The term “tribe” has become a trendy term lately. Marketing gurus have learned they can build successful brands not by targeting to a mass market, but rather to smaller fragments of passionate, like-minded people they call “tribes.” That’s important to consider when you are trying to become fired up about something, like working out or adopting a healthier lifestyle. Is the general population of Sysco food eaters going to rally for organic, non-gmo or non-factory farmed brands? Doubtful. Will the rank and file of McMuffin-and-coffee-for-breakfast consumers go out of their way for quinoa and kale salad lunches? Not likely. But tribes will because they are devoted believers in what they do. And if you spend enough time with them, they will start to rub off on you too.
This is why the term “tribe” has become a meme in the fitness world. The Western world has given us too many choices. Too many TV channels, too many brands of every product you can think of and too many ways to get fit. When I started working out regularly and teaching fitness classes, there were just a few choices in the gym. The Stairmaster was the hot new cardio machine giving treadmills and stationary bikes a run for their money. Group classes were some kind of “aerobic” dance and Step classes were just starting to explode. And the weight lifters generally followed the three-set rule, working one muscle group at a time. Compared to today, having limited choices sounds like a communist dictatorship. Even though this was only a few short decades ago, the entire gym-going population was itself a tribe. Now, there are myriad tribes within that tribe. And, beyond the gym, food predilections also break down into tribes. So, if you’re trying to adopt a new, health-conscious lifestyle, where to start?
Enter the lone wolf. The person who follows no trend and prefers solitude over social stimulation when exercising. This is the person who puts on their headphones and heads out for a jog alone, a hike, watches a TV show while on the elliptical machine or who lifts their weights in a particular order, following the same routine day in and day out. I often think of this blog post from HuffPost editor Nicholas Miriello, who is adamant about working out alone.
So what’s the right choice? There are two important things to consider. What is your goal and how self-disciplined are you?
When I was a teen, I’d get really down on myself for my lack of discipline. I was astounded by my friends who’d get up at 5 a.m. for their swim teams or go to Long Island for horseback riding lessons. Basically, I was lazy and had the opposite of a Tiger Mom. Honestly, she was more like Sloth Mom, so asking her to keep me on track, much less take me somewhere at 5 a.m. wasn’t going to happen. I knew I was going to have to rely on myself for motivation. It was hard and it took years, but eventually I did become the healthy, super fit person I always wanted be.
In today’s world, with online health and fitness communities, apps a-go-go that connect you with others, YouTube, big-box gyms, boutique specialty studios and workouts for every conceivable proclivity, it’s easy to find a tribe that appeals to you. The beauty of the tribe is having a built in support system and others to rely on for motivation and accountability. If you want to reach a goal faster, then getting help from others is a lot easier than going alone. The pack of wolves will likely catch their prey faster than the lone one.
There is one downside to the whole tribal thing. That’s when the tribe becomes a “cult.” In health and fitness obsession is a sword that cuts both ways. When the needs of the many gets negated by the wants of a few, it’s time to run. (Didn’t Mr. Spock say that?) In any case, be careful of being brainwashed, there are fanatics out there!
Perhaps my friend and colleague Amy Dixon, celebrity fitness expert and creator of the Breathless Body Series, sums it up best. “There is power in numbers and by being a member of a fitness tribe people are more likely to be successful in meeting their fitness and health goals,” she says. “Fitness tribes build camaraderie and inspire people to push a little harder than they would if they were exercising alone.”
Are you in a fitness tribe? Are you a defector from a tribe or a lone wolf? Share your experience on Twitter!