October 3, 2012

The Social Exerciser: how exercising as part of a group can be beneficial

Working as part of a team can have positive effects on your performance. The Kohler (1927) effect – unexpected improvements in individual performance in a group task – suggests that you should join a team or group which shares a performance goal, and even something as simple as exercising with a partner who shares a goal with you can produce the effect.
Many people struggle to maintain regular exercise programs, citing amongst other barriers to exercise a lack of enjoyment and a lack of discernible progress. Both those barriers can be overcome by exercising as part of a group. Social facilitation theory (Triplett, 1897) suggests that we perform simple tasks (such as gym based exercise) better when we are around other people, and several studies have demonstrated that by training with someone perceived as marginally better both motivation and performance rises. Find a training partner, work with a personal trainer who is willing to train with you not just train you, or pick an opponent or a doubles partner you feel is a slightly better player and reap the rewards.
Bandura (1977a) states that people are more likely to engage in a challenging task, or one perceived as not enjoyable, if they believe they will receive a reward (either tangible or intangible) for doing so. If you’re not someone who loves the gym then creating an environment where positive feedback is more likely will improve your chances of starting, and sticking to, an exercise program. In a team setting there are far more opportunities to share resources (Shumaker & Brownell, 1984); to receive positive feedback, learn new skills, and develop capabilities to deal with stress. Improved confidence and reduced stress will have a positive impact on the rest of your life, especially your health, and the social structure of a team gives more opportunity to make new friends and create new business relationships.
Modern business has begun to latch on to this link between group exercise and improved social interaction. The concept of “sweatworking”, a healthy alternative to the traditional networking standard of wining and dining, was coined in the USA and is now making an impression here in the UK with several health clubs offering themed group exercise sessions. The bottom line is; whatever you aim to achieve though exercise, you’ll have a better chance of being successful if you don’t try and go it alone.

Bandura, A. (1977a). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.
Kohler, O. (1927). On group efficiency of physical labor and the conditions of optimal collective performance (translation). Industrielle Psychotechnik, 4, 209-226.
Shumaker, S.A., & Brownell, A. (1984). Toward a theory of social support: Closing conceptual gaps. Journal of Social Issues, 40, 11-36.
Triplett, N. (1897). The dyanmogenic factors in pacemaking and competition. American Journal of Psychology, 9, 507-533.