Personal Training versus Group Training: Social Loafing or group highs?

Group Fitness Chris Hunt Pilates

Today you will learn what horses have to do with Group X. My blog today is really just an excuse to use a picture from the Eric Prydz video Call On Me which certainly got a few more men to go to the gym.

But I digress. Back to the horses. In 1913 an experiment was carried out by a French engineer called Maximilian Ringelmann on the performance of horses (please bear with me, this is going somewhere relevant to fitness I promise). He discovered that the power of two animals pulling a coach did not equal twice the power of a single horse. This surprised him so he extended his study to humans pulling a rope, and found that on average if two people were pulling together, each invested only 93% of their individual strength, when three pulled it was 85%, and when eight people pulled it was just 49%.

This is what science calls the Social Loafing Effect. Basically, when individual performance is not directly visible, it blends into the group effort. Whilst quite rational (why invest all your energy when only half will do?) it is a form of unconscious cheating. It doesn’t only apply to physical exertion but also mental exertion in meetings. If we are not directly accountable for our actions, we slack off.

Now you can see where Ringelmann’s horses are taking us. In a group exercise environment, the scientific evidence is that a large percentage (perhaps the majority) of people will not work as hard as they would if they were being trained on a one-to-one basis. At the extreme, I have seen people in the group sessions I watch at conventions taking the opportunity to stop and rest when the teacher is not watching them, only to launch back into the activity as soon as they are seen. But even the people who appear to be working might not be applying maximum effort.

So then why is group exercise so prevalent and so championed by certain commercial brands? There’s no doubt that people behave differently in groups than when alone, otherwise there would be no groups. The sense of belonging that all of us humans require no doubt makes some people exercise with others when they would not exercise alone. Also of course the cost of personal training is a major and understandable issue for many (the argument here is that a lot of money spent effectively is better than spending smaller amounts of money ineffectively).

There are the obvious benefits of PT including individual attention, goal-setting/controlled progression and programs tailored for body type/injury etc. So my question is today is what is your opinion about PT versus Group training? Is it as simple as personal accountability? What is your experience of the progress of clients in different training environments?

Oh, and one last point I’d like to make. I heard the claims from certain group exercise companies that they can “prove” that people who use their methods get better results. To these claims I say the two words “false causality”. Let me explain. Take the claim “Fact: Women who use ABC brand of shampoo every day have stronger hair”. This may have been scientifically proven, but such a statement means very little. It certainly does not prove that ABC shampoo makes your hair stronger. In fact it could be the other way around. Maybe women with strong hair tend to use ABC perhaps because it says on the bottle “especially for people with strong hair”. So when you read that ABC fitness system is proven to make people fitter, you now know to think again. Correlation is not causality. If we look closer then sometimes what is presented as the cause turns out to be the effect and vice versa.

Chris is an international Pilates presenter and educator based in Barcelona, Spain. He is the creator of Pilates EVO©, bodyFUNC©, and CEO of Pilates Rehab Limited and Sport Core Strength.  He also organises Pilates Carnival and Fitness Carnival, conventions where all profits go to local children’s charities. For more information about Pilates with Chris in Barcelona, please click on Barcelona Bienestar. To learn more about Chris, please read Just who is Chris Hunt anyway? You can also subscribe by completing the form on the this BLOG to receive articles and special offers straight to your inbox.

Chris pays all the profits made from this BLOG to his charity partners. More details can be found by clicking on and selecting the “charity partners” tab.


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