B-Happy: Train with a Group

A BALANCE RESOURCE ARTICLE by Alyson Mandel

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Balance is buzzing this summer and Balance clients have been setting, and crushing, their summer fitness goals. There has been a particular focus on group exercise and the benefits of team building this summer. The college lacrosse players have been working hard with Alex building their individual skills as well as their team leadership skills. Members of the Summer Tribe sessions have been fiercely competing in team challenges while reaching personal goals supported by their teammates. A Balance team of more than 30 runners is preparing for the Philly Rock-n-Roll race in September. We all know the saying “there is strength in numbers” and this summer at Balance we have seen repeated evidence of that strength. There is extensive evidence about the benefits of working out with others. Working out communally has been shown to have a positive effect on three factors essential to a successful exercise program:

  • Consistency (via Accountability)

  • Motivation

  • Duration and Effort


Consistency

There is consistent evidence (yes, pun intended) that starting a diet or exercise program with a friend improves the likelihood of sticking to that program. One study found that 95 percent of those who started a weight-loss program with friends completed the program, compared to a 76 percent completion rate for those who tackled the program alone3. It is difficult to stay consistent with workout routines but having group accountability provides the motivation we sometimes need to be successful.

Motivation

Social comparison can be highly motivating. In the field of social psychology, there is an effect known as the Köhler Effect in which individuals work harder as a team member than they would individually - but only IF the success of the entire team depends on each individual. No one wants to be the “weakest link” or cause the entire team to fail. When it comes to fitness, this translates to pushing yourself harder when working out with others, especially when you share a common goal. In one study, participants performed a series of planks both alone and with a partner (whose performance was manipulated to always be better than the participants). Working with a partner produced a motivation factor that allowed participants to hold their planks for a longer period of time. Amazingly, on average, participants who exercised with a partner they perceived to be “fitter” increased their plank time by 24 percent4.

Duration and Intensity

Research confirms that working out with a partner significantly increases both the duration of exercise and the exertion or effort during exercise. A study by the Society of Behavioral Medicine showed that working with a partner, especially in a team format, improved performance and doubled the workout time compared to those who exercised alone. Another study found that participants try to match the exercise behaviors of those around them when they perceive those people to be fitter than they are1. People who exercised with someone they thought was fitter than them increased their workout time and intensity by 200 percent! But if all that wasn’t enough … there is more! Possibly the best reason to work out with a group is that it will make you HAPPIER!

“Group Exercise Boosts Happiness”

British researchers from Oxford University found that exercising as a group appears to increase the level of the feel-good endorphin hormones naturally released during physical exertion. In a study with rowers, those who were in a boat with others released more endorphins than solo rowers. Endorphins help provide protection against pain. Rowers in a boat with others reported less pain than solo rowers. “... We know from experience that exercising in groups is good for people at many levels, it's motivational, it's social. Groups sessions really do work." Carole Seheult, a sport and exercise psychologist from the British Psychological Society.5One of my favorite postulations about why group fitness training may raise endorphins is that we smile more when we exercise in a group. Smiling, or more precisely the muscle movement in our faces when we smile, triggers our brain to release endorphins.6 Endorphins have both a mood elevating effect as well as a calming effect. Whether it is finding a running partner, doing some group fitness classes or hiking in the Wissahickon with friends, there are significant benefits to adding group workouts into your fitness routine. Incorporating group workouts may help you challenge yourself in new ways - trying new activities, training longer or picking up those heavier weights. While it may help you reach new goals, group training can also leave you feeling happier and calmer. How many (legal) activities can you say that about?


References

  • Effects of Perceived Fitness Level of Exercise Partner on Intensity of Exertion. Journal of Social Sciences, 6(1), 50-54, 2010.

  • Kansas State University. "Burning more calories is easier when working out with someone you perceive as better." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 November 2012. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121126130938.htm

  • Benefits of recruiting participants with friends and increasing social support for weight loss and maintenance. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1999. Feb;67(1), 132-138.

  • Buddy Up: The Kohler Effect Applied to Health Games. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 33(4): 506-26. August 2011.

  • Group exercise 'boosts happiness', http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8257716.stm
    There’s Magic in Your Smile, Psychology Today, June 25, 2012.

Kathy Luong