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Cohesion is Associated with Perceived Exertion and Enjoyment during Group Running

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Carnes AJ, Mahoney SE. Cohesion is Associated with Perceived Exertion and Enjoyment during Group Running. JEPonline 2016; 19(6):24-39. The purpose of this study was to determine if interval running with a group affects average speed, perceived exertion (RPE), and/or enjoyment in recreational runners, and if these variables are associated with cohesion and/or social support. Twenty adult runners performed two trials under different social conditions (alone, group), consisting of high intensity intervals. Average interval time, enjoyment, and RPE were compared between trials. Social support and cohesion were assessed separately. There were no main or interaction effects on average speed (P>0.87), RPE (P>0.08), or enjoyment (P>0.26). Task cohesion (r =-.58, P=0.01) and social support (r =-.73, P=0.001) were negatively associated with RPE in the group condition only, and positively associated with enjoyment. Running with a group did not affect speed, enjoyment, or RPE during an interval workout. However, higher perceived task cohesion and social support were associated with lower perceived exertion and greater enjoyment during group running. While the group environment did not augment the subjects' average running speed during a high intensity interval workout, group training may nonetheless furnish psychological benefits that could aid in the completion of challenging, high intensity training sessions.
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Journal of Exercise Physiology
online
December 2016
Volume 19 Number 6
Editor
-
in
-
Chief
Tommy Boone, PhD, MBA
Review Board
Todd Astorino, PhD
Julien Baker, PhD
Steve Brock, PhD
Lance Dalleck, PhD
Eric Goulet, PhD
Robert Gotshall, PhD
Alexander Hutchison, PhD
M. Knight-Maloney, PhD
Len Kravitz, PhD
James Laskin, PhD
Yit Aun Lim, PhD
Lonnie Lowery, PhD
Derek Marks, PhD
Cristine Mermier, PhD
Robert Robergs, PhD
Chantal Vella, PhD
Dale Wagner, PhD
Frank Wyatt, PhD
Ben Zhou, PhD
Official Research Journal
of the American Society of
Exercise Physiologists
ISSN 1097-9751
Official Research Journal of
the American Society of
Exercise Physiologists
ISSN 1097-9751
JEPonline
Cohesion is Associated with Perceived Exertion and
Enjoyment during Group Running
Andrew J. Carnes, Sara E. Mahoney
Bellarmine University, Department of Exercise Science, Louisville,
KY, United States
ABSTRACT
Carnes AJ, Mahoney SE. Cohesion is Associated with Perceived
Exertion and Enjoyment during Group Running. JEPonline 2016;
19(6):24-39. The purpose of this study was to determine if interval
running with a group affects average speed, perceived exertion
(RPE), and/or enjoyment in recreational runners, and if these
variables are associated with cohesion and/or social support. Twenty
adult runners performed two trials under different social conditions
(alone, group), consisting of high intensity intervals. Average interval
time, enjoyment, and RPE were compared between trials. Social
support and cohesion were assessed separately. There were no
main or interaction effects on average speed (P>0.87), RPE
(P>0.08), or enjoyment (P>0.26). Task cohesion (r = -.58, P=0.01)
and social support (r = -.73, P=0.001) were negatively associated
with RPE in the group condition only, and positively associated with
enjoyment. Running with a group did not affect speed, enjoyment, or
RPE during an interval workout. However, higher perceived task
cohesion and social support were associated with lower perceived
exertion and greater enjoyment during group running. While the
group environment did not augment the subjects’ average running
speed during a high intensity interval workout, group training may
nonetheless furnish psychological benefits that could aid in the
completion of challenging, high intensity training sessions.
Key Words: Group Running, Cohesion, Recreational Runners,
Social Support, Social Facilitation
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INTRODUCTION
Distance running is a highly popular fitness and athletic activity among US adults of both
sexes and a wide range of ages. Over 17 million individuals participate in organized running
events from 5 km to marathon (42.2 km) distances, and more recently ultramarathon (>42.2
km) distances annually (45). Among competitive and recreational runners alike (32), training
in a group is commonly viewed as a simple yet effective strategy to boost performance.
