Recently, there was an article in Athletic Business by Paul Steinbach entitled, "Social Environments Help Clubs with Member Retention." In the article, he cited several well-known fitness industry experts, including Rick Caro, Casey Conrad, Rudy Fabiano and Sandy Coffman. He also included information from a 1995 study at the University of Southern California, in which researchers found that, "socializing outside the club with people met at the club was the best predictor of exercise frequency, having friends at the club was the best predictor of the infrequency of skipped workouts, and exercising with a friend was the best predictor of exercise satisfaction." With group fitness classes now packed, and more consistent programming being introduced to the industry, Conrad states that, "Clubs that have a strong group exercise component have a much higher retention rate than those that don't."
So why is exercise in a group better than working out alone for most people? Alex Hutchinson offers two theories: First, the similarities between modern day exercise classes and an ancient religious rite, with "a wise leader guiding the group through a series of ritualized movements in perfect synchronization." For those who have a hard time sticking with their "faith" in their fitness goals, groups offer one solution.
Secondly, in an issue of Biology Letters, researchers from Oxford's Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology reported on a study conducted on the famed Oxford rowing team. The crew was divided into teams, and the only variable in their workouts was whether they rowed alone or in teams. Indirect methods were used to monitor endorphins released in the brain. These endorphins produce a mild opiate high and a sense of well-being, as well as blocking pain. Reserchers found that a rower's pain threshold was consistently twice as high after exercising with teammates than when exercising alone, even though the workouts were identical. Shared goals are also expected to be part of the trigger for endorphin release.
Based on this research, not only do people enjoy working out in a group more because they are socializing with their friends - they also enjoy a higher pain threshold and are filled with a greater sense of well-being. Why wouldn't they want to stay at your facility longer if it makes them feel so good?
What are your thoughts on the group dynamic at your facility? Do you see greater usage and retention from participants that work out in small groups or attend group fitness classes? Contact me, Kelli Hatton, and give me your comments and questions.