Updated: Jul 25, 2019
It was a Thursday and it was looking like another late night at the office. You know those days when the to-do list seems to be growing faster than it’s shrinking? I was on my 12th consecutive one.
I’m generally a pretty happy guy, but my patience was wearing thin. With an inbox full of unread messages, some tight deadlines, and important meetings the following week, My coworkers started to notice I was a little more irritable than usual. One of them, Adam, came up to me, “what are you doing tonight? You look like you need to let off some steam.”
He wasn’t wrong. “Another late night I think,” I replied.
“Let’s get out of the office, go kick and punch some bags. I’ll let you have a crack at me,” he smiled. I admit, getting to a kickboxing class was the furthest thing from my mind with so much work to do, but after a bit of coaxing I reluctantly agreed.
We met at the gym at 6:15 to get in and warm up. I had never done Muay Thai, nor did I have much experience with combat sports other than some wrestling moves my dad had taught me in middle school and the occasional bout with my younger brothers. I was a bit intimidated, but excited at the prospect of being able to learn some moves I could use in my daily morning-dance-in-front-of-the-mirror routine.
Class started fast and kept getting faster. I wasn’t quite sure I would be able to keep up.
About two-thirds through, we were asked to go from 20 jabs with each arm down to 20 knuckle pushups as fast we could for as many sets as we could. After the 2nd set, I remember thinking my body was done. Then I looked over and saw Adam, sweating and panting as he started his 3rd set. “No way he’s beating me,” I thought to myself. I brushed my hesitation aside and refocused on finishing. I accelerated through the last set and finished right as time was ending.
We both stood up with hands on our hips, panting hard. I looked over at Adam, gave him a quick grin as I patted my chest. “Round 2?” He smiled back.
The class ended, both of us drenched in sweat with some newly acquired kickboxing combos. We had just gone to battle together, and somehow between those 2nd and 3rd sets we had forged a bond that went deeper than just coworkers and colleagues. Adam was now a friend.
Swolemates Are The Best Mates
I think back to that night often — I had gone from having a rough day to a great day just through exercise. I wanted to do more of that, and empower others to do the same.
It turns out, exercising with friends is one of the best forms of therapy there is. Not just physical therapy, but mental and emotional therapy as well.
Consider this study conducted by the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. In the study 69 medical students were randomly placed into three groups.
The first group did a 30-minute group exercise program at least once week, together as a group.
The second group were solo exercisers that worked out on their own with up to two partners at least twice a week.
In the third group, students didn’t do any exercising other than walking or biking to where they needed to go.
Each student took a survey at the beginning and end of the study measuring three quality of life measures: mental, physical, and emotional health.
At the end of the study, the group who had exercised together had shown improvement in all three measures — mental health (12.6 percent), physical health (24.8 percent), and emotional health (26 percent). They also reported a 26.2 percent reduction in perceived stress levels.
The second group, the solo exercisers, did not show any statistical improvements in any of the measures except mental health.
The third group showed no statistical improvement in any areas at the end of the study.
In other words, the difference wasn’t the exercise, it was whether they were doing the exercise with someone else.
We don’t talk about this enough in the fitness world. In a society ruled by screens, filled with gym selfies in tank tops and yoga pants, we’re missing out on one of the biggest benefits of exercise — the chance to bond with people. Real people, in real life.
The Screens are Taking Over
According to a study by the Nielsen Group done last year, the average US adult spends over 11 hours a day consuming media. You read that right… nearly half of our day as adults is spent gazing into a TV, playing on our phone, or shopping on the internet. Check out the Infographic below:
With screen time taking up more and more of our lives, our real-world relationships are suffering, badly.
Many other studies have been done around group exercise, and the consensus is all the same — there’s something magical about it. It’s been linked to better social bonding, pain tolerance, and improved athletic performance. Group exercise has also been shown to improve endurance and workout intensity.
There’s something about moving and sweating together that forges stronger ties with those we exercise with, and helps us be happier and healthier people. In a time where the moments we share with people continue to diminish, I believe exercise and fitness can be the counterforce that brings us together and helps us connect again.
So what are you doing reading this article? Get out there and go beat up your coworker. I promise you’ll enjoy it.