Group exercise is very popular: nearly 40% of regular exercisers take part in group fitness classes. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the American College of Sports Medicine predicted that group fitness would be one of the top three fitness industry trends in 2020 – for good reason.
Exercise has clear benefits for your health and wellbeing, and the side effects — think lowered blood pressure, better glycemic control, better sleep — are overwhelmingly positive. And group training can have particularly beneficial effects.
If you’re considering joining an online group class — or have been encouraged by others — here are some research-based reasons why it might be a great idea.
Everyone does it, why not you?
The other people influence your attitudes and emotional responses to exercise. That is to say, they can affect how you feel about exercising, which is key in determining whether you do it or not. If you get to know other people who exercise regularly, you begin to see exercise as more positive, common, desirable and feasible.
Psychology and Exercise Researchers like us know that people are influenced by those around them in different ways. Know other people who lift weights or take a spinning class influences your explicit and implicit attitudes – your thoughts and feelings – about exercise.
It also shapes what are called social norms: your perceptions about whether other people exercise and whether you think you should.
Having fun with friends is motivating
Even if you have already decided that exercise is something you want to do and intend to do, there is different types of motivation who can determine if you succeed in start and maintain exercise. Exercising with others can boost those motivations.
The highest quality or type of motivation is called intrinsic motivation – you do something because the behavior itself is enjoyable, satisfying, or both. If you love the exercise and not just the positive feelings you get after working out, you’re more likely to stick with it. Exercising with other people can provide that pleasure, even if the activity itself is difficult or otherwise not something you enjoy. Exercising in a group can turn working out into a fun social activity, which might inspire you to keep doing it.
Exercising with others can also meet some basic psychological needs. Any type of exercise can help someone feel in control of their choices, but the social support of a group can strengthen the sense of autonomy. Likewise, group exercise can increase feelings of mastery – through increasing skill, for example, in spinning or stepping. And it will definitely increase your connection with others. People naturally choose to follow long-term fulfilling behaviors and they promote mental health – a win-win.
On the other hand, the exercise seems less convincing if your motivation is extrinsic – for example, someone else tells you to exercise or you do it mainly to lose weight. In this case, sticking to a fitness regimen becomes less likely and less rewarding. Likewise, if the extrinsic factors go away — maybe you lose weight or decide you don’t care about the number on your scale anymore — then the motivation to exercise will likely go away too.
Friends help make it a habit
Exercising with others can make the whole process easier and more habitual. Friends can be your cue as well as your reward for exercise.
First, you look to others to learn how to do things, and it’s a human tendency to model your behavior on those you see around you. When you watching others sweathe can start boost your confidence in your own ability to exercise – psychologists call this belief in oneself self-efficacy. You can then tendency to model your behavior after the others too. This is very important when starting a new exercise routine because how much you believe in your own ability to take that yoga class or try new equipment at the gym will predict whether you try.
Second, friends can remove some of the barriers to exercise. A Workout Buddy can provide reminders and encouragement to exercise, hold you accountable, and even help you with tangible logistics, like getting you a ride or sending links to Zoom class opportunities.
And don’t discount the urge to compete. kinda friendly contest proposed by your group can also increase the intensity of your effort.
Habits are automatic behaviors that you don’t have to expend a lot of energy to force yourself to do it – these are your default preferred behaviors. You do them regularly and frequently without using all your willpower. Exercise buddies can also help here. Habits need a cue to trigger the behavior, and a friend who regularly texts you to see you at the pool on the usual day to get together might do the trick.
Habits also require a reward to maintain, and the intrinsic motivation that comes from exercising with others may be the reward that keeps exercise in your daily routine.
Stay with each other and exercise
Group exercise appears to have some benefits that individual exercise may not have.
Get engaged in group exercise can also lead to a more coherent and resilient system exercise experience. Previous research has shown that people who feel more connected in their exercise class attend more sessions, arrive on time, are less likely to drop out, are more resilient to disruption, and are more likely to derive greater mental benefits from exercise. Since it is common to drop out of exercise programs and disruptions can easily distract people from their exercise routine, getting involved in a group exercise class could be a particularly effective way to avoid these problems.
When choosing an exercise group to join, consider how similar the other participants are to you – consider age, gender, interests. You are likely to form a more cohesive group with people you identify withand these interconnected groups are more likely to stick together and keep exercising.
Safe remote group support
Thus, exercising with others can provide all the necessary building blocks for a successful, enjoyable, and active life. Especially if you’re feeling isolated by the pandemic and its effects, now might be the perfect time for you to try remote group exercises. Weather permitting, you may be able to find a yoga class that meets outdoors with plenty of space between participants, or a running club whose members remain masked.
Virtual classes can replace in-person group exercise classes. Yes, they may take a little more motivation to find and access, or call for equipment that you don’t already have at home. But remote classes have additional potential benefits, including flexibility of schedules, variety of activities and exercise types, and connection with others who are physically distant.