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MASTER CLASS: Exercise time is playtime when pals pick up pencils during planks

by Matt Parrott | June 20, 2022 at 1:51 a.m.
Trish Blair picks up pencils while doing planks -- a Master Class exercise that's fun to do with a group exercise class. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

For decades, people have recognized that exercise is more fun when performed in a group. There have been countless studies on the topic, and the consensus observation is that exercise "enjoyment" generally increases with social support.

Some studies have also shown that family support is more powerful than friend/peer support. This week, I'll share an exercise that's perfect for a buddy workout.

For my entire lifetime, I can't remember walking into a fitness center that didn't have some type of organized group workout activity. Most fitness centers have a formal group exercise program that consists of a weekly schedule with varied workout categories. Schedules usually include classes in the mind/body category (yoga, Pilates, etc.), cardiovascular workouts and strength training, and there are others.

During my time as a fitness center owner and/or manager, I looked at the group exercise participation numbers to gauge our schedule and instructor strength. Enthusiasm for group classes was one of the key metrics that helped to ensure membership retention, which is the name of the game in the fitness business.

Research certainly supports the fact that social support is good for exercise behavior, but my observations suggest there's more to it. People who exercise together feel connected to one another. It's not only about having fun or adhering to a program. When a regular group exercise participant misses a class, people not only notice — they wonder if the participant is OK.

A bond develops, and it's a beautiful thing.

This is one of the reasons that doing a home-based workout program isn't the same as being part of a fitness center. The social element is important, even if not every member participates in group exercise.

Sure, someone can interact with people on a TV screen, but is that really the same thing? If I was still a college professor conducting research, I'd conduct a study with the hypothesis that it's not. My guess is that exercise "enjoyment" and exercise adherence are both stronger in live group classes when compared against online classes.

So, my advice is to get back out there and try a group class. Of course, health and safety precautions should be taken, but we have all had enough experience to know how to protect ourselves by now.

This week's exercise is a great opportunity for a buddy workout or group class station. The Plank Pencil Pickup "gamifies" the movement to create an additional competitive challenge.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch »]

1. Empty a box of pencils, pens or markers on the floor.

2. Position yourself facing the pile in the "up" phase of a pushup with your phone timer app open and handy.

3. When you're ready, start the timer and grab one marker with your right hand. Place it next to your left hand.

4. Place the right hand back on the floor and quickly grab a marker with your left hand and place it next to your right.

5. Continue alternating sides until you have moved all the markers to two piles. Stop the timer.

6. Perform three sets.

The goal is to finish collecting the full box worth of pencils as fast as possible and to continue improving your time. This is great for hand/eye coordination, manual dexterity and, of course, core strength.

The cool part of this exercise is that one can become exponentially faster very quickly. When that happens, add some more markers/pencils to the mix. It's another fun challenge!

Director of business development and population health solutions for Quest Diagnostics, Matt Parrott began this column 20 years ago at Little Rock. He has a doctorate in education (sport studies), a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.


Print Headline: Group classes seem to make exercise more fun


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