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Is Peer Pressure Prolonging Your Injury?

athletic injury peer pressure re-injury sports-injury the pain free athlete Jun 01, 2021

Peer pressure, the influence a group or individual has on your behavior, can be positive or negative. When we view it in relation to activity and sport, peer pressure can drive us to do more than we might on our own. This is great if we are lacking motivation and need that extra push to get going. For instance, on those days we don’t want to exercise, having the accountability and encouragement of a peer group is positive. Also, without that nudge from someone else, we might choose to stay home on the couch. However, this same aspect of peer pressure—which urges us to do more in the form of longer, harder or more frequent workouts—can be negative when we are recovering from an injury. To illustrate, consider this example from my friend Gina.

Gina’s Story

Gina enjoys hitting the trail to run with her canine companions several nights after work to unwind. Unfortunately, she’s been struggling with an injury. After a month off, she felt good enough to start again. As I often advise, she smartly began with a short, easy run of one mile to see how she felt. Please note that she wanted to see not only how she felt during the run but also how her body recovered the next day. Upon arriving home, her husband remarked, “Well, that was fast.” He was used to her running for several miles, which would’ve taken a bit longer. Then he added, “Since you felt good, why didn’t you go for two miles?” And herein lies the negative side of peer pressure.

By sharing Gina’s story, I’m providing you with a typical example of peer pressure. Although her husband’s intentions were meant as encouragement, if Gina had succumbed to this subtle form of guilt, she could’ve undone all the recovery work she had completed for the last month. Since she knew better, Gina’s urge, which she did not act on, was to hit him for his seemingly insensitive remark. I would have felt the same way!

How to Manage Peer Pressure

Gina was fortunate that her husband wasn’t out running with her. If he made the remark to keep going while they were running on the trail, it might have been harder for her to turn back. So clearly, the timing of the comment matters! We are more vulnerable and easily influenced when engaged in the activity and surrounded by the enthusiastic energy of others. Therefore, to prevent the temptation to overdo it, we need a solid strategy as we go into the activity. In order to do this, build your plan by following these five steps:

1. First, pre-determine your activity or workout.
Be specific in selecting what activity you will do, what distance or how long you will go, and at what intensity.

2. Second, track with technology.
Even I (Mrs. low-tech workout) carry a phone with me when I exercise. Although my purpose in taking my phone is for safety and music, you can track so much with your phone, online apps and other wearable devices. For example, you could set an alarm when it’s time to turn around, measure your miles, count your steps, track your speed, and so much more. Using these metrics will help you stick to your predetermined plan.

3. Third, communicate with your peers.
If you are exercising with others, make your intention for the workout clear at the beginning. This can reduce the likelihood that they will push you to do more during the activity. In other words, when you set expectations at the start, it is easier for you to enforce your boundary through a simple reminder if your peers prod you to do more later.

4. Fourth, follow through with your plan consistently.
Show your peers that you are committed to your plan and don’t give into their chiding. If you cave into their influence—even once—it indicates that you are not serious about your limits. Then, they will push you every time.

5. Fifth, consider solo exercise.
Sometimes after an injury, it is best to go it alone for a while, just until you feel confident enough to join the group. Nobody wants to feel like they are the slowest one holding everyone back. This is a recipe for pushing yourself beyond what is safe and risking re-injury.

In summary, when injured, peer pressure can compel you to do too much, too soon in your recovery. So, be sure that you are the one setting the agenda for your activity, not those around you. The above steps detail a plan for being true to yourself and your needs when exercising in the company of others. Take it at your pace and within your limits. That way, you can expedite your return to full activity and sport.

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