Various elements of a group environment are thought to encourage harder training effort and,
therefore, produce greater improvements in fitness than when training alone (24,30). This
strategy reflects similar recommendations by fitness professionals to increase the motivation
to exercise (19,33).
Knowledge of the potential benefits of exercising with others is not new. Ample research
points to social support as a strong correlate of physical activity (55), and the phenomenon of
“social facilitation” – that is, enhanced performance in the presence of others – was proposed
over a century ago (53,54,62). Although the social environment appears to have a positive
influence on total exercise behavior as well as cognitions and attitudes associated with
exercise (13), it is not a foregone conclusion that every individual who trains with others for
an athletic event (e.g., a footrace) will exert a greater effort than he or she would alone during
training sessions. For instance, while social support has been shown to increase the amount
of physical activity and promote adherence to exercise programs in adults who are not
competitive athletes (57), such results cannot be generalized to the voluntary effort of
athletes during individual training sessions.
Social facilitation, by contrast, has a stronger basis of examination in the athletic population.
Studies on cyclists (16,61), swimmers (59), and weightlifters (42) suggest that the presence
of an audience and/or competition can improve maximal physical performance. Yet, despite
the positive effect on maximal athletic performance shown in these studies (16,42,59,61),
only a small number of studies by our research group (7-10) have examined the potential role
of social factors during athletes’ submaximal training sessions. Many athletes, especially
those in endurance sports, perform a substantial amount of training below maximal effort
(22,49). Recent evidence supports a “polarized” endurance training scheme comprised of a
large volume of low intensity training, interspersed with a smaller proportion of structured,
high intensity efforts (29,49). Increased intensity in the presence of others during either type
could augment the total training stimulus (52,37). However, increased effort could also be
detrimental if intended low intensity training becomes excessively strenuous, which could
inhibit recovery (35,37), and/or the intensity of structured sessions (6). Therefore, a better
understanding of factors which could modulate the volume or intensity of submaximal training
(such as a partner or group) is warranted.
While a small number of experimental studies on non-athlete adults (27,39) and children
(1,43,47,48) suggest that the presence of others (i.e., peer influence) can increase the
intensity, amount of physical activity (via accelerometer), or enjoyment of self-regulated
exercise, our recent studies on competitive and recreational adult runners (7-10) raise the
question: Is the link between training with others and individual effort consistent across
different types of exercisers (e.g., non-athletes vs. athletes). Our prior studies diverge from
previous findings of positive effects, showing null (9,10) or negative (7,8) responses to the
presence of a peer. The unexpected findings of these preliminary studies on adult runners,
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compared with the enhanced maximal athletic performance in previous social facilitation
literature (16,42,59,61), highlight the need for further experimental research on the behavioral
and psychological effects of performing submaximal training coactively with others.
Local running clubs and groups offer the most common avenue to train with others. Also, they
are widely available throughout the US (44), and provide scheduled training sessions in a
group environment (24). However, no existing research has examined the effect of training in
a regularly meeting group (vs. alone) on voluntary intensity or volume, or the perceived effort
(i.e., ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), and enjoyment of a bout of training. Within this
context, an individual’s perception of the group’s social environment and collective goals may
be more important as the mere presence of the other group members. In this regard, an
established body of research has investigated group cohesion, which is characterized by a
sense of common unity in the pursuit of specific collective goals and/or objectives and a
tendency to “stick together” in the face of adversity or obstacles (11). Cohesion has been
shown to be a robust predictor of the adherence behavior of exercise group (15,50) and sport
team (14) members, but we are aware of only one study that has empirically examined the
effect of perceived cohesion on physical exertion in athletic individuals.
Prapavessis and Carron (40) found that individual sport team members’ perception of the
team’s task cohesiveness had a positive impact on exertion relative to individual maximum in
a running task. However, the authors did not test for a difference in exertion between
performing the task simultaneously with teammates and performing it alone. Another
proposed benefit of group exercise, the provision of social support, has also been
consistently identified as a strong correlate of physical activity and a predictor of adherence
behavior (13,23). Yet, despite the extensive research showing the utility of social support in
promoting regular physical activity, it has seldom received attention as a possible moderating
influence on acute exercise intensity (28).
The existing experimental research on the effect of partner or group influence on acute
training intensity in athletic individuals is limited, and the idea of universally increased
motivation and intensity when running in a group relies on anecdotal support. Although
previous studies on peer influence during voluntarily paced continuous running showed
inconsistent results (7-10), high intensity intervals within the polarized training model
(29,37,49) require effort more similar (25,36) to the maximal effort shown to be enhanced in
previous social facilitation studies on athletes (16,42,59,61). Furthermore, this type of training
can have a powerful effect on endurance performance (25,36,37). If social facilitation or
perceived cohesion in a group setting augments the rate of work sustained during high
intensity training, running in a group may indeed be an effective means to enhance the
adaptive response (25,52) and ultimately, competitive performance (37). However, no
empirical evidence currently exists to support this potential outcome of training in a group.
The purpose of this study was to determine if running with a group affects average speed,
perceived exertion, and enjoyment in members of an established public running group during
a structured, high intensity interval session. Secondly, we sought to determine if any changes
in these variables were related to individuals’ perceptions of group cohesion or social
support. Based on the previous social facilitation research (16,42,59,61) showing enhanced
maximal performance in athletes, we hypothesized that runners performing a structured
interval running session coactively with familiar group members would increase average
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speed and report greater enjoyment compared to running the same workout alone. From
previous cohesion research showing a positive effect on relative running effort (40), we also
hypothesized that the magnitude of any changes in average speed and/or enjoyment would
be positively associated with perceived cohesion and social support.
METHODS
Subjects
Twenty habitual adult runners (11 women, 9 men), all belonging to the same local running
group, were recruited through fliers and verbal announcements by the principal investigator at
group training sessions. The principal investigator had no other affiliation or involvement with
the group. Three participants withdrew from the study, one due to knee pain and two due to
scheduling conflicts, leaving data from 17 subjects (10 women, 7 men) to be analyzed. To be
eligible for the study, subjects were required to report running at least 3 d·wk-1 and at least 20
km·wk-1 for the prior 6 months, compete in 3 or more organized running events during the
prior 12 months, and free from medical complications (such as metabolic, orthopedic, and
cardiovascular disorders). The subjects took part in the group to train for a series of local
road racing events ranging from 5 km to the marathon (42.2 km). Each subject reported
training with the group for at least 2 sessions·wk-1 for the last 4 wks. All subjects were
provided a written informed consent, and all study procedures were approved by the
University Institutional Review Board. Table 1 presents the subjects’ physical characteristics.
Table 1. Descriptive Data of the Subjects. Values are reported as means ± SD (N = 17).
Men Women
Age (yr) 45.3 ± 6.52 44.5 ± 14.9
Body Mass (kg) 80.7 ± 10.4 64.5 ± 8.87
Height (cm) 178 ± 2.28 162 ± 5.62
Weekly Volume (km·wk-1) 32.6 ± 10.6 30.4 ± 9.89
Procedures
Each subject completed two experimental trials. Each trial was a different social condition
(group, alone) and in a randomized order. In the group condition, the subjects were observed
while performing a previously scheduled “speed” session coactively with the entire running
group, including those who were not study participants. This session was part of the group’s
prearranged schedule and was selected for examination due to its intermittent, high intensity
nature. In order to observe the subjects’ customary training habits, they were allowed to run
with anyone with whom they normally did during group sessions, but were not required to run
alongside any other specific group member. Because the group included members with
varying ability, individual runners progressed through the session at varying rates. While
many of the training group’s members simultaneously completing the session were not
subjects in the study, participants were observed within this environment in order to mimic as
closely as possible an actual group training environment and preserve the usual interactions
the subjects had with other accustomed group members.
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Initial Session
Prior to the data collection sessions, the principal investigator met individually with each
subject in the university laboratory to explain the study procedures, obtain written informed
consent, and collect anthropometric measurements. Height and weight were measured to the
