Maybe you’re new to fitness. Maybe your motivation is lagging. Maybe you moved to a new area and everything feels unfamiliar. Whatever the reason, if walking into a big box gym alone has ever felt overwhelming to you—you’re not alone.
While any kind of exercise is a win for your health and well-being, getting active in a group may have particularly beneficial effects. “Group fitness has the power to change lives,” says Orangetheory coach development team member Summer Sides. While that might seem a bit hyperbolic, it’s really not: Research has shown that individuals who attend group fitness classes have improvements in mental, physical and emotional health, as well as their stress response.
“Ultimately, working out in a group fitness class is fun, engaging and a way to hold yourself accountable for getting in your daily workout,” says Sides. “There is nothing more special than a group of people coming together and building community around shared sweat.”
Whether it’s your go-to method for movement or you’re thinking about giving it a try for the first time, here are five science-backed ways group fitness can help you achieve your fitness goals—and yes, maybe even change your life.
Find Your Drive in Group Fitness Class
Action drives motivation–not the other way around. Translation? Sometimes you just won’t feel like working out, and that’s okay. Simply showing up to a group fitness class can make a huge impact on your mojo. “Being in a group drives people to be their best. The energy that comes from a room full of people all setting out to achieve the same goal can push you on days you’re feeling less than motivated,” says Sides. “There’s an innate drive within us that doesn’t want to let other people down, and that can become evident during a group class. In the moments of difficulty, you know others are going through the same thing as you, and it inspires you to push through to the end.”
Stick With It
Speaking of not wanting to let anyone down…fitness classes can actually help boost your adherence and form a lasting habit. “When you pre-register for a class or tell your instructor you’ll see them next time, you’re more likely to show up,” says Sides. “The group holds you accountable in a way that simply going to the gym on your own can’t.” Research bears this out: It has been shown that people who feel more connected in their fitness class attend more sessions, arrive on time, are less likely to drop out, are more resistant to disruption and are more likely to have greater mental benefits from the exercise.
Build Your Tribe
Your social health is nearly as important as your physical health. In fact, research has shown that having strong relationships is one of the leading indicators of longevity and happiness in life. Lucky for you, group fitness is more than simply a form of peer pressure that forces you to get to the gym. It’s a safe place that fosters a supportive and encouraging environment of like-minded people. “Group fitness classes bring together people with a shared goal that helps build strong connections,” says Sides. “It’s a solid way to foster community and meet people outside of your work or family circles.”
Train Smarter, Not Harder
Whether it’s waiting for a machine to open up, losing track of how long your rest break has been, or trying to think about what move to do next, there’s a good chance you may not be maximizing every minute when you’re working out on your own. Group exercise classes solve that problem. “Attending a group fitness class led by a certified coach is like going to a five-star restaurant with a world-famous chef versus trying to cook a highly-complex meal at home with little training and knowledge about how to do it,” says Sides. At Orangetheory, for example, every workout is created by a team of fitness and exercise-science professionals. “This ensures every workout is a science-back, purpose-driven experience that produces maximum results. Plus, when the workout is programmed with purpose it ensures there isn’t an overuse of muscles or movement patterns—reducing the risk of overtraining injuries.”
Having a knowledgeable instructor in class–giving step-by-step directions or even customizing the workout experience just for you–is a surefire way to help you build confidence in the gym. But Sides says that extra boost doesn’t just stay within the walls of a fitness studio. Case in point: “Kelly was a member who was very reserved and quiet, she was uneasy about the fitness world as it was new to her,” says Sides. When she started, Kelly would hang out in the corner by herself, but over time Sides noticed Kelly coming to the studio early to connect with her new friends. “Kelly mentioned that at Orangetheory she felt valued, she felt seen and most importantly, she felt that she mattered. Those feelings started to show in other areas of her life: it improved her relationship with her kids, her confidence at work—ultimately leading her to feel like being a better mom and giving her a more vibrant life.”