Vail Daily health feature: Feeling the need to beat and compete
Special to the Weekly
The Vail Valley is known for a lot of things: skiing, snow-capped mountains and roundabouts not everyone knows how to navigate. Many of us who live here would also happily admit that we’re a bit more competitive than the average person, especially when it comes to athletic activities. So it’s no surprise that one of the biggest trends in fitness this year is the rise in competition-based workout classes in which the goal is to beat the person next to you, gyms where your stats are public record and even smartphone apps that encourage you to best your fellow athletes for bragging rights.
‘PEOPLE ARE REDEFINING WHAT THEY WANT’
Ben Stone, owner of Sigma Human Performance in Vail, thinks that “the days of going to the gym and doing a solo workout are coming to an end,” he said.
Stone said that overall, fitness is moving toward a more communal, social activity. Our inherent competitive nature can be a motivating factor for both the person who has just started working out and the already athletic, fit person who’s looking to push a little harder.
“I think people are redefining what they want,” Stone said. “There’s still going to be the guy in the gym doing curls for the girls, but is that really fitness? The (fitness people) with the longest longevity and the groups with the lowest attrition (are the ones) who surround themselves with like-minded individuals who encourage each other.”
CrossFit may be old news to some, but it’s still one of the most popular fitness clubs across the nation. Aspects of CrossFit are heavily competition-based, with a leaderboard at every local gym and even a CrossFit Games with both regional and worldwide competitions. Stone has participated in CrossFit in the past, and he thinks the combination of competition plus support from others is why so many are drawn to this style of working out.
“Pushing past something you didn’t think is possible is hard without encouragement,” Stone said. “You would not believe how much encouragement goes on between ‘competitors.’”
SMARTPHONES AND STATS
Even if you’re not on the mat trying to sweat harder than your neighbor, many are using technology to compete against others and even themselves. Strava is a smartphone app for running and cycling that acts as a GPS tracker, allowing people to time their mileage, rides and more. Especially in the cycling community, it’s becoming rarer to find a mountain or road biker who doesn’t use the app, or hasn’t at least tried it.
Avon resident Will Cox is a self-described “Strava junkie” who started using the app about two years ago when he still lived in Connecticut. Back on the East Coast, Cox said he was frequently crowned KOM, which stands for King of the Mountain and means you have the fastest riding time for a particular segment. However, upon moving to the Vail Valley, Cox said making it to the top 10 or 20 percent of cyclists on any ride is certainly a much more challenging feat.
“(Strava) has definitely made me more competitive,” Cox said. “In some areas (of a ride), it might create a sense of urgency, cause me to push myself a little harder than I normally would.”
While not a full Strava addict himself, Cox said he has heard of people who “won’t even do a ride if their phone isn’t charged up or they’re not using Strava.”
Cox said some cyclists have the mindset of when they’re riding that, “it doesn’t count unless you Strava it.”
COMPETING WITHOUT BEATING UP ON YOURSELF
Haley Perlus, a sport and exercise psychologist based in Vail, said competition can bring out the best in someone, but it isn’t necessarily an effective strategy for everyone.
“When you’re able to compete while still focused on your own effort and performance, (competition) can work really well,” Perlus said. “Competition can heighten the intensity and excitement of the activity, leading to increased productivity. There is also something called ‘co-opetition.’ When I’m teaching a cycle class, I ask everyone to look around the room and choose the person who looks the most positive, excited and energized to be here today. … Then for the next three minutes, I want (them) to match or beat the person’s positivity or effort. In my experience, this brings up everyone’s performance, (but) it’s not threatening your skill level.”
Perlus said we live in a community where most people don’t shy away from a challenge, but having confidence is key to embracing competition. According to Perlus, people who like to compete typically feel that either they’re good at a certain sport or activity, they believe in their ability to improve even if they “may not be good now,” they’re not afraid of failure and see it as a learning opportunity, or they feed off another person’s energy or accomplishments, thinking “if he or she can do it, so can I,” she said.
Perlus doesn’t think one needs to be competitive to be healthy and fit. It all depends on your drive.
“Competition is extrinsic motivation,” Perlus said. “Intrinsic motivational fitness is the desire to learn and the desire to enjoy the experience. You don’t necessarily have to be involved in competition if that doesn’t get you going.”
However, Perlus admits that most of us are competitive on some level.
“I believe more people will get on a treadmill and sneak a peak at the person on their right or left to see how fast that person is going, or how long they’ve been at it, than not look,” Perlus said.
TOUGHING IT OUT TOGETHER
If you weren’t the kid in gym class determined to win at dodgeball or you’re perfectly fine with being Pauper of the Mountain, not King, then how can you kick your competitive spirit into gear and use it as a tool for motivation? Stone thinks team-oriented activities can be more motivating than trying to compete alone. The perfect example of this is obstacle course races like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, in which everyone is trying their best, and suffering together at the same time.
“People participating in an event (like) to be surrounded by people who are going through the same level of circumstances,” Stone said. “It’s not just about winning anymore, it’s not just about being on the podium. It’s about overcoming the odds and accomplishing what you previously thought was undoable.”
Especially on social media, comparing ourselves to others is seen as a negative thing, but for many fitness enthusiasts and amateur athletes in the area, seeing that someone beat your personal best only makes you want to step it up.
“Strava is the Swedish word for ‘strive,’” Cox said. “I’ve always strived to do better than I did the last time, to get faster. That’s usually the goal of the sport, to get better. So I think (competitive apps like Strava) is definitely a positive thing for training.”
Are people in the valley more crazy for competition than elsewhere? That’s hard to tell, but if Darwin is to be believed, we were all born like this and only the fittest will survive. One thing is for sure: The need to compete seems to be creeping more and more into our gyms, workout routines and smartphone apps. Many say they like it this way, and will likely be the first in line to sign up for the next impossible obstacle course someone dreams up.
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