Tip: The Hidden Benefit of CrossFit

Are people who do group fitness classes happier that solo lifters? Here's what science says.

Ask a dozen CrossFitters why they like CrossFit. Chances are, the majority will say something about the community atmosphere. They like the group classes and the social setting. There's just something about struggling and achieving a goal with a group of people who are doing the same thing. It's like a bonding experience.

But do these small group settings lead to a better quality of life vs. training alone? Some researchers at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine have taken a look.

Researchers recruited 69 medical students for this study. Stressed-out med school students generally score pretty low on the three quality of life measures: mental, physical, and emotional health.

The participants were allowed to choose either a group exercise environment (a "functional fitness training program") or just work out alone or with no more than two partners for 12 weeks. There was also a control group that did nothing. Every four weeks the participants took tests to evaluate their perceived stress levels and quality of life measures.

The students participating in the 30-minute group classes showed significant improvements in all three quality of life measures:

  • Mental health: 12.6 percent improvement
  • Physical health: 24.8 percent improvement
  • Emotional health: 26 percent improvement

They also reported a 26.2 percent reduction in perceived stress levels.

Those who trained mostly by themselves saw no significant changes in any measure, except in mental quality of life: an 11 percent increase.

Oddly, the solo trainers worked out twice as long as the group participants (usually an hour instead of half an hour), but didn't see any significant physical health improvements. Hmm, maybe they were bro'ing it up too much between sets. Say what you will about CrossFit, but there's little time for small talk or standing around after "3, 2, 1, Go!"

The researchers concluded that medical schools should offer group fitness classes to their students.

First, it explains why CrossFit or CrossFit-style training is so appealing to so many people. In short, it makes them happy, which helps with exercise compliance and consistency, which means they get results.

Second, it shows that while training solo has numerous benefits, if you're stressed out, anxious, and well, sad, then maybe group fitness will help pull you out of it.

  1. Yorks DM et al.Effects of Group Fitness Classes on Stress and Quality of Life of Medical Students. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2017 Nov 1;117(11):e17-e25. PubMed.
Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram