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Fitness groups often provide support, accountability, inspiration, and human connection. But like any group endeavor, such communities also have their downsides. Our experts share their top three concerns, plus strategies to help you steer clear of trouble.

Pitfall No. 1: Loss of Perspective

There’s a difference between a demanding-but-rewarding hobby and a damaging, obsessive pursuit. It can be difficult to recognize when you’ve crossed the line, especially because exercise is considered a healthy activity.

Solution: Pay attention to the rest of your life

Is your job suffering? How about your relationships? Do you feel less confident and less energetic than you did before? If you answer yes to any of these questions, says LA Tri Club managing director Deb Carabet, you might want to take a close look at your fitness practice and possibly talk to someone about pulling back or reframing your routine. (She notes that your coach or fellow exercisers might not be qualified to recognize such problems.)

Pitfall No. 2: Competition That Turns Ugly

Friendly competition can sometimes become twisted, leading to hurt feelings and lasting resentments. Sports psychologist David Light Shields, PhD, calls this “decompetition” — a contest or rivalry in which competitors approach a friendly foot race or lifting contest as a war to be won. Opponents become enemies and the prospect of losing becomes an existential threat. Decompetition can dampen enjoyment of the game or activity, notes Shields, and ultimately lead to quitting what was once a rewarding and healthy pursuit.

Solution: Reconnect to your “why”

One of the benefits of belonging to a fitness community is the sense of purpose that comes from being part of something larger than yourself, says Life Time’s national Alpha manager, David Freeman. Take time to verbalize why you work out, why you are a part of this group, and what you get out of it. Try journaling or talking to your coach or a workout buddy. Chances are, you’re not there to wage an imaginary war against your friends. Remembering why you do what you do will refocus your efforts.

Pitfall No. 3: Burnout and Injury

Being part of a group has been shown to improve performance and accountability, helping you push harder. Unfortunately, this might not line up with your current fitness level or the circumstances of your life. Pushing too hard in a workout could lead to unnecessary soreness. Outside of the gym, a new baby or a heavy workload might compromise sleep and nutrition. Without rest and recovery, the workouts set you up for injury, loss of energy, and diminished interest in exercise.

Solution: Know yourself — and make sure you’re joining the right group

Follow your intuition and pay attention to physical, mental, and emotional markers. If you experience burnout or injury, talk to your coach about making adjustments to your workouts and possibly taking time off to recuperate. Your community will encourage your modifications, and if you choose to take a break, it’ll always be there for you when you’re ready and feeling well.

It also might be worth considering whether your fitness group is still the right place for you: Like all relationships, community ties sometimes fray. There is no shame in seeking out a new group that suits your goals and preferences.

At their best, says Freeman, fitness communities aren’t even about physical accomplishments: “We’re there to help others be the best version of who they are. And we want our members to pass that on to everyone around them — to help others be No. 1 in their daily walk.”

This originally appeared as “3 Solutions for Overcoming Group Pitfalls” in “Fit Together” in the December 2018 print issue of Experience Life.

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