Anyone who has been part of an exercise group probably knows the power and benefits of group exercise. Exercise group members often identify with their group and develop a sense of “we” or belonging.
Having this sense of “we” is associated with many benefits, including life satisfaction, group cohesionsupport and show confidence. Additionally, group attendance, exertion, and higher exercise volume are more likely when people identify strongly with an exercise group. Belonging to an exercise group seems like a great way to support an exercise routine.
But what happens when people can’t count on the support of their exercise group?
In our kinesiology lab at the University of Manitoba, we’ve begun to answer that question. People can lose access to their exercise group when they move house, become parents, or take on a new job with a tough schedule. In March 2020, many group practitioners lost access to their groups due to the limits on public gatherings that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.
Identify with a group
To understand whether becoming attached to an exercise group makes it harder to exercise when the group is unavailable, we asked exercise group members how they would react if their exercise group was not was no longer available to them. People who identified strongly with their group were less confident about their ability to exercise alone and thought this task would be difficult.
We found similar results in two studies that have not yet been peer-reviewed, in which we looked at how users reacted when they lost access to their exercise groups due to restrictions on the COVID-19 on group gatherings. Again, athletes with a strong sense of “we” felt less safe to exercise alone. This lack of confidence may have stemmed from the challenge of members having to go “cold turkey” about group participation, and suddenly losing the support and accountability the group has provided.
Moreover, the strength of practitioners’ group identity was not related to the amount of exercise they did alone after losing their group. Users’ sense of belonging to the group may not translate into skills that help them exercise on their own. Some athletes we interviewed reportedly stopped exercising altogether during the pandemic restrictions.
These findings are consistent with other research which suggests that when exercisers become dependent on others (in this case exercise leaders), they have difficulty exercising alone.
What could equip group exercisers with the skills and motivation to exercise independently? We believe that exercising role identity can be key. When people exercise with a group, they often form an identity not only as a member of the group, but also with the role of someone who exercises.
Identifying oneself as an exerciser (exercise role identity) involves viewing exercise as central to one’s own sense of identity and behave in accordance with role of exerciser. This may mean exercising regularly or making exercise a priority. Research shows a reliable link between the identity of the role of exercise and exercise behavior.
Group exercisers who have a strong exercise role identity may be in the best position to continue exercising even when they lose access to their group, because exercise is central to their sense of purpose. ‘identify.
To test this idea, we examined how user role identity related to group users’ feelings about exercise alone. We found that in hypothetical and real situations where practitioners lost access to their group, people who identified strongly with the practitioner role were more confident in their ability to exercise alone, found this task less difficult and exercised more.
In fact, some athletes said they saw the loss of their group during the pandemic as just one more challenge to overcome and focused on opportunities to exercise without having to worry about team schedules or training preferences. other group members. These findings suggest that having a strong sense of “me” may provide exercise group members with the tools to exercise independently of the group.
Advantages of “we” and “me”
Group exercises have undeniable advantages. Exclusively solitary practitioners do not benefit from the advantages of group cohesion and group support. As experts in exercise adherence, we highly recommend group exercise. However, we also argue that athletes who rely too heavily on their bands may be less resilient in their independent exercise, especially if they suddenly lose access to their band.
We believe it is wise for group users to favor a user role identity in addition to their practice group identity. What might that look like? Practitioners can clearly define what it means to them personally to be an independent practitioner of the group, or pursue certain goals with the group (for example, training for a fun race with group members) and other goals alone (for example, running a race at their fastest pace).
Overall, if you’re looking to support your exercise routine and stay flexible in the face of challenges, having a sense of “we” is great, but don’t lose sight of your sense of “me.”
Sasha Kullman, a student in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management at the University of Manitoba, co-authored this article.