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9 Benefits of Group Exercise Classes & Case Study (2020)

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The benefits of group exercise can often be overlooked, with fitness enthusiasts favouring a classic gym workout. 

You’ll be glad to know that exercising in a group doesn’t just cover group personal training sessions or classes, though - think about sports! Training for your local football team or netball team also counts… 

So, whether it’s an exercise class, a sports team training session or a competitive match, it cannot be denied that there are definite benefits to working out as part of a group. 

This article is here to bust any preconceptions you may have about this exercise style, and we even have an interesting benefits of group exercise study to back up our claims! 

So, what are you waiting for? Scroll down and let’s get right into it!

OR, if you happen to be interested in pursuing a career in fitness, go take a look at our range of Personal Training courses first before you carry on reading… 

What is group exercise? 

group exercise classes image - men and women running

Before we jump into the advantages of group exercise classes, we’re going to quickly cover the answer to ‘what is group exercise?’ so that you know exactly what the exercise method entails! You may already have a strong idea of what it involves, but we’ll go over it just in case. 

Basically, all that the term alludes to is a form of exercise that is done as part of a group, be it large or small. It can mean any style of exercise, from H.I.I.T training to Pilates or Spinning, all the way to a football or netball team. 

Before you take a look at the 9 benefits of this exercise style, feel free to take a look at the benefits of group exercise study that we researched first! Hopefully, this will provide greater insight into the topic for you, and allow you to see how and why it has grown in popularity in recent years. 

Benefits of Group Exercise Study

The study that we’re focusing on for this article was conducted by Dayna M. Yorks, Christopher A. Frothingham and Mard D. Schuenke, and was published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association in 2017.

Yorks and her fellow researchers recruited 69 participants for the study. The participants were all medical students, as the researchers were aware of the fact that medical students are ‘a group known for high levels of stress and self-reported low quality of life’ (quoted from the Science Daily website). 

group exercise benefits medical health

During the study, the medical students were allowed to choose whether to partake in a 12-week exercise programme either as an individual or in a group setting. There was also a control group that did not take part in any exercise during the study, other than walking or cycling for transportation only.

The participants completing the 12-week exercise programme in a group took part in a 30-minute CXWORX class (a functional movement and core strength class) at least once a week. The participants taking part as individuals were allowed to maintain any form of exercise that they preferred, whether that was running or weight lifting. The only rule was that they had to work out alone, or with no more than 2 partners.

 

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Every 4 weeks, the participants completed a survey which asked them to rate their levels of perceived stress and quality of life, separated into 3 categories. Mental, physical and emotional.

At the end of the 12 weeks, the group that took part in group exercise showed significant improvements in all 3 of the measures (based on their mean monthly survey scores). The results were as follows: 

mental and physical benefits of group exercise graphic

Comparatively, the participants who exercised alone (or with no more than 2 partners) worked out for twice as long as the group participants, on average, and showed no significant changes in physical or emotional benefits. However, there was an improvement in their overall mental health and wellbeing, with this showing an 11% increase

Remaining consistent with these results, the control group reportedly experienced little changes to their stress levels or overall quality of life whilst studying. 

The results of this study, therefore, suggest that working out in a group has mental, physical and emotional benefits that include the reduction of overall stress. 

Considering the fact that the group studied were one of the most susceptible to stress (due to their demanding studies), we can say that this result is pretty accurate. There would be no use in looking at a benefits of group exercise study that studied those that were not significantly affected by stress!

Of course this is only one study, and other studies show that there are benefits to exercise in any form for those who are affected by stress. However, exercising in a group is evidently beneficial to people affected by stress, which is what we can take away from this study! 

As with any study there are advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of this study are that there were both male and female participants, so we can attribute the findings to both males and females. Furthermore, there were 2 groups and a control group, meaning that there is a comparison against all types of exercise - group, individual and no exercise.

male and female signs

Disadvantages of the study include the fact that it was conducted with medical students only, meaning that we can’t generalise the results to other groups of students or to the wider population. 

Plus, the results were self-recorded by the participants and each individual participant may not feel stress/emotions/physical benefits etc. in the same way as the next participant, so the results are subjective, meaning that they potentially lack validity.

Social Benefits of Group Exercise

Exercise doesn’t have to be a solo thing! Exercising in a group can provide the following social benefits:

#1 - Make new friends / meet new like-minded people

The main social benefit of group exercise classes is the fact that you will meet new people and may even make new friends. 

A barrier to exercise for some people may be that they don’t feel comfortable going alone, so a class is a perfect solution to overcome this barrier. Even though you may attend the class alone, once you arrive you are surrounded by like-minded people, which is also a great social benefit. 

For example, if you go to a Zumba class, you will meet like-minded people who also love to dance! It’s definitely a great way to make new friends that share similar interests to you. 

Moreover, due to the fact that everyone in the class shares at least one core thing - they enjoy the class! - visiting a class can also provide a sense of community.

#2 - Improve and utilise your social skills - teamwork, communication, etc.

man and woman riding bike for group exercise image

Another great social benefit to group exercise is the opportunity to develop/improve and utilise your social skills. Depending on the type of exercise that you take part in, skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication can come into play. 

Mental Benefits of Group Exercise

Exercise is not just good for the body, it’s also good for the mind! The following 3 plus points are all mental benefits of group exercise classes:

#3 - Reduces stress

A big mental benefit of group exercise is that it reduces stress. Levels of stress, especially in modern society, are quite high as we have a lot to manage. One of the biggest causes of high stress levels is work, so taking some time out to relax can help to clear your mind and reduce your stress levels. 

Consistently high stress levels can lead to health problems, for example high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or mental health problems. 

Plus, if you’re overweight and are trying to lose weight, high stress levels could be preventing you from successfully doing so. Stress releases cortisol, which is a hormone that regulates multiple responses throughout the body, including your metabolism and immune response. 

Too much cortisol, however, for example in the case of high stress levels, can cause weight gain, particularly around the midsection. Additionally, long term high levels of cortisol increases your blood sugar levels, which can put you at risk of type 2 diabetes.

#4 - Boosts motivation / Provides accountability

group exercise is good for motivation graphic

Sometimes it can be difficult to find the motivation to go and workout, especially in Winter when it’s cold and dark outside, and probably raining! It can be hard to get yourself out of bed early or head to the gym after a long day at work. 

One of the benefits of group exercise classes is that they provide you with that motivation you need! It’s very easy to think “Ah, I’ll skip my workout today” when it’s only you that will be let down. However, it is much harder to skip if you have others that are expecting you to show up, such as friends and family, and even the class instructor. 

This also links in with accountability, as the others can hold you accountable. Working out with others can also increase your competitive side and encourage you to work even harder. 

Additionally, classes are run at set times and some gyms may require you to book your space in the class beforehand. This is a great motivation as if you are already signed up and you have a time to aim for, you’re more likely to stick to this schedule and go and work out.

On the other hand, when you work out alone in the gym, you can go at any time during opening hours, so it’s easy to say “I’ll go in an hour” or “I’ll go at 2pm”, and then find excuses to put it off.

#5 - Improves self-esteem and confidence

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A third mental benefit of group exercise is that it can improve your confidence and boost your self-esteem. Exercising can give you a sense of accomplishment, when you reach the end of a class you will feel a sense of pride which can give you a real confidence boost. 

Over time, you will progress and get stronger and fitter, and when you see these changes this is a great boost to your self-esteem. For example, when you first start out at a weights based class, such as Les Mills Body Pump, you might start off with the lightest weights. 

As you take part in the class more often, you will soon be able to increase the weights that you use, and will find yourself warming up with weights that used to be a challenge. 

Exercising also helps to improve your posture (this is also a physical benefit!) which can increase your confidence and increase your self-belief.  

Physical Benefits of Group Exercise 

Perhaps the most obvious benefits of exercise are the physical ones. Of course, as well as the mental and social benefits of group exercise, there are also physical benefits. Below are the top two…

#6 - Improves cardiovascular fitness

Exercising in a group can improve your cardiovascular fitness. With a wide range of activities and classes to choose from, there are plenty of options to get you moving. 

When you find a form of exercise that you enjoy, it no longer feels like a chore or like you “have to do it”. And with such a wide variety of choice, not only from group exercise classes (such as Zumba or Aqua Aerobics), but from sports too, (eg. Football, Netball) there’s bound to be something for everyone. 

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When you enjoy it, you're more likely to stick to it, and this will therefore result in an improvement in your cardiovascular fitness. As the saying goes, consistency is key, and you’re more likely to be consistent at something if you enjoy it!

Furthermore, group exercise can encourage you to push yourself out of your comfort zone and work harder.

With others around you, it brings out natural competitiveness, and you push yourself more than perhaps you would when working out alone, as when working out alone you have no-one to compare yourself too. 

Moreover, you have the additional motivation and encouragement from the instructor, which can also help you to work to your full potential. Having the instructor to give you that extra push perhaps just to complete one more rep can be beneficial, compared to working out alone when you may give up when you really could squeeze in at least one more rep! Pushing yourself safely to your maximum potential will help improve your cardiovascular fitness.

#7 - Improves muscular endurance

One of the other physical benefits, in a similar vein to improving your cardiovascular fitness, is that it can help to improve your muscular endurance. 

Similarly to improving your cardiovascular fitness, group exercise can motivate you and give you that extra little push you need to keep going. Combined with the fact that you’re potentially more likely to stick to group exercise compared to exercising alone (due to all of the benefits mentioned above such as accountability, motivation etc.), sticking to a consistent routine will allow you to build on your muscular endurance.

Benefits of Group Exercise for Older Adults

group exercise benefits older adults

This section looks at the benefits of group exercise for older adults. While a lot of the mental, social and physical benefits above also apply to older adults, there are some additional benefits that are bonuses for older adults in particular. Below are the top 2, which brings us to benefit number 8 and benefit number 9!

#8 - Reduces feelings of loneliness

Loneliness is a common issue among older people. According to Age UK, more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. Exercising as part of a group provides the opportunity to interact with others, meet new people, and even make new friends. All of these things can help to combat loneliness. 

Exercise also releases endorphins and a chemical called serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter associated with making you feel good. This makes group exercise a great way to lift your mood too, which can also help reduce the negative thoughts and feelings that are associated with loneliness.

#9 - Provides health benefits such as a decreased risk of falls and prevention of disease

Exercising as part of a group (as does exercise in general) provides a variety of health benefits. Some of the most useful benefits that group exercise provides for older adults include the fact that it can decrease their risk of falls, and also help to prevent disease

There are studies that have shown that maintaining a schedule of regular physical activity can help prevent various common diseases, for example, heart disease or diabetes. Exercise in general improves your overall immune function, which is even more important for older adults than younger generations (although it is important for all ages!) as their immune systems can often be compromised. 

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In addition, older adults are at a higher risk of falls, which can lead to injury. Injuries could then prevent older adults from participating in group-based exercise. Falls can also be mentally challenging, and older people that have suffered a fall may struggle with independence and getting out and about. 

Exercising in a group helps to improve strength and flexibility, which in turn helps improve balance and coordination, and again, this in turn reduces the risk of falls. Older adults also take longer to recover if they do take a fall, so being able to reduce the risk of falling in the first place is important and is one of the great benefits of working out in a group.

So, that’s the top 9 benefits of working out in a group! But that’s not all - there are many, many more benefits to working out in a group environment, so we’ve included just a few more below, summarised into a few short paragraphs.

Additional Advantages of Group Exercise 

Some more general benefits include the fact that exercising in a group is fun. It can provide structure, it offers variety, and it is a pre-planned workout for you. 

It can’t be denied that group exercise is fun - depending on the type of exercise you take part in, you may exercise to upbeat music (for example, Zumba classes), which is an instant mood booster. And if you know the words and can sing along - even better! 

Sport training sessions, for example, rugby or hockey, can incorporate fun skills drills into the training session. Communication is also a huge part of games and sessions like these, and there is often a light-hearted, jokey manner involved, which can help you let loose.

Structure and variety - you might think that they kind of contradict each other. Group exercise provides structure in the form of a regularly scheduled class/training session etc. Sessions and classes also tend to follow a set structure too, for example, an aerobics class starts with a warm up and stretches, followed by a cardio component, then a muscular strength or muscular endurance component, followed by a cool down and stretch.

group exercise benefits sports performance

But while the times and sessions are structured, each one is different. Classes will vary the music, routines and exercises, personal training sessions will vary the exercises and sports groups will mix up their drills and exercises. The variety keeps it fun and engaging. There’s also a huge variety of types of group exercise to choose from, so you’ll never get bored!

Another benefit is the fact that you don’t have to take the time to plan your workout for the day. Group exercise is pre-planned by your instructor, coach or trainer, meaning that you save time and energy and don’t even need to think about your workout until you step foot into it. 

A few more benefits for older adults include the fact that working out in a group can provide a safe environment to workout in. 

You are surrounded by others for motivation and morale. The community feel and spirit can provide older adults with confidence to stick to an exercise routine. Making friends and meeting like-minded, supportive people makes for a non-judgemental environment. 

Additionally, in reference to a safe environment, classes can offer safe regressions or adaptations for each exercise, and the regressions or adaptations will be demonstrated safely with detailed explanations.

group exercise benefits safety image

This can be particularly useful, especially for older adults, as older adults can be at a higher risk of injury, or of diseases such as osteoporosis. Instructors can provide modifications and advice on how to adjust an exercise to make it work for you. 

Weight-bearing exercises can help to keep the bones and joints strong and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Alternatively, water-based activities, for example, water aerobics, are gentler on the joints while still maintaining the group aspect.

Before you go…

So, there we have it. Hopefully, this article opened up your mind to the benefits of group exercise, and might even have convinced you to give working out in a group a go! As you can see there are plenty of benefits, with mental and social benefits as well as physical ones! 

If you're a fitness fanatic and would love to positively impact people’s lives then why not try your hand at becoming a personal trainer by completing OriGym's internationally recognised Fitness Instructing and Personal Training course or expand your knowledge of nutrition with OriGym's Level 4 Nutrition Course by submitting an enquiry below or downloading our prospectus

If you fancy trying your hand at teaching group exercise classes, why not take a look at our Exercise to Music course?

References 

  1. Dayna M. Yorks, Christopher A. Frothingham, Mark D. Schuenke. Effects of Group Fitness Classes on Stress and Quality of Life of Medical Students. J Am Osteopath Assoc 2017. 
  2. American Osteopathic Association. (2017, October 30). Group exercise improves quality of life, reduces stress far more than individual workouts. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 25, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171030092917.htm

 

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Kick-start an exciting career in fitness and deliver group exercise classes yourself!

Written by Hannah Oxborough

Fitness Professional & Blogger

Join Hannah on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Hannah is qualified in Exercise to Music and is passionate about fitness and discovering alternative ways to make exercise as fun as possible. She enjoys aerobics and Zumba classes, and taking part in obstacle mud runs for charity. In her spare time she loves reading, practicing her Spanish and walking her miniature schnauzer, Stella.

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