Team PH Debate: Is it better to train alone or in a group?

By Chris Knight | 8 Minute Read

Do you prefer to train on your own or with a group of like-minded athletes? It can be difficult to work out which approach might be right for you as the solitary sessions might become boring, while group workouts sometimes bring unwanted distractions. 

Andy has looked at which method might be better for you in a separate blog, while we've spoken to several elite athletes from Team PH to find out when & why they prefer to train alone or with other athletes...

 

Training Alone? 

Sarah Crowley (finished 3rd at the 2019 IM World Championships in Hawaii):

I need solitude for some parts of the year. At the end of the day, I love triathlon but I really don’t like getting caught up talking about it all of the time. Having said that, I like being in a group for the social support, fun and enjoyment of being around others, so my own preference will depend on how I'm feeling at that time. 

I like the fact that when I train alone there's no noise, I can focus on me and what I achieve is kept private. I've also got the flexibility of choosing my own routes and there's no danger of going 'gung-ho' by racing others in training, albeit being on your own can make you feel isolated and the competitiveness that training in a group provides can be useful at times. 

 

Sarah Crowley

 

Allan Hovda (a seven-time finisher of the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon, including wins in 2014, 2015 & 2018):

[Like most good things in life] alone is good, two can be better, three is a crowd.

Many find training alone can be uninspiring and boring, but personally I do enjoy pushing my body and focusing on nothing other than my own breath. It makes it easier to work to my own pace and intensity, while it's my time for meditation and mindfulness. 

Most humans are social animals and athletes are no exception. Training together with someone else is more fun and can enable you to push harder than you would be able to alone. It's a double-sided coin though as there's a high possibility that you push yourself harder than needed when around other athletes, especially in the easy session. 

 

Kat Rye (the ETU Middle Distance European Champion): 

For me, both have advantages. I would prefer to train with a group but I do most of my training alone as it's the best way for me to fit in quality training and make effective use of my time.

It's undoubtedly more fun sharing the pain with other people and it's a good chance to learn, but there's always the danger that you end up pushing yourself too far in a competitive session. I like to stick to my own training plan and ultimately answer to myself.

 

Claire Hann (winner of IM 70.3 Jönköping):

I do most of my training on my own. I might do a couple of sessions a week with other people but most of the time I do my own thing. My coach sets my plan, and it's quite prescriptive, so it's easier to do on my own.

By training on my own I can plan my day and schedule my sessions at optimal times more easily. It's worth remembering that every athlete has different goals, strengths and weaknesses so it's quite unlikely that you'll have someone who'll have exactly the same plan as you. So training together might have to involve compromise or adaptation on someone's part.

By training on your own you can do exactly what your coach wants you to do and fit each session around your day and any commitments you might have. But you are only accountable to yourself, you have no one to push you, so you have to be very self-motivated and focused.

If you find you really thrive in a group set-up, a small compromise on time/speed/session length is worth it because you may be happier and more able to push yourself with other people. And if you train with a group you are accountable to someone other than yourself. For example, if you're not feeling like riding your bike it's harder to force yourself out of the door on your own. But if you know you're meeting a training partner at a certain time you don't want to let them down so that's an extra push to make sure you go!

 

 


Taylor Rogers (won 35-39 Age Group in his first ever Ironman race at Barcelona, 2018):

All my training is done alone. It's my time to think (or 'zone out') and just do my own thing. It means I can focus on the task at hand and train without having to consider others.

It can get lonely and monotonous out there on your own all the time, but then training with others always involves a bit of compromise, in terms of workout, pace, sets, etc. It's a difficult balancing act. 

 

Training with a group?

Claire Cashmore (4 x Paralympian + the reigning World and British champion):

I'm 100% someone who loves training with someone else or a group because they push me along and through harder sessions. I can see the benefits of training alone as it gives you time to clear your head and get in tune with your body, but I do find it very dull and lonely.

I'm a bit of a chatterbox so can get a little bit distracted when in a group, but the benefits of being around other people outweighs my propensity for chatting.

 

Chris Palfreyman (finished 7th in 30-34 Age Group at ITU Long Distance World Championships):

A combination of training alone and with other athletes really works for me.

I've been lucky to have a few different training partners on my doorstep, including the one and only Team PH captain Brad Williams, so sharing the pain massively helps keep some sort of social life even in the big training blocks, particularly when sessions get tough and long.

Group training brings added stimulus, motivation and opportunities for leaning - swimming with better swimmers has really helped me push my own limits - although the worry for me with group training is whether the sessions are really tailored to my own race calendar and objectives.

Training alone can be good in order to embrace some silence when you're an Ironman as there will be plenty of hours during the race where you'll need to be comfortable within your own head. It's easier to have excuses if you aren't chasing someone during hard efforts, especially on cold and wet nights, so it can become an isolating sport is you do every session on your own during the year.

 

Hamish Reilly (2018 Leeds Castle Sprint Triathlon winner):

For me personally, I hate training alone - I find it boring and would much prefer to train with a group or another person. There are benefits to training alone as you can just focus on yourself, but I'm much more in the 'group' camp nowadays. 

This may be because I've always had to train alone in the past, but now I'm with a new training group, which I find more enjoyable and challenging.

I find that training with another person motivates me to push harder and dig deeper. It also gives me a reason to start a session on time rather than delaying the inevitable and thinking about the oncoming pain!

It makes the training fun and enjoyable as you have a person to socialise with and they get to experience your pain with you! A strong-minded group can help you keep focused during certain sessions too.  

 

Neil Eddy (2019 ITU Long Course World Champion 30-34 Age Group):

It depends on the sessions but if at all possible I will always find people to train with, especially during long rides or runs. I can always adapt the session to add on some miles before or after if they don’t want to train as far, so there's always ways to change things up if your group are of different abilities.

A group makes training so much more enjoyable, it makes you accountable to turn up, and it makes you work harder. An added benefit of training with others are the extra coffees you inevitably drink on group rides.

Sometimes it can be more time costly as you might have to travel to a meeting point or venue, but the positives far outweigh the negatives for sure.

 

So, there you have it, the general consensus from Team PH is that there are relative benefits and negatives to both training alone and training with others. As Andy wrote in his blog, finding the right balance between the two can help ensure you're getting the most out of your training sessions and Team PH have given us plenty to consider ahead of planning our next training block.

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