Running in the 'Meda: Your routine - solo or shared?

Running in the 'Meda: Your routine - solo or shared?

Marty Beene

Team Alameda gathers for a group ride. Photo by Marty Beene.

When people are ready to start an exercise routine, they often don't know what options they have. One of the most basic differences in ways to exercise is whether to exercise with others or alone.

Each option comes with pros and cons, and many people enjoy both.

Exercising by yourself might mean you decide to take up walking, cycling, jogging/running, or maybe following exercise videos in your living room. Exercising with a group might have you taking a spin class, an aerobics class, doing Jazzercise, or even taking a ballet class (yes, there are beginning adult ballet classes you can take). You could choose to join a walking, cycling, or running group to do one or more of those with other people. There are also things like swimming or weight training where you might be doing the exercise alone, but with other people nearby in a pool or at a gym.

For the solo options, one of the pros is that you get some time to yourself. I find myself solving many of the world's problems when I'm out on a run by myself. (Or at least I figure out whether to take my bike to the shop before or after lunch.) Another pro of solo exercise is that you can decide when and where you do it without having to coordinate with others. You can be completely spontaneous and just grab your bike and go for a ride on a moment's notice.

But working out by yourself can get lonely, so it's also a potential negative. If you're concerned about safety, solo workouts can add an element of risk. For example, if I want to go for a bike ride in the hills by myself, I always stay out of the canyons (e.g., Pinehurst Road, Redwood Road) in case I have a mechanical issue I can't fix or if I were to crash - phone coverage can be spotty in places. I always wear my RoadID when I exercise alone outdoors.

Group exercise can be both fun and addicting. When my wife Pamela was actively Jazzercising, there were a couple years in a row that she did over 300 classes in a year! She also made many friends that are still good friends. Yes, a definite positive of exercising with others is the social contact. When our family joined the recreational cycling club Team Alameda several years ago, we not only got into great cycling condition, we made many friends for life.

When you're with a group (even one or two others), you put yourself in a safer situation, which is always good. But there are some drawbacks, most of which are the opposite of the pros of exercising alone. For example, the activity is usually at a set time, so there isn't much flexibility.

There's also a hybrid of solo and group exercise - that's where you work with a trainer or coach like me. Many people enjoy this option because they get immediate, direct input that is specific to them, such as running form, weightlifting technique, etc. It's also much easier to modify a workout on the fly if something isn't working or, for example, it turns out a person needs help working on a specific muscle or muscle group.

"But Marty, you're the expert - how do you like to exercise?"

I definitely like to mix it up. Since both solo and group exercise have notable benefits, I focus on those good things whenever I exercise. I recently started running with the lululemon (Berkeley) Wednesday evening "run club," which has been a great way to get to know a few new friends in the running community. If I want to do a longer bike ride where I want a little insurance in case of a mishap, I simply find another person or two or twenty to do that. When I'm in need of a little "me time," I'll go for a run by myself. And I do like going to the gym for strength workouts - even though I do my own thing, I enjoy saying "hi" to a few people I know, as well as watching others work out to get ideas for my own routine.

How do you like to work out?

In other news, remember last week when I wrote about how older athletes need more time to recover from workouts? Just a few days ago, I received the latest issue of USA Track & Field's "Track Coach" publication, which included a long article about coaching older runners. Guess what? Their section on recovery and frequency of intense workouts was almost exactly what I wrote! Glad we are on the same page!

Marty Beene, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and specialist in senior fitness and fitness nutrition, is owner of Be The Runner; he trains adults of all abilities individually and in groups. He can be reached at


Submitted by GM (not verified) on Sun, Sep 21, 2014

I appreciate the Track & Field article--it was full of good health info. for older women runners.