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Should You Work Out Alone or With a Group?

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Spinning. Pilates. Yoga. CrossFit. Group workouts rule the day. And for good reason: There are major benefits to sweating it out alongside other people. But, unsurprisingly, researchers say solo workouts come with brain and body perks, too.

“It’s not as simple as, ‘This one is best,’ ” says Thomas Plante, Ph.D., director of the Spirituality and Health Institute at Santa Clara University. “Your goal is to maximize both the psychological and physical benefits of exercise.” To help you choose what's best for your workout, we broke down the pros and cons of each:

Community Support
There’s no doubt your pals’ encouragement can help you stick to your fitness goals. One study found 95% of those who started a weight-loss program with friends completed the program, compared to a 76% completion rate for those who tackled the program alone. The pal group was also 42% more likely to maintain their weight loss, the study found.

“Peer support can be a great motivator, and can almost feel like group therapy,” Plante says. But if you have no problem sticking with your workout plan, that group support may not be necessary for you, he adds.

The Stress Factor
“Some people exercise because they want to feel energized,” Plante says. “And for those types, person-to-person engagement is helpful.” One the other hand, he says exercising alone—especially outdoors in natural environments—is usually more calming and de-stressing, which is incredibly beneficial for your workouts. (And you may be surprised by the 5 Ways Stress Affects Your Workout).

If you’re working out first thing in the morning and want to charge yourself up, group sessions are probably the way to go, Plante suggests. But if you’re squeezing in some physical activity at the end of a long day, a little solo training will better soothe your addled mind, he says.

Buoys or Anchors?
There’s a lot written and repeated about how your workout buddies help push you to be your best. But in reality, that’s only true if the people you exercise with are faster, stronger, or more adept than you, Plante says.

“You tend to gravitate toward the exercise intensity of those around you,” he says. “So if you’re running or biking with people better than you, they’ll bring up your game. But if they’re worse than you, they’ll just slow you down.”

Social Butterflies
“Working out in a group can almost be like going to a cocktail party,” Plante says. The people around you are assessing your clothing and gear, exercise etiquette, body shape, and a dozen other details. “If you’re the type who is very social, you may love that,” he says.

But if you feel like you don’t fit in, you may find a group setting uncomfortable or draining, Plante adds. One study found working out with others in a mirrored room (like most yoga studios) made untrained women feel self-conscious and uncomfortable.

Time to Think
In a hectic world of smartphones, email, and near-constant distraction, the 30 minutes you spend working out may be one of the few times when your mind is free to wander. And that time can be incredibly fruitful, Plante says. (Plus, The Magic of a Single Workout can be completely life-changing.)

“You hear a lot of people say they went out for a run or a swim, and that’s when they came up with answers to their big life questions,” he explains. When you exercise alone, your brain has time to think through problems and reflect on issues. “But we don’t see that kind of contemplation during group workouts,” he adds.


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