Finding Your Health and Fitness Tribe

Here's how to build friendships that keep you strong and fit for life

Group of men at a race
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Fitness-minded friends—every fit guy needs a few. They’re the people who offer support when you’re down. Who inspire you when you’re bored or lagging. Who keep you accountable and remind you why you started in the first place. And they’re the people who help you feel like less of a freak for wanting to do something as crazy as eat well and exercise. (Because let’s face, not everybody ‘gets it.’)

Social support (or lack thereof) has a lot of potential to boost our health and happiness (or make us sicker, fatter and sadder, depending on who we hang out with).

 Having fit friends around will increase your chances of succeeding in your fitness goals.  And make the whole fitness thing a lot more fun.

But building friendships can be a bit like building muscle. They don’t just ‘happen’ – they take a bit of effort on your part. Here’s how to find your fitness tribe.

Two Ways to Build Your Fitness Network

You can start to build your fitness network in two ways: Either find a new fit friend or do something fitness oriented with an old friend

I recommend doing both. It’s the best way to build your support system while strengthening existing bonds.

Finding a New Friend

There's this weird thing about growing up: making new friends can feel awkward. But it doesn’t have to be. A while back I learned a simple magic trick for doing it. Are you ready? Here it is:

“Hey.” [ smile ]

Yep, it’s just that simple.

Want to know how to put it into practice? Here’s an example.

If you belong to a gym, you probably see regulars. Next time you see one, smile and say hello. You don’t need a pickup line. This isn’t speed dating. It’s basic social interaction.

Next time you go to the gym, try having a short conversation with someone else there. You don’t have to discuss philosophy; just try 5 minutes of chatting.

Make eye contact, smile, and be pleasant.

One great conversation starter is praise. For example:

“Wow man, that is an impressive lift. Nice job.”

“I see you here most mornings – you're pretty dedicated! How do you do it?”

“I’ve been coming here for a while and I notice… [insert their progress here]”

Next time you see that guy, say hi again, and throw in another few minutes of shooting the breeze. Ask for a spot if you like. High-five him after a sweet bench press. Before you know it, the gym will be a much friendlier place.

Another option for finding new friends is to join a group activity. For instance:

  • Take a new class and be friendly when you do it.
  • Join a local running, cycling, hiking, or bootcamp group.
  • Check out what community centers, college continuing education, and/or local gyms have to offer.
  • Always wanted to try dragon boating? Horseback riding? Competitive horseshoes? Start Googling.

Here’s the trick: you gotta talk to people. Vow to say hello to at least two people every time you do the class.

Engaging Old Friends

You probably already have a good roster of ready-made fit friends. (They just don’t know it yet.) Start by thinking of who you already spend time with. Family members? Friends? Coworkers? Your kids?

Now, think about how you can spend time with them in a way that is physically active.

For example:

  • Play with your kids at the park. (Playgrounds are a great place to strength train, by the way.)
  • Swap out your usual date night activity (i.e. the movies and a bucket of popcorn) for something more active, like cycling, dancing, or hiking with your special someone.
  • Meet a friend for a workout or a fun physical activity instead of dinner/drinks.
  • Have “walking meetings” with your coworkers – solve your company problems outside during a brisk stroll.
  • Set up intramural sports at work. (Who knows, you may discover that the accounting department houses a herd of badminton fiends or that you can put together a powerlifting team of nurses.)

If your family/friends aren’t super-sporty, don’t despair. Just look for small ways to get moving, together.

Tribe-building takes time. But keep at it. And just like those biceps, your network is bound to grow.

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