We’ve all seen it happen: finding the motivation to actually make it to 6 a.m. boot-camp with a friend; nailing the last round of squats when you see those around you powering through; or pushing yourself to shave time off your personal record when you run a 5k race. There is something to be said about the power of working out in a group — but what is it about exercising with others that motivates us?
We tapped some experts on the topic and learned that when it comes to workouts, there’s some truth to the old adage, “There’s strength in numbers.”
One study found that 95 percent of those who started a weight-loss program with friends completed the program.
“Group activity may not be a new concept but it has certainly seen massive international up-trends over the last twenty years with rapidly rising numbers in spin cycling, aerobic and dance-based classes and the emergence of CrossFit and its tribe mentality,” says Joyce Schaer, co-founder of Pilates Pop-Up. “I believe that working out in a motivational pack or using it as a tool to enhance internal or external competitive performance is fast becoming the preferred form of exercise.”
Health Benefits of Pilates in a Group
Not only is group fitness having a moment, but it’s also having a significant impact on our health. Group fitness in Pilates gives health benefits and it is growing fast and becoming a popular motivational method of consistent participation.
Research shows that the healthy actions of others rub off on us. A study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found that participants gravitate towards the exercise behaviors of those around them. And a 2020 study published in the journal Obesity found that overweight people tend to lose more weight if they spend time with their fit friends — the more time they spend together, the more weight they lose.
This makes a pretty strong argument for making Pilates workouts communal. But it’s just one of many reasons why it may be easier (and more enjoyable) to get fit in a pack.
Whether it’s a group fitness class at the gym, a Pilates Pop-Up class, or a run in the park with some friends, here are some of the health benefits you can glean from working out in a group.
Increase your commitment to a fitness routine: “Working out with a crowd carries a plethora of intertwined benefits that include enhancing consistency, duration, motivation, conversation, and inspiration,” says Joyce Schaer, ‘No shows’ and cancellations get noticed by others and positive peer pressure can help curtail the urges to skip a workout … or quit.”
A recent 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 alone. The friend group was also 42 percent more likely to maintain their weight loss.
“For most people, it’s difficult to stay consistent with workout routines, but having a certain group there waiting for you provides you with the motivation and accountability everyone needs to be successful,” says Michael Yabut, Training Manager and National Trainer at TITLE Boxing Club International, LLC, who agrees that members of group fitness programs are less likely to skip workouts, which helps keep them on track.
Push yourself harder: The Köhler Effect is the idea that no one wants to be the weakest link in a group setting. When it comes to fitness, this translates to pushing yourself harder when tasked with working out with people who are fitter than you.
Those who exercised with a more-capable partner increased their plank time by 24 percent.
A study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology set out to examine how true the effect really is — having participants perform a series of planks both alone and with a partner (whose performance was manipulated to always be better than the participants). What they found was that working with a partner produced a motivation gain that allowed the participants to hold their planks for a longer period of time. In fact, those who exercised with a more-capable partner increased their plank time by 24 percent.
Other studies confirm that working out with a partner significantly increases time spent exercising. A study by the Society of Behavioral Medicine showed that working with a partner, especially in a team format, improved performance, doubling the workout time of those who exercised alone.
It seems that opting for a group setting for at least a few workouts each week may help you push yourself past the threshold you tend to hit when working out solo — whether that be in time or intensity.
Get a competitive edge: One reason why you may push yourself harder when others are grunting alongside of you is the innate competitive streak in all of us. “Group settings can lead to a positive competitiveness. For instance, wanting to keep up with those around you can make you push yourself harder than you would on your own,” says John Ford, certified exercise physiologist, who runs JKF Fitness & Health (a boutique training company) in New York City. “Seeing what others are capable of doing can inspire you to do more. I’ve personally had this experience: Watching others made me realize I had put some mental barriers up to pushing harder or trying different exercises/routines.”
Researchers at Kansas State University found that people who exercised with someone they thought was better than them increased their workout time and intensity by 200 percent.
“We found that when you’re performing with someone who you perceive as a little better than you, you tend to give more effort than you normally would alone,” says Brandon Irwin, assistant professor of kinesiology, and principle researcher in the study. “In certain fitness goals, like preparing to run a marathon, consider exercising not only with someone else, but with someone who is that much better. For an extra boost, consider some type of team exercise that involves competition, like playing basketball at a regular time throughout the week.”
Capitalize on endorphins: “Group workouts can have a couple of mental advantages over solo workouts. While it’s true that working out releases endorphins (think of all of that talk of a runner’s highs), a group setting can lead to the release of endorphins outside of just physical exertion,” says Schaer. “One way is through smiling. Smiling has been shown to increase endorphin levels in studies. So when you’re in a great class or with a great bunch of people working out, that kind of conviviality can really make you feel great outside of just your runner’s high. An added health benefit of this mood boost is that when you’re pushing yourself hard and struggling through more difficult parts of your workout you’ll feel better and more energized to complete the exercises.”
A study published in the International Journal of Stress Management found that people who exercised on a stationary bicycle for 30 minutes with a friend said they felt calmer after the workout than those who cycled alone. And it’s also just more fun: Researchers from the University of Southern California found that people who worked out with friends (or a spouse or co-worker) said they enjoyed the exercise more than those who sweat it out alone. Add that to the list of reasons why working out with others may encourage you to make fitness a habit that sticks.
Diversify your workouts: Another health benefit of having a plus one at the gym? “Having spotters to make sure that you’re performing an exercise correctly and can do said exercises to failure in a safe manner,” says Schaer. “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.”
There are only so many exercises you a perform alone — throw other person into the mix and you’re able to really get creative. “There are so many fun fitness moves that require having a partner or multiple partners,” adds Schaer. “Just trying doing medicine ball toss sit-ups by yourself, it can make you feel really lonely in a hurry. Having multiple people around can really open up a creative catalog of exercises: from partner resisted moves (hey, stop sitting on my back during push-ups!) to relays the options are plentiful and fun.”
Research shows that people who worked out with others enjoy the exercise more than those who sweat it out alone.
So what exactly is Pilates? Well we know what it is not.
In his own words Joseph Pilates said: “Contrology is not a system of haphazard exercises designed to produce only bulging muscles.” It is an exercise and breathing regime that “develops the body uniformly, corrects posture, restores vitality, invigorates the mind and elevates the spirit.”
For Joseph Pilates, the health of mind and body are inextricably linked. “Physical fitness,” he believed, “is the first requisite of happiness.” This basic principle is the foundation of the Pilates method, which is a program of specific and controlled exercises that stimulate the mind and body, with the mind controlling the muscles – not the other way round. “Ideally our muscles should obey our will,” he said, “It is the mind itself which shapes the body.”
The focus of Pilates is that what counts is not so much what you do, but rather how you do it. Pilates isn’t aerobics: it demands intense concentration and focus on posture, core muscles and breathing. It’s all about working smarter, not harder, where precision is everything. This philosophy is exacerbated when working in groups.
Find support — and accountability — in being part of a team: “I believe the best way to workout is in a group setting. For several years, I have taught hundreds of classes, from Pilates & Yoga to boxing, and the best part of it all is the fun that participants have in their workouts,” says Schaer. “It’s an amazing feeling to see [people] do things they never thought they could until it took the person next to them to encourage them to complete that set, rep, mile or round. There’s a bond that is created when a group struggles, sweats, fights, and grinds their way through a tough workout. I focus on building relationships in class because if that happens, I know participants will come back tomorrow.”
“When we work out with other people we can gain a sense of camaraderie, because everyone is there for the same purpose,” agrees Joyce Schaer, Master Trainer at Pilates Pop-Up. “The people you see each week in a group class eventually become your family and want to see you back each week creating accountability.”
“There’s a bond that is created when a group struggles, sweats, fights and grinds their way through a tough workout.” -Joyce
And once that group workout is scheduled into your calendar, with other people banking on you showing up, it’s a whole lot harder to hit snooze a second time and roll back over.
“Participants leave happy to have ‘got their workout in,’ to have maintained their record of attendance and relationships, and to have survived another day in a healthy capacity within their fitness community,” Schaer adds. “They look forward to the next encounter — Whether that encounter is craved due to fitness-related goals or the personal relationships cultivated, it is a win-win scenario for the participant’s physical and mental state of health.”
Get external motivation when you’re dragging: Being a part of this type of community can provide a huge boost of motivation beyond the one that comes with the physical health benefits of a workout, which can be helpful for those finding it hard to stay committed.
“Motivation improves because group workouts are often filled with encouragement; ‘You can do it!’ cheers and other accolades from others keep the energy and motivation high,” says Schaer. “Inspiration benefits because in a group there is always the one who ‘seems to do it best’ and becomes the ‘reach’ for the group.”
“Working out with other people creates a high level of motivation among one another, especially when someone has a good day,” agrees Wong. “The positive vibes are infectious and spread throughout the class like wildfire, creating a positive attitude and environment for the whole class.”
Think of how much you could benefit from a little encouragement when dragging yourself through those three miles on the treadmill. “When you work out with the right people or in the right class you get uplifted and encouraged to be your best,” this concept is at the heart of Pilates, says Schaer. “All those shouts to do one more, or push to the finish line, plus the high fives and pats on the back for completing sets with precision and accomplishing personal bests create amazing positive feedback loops. And just like with smiling, trigger the release of hormones that make you feel good. All these things can make sure that you stick with your workouts and wellness routine.”