Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mind Over Muscle: Part 2

Mike wrote the other day about how much he enjoyed the group energy in a recent workout. Not so coincidentally "Group Energy" is the topic for this post.

In his recent book, How Bad Do You Want It? Matt Fitzgerald discusses a training phenomenon called "The Group Effect," an aspect of which psychologists refer to as Behavioral Synchrony. Behavioral Synchrony is essentially a coping mechanism which kicks in during group training or competition scenarios. On the positive side, it can raise the individual's performance. On the negative side it can also bring down performance. While it starts with individual performance, the Group Effect manifests in the observable changes of team or group performance. For example, you will often hear sports announcers refer to, "Big Mo'," the momentum shifting to another team after a series of great plays, often sparked by extra effort from one or two individuals. Or conversely, a series of bad plays can drag a group performance down.

How does Behavioral Synchrony work? It seems to work by increasing endorphins and lowering the level of perceived effort beyond what is usual in practicing by oneself. In other words, when you workout in a group setting you tend to get better results with less effort than if you work out alone. (Or if your team is producing one good play or performance after another and making it look easy.) Of course, the positive results are dependent on everyone supporting and encouraging each other. It can go the other direction too. Negative comments and attitudes can also have an effect on the group. Behavioral Synchrony is, in other words, what happens when we "feed off" other's performances and behaviors.

A friend of mine who runs a gym in PA counseled me this summer that our gym culture is the most important thing we have and it has to be protected and cultivated. I agree. Most of us most of the time work out in a group environment and it is important to have a positive, supportive, encouraging and fun atmosphere to look forward to.  As a fomer co-worker was fond of reminding me in my occasional dismal outlook, "Now Randy, be a fountain, not a drain."

The enhanced performance potential of Behavioral Synchrony and the Group Effect is why I prefer as many of our weightlifters and as many of our Hudson runners work out as a group whenever possible. If you are on the Individual Programming side of the schedule most of the time, try to occasionally schedule your workout with a few other friends from the gym, Your workouts will generally be higher energy, more fun and more productive as a result.