Commentary: Collective movement is good, but we also need a strong movement self-identity

Winnipeg, Canada: Anyone who has participated in a sports group probably knows the power and benefits of team sports. Exercise group members often identify with their group and develop a sense of “we” or belonging.

Having this sense of “us” is associated with many benefits, including life satisfaction, team cohesion, support, and exercising confidence. In addition, when people identified strongly with a particular exercise group, they were more likely to increase group attendance, effort levels, and higher exercise volumes. Joining an exercise group seems like a great way to support your exercise routine.

But what happens when people can’t rely on their exercise group for support?

In our Kinesiology Lab at the University of Manitoba, we have begun to answer this question. When people move, become parents, or take on new jobs with challenging schedules, they may not be able to join their exercise group. In March 2020, many group exercisers were unable to enter their groups due to restrictions on public gatherings accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t rely too much on exercise groups

To see if tying yourself to a certain exercise group would make exercising more difficult when that group was unavailable, we asked exercise group members how they would react if their exercise group was no longer available to them. People who strongly identify with their team lack confidence in their ability to exercise alone and think the task will be difficult.

We found similar results in two studies that have not yet been peer-reviewed, in which we examined how exercisers responded when they were unable to access exercise groups due to COVID-19 restrictions on group gatherings. Likewise, exercisers with a strong sense of “us” lack confidence in exercising alone.

The reason for this lack of confidence may be that members have to “cold turkey” in terms of group participation, suddenly losing the support and accountability that the group provides.


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