The Köhler Effect: How one Person can change the Success of your next Class

Turns out it really is the little things that add up, especially when it comes to group fitness

5 min read

Elevate Your Workout: How the Köhler Effect Powers Group Fitness at SUMHIIT

In 1926 German researcher Otto Köhler documented a phenomenon that said, “An increase in motivation sometimes occurs among individuals working in groups on conjunctive tasks that require persistence but little coordination of effort. The effect is likely due to the increased effort expended by the less capable group members.”

One hundred years later, his theory applies to just about any group fitness class.

Before we dig deeper into Köhler’s theory to understand how it applies to the ethos of today’s fitness world, let’s translate some of his thinking to understand how it impacts the dynamics of a group workout.

Conjunctive tasks are defined as group duties or goals that require work and effort from every member of the team. The success of whatever the group is working towards depends heavily on the performance of the weakest link. How does this effect group training and workouts? Nobody wants to be the weakest link. Your ego simply won’t stand for it. And that’s a good thing, because over time, you playing catch-up is increasing your body’s strength. Subsequently, whoever the weakest link is in a group will work harder and perform better in an effort to not keep the group weighted down. And that helps everyone on that team to become better, faster and more efficient.

Even when you’re new, you hold a lot more Power than you think

Why the weakest link isn’t actually weak

If Köhler’s hypothesis is true, then how does it translate to your next fitness class? Imagine you’re working out in a studio as part of a group, and it’s your first class. The lights are dim, the music is thumping, you don’t know which weight to grab and you’ve never been on an air bike before in your life. Remember, everyone starts somewhere, and the most important thing isn’t your ability out of the gate: It’s that you showed up in the first place.

Midway through the class, at the encouragement of your coach, who is asking everyone in class to increase their bike speed, your legs and arms begin to push harder and faster. Then the magic happens. You can see your number tick up half a point on the bike screen. You’re going faster than you thought you could. Your brain is chugging out motivational speech as fast as your feet are pushing into your pedals: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can , I think I can. Your partner cheers you on. And look at you. You can do hard things.

You’re running off a high of newfound confidence. When your bike interval ends and you move from the bike to the floor, you reach for a weight or kettlebell that’s a few pounds heavier than you’re used to lifting. Remember, you can do hard things. But your choice isn’t just a reflection of your strength and endurance. It has a domino effect on the rest of the class, too. You pushing yourself harder isn’t just challenging your body’s abilities and training your cardiovascular endurance to reach new plateaus; you’re also motivating the rest of your class and have a direct impact on how hard they work. They say teamwork makes the dream work. So when you are pushing yourself harder you’re pushing your training partner harder, too. It doesn’t matter what level of athlete you are, or how much experience you have doing push-ups, burpees or flying fast on the air bike. When you get better, everyone gets better. And that’s what a SUMHIIT class is really about.

Your Morale and Motivation has a Domino Effect

When you work harder and faster, so will everyone around you

Small wins feed morale, adding to a group’s overall motivation. Maybe you lean into a deeper lunge or squat during your next lower body strength day and inspire your partner — who is plugging away on the fan bike — to sit a little deeper into theirs after your high-intensity interval is done. Your choice to work harder is helping them work harder too, and that’s a gift to both of you. Just think about the domino effect that can have on a class’s overall effort and your increased athletic ability. You’re always in a position of power during a SUMHIIT class. Your performance is impactful. The way you show up has an impact on the entire team.

How You can bring the Köhler Effect to Class

Show up for Yourself and your Team

How can you apply this phenomenon to your experience at a gym or studio like SUMHIIT Fitness? In your next High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT) class, try pairing with a workout partner whose skillset is a little higher than yours. Your partner can be your inspiration or your competition. Either way, they’re going to push you past what you think you can do. Studies shows you’ll try to level up with them during your workout, increasing your energy and stamina from good to better to best. Trying to catch up with someone who is encouraging you to move from one level to another, like an aerobic to anaerobic state, also increases your calorie burn after class and improves your overall strength over time.

When you’re part of a group fitness class or partnering up with a peer to workout, you are creating accountability that will push you harder. Trying to catch up with the cadence of other members of your class — who might be biking using all of their strength, performing heavier bicep curls, or lowering their hips a half-inch more in plank — will act as a motivation tool for your brain. You’ll be like the little engine that could: I think I can, I think I can. Until you do. And you show yourself how strong you really are. Not only did you motivate your peers, you give yourself a confidence booster, too.

The Köhler Effect helps your Team and You

It’s a double-win for everyone

What do you get out of the Köhler effect? It challenges you to stretch yourself to reach abilities you never thought were possible before. In time, this means you’ll build your athleticism, endurance and strength. You will probably notice results both inside and outside the gym. The Köhler effect plants a seed of healthy competition so you can catch up to the next best person in your class as you both work together towards one common goal. You’ll become part of something bigger than yourself and push the people around you to work harder and smarter and carpe that diem.

Now go get after it! We can’t wait to see you in class soon.

Think SUMHIIT Fitness might be for you? We welcome all levels of fitness and offer a personal approach to every group class.

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