MASTER CLASS: Lasting friendships form naturally in Arkansas gyms and fitness centers

MASTER CLASS: Lasting friendships form naturally in Arkansas gyms and fitness centers

In my 20s I think I moved seven times between three different states. School and work opportunities presented themselves, and I eagerly immersed myself in each new adventure. I probably joined 10 different gyms throughout that period and found a new peer group every time.

It’s funny how you end up socializing with people who participate in the activities that you enjoy. My peer groups have generally revolved around volleyball, golf and working out. These are the activities I have chosen for my free time, and I have been rewarded with some fantastic friendships over the years.

My volleyball friend group was incredibly tight-knit in my early 20s. We played in leagues together, traveled to tournaments and shared so many triumphs.

Volleyball was the foundation of our commonality, although each of us was in different phases of life with altogether different goals. I played with women and men ranging from 15 years old all the way up to 50 and older during that time, and I remember finding value and connection in each relationship.

Gym friendships are a little bit different, as many interactions are just in passing. A short exchange is the norm — “good to see you” or “how’s it going?” Headphones often make people less approachable.

In my experience, the two best places to forge friendships in a fitness center or gym are the group exercise classes and through personal training.

Group exercise classes have a way of bonding the participants that is unlike other fitness experiences. Everyone is going through it together, and there is a connection that arises within the class each day. It’s difficult to explain to anyone who has not experienced it, but I have been a participant and the instructor, and I’ve seen it happen thousands of times.

Personal training, on the other hand, bonds the exerciser and the trainer. Hours and hours of training together require trust, loyalty and lots of sharing. Also, the personal trainer knows everyone who walks past. So there’s a great opportunity for introductions and social connection with others through the training relationship.

The past two years have presented the most difficult social challenge of my life. For someone who has spent a lifetime engaging with others through my activities, it’s been hard to feel withdrawn from people. As many of us are feeling “back to normal” with social opportunities presenting themselves on a more regular basis, this is a good time to notice those inspiring, delightful, powerful connections and think about why our fitness friendships matter.

This week’s exercise is a perfect group-exercise-class movement. While it allows the individual to appreciate how much a simple weight shift affects the whole body, that social network bubbles up through comments and faces made by other people nearby who are noticing the same effect.

The Cat Knead Plank is a variation of a traditional plank that requires a little creativity and imagination.

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1. Get in the “up” phase of a pushup and tighten the core muscles.

2. Lift the right hand off the floor and shift your weight to your left hand.

3. Now place the right hand back down and lift the left hand off the floor.

4. Continue this alternating pattern of lifting one hand off the floor and then the other as you continue to hold the abdominals tight.

5. You should feel the shifting focus of muscles each time you switch.

6. Perform two sets of 15 repetitions.

My prescription for the week is to meet someone new. Instead of the typical “how’s it going?” greeting in the gym, introduce yourself. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to create a friendship that lasts for a lifetime. Now, let’s get to work!

Director of population health solutions for Quest Diagnostics, Matt Parrott has a doctorate in education (sport studies), a master’s in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

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