Spring is a time of reawakening. It's the perfect time to get off the sidelines and into the action by adding a little element of competition into your fitness routine. Through competition, you can find the structure to get back on track and shake off a sluggish winter, as well as an element of challenge to take your performance to the next level.
While we often associate competition with top athletes vying for trophies, the reality is that any kind of competition that gets you out of your routine and your comfort zone can create positive changes that stick around long after this season ends. So whether you want to sign up for a softball league, run a half marathon, or just be a part of Future’s Spring Training Challenge, here are three key health, fitness, and life benefits that anyone can access through a little friendly competition.
From losing weight to gaining confidence, you can find plenty of exercise motivation from an internal, self-directed goal. While it’s impossible to succeed without any interior drive, it takes an insane amount of self-discipline to reach your full fitness potential without the accountability of an external force to keep you honest. When that’s missing, it’s all too easy to keep moving the goalposts, leaving you stuck in your comfort zone and going through the motions without making any progress.
Signing up for competition gets you out of your head and puts something on the calendar. Instead of saying “tomorrow” or “next week”, the introduction of a deadline gives you a specific training focus, making it much easier to institute the kind of structure that kicks your training into a higher gear. Committing to running a race, showing up for an event, or joining a league breeds the kind of accountability you just won’t get from working on your own, especially if you’re paying any fees or dues to compete. Whether it’s the fear of failure or a specific performance target that’s driving you forward, introducing any kind of competitive element to your fitness routine will enhance your intent — which in turn leads to enhanced results.
Athletic competition is easy to misinterpret as a cutthroat, everyone-for-themselves venture. But the truth is, there’s no better way to get out of your bubble and find a group of people with whom you share both an interest and a goal. Instead of feeling like you have to sweat in secret, joining forces with other competitors can help you crowdsource a plan for training success, while connecting you to accountability and encouragement when you need it most. Best of all, you can celebrate your success alongside others who know exactly quite literally what it feels like to be in your shoes.
Even if you aren’t teaming up with existing friends to train, you won’t have to go too far out of your way to find your tribe. For example, the organizational body behind your first half marathon may have a run club you can join, full of people looking for the same exact kind of support and camaraderie you’re after. Not only can that run club take the guesswork out of planning your long runs, it’ll also make each mile a lot less lonely. On race day, you’ll find that the course is thronged with people cheering you on, not to mention friends and loved ones waiting to celebrate your dedication and achievement at the finish line.
Even if distance running isn’t your competitive cup of tea, there are supportive fitness communities centered around pretty much any form of movement that involves a timed, scored, or graded element. Crossfit gyms are just one example, but there are plenty of other specialized fitness environments where elements of competition and community come together. From rock climbing gyms to pickleball leagues to even spots for pickup basketball or soccer, there are plenty of ways where you can get in on the action, find advice, and forge new friendships.
While it’s great to link up with a community that shares your athletic interests, there’s nothing wrong with finding support a little closer to home. Whether it’s a friend, family member, colleague, or coach, chances are there’s already someone in your circle who’d be happy to provide the accountability and encouragement you’re looking for. It’s great if they have some experience with your sport or activity of choice. But as long as they care enough about you to understand your goal and how much it means to you, then you’ve got someone who can help you stay on track through all the highs and lows.
Especially when you have this kind of support and accountability, you don’t even need a specific event in order to introduce an element of competition. Work with your accountability partner to establish a meaningful reward that you can earn in addition to any health and fitness goals, and define what it should take to earn it. Whether it be a weekend getaway, that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing, or even just a little cash, your desire to win that prize will stoke your competitive fire, and change your approach to exercise and nutrition for the better. Which brings us to our next point…
Remember the part about needing a lot of self-discipline to hit your goals without something external to push you along? As it turns out, the act of preparing for competition can reshape your sense of self-discipline, helping your health and fitness begin transforming for the better long before the finish line or the final whistle.
This happens because competition encourages you to respond to everyday situations in a new way. Without any competition on the calendar, it’s easy to see a rainy morning as just another chance to hit snooze and get some extra sleep. After all, what’s the rush to get out there when you set the agenda and there’s no real deadline to getting fit? But once there’s something tangible to train for, sleeping in and skipping a workout can leave you with the nagging feeling that you could’ve done more to prepare. Once you’re coaxed out of bed and moving, you’ll also find that starting your day with exercise can give you a mental boost, due at least in part to the fact that you’re making day-to-day decisions that are consistent with your longer-term goals.
Competition’s ability to instill discipline can also change how you see the value of proper nutrition. When weight loss is your only benchmark, it can be all too easy to fixate on calories in and calories out. But when you have something to train for, food is the fuel you need to make your next training session count. When the consequences of choosing a guilty pleasure over something rich in key macronutrients is more immediate than the number on the scale, it’s easier to perceive the connection between a shorter-term sacrifice and hitting your longer-term goals.
By changing the framework you use to evaluate the decisions, you can positively impact your physical and mental health. Once those benefits reveal themselves, the process of training becomes self-sustaining. But without the element of competition to create a sense of obligation, the cycle of positive change may never have begun.
On top of these benefits of competition, there’s no feeling like the sweaty, exhausted satisfaction that comes from knowing you gave it your all. If you truly buy into what the process has to offer, everything you deal with in the days, weeks, and months leading up to your event will have been worth it. And before you know it, you’ll probably be itching to get back out there again. And with the barriers that once held you back now broken down, you’ll feel even more amped up to test your limits and grow your comfort zone.