It’s become commonplace to consider exercise as just being about slogging it out to exhaustion, testing your mental fortitude and endurance, followed by a social media post chronicling the sweaty results. How have we so quickly forgotten the critical role relationships play in how we live our lives, the community we live in, and the connection we need? Humans are social beings and the people we surround ourselves with can fundamentally shape our relationship with exercise, with ourselves, and the world we live in.
As an athlete, my teams have been a huge motivating force throughout my professional career, and Chicks Who Rides Bikes was founded on the bedrock of these relationships and the importance they play in empowering ourselves and those around us. We strive to encourage, enable and empower other women to begin their fitness journeys.
If there’s one take away from my journey, it’s the idea that fitness doesn’t have to be a solitary experience. There is immeasurable value in the way pack mentality can enhance our exercise routine, help build confidence, foster new relationships and develop long-lasting (good) habits along the way.
Social training can drive performance
Research shows that working out with others can positively impact our desire to keep exercising and even determine how much effort we put into our workout. We gravitate towards the behaviour of those around us. Like setting pace in a cycling race or group ride, we’re motivated to match — and in some instances, overpower — the speed of the pack, and we might not even realise it.
This doesn’t necessarily mean social training is about competition; rather, training alongside others can encourage us to get out of our heads and comfort zones.
From understanding the ins and out of why certain clothing types are best suited for certain activities (hint: cyclists wear lycra for a reason and it's not just fashion!) to the technical ins and outs that can help you avoid injury — the greatest lessons I’ve learned about my sport of cycling was done thanks to more experienced riders pointing things out and helping me evolve my technique and my thinking. There are some things you need to experience with people alongside you and not just read about.
Friendship is the best motivator
I may have grown up around cycling, but becoming a mum and starting a new career took a huge toll on my motivation. With my focus divided on so many things, remembering to prioritise my fitness was challenging and I wasn’t sure how to get back to the sport I loved.
Indoor cycling has given me a new lease on life. Spin classes are definitely an option if you love going to the gym, but for time-poor women looking to incorporate low impact and easy exercise into a crazy schedule, virtual experiences like Zwift are a gateway to social exercise, minus the time commitment.
Making new friends can be the best motivator for a workout. Fact is, as an adult, it’s not easy to make new connections. A lot of us rely on people we work with, the circles of our spouse or family, and people we grew up around. And while there’s nothing wrong with this, joining a fitness group or #ridetribe can not only expand your friendship circle in numbers, but in diversity, too.
Chicks Who Ride Bikes’ online group rides may have started as a way to introduce cycling to others, but it’s quickly become much more than that. Our group rides on Zwift are a way to connect, share advice and empower others in an organic, safe and semi-anonymous forum.
And with riding being the common ground keeping us together, as opposed to our upbringing or neighbourhood, I’ve been able to connect with so many different types of people from all walks of life.
Go beyond the superficial
Before competing as a professional cyclist, I grew up riding my bike with my dad and sister around the streets of Parramatta in Western Sydney. Cycling is a part of my DNA — riding has given me confidence, freedom and community, and it’s this perspective on exercise that I’ve taken to each race and group ride since. Growing up, it also gave me an invaluable way to connect with my Dad, a relationship to this day I cherish.
Women face so much scrutiny for how they look and with the advent of social media, there is no escaping ourselves on the screen. Women’s bodies are prodded and commodified, and the pressure to exercise can sometimes be a part of that.
Look at any form of media and you will be bombarded with airbrushed women promising, in some way, that if you buy this product and look a certain way, your life will finally begin.
Social training can be a reminder to go beyond the superficial and consider exercise as a form of adventure, camaraderie, achievement and belonging. Forced to interact with people around me, I’m not trapped in negative thought spirals, and can feel motivated by others doing their best.
For me, indoor cycling has the additional benefit of showing my kids what it looks like to see their mum working hard. They cheer me on and encourage me when I’m riding, and even at three and five, my girls understand what it means to be fit and healthy.