Strength in Numbers
The benefits of working out
in a group are real
I’ll be honest. I used to prefer working out alone. Why? Because I could cheat. Look, I'm not proud of it. And, of course, the only person I was hurting was myself. But when there's little accountability, it's easy to cut corners. But then it hit me. Why put on the new sneakers and head to the gym if all I'm going to do is drop a set here, skip a machine there and spend more time on my phone than on my form?
So I enlisted the help of a personal trainer. And he introduced me to some fitness classes to help keep the workouts interesting. And since then, I've joined my local CrossFit gym where I regularly workout with the same group of people every morning. And the difference in my results has been huge. That's because it's a whole lot easier powering through the last round of squats when I can see the others around me struggling but succeeding. But what is it about exercising with others that motivates us—is it just peer pressure and accountability?
Group fitness isn't a new concept, but it has certainly seen a massive upswing over the last decade or so with rapidly rising numbers in spin cycling, yoga and dance classes, along with the emergence of bootcamps, CrossFit and other pack-like workouts. The tribe trend is making a big difference in our overall health too. Here's how.
It’s always easier to stay motivated when you’re surrounded by dedicated, like-minded individuals. And when you’re crunched on time or creativity, group fitness is an excellent way to get a proper workout in without having to think or plan. Each class is structured with a warm-up and a solid workout, followed by a cool-down. Consistency is key when it comes to fitness and working out with a crowd comes with social accountability that does your body good. An NIH study found that 95 percent of those who started a weight-loss program with friends completed the program, while those who tackled it solo saw a 25 percent decrease in success. The friend group was also 42 percent more likely to maintain their weight loss.
It’s much easier to hurt yourself when you’re solo, attempting something for the first time or utilizing a machine that you’re not exactly sure how to operate. Your group fitness classes will no doubt have people who are beginners and folks who are now experts. We beginners can learn from those experts and ensure that we’ve got proper form to keep ourselves from getting injured. Take advantage of having a spotter at your disposal. And in some instances, having a partner can even help you do exercises that you couldn’t do on your own. Think partner assisted pull-ups or medicine ball toss sit-ups.
No one wants to be the weakest link in a group setting. There’s actually a scientific term for this, known as the Köehler effect. When it comes to working out, this means you’ll push yourself harder when you see others (especially those you presume are fitter than you) working hard. Findings published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology proved just how powerful the effect really is—having participants perform plank moves alone and with a partner (whose performance was manipulated to always be better). Working out with a partner allowed the participants to hold their planks for a longer period of time, increasing their best solo plank time by nearly 25 percent.
Capitalize on those endorphins and boost your post-workout high by embracing the community aspect of a class or merely working out with a buddy. John Ford, certified exercise physiologist, says you get even more endorphins through smiling. “Smiling has been shown to increase endorphin levels,” he says. “So when you’re in a class or with a great bunch of people working out, that kind of conviviality can really make you feel good outside of just your runner's high.” That boost, he says, can help you feel more energized to complete a tough workout. Plus, a study published in the International Journal of Stress Management found (PDF) that people who exercised on a stationary bicycle for 30 minutes with a friend said they felt calmer after the workout than those who peddled by themselves.
A little competition is good for the soul. But too much of a winner-take-all mentality can make for a toxic environment for growth and encouragement. Just make sure that the group you’re in is a good one. If you feel your group is unsupportive, then find a new one. Fast.