From Exercising to Training
Sheri Villani, 38, an office manager from Kenosha, Wisconsic, initially started participating in triathlons to lose weight. Four years later and 30 pounds thinner, she says she continues to work out because she absolutely loves training and competing in triathlons.
The competitive fire fuels the active lifestyles of many women, and experts say setting event goals is a strong lifelong motivator for staying fit. Sport psychologist Jenny Susser, Ph.D., of the Women's Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City believes competition brings meaning to every workout. It provides an excellent format for goal setting, which is an invaluable motivational tool.
Preparing for events motivates women in a number of ways, including the satisfaction of accomplishing specific goals and of seeing progress (achieving faster PRs or completing longer races), the structure and sense of purpose that following a training schedule adds to daily workouts, and the camaraderie and encouragement of training partners and team members.
But Segar notes that not everyone has the same level of competitive drive, and women need to individualize their motivation by making sure their goals are realistic and don't discourage more than they encourage an active lifestyle. "Not every athlete competes to win," says Segar. "For some women simply entering an event can be as powerful a motivator as an Olympic competition," adds Susser.
But, if competition is one of the main motives for physical activity, what happens when time eventually erodes performance gains? Many women adapt by accepting slower PRs, but still enjoy seeing how hard they can push themselves. For some, however, fading PRs, nagging injuries or diminished interest may force a major restructuring of their outlook toward physical activity.
Its quite common for athletes to drop out of regular exercise when the competitive fires go out, notes Moore. To stay healthy and active for as long as possible, athletes driven primarily by performance gains or competitive desires eventually need to focus on the other things they value about being physically active.
"One must dig deeper to find a more lasting and meaningful purpose for taking good care of physical fitness and well-being," says Moore.