CommunityFitnessGroupness: Why exercising together feels better

Group fitness allows people to exercise in a motivating environment, with a great instructor that helps them to get to their fitness goals even faster.
Ann Marie McQueen Ann Marie McQueenFebruary 18, 20208 min
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Les Mills Body Pump classAn outdoor Les Mills Body Pump class/Shutterstock

We know fitness is very beneficial to your physical and mental health, but why do it in groups? This is why: group fitness allows people to exercise in a motivating environment, with a great instructor that helps them reach their fitness goals even faster. At Les Mills, our group classes are all done to great music with an instructor trained to coach and motivate you through awesome choreography and leave you feeling inspired to continue on your fitness journey.

We know that working out in a group can have extra benefits, leading you to work harder and feel a sense of belonging. That community feeling satisfies basic human nature, providing an emotional connection which you just can’t get from a treadmill. 

At Les Mills we wanted to measure the effects of what we call ‘groupness,’ (how someone feels their workout is affected by  people sweating around them.) 

The key factors which previous research has identified that make individuals feel like a real group include having a shared sense of purpose, simple structure, basic rules and a focus on cooperation. These factors make being part of a group more attractive. 

Marc Downey
Marc Downey, head trainer for Les Mills India, Middle East and Africa

By way of background, the research team’s quest to find out more about groupness was intensified when observing seas of people doing classes such as BODYATTACK, BODYCOMBAT and BODYJAM at a recent Les Mills Live event. To  Bryce Hastings, head of research at Les Mills, the hundreds of fervent exercisers looked like a vast wave as they moved together in highly synchronized fashion. This set him thinking about ‘groupness.’ What happens when hundreds of people move along at exactly the same pace and how does this differ across other group fitness formats, which do not involve synchronized movement?

The groupness study 

Over a two-week period, 97 adult exercisers (85.5 percent females) completed surveys after each fitness class they did. Data was collected by members of the research team stationed at the fitness facility. Following each class, participants completed a brief questionnaire pertaining to levels of groupness, characteristics of the class and feelings about the session they had just completed. In particular, participants were asked to comment on exertion, enjoyment, satisfaction and their intention to return to the class. 

Class offerings included cardiovascular activities such as stationary cycling (RPM), athletic conditioning (BODYATTACK, BODYSTEP), martial arts-inspired workouts (BODYCOMBAT), synchronized strength training using weights (BODYPUMP), and high intensity interval sessions (LES MILLS GRIT and LES MILLS SPRINT). 

Groupness findings

The findings showed conclusively that perceptions of groupness have a significant bearing on exertion, enjoyment, satisfaction and intention to return. They also showed that perceptions of groupness fluctuate between classes. 

Importantly, when groupness was rated as being higher, the exercisers surveyed  reported a sense of greater exertion and stronger intention to return. They also felt more enjoyment and satisfaction. 

The unified flow of movement in classes like BODYATTACK and BODYCOMBAT saw people perceive groupness levels as being high, while non-synchronized classes such as LES MILLS GRIT and LES MILLS SPRINT saw groupness levels rated at a lower level. 

Ultimately, as it pertains to fitness classes, this research showed that the more groupness the better. 

We now know that instructors who teach non-synchronized group fitness classes face a bigger challenge in creating a strong group effect or high levels of groupness than those who instruct ‘on the beat’ in workouts like BODYCOMBAT and BODYATTACK, which enhance the group effect as a result of their synchronised movement patterns. 

In conclusion, when we put groupness under the microscope, the findings were in line with what we had suspected when we embarked on this group dynamics study: maximising the group effect is invaluable in terms of delivering a group fitness experience. Groupness: go find yours. 

Marc Downey is head trainer for Les Mills India, Middle East and Africa.

Ann Marie McQueen

Ann Marie McQueen

Ann Marie McQueen is a journalist with 20 years of experience working in North America and the UAE, much of it as a writer, editor and columnist focusing on the areas of physical and mental wellness...

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