Two women running in the park

Solo vs group workouts: do women prefer exercising alone or with other people?

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Is it better to train alone or with other people? Here’s what women think gives them the best workout. 

How, where and when it’s best to work out are very contentious issues. Whether you’re a die-hard runner or passionate about strength training, sworn to home workouts or can only get motivated at the gym, jump up at 6 am or can’t fathom moving until after work – we bet you’re adamant that your way is the best way. 

But we don’t talk quite as much about who we train with, despite it being a make or break for many people’s workouts. 

The idea of group classes, where everyone can see each other doing the same exercises, is hell for many people who’d just rather focus on themselves. For others, it’s way more motivating to be lunging, running or cycling next to other people. 

It turns out, there’s no best way to train. We asked 281 Strong Women readers (and Stylist’s own team for their thoughts, too) which they prefer, and the question was divisive. But the winner might not be the answer you expected: 62% said that they prefer to train alone, while 38% said group workouts were their go-to. 

It’s refreshing to see that so many women have the confidence to hit the gym, pavement or yoga mat solo. It goes against the well-ingrained idea that women generally lack self-esteem in their abilities and training. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with enjoying the support of a group either, as these responses prove. 

Benefits of exercising alone

The reasons why people prefer to exercise by themselves – whether that’s running with nothing but headphones or finding their own space in the gym – range from focus to empowerment. Some of the responses from readers as to why they love it include:

  • “I can focus on me”
  • “I can go at my own time and it’s not competitive”
  • “I can do what I want at my own pace”
  • “I feel like others judge me [in group classes]”
  • “If I have a bad day it’s only me that sees it”
  • “I swear a lot!”
  • “No one sees how clumsy I am”
  • “I feel more powerful and embodied – it’s my solo mindful time”
  • “There’s less pressure to keep up and no comparison”
  • “[I like to] plug in music and focus”
  • “There’s less distraction”
  • “I’m self-conscious [in classes]”
A woman doing shoulder press in the gym by herself
A lot of women prefer working out alone to training with other people.

Stylist’s news writer Amy Beecham is firmly on team solo training, saying it’s the only time she gets to focus on herself: “I find it so much harder to concentrate and I get into my own head and turn things into a competition when I’m working out with someone else.

“Going to the gym and strength training solo can be nerve-wracking, but I consider working out on my own as a little solo date – it’s time in my own head where I only have to focus on myself and what my body can do.” 

For Ellie Edwards, a social media editor, the pandemic shifted her thought on solo workouts: “Post-lockdown I feel more irritable around other people and prefer the headspace of working out solo. I don’t exercise to compete, so doing it solo means going at my own pace.” 

The benefits of exercising in a group

The other side of the coin – the group exercisers – were just as passionate about their reasons for training with others. Their reason for loving parkrun and busy classes included: 

  • “Camaraderie”
  • “When I see other girls keep going I believe I can keep going too”
  • “It feels like you’re in a team”
  • “It’s more fun”
  • “Being around other people is motivating”
  • “The attention’s not on me”
  • “[I love the] group energy”
  • “I’ve gained friends and found supportive people with similar goals”
  • “You have other people to vibe off”
  • “It makes me work harder – I quit too easily when it’s just me” 

Kayleigh Dray, Stylist.co.uk’s editor at large who attends weekly kung fu classes, says training with others makes “it feel more like a fun activity than a chore. I’ve made friends with quite a few people in my class; we have a WhatsApp group where we share tips, we cheer each other on, and we all clap when someone gets up to show off a new move or routine solo, too.

“I also love having a teacher talk me through it; I think I like the idea that I’m working towards something tangible rather than just… exercising.”

If there’s one takeaway here, it’s the age-old lesson that movement is so individual. For example, while some people find working out alone intimidating, others feel more under pressure in group environments. Despite some people finding motivation in others, a lot of people find it too distracting. You probably won’t be able to convince them otherwise. 

Images: Pexels

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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