Why group fitness will make you fitter

Get motivated and improve your fitness by working out with others. Here’s how it work

Why group fitness will make you fitter

I’m moving from downward dog to warrior two under the sun outside Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, but I’m hesitating a bit. You see, this yoga class is in French, and I’m a little slow on the uptake with my lefts and rights. Luckily, there are a couple thousand other yogis around me that I can follow for direction, and my feet are soon in the right place.

This is fitness brand Lolë’s second-ever White Yoga Session, and it’s by far the biggest yoga class I’ve ever been a part of. With over 2,000 participants flowing in unison, all dressed in white and on matching yellow mats, it’s a sight to behold ‘ and the energy is palpable, and motivating, too. "It was an experiment for the heart," says yoga teacher Lyne St-Roch, who led the session. "Every time I was watching people, it was like a wave of energy and love."

I’ve long felt that I get a better workout when I’m in a group setting, whether it’s yoga, weights or spin class. Turns out it’s not just my Leo pride ‘ there’s some science and expert advice behind the claims, too.

The science of motivation

Motivation is a tricky thing. Some days you have more than you know what to do with, while other days ‘ well, I’m sure we’re all madly in love with our couches. "Exercising is tough work," says Toronto group fitness expert Eva Redpath. "Those who exercise in groups sustain greater motivation to train than those who work out alone."

For one thing, it seems that being in a group makes us tolerate pain better; a 2009 study  from the University of Oxford found that male rowers who trained together had double the pain threshold after exercising than they did when working out alone. Researchers theorize that even if you’re performing at the same level, the added endorphin rush from participating in a group activity will be greater.

In addition, working out in groups helps with workout consistency, according to a 2011 story in the Los Angeles Times . The author interviewed Bert Carron, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Western Ontario, who states that study participants were significantly more likely to stick to a new exercise plan if they were part of a group than if they were meant to work out at home. A 2006 study from the University of Copenhagen confirms this, finding that participants who felt cohesion with the group they worked out with were more likely to continue with an exercise program.

How to improve your exercise program

If you’re 100 percent happy with your exercise program, and you work out alone, congratulations ‘ you’re one of the lucky ones who’ve figured things out. But if you’re struggling to fit in exercise or you feel you’ve hit a fitness plateau, you might want to give group dynamics a try and perform a psychology experiment on yourself.

"Group fitness can be the perfect addition to any workout routine lacking excitement," says Redpath, who suggests booking fitness dates with friends and a healthy lunch afterward ‘ "it’s a great way to socialize and exercise all at once." Decide what your biggest challenge is, exercise-wise ‘ maybe it’s getting in enough cardio or actually lifting weights ‘ and convince a friend to meet the goal with you.

Beyond that, if your challenge is more performing than just showing up, getting competitive in a group fitness class can help you push harder and get fitter. After all, if the woman next to you in run group is keeping up even though she sounds like she’s struggling, what’s keeping you from working just as hard?

Finally, following the leader in a great group class will help you keep things fresh and keep your body challenged. "Adding variety to your workouts is a good thing," says Redpath. "It keeps you interested and gives you new goals to work toward."

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