The Health Benefits of Group Exercise and Fitness, Explained

The Health Benefits of Group Exercise and Fitness, Explained

Science explains why group workouts help you meet your goals.

By Team PelotonUpdated June 30, 2020


Everyone has a different way they like to get their sweat on: Some prefer to stay in their own lane, focusing solely on their own fitness goals and needs. Others prefer the class atmosphere, doubling exercise and fitness as a social activity. Peloton Members get the best of both worlds: the comfort of riding or running in their own space while still feeling a greater sense of community. And while the social aspect of working out is important to your overall emotional and mental health, it actually has major physical benefits.

In fact, working out with a group — whether IRL or through technology — has been found to influence positive associations with exercise, increase fitness potential, and improve three key qualities of life: mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. Not to mention that exercising with others — a consistent fitness buddy, especially — can help push you (in a positive way, of course) to chase after a new personal record, resistance level, or really, any goal, big or small. Read on to find out the health benefits of group workouts — and then grab your fitness buddy because they’ll make you want to start up a workout, stat.

Working out with a group fosters a strong sense of community

It seems like a given, but group exercise and fitness is the best way to create a support system to help your reach your health, fitness, and well, life goals. Not only do you have built-in cheerleaders to help you every step of the way, but you also have people to motivate you to push harder, go longer, or sprint faster. Actually, a study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found that participants gravitate to the exercise behaviors of the people around them. So, if you work out with a group of ambitious, like-minded people, then you’re more likely to take advantage of your time on the bike or treadmill. And really, it’s like anything else in life: You are a product of the people you surround yourself by — and your workout buddies are no exception. That means it’s important to find the right instructor and classmates that’ll encourage you to push through the hard days (you know, the ones where you’d rather hole up on the couch than hop on your Bike or Tread) and achieve your goals.

But, remember, not all group exercise classes are created equal. The classes that are the most effective in terms of your health and well-being, according to a 2005 study in the International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, are the ones that have some level of bonding. In short, the more opportunity for contact with others, the better. Classes should be rich with activities that “make people feel like they are a part of something,” including setting group goals, sharing feedback, talking with others in the class, feeling a sense of friendly competition, or having an instructor that actively engages participants and even regularly calls them out by name — so every Peloton class ever, no?

Regular group exercise boosts the mood

It’s simple: exercise releases endorphins, which makes you happy (Thanks, Elle Woods.) When you add people into the mix, studies show that you can see even more of an effect on your overall mood and stress levels. For example, a 2017 study by American Osteopathic Association found that working out with a group on a consistent basis drastically improved the emotional health of participants by 26 percent, which is even more than the physical health benefits (24.8 percent). Even more, they had a 26 percent reduction in stress levels in comparison to people who exercised individually. “The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone," says Dayna Yorks, DO, lead researcher on this study. Further proof that just like anything else in life, exercise and fitness feels better when shared, especially the much-dreaded uphill sprints during cycling class.

Working out with a group improves outcomes

One study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology showed that 95 percent of people who started a fitness program with friends completed it versus a 76 percent completion rate for those who tried to complete the program on their own. The friend group was 42 percent more likely to maintain their weight loss due to accountability from their peers. The same can be said for group fitness: If you have people counting on you — fitness instructors and workout buddies — you’ll likely feel more inclined to hop on the bike or treadmill and push yourself to the best of your abilities. And once you establish that sense of community, there’s a greater chance that you’ll stick with your workout routine.

Exercising with others motivates you to work out for longer

Think about it: If you were to have a solo gym day, you’d probably see no problem with shaving a few minutes off the end of your workout and moving on with the rest of your day. What happens when you’re working out with a group? The complete opposite, according to a study by the Society of Behavioral Medicine. The study, which compared the time spent performing an aerobic exercise, found that those who were working out with a partner committed to their exercise for longer, compared to those working out alone. Even better: People working out in a group format, like Peloton classes, improved their overall performance and doubled their workout time compared to those who exercised by themselves.

If you’re working out with people who have more endurance, strength, and overall stamina than you, then you’ll also be inspired to up your intensity. While you might be frustrated by your position on the leaderboard, the people at the top can be a key motivator. Kansas State University put this theory to the test in a 2012 research study by comparing whether individuals engage in more intense physical activity when alone, with a virtual partner, or competing against a virtual teammate. The results: Those who exercised with a virtual partner increased their workout time and intensity by 90 percent, while those who had a virtual teammate and were working towards a common goal increased their performance by nearly 200 percent. Call it competitiveness, call it drive, whatever you call it, any form of exercise and fitness is better with inspiring people by your side.