Finding the will to stick to an exercise routine doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes, even just getting ready to work out feels harder than the workout itself. While you might never be someone who leaps out of bed to go on a 10-mile jog, there is a secret to making exercise less taxing, way more enjoyable, and super productive: group fitness.
According to IronStrength creator and Hospital for Special Surgery sports medicine physician Jordan Metzl, M.D., community is a great way to transform yourself from an exercise-averse couch potato into a proactive goal achiever.
"People want to come together," he says. "Community plays a key role in exercise efficacy."
Why Working Out in Groups Is Good for You
1. It's easier to stick with it.
Studies show that people who start a diet or workout plan together are more likely to stick to their fitness commitments and see greater results. The same applies to people who surround themselves with fit and healthy people. So it stands to reason that if working out with one person can have a major impact, working out with 10 might be even better. Or how about 30? Or even 1,000?
2. You'll push yourself harder.
Think of the last time your boss gave your work crew a difficult project on a tight deadline. Did you immediately email your coworkers with a quick "I'm not really feeling this" message and then drop the ball? We didn't think so. That's partly because you're not a total jerk but also because of a phenomenon known as the Köhler effect. It's the idea that no one wants to be the f*ckup on a team or in a group, so you try harder than you would if you were working alone.
And this definitely applies to exercise. Surrounding yourself with people means you'll push yourself harder. One study found that when participants exercised with someone they thought to be better than them, their workout time and intensity increased by as much as 200 percent.
Metzl sees this all the time at his IronStrength events. Originally designed as a training program for marathon and triathlon runners, IronStrength is a boot camp-style, total-body HIIT workout that combines functional strength training, plyometrics, cardio, and movements aimed at injury prevention. Anywhere from 20 to 1,000 people attend the classes, which are held at locations throughout NYC (Central Park, Herald Square, The Intrepid).
"There's power in community when it’s inclusive," Metzl says. "It brings everyone to a different level."
3. You'll be less stressed and feel better about life.
Yes, exercise in general helps with stress and mood, but a recent study showed that working out in groups lowers stress and improves mental, physical, and emotional health better than solo gym sessions.
4. You'll enjoy it more.
Friends make everything better, so it's not a shocker that you're more likely to enjoy exercise when you do it with a buddy.
5. It may help you live longer.
Staying active is clearly good for your overall health and can help lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. But doing it with others has an added benefit. When looking at the traits of Blue Zones (areas with high rates of people who make it to at least 100 years old), one of the most consistent factors is community, Metzl says. "Exercise is important, but it's secondary to the benefit of community," he says.
So, where do I start?
Find what works for you.
"There's no such thing as a perfect workout," Metzl says. "It's about bringing people together, feeling better, smiling, and having fun."
Your gym likely offers group classes that are included in your membership, while services like ClassPass make it easy to take a stab at something new. Hate spending money on workouts? Rally a crew and hit the gym together, look for free classes in your area, or grab a pal for these partner moves.
If you live in NYC, try an IronStrength class. On Monday, July 23, you can join about 1,000 other people on the flight deck of The Intrepid for a 30-minute IronStrength session and sunset yoga led by Pure Yoga—for free (just be sure to RSVP).