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Thinking in Stages Helps A Person Get Started

You love triathlon. Your life has become increasingly organized around training and competition and it is only natural that you want to share the experience with your couch potato partner or best friend. You’ve read in Inside Triathlon that exercising together is one of the best ways for couples to cope with the stresses of training. But your efforts to persuade your partner to join you in your tri-endeavors seem to fall on deaf ears. How can you help introduce him or her to the joys of triathlon?

Researchers have found it helpful to think of exercising as a developmental process with distinct stages. These stages seem to follow the same logical sequence not only if a person is just beginning to exercise, but also if a regular exerciser is considering a new endeavor (such as recruiting your aerobically fit partner to do a triathlon, or your doing your first ultra-distance event). Different approaches for encouraging exercise are effective a different stages. Matching your efforts to the developmental stage is the key.

At the pre-contemplation stage, the notion of doing a triathlon isn’t even in the realm of possibilities. If your prospect is a non-exerciser, the person has no thoughts about starting to exercise anytime soon. If he or she already exercises, there are no plans of ever embarking into the world of triathlon. At this stage, the most effective intervention is simple education about the benefits of exercise and triathlon. With the non-exerciser, you talk of the improved health, concentration, mood and stamina. With the exerciser, you talk about the benefits of cross-training, the fun of group bike rides or masters’ swimming, and the sense of accomplishment from simply completing a triathlon. Take it easy though; it is incredibly easy for most tri-heads to overwhelm the uninitiated with their enthusiasm.

At the contemplative stage the person is considering exercise. He or she hasn’t exercised in the past six months, but is considering starting sometime in the next six months. At this stage it is important to build on the information about the benefits of exercise, shifting emphasis on how to start out right. Steven Jonas’s Triathloning for Ordinary Mortals is an excellent resource for individuals at this stage. It is informative, down-to-earth and goes a long way in eliminating the intimidation factor that is often associated with triathlon.

During the preparation stage persons are exercising some, but not on a regular basis (less than three times per week). At this stage, some good old-fashioned behavioral principles are most effective. If the triathlete-wannabe approaches you for help in goal setting, keep the goals realistic for his or her fitness level and experience. Commit to a specific target goal, such as doing a sprint triathlon towards the end of the season. Set realistic short-term goals, such as building up to two workouts in each sport per week. Encourage using visual aids such as a calendar or chart to keep track of regular progress towards the goal. Remember: the goal of a person’s first triathlon should be to finish.

During the action phase a person is in greatest danger of falling out of the exercise pattern. This is when one has been exercising regularly, but doing it for less than six months. Social support is crucial at this stage and you can have tremendous impact. Either train with the person, or help line up a regular training partner of comparable ability. Get the person involved with group rides or swims. Work together on time management issues, and integrating exercise into one’s lifestyle.

In the maintenance stage individuals have been exercising regularly for six months or longer— they’re hooked. They are budding tri-heads. At this phase, you want to educate the person about moderation, balance, recovery and ways to remain injury free. A word of caution: be careful of what you ask, for you may get it. Your new triathlon recruit may soon be nipping at your heels and rivaling your times. But dealing with friend/partner competition is for a later article…

Helpful Hints

Whether your partner or friend is a couch potato or already a regular fitness exerciser, these tips will help recruit him or her to the world of triathlon.

Keep it fun. When exercising with a person just starting out, keep your focus on the process of enjoying the time together. This is not the time to show how superior you are to the novice (If you do, be fore-warned; it may come back to haunt you as the person later leaves you in the dust).

Make it social. Group runs, group rides, group swims— all are important elements for making exercise a part of one’s lifestyle. Stop for bagels after the bike ride, or follow Karen Smyers’ lead to the nearest pub after that long afternoon run and carbo-load on a beer or two with the gang.

Provide appropriate instruction. The key word here is appropriate. Appropriate instructions mean you only give suggestions when asked. Focus on one or two elements at a time, and keep it simple. Use the positive feedback sandwich— start with saying something good, add the instructional “meat”, and then top it off with something positive or encouraging.

Think developmentally. Avoid recruiting the person to a task that is beyond their abilities. Nothing can destroy a novice’s motivation like being dropped after the warm-up of an 80-mile bike ride where the pack averages 20+ miles per hour.

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