Fitness and the introvert: Why I don’t want to join your running group or teach a group fitness class

wildflowerquteSometimes I feel a sense of longing when I see a big group of runners or cyclists out for their long Sunday run or ride, chatting away about their families, race goals and interests. What a great way to pass the time, I think, to socialize and get your long training run done at the same time.

But I will never join a running group. At least not regularly. I prefer to run and workout alone.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy company on my training runs or dislike training with a group. I love going on trail runs with a small group of friends once a week or long marathon training runs with my friend Debbie, who often plays running model for my trail run blog posts.

The thing is, I’m a textbook introvert. Sometimes when I read about the typical character traits of the introvert personality type, I think Carl Jung had me in mind when he more or less identified them:

  • You enjoy solitude.
  • Dislike small-talk, but enjoy in-depth conversations about topics that interest you.
  • People say you are a good listener.
  • You like to think about and choose your words carefully before speaking.
  • You dislike conflict.
  • You prefer to work alone and without interruptions.
  • When you’re stressed or need to recharge, you spend a few days alone by yourself.
  • Often express yourself through writing.
  • People describe you as “soft-spoken” or “mellow”.
  • You like people, you just don’t want to be around them all the time.
  • You don’t normally like to take the lead, but will step up when no one else will.

When I run, I use that time to think and recharge. It’s just something I need to do to be able to function during my nine-to-five. It’s also another reason why I get up hours before the sun does. If I were to work my nine-to-five and then meet with a running group before dinner for a training run on a regular basis, I’d be useless, drained and irritable.

ap,550x550,12x16,1,transparent,t.u1While they majority of the population — who leans more towards the extroverted-side of the personality trait scale — may think us introverts are stuck-up, shy, weird or crazy, it’s actually not something we can help. According to Brenda Knowles of space2live.net (a wonderful resource for introverts and extroverts who live with introverts), introversion is an innate temperament, not a choice. An introvert’s brain composition is actually different from an extrovert’s, who tends to have more dopamine (associated with movement, learning and attention) in their primary blood flow pathways in the brain and a shorter, less complex dominate pathway of blood flow than we do. This means that while our brains integrate complex intellectual and emotional information better, it requires more time to do so. We also get our energy from time alone as opposed to extroverts, who get it from being social with others. According to Knowles:

“Introverts find satisfaction in thinking, feeling, dreaming, and ideas. Introverts are rarely lonely when they are alone. Solitude is where we find the quiet necessary to tap into the inner well and achieve clarity. Many introverts need long blocks of uninterrupted time in order to complete a project or renew themselves. We may appear to be aloof or self-centered but in truth we are mulling over the activities and conversations of the outside world to see how our internal world compares.”

Obviously, running, cycling and other solo endurance sports are perfect activities for us introverts. Growing up, I never played team sports, and aside from having terrible hand-eye coordination, I think this might be why I did (and still do) have an aversion to team sports. I like going to the gym, but love working out at home even more. I don’t mind spin classes, but would rather pop in an exercise DVD to get a high-intensity interval training workout.

Introversion in the fitness industry

Being a fitness writer and blogger is perfect for an introvert. I get to speak my mind and share information from behind a laptop screen in the comfort of my home. I get to socialize online with other like-minded bloggers and fitness enthusiasts over topics important to us, instead of muddling my way through small talk in social situations. But when it comes to being a strength coach, my introversion can get in the way sometimes. I love coaching clients one-on-one, but when I do it’s usually after a full day’s work and I’m already feeling drained. I want my clients to have good quality coaching, so I really need to muster up energy in order for this to happen. Though I have yet to teach a group class (and to be honest, this doesn’t really appeal to me), I have given a few talks in front of a group of about 10-20 triathletes about nutrition. Since it’s a subject I’m passionate about and because I genuinely want to help, I do it — even though I hate public speaking and feel nervous for days beforehand. I know the more I practice the easier it will get, so I will continue to get myself out there until I become comfortable. I know that if I truly want to be helpful in the industry I can’t just preach from behind my computer all the time.

Although I’ve become more accepting of my introverted self these past few years (thanks to sites like space2live), my personality traits are often considered “negative” characteristics. Since as far back as I remember, despite getting straight As in school, most teacher’s would deduct marks for my failure to participate in group activities, and would tell my parents that I’m too quiet and need to speak up more in order to really excel. Even now during my yearly performance review at work, the only negative comment I get is usually, “She doesn’t speak up in meetings, she needs to share ideas more.” Luckily, modern workplaces are starting to realize they can’t change us introverts, and that there is nothing wrong with our way of working. Unlike an extrovert who usually speaks their mind at the first possible moment, an introvert needs time to process the information they’re receiving before giving an opinion.

Though I may never be a bubbly, outgoing group fitness instructor or personal training guru speaking in front of thousands at a health and fitness conference, I will still do my best in my quiet capacity to help others reach their health and wellness goals. And if I decline going for a group run with you, it’s not because I’m antisocial — I may just need the time to recharge.

What’s your personality type? Are you an introverted fitness instructor or an introvert wanting to start your fitness journey and hate the idea of group classes?

– B