I can separate my fitness into two categories: what I did on my own and what I accomplished working with others.
Alone, I attended group classes at 24 hour fitness. I ran a 15K. I lost weight and got healthy. All good things.
In a community, working with others, I learned how to box and took punches to the head until I figured out how to keep my guard up and use my jab. I competed in and won boxing matches, facing down opponents who terrified me. I went to nationals in amateur boxing, where I absolutely did not belong, but held my own against a vastly more experienced opponent. As a CrossFit athlete, I discovered my strength, my grit, and my persistence. I cried tears of frustration, brought down by what I couldn't do, and then felt the heart-soaring joy of accomplishing what I didn't think possible.
I would never have done any of this alone.
A recent article in the Atlantic, The Church of CrossFit, explored how fitness communities fill a spiritual and social need for the nonreligious. They definitely serve that function for some.
It's also worth emphasizing that connecting with a group of people in a physical setting will almost certainly improve your health, both physical and mental.
Feeling a connection with a place and with other people will keep you coming back. It will push you to try harder. Those things could result in weight loss, in improved fitness, in a better night's sleep.
As adults, we so often want to go it alone. It is possible to push yourself past your perceived limits by yourself, but you might miss out on forging personal connections that enrich your life.
Making a fitness connection doesn't have to happen in a CrossFit gym or a SoulCycle class.
A few months ago I took my kids to our local city pool during lap swim ($4 for adults, $2 for kids and seniors) so my son could practice for an upcoming swim test. After my son swam his laps, the kids played in the shallow end, open for recreational swim. A woman who looked to be in her mid 30s walked up to a lane and began to put on sunblock and adjust her goggles.
"Hey, where have you been?" a man in his 70s asked her. He had been swimming laps for about 30 minutes, but stopped to chat with the new arrival.
"How are the kids? How is work?" he asked, eager to catch up.
The woman talked about her vacation, her kids, how good it felt to be back in the water. The man told her how happy he was to see her again. Then she jumped in the water, and they were swimming side by side.