercise.
It is understandable that some exercisers find interpersonal competition – that is, competing against others for the purpose of demonstrating superiority over them – intimidating and distracting. “Beat him and you win;” “Do less than her and you lose.” In such competitive environments, relatedness is replaced by rivalry, and connectedness by cutthroatness. This doesn’t play to our need for community. In fact, some people avoid exercise or physical activity entirely because of this feeling that competition elicits.
However, when feelings of community are injected within the competitive environment – that is, when a supportive culture is established and all members are working together for the purpose of demonstrating superiority alongside, rather than over, one another – the competition often becomes performance enhancing.
And completing physically challenging tasks in such a group setting – say, performing 50 burpees as opposed to 5 – further satisfies the feelings of bonding and community, which is partly why systems like CrossFit have proven so effective. Think about it: complete a lap around the park with a friend and there’s little reaction. Complete three miles together and there’s a sweat-stained high five. Complete a marathon and there are tear-filled hugs. The more challenging the task, the more powerful the bond becomes with your partner or group.
When each member of an exercise group has established the mindset of “being my best” alongside the others, the workout relationship becomes synergistic. Members are driven by, even grateful for others’ great performances, rather than dejected from it. A splendid example of this in an elite sport setting comes from former Olympian Carl Lewis. A highly “competitive” athlete, Lewis reports in his autobiography that feeling grateful to his competitors became part of his pre-race routine. Without opponents, Lewis could not have been personally challenged to the extent that he was with them. He could not have experienced victory without opponents. There would be no Gold without opponents. Lewis chose to embrace the presence of his competitors as required figures in his quest for performance excellence. It was an attitudinal shift that seemed to serve him well.
There is good reason why people should be grateful for the presence of other like-minded and competitive exercisers. People tend to adhere more closely, and for longer durations, to exercise routines when working out in a group, thanks to the social support and accountability workout buddies provide. Even little amounts of social support prevent against relapse, whether it’s substance abuse (think Alcoholics Anonymous) or physical inactivity. Studies show that an occasional automated telephone reminder has a lasting effect on continued exercise. Consider the power of the social support generated from a community-based competitive environment – having someone to “report to”, or someone who you don’t want to “let down” will likely strengthen our willingness to keep at the exercise.
Furthermore, the literal closeness of group fitness may actually have a positive impact on performance. Research demonstrates that proximity is a predictor of how contagious emotions become. In other words, people’s happiness depends on the happiness of others to whom they are close. The effect decays with physical separation. So the very act of working out near or next to other health-minded gym-goers may influence one’s mood and the desire to embrace the physical challenge of exercise..
Ultimately, a fitness workout is an intensely intimate and personal experience. Exercise, particularly the vigorous kind, leaves you panting, sweating from every crevice of your body, maybe wanting to give up. Not everyone appreciates doing this in a group, and some prefer managing the physical and mental struggle independently.
Regardless of whether your workout is done privately or alongside others, establish your big “why.” Why are you working out? What are your specific, measureable goals? “Because I want to get stronger” is far less specific and measurable (and therefore less effective) than “because I love pushing my limits, I love the energy I feel throughout the day after a tough workout, and so I can keep up with my fiancé on her 4-mile runs twice a week.” Think of your goals as a ladder, or staircase. Each workout should propel you one step up, closer to your “ideal you”.
If others in your exercise group share your goals, that’s wonderful. More likely, your goals will be unique and special to you. Allow the group’s energy to guide you forward, but let your big “why” give you the motivational push.