This week’s Jockology column takes a closer look at the idea that group exercise offers some benefits that solo sessions don’t.

The question

Will taking a class or finding training partners help me keep my exercise resolutions this year?

The answer

article continues after advertisement

Consider the similarities between a modern exercise class and an ancient religious rite – the wise leader guiding the group through a series of ritualized movements, in perfect synchronization. If you’re struggling to keep faith with your fitness goals, this apparent coincidence might offer a solution.

New research suggests that group exercise unleashes a flood of chemicals in the brain, triggering the same responses that have made collective activities from dancing and laughter to religion itself such enduring aspects of human culture. For some (but not all) people, finding workout buddies could help turn fitness into a pleasant addiction. [read on…]

Obviously people have a lot of different reasons for working out in groups — or for working out on their own, for that matter. But I found the study of Oxford rowers described in the article to be one of the most interesting studies of 2009. In the running community, there’s a lot of debate about why so many athletes stop competing seriously after they finish university. Again, there are clearly many different reasons — but I’ve heard a lot of runners say that the training experience just isn’t the same once they’re no longer part of a group working out together and sharing common goals. Maybe this is really just a form of endorphin withdrawal!