Beware: The Group Fitness Crutch

Working out with others can be a tool in building a fit body—but only if done correctly.

The misery of sets, reps, hill repeats and all-out sprints loves company—hence the explosion of group fitness.

And pushing yourself through exercise alongside others has its strengths. “People are generally more motivated in a group setting than in an individual setting,” says Jon-Erik Kawamoto, C.S.C.S., owner of JKConditioning in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. 

The problem: It’s easy to hide out in the back row, let your effort slip, and check exercise off your to-do list, says Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University Montgomery. In a class of 15 people, Olson estimates only about five ace the class. The rest push themselves hard, but only complete parts of certain exercises, stop, allow their form to weaken, or don’t self-correct appropriately, she says.

What you wind up with: a half-baked workout. The key is to strike the balance of reaping motivation from the group and pushing yourself to get stronger and faster, individually. Below, the pros advise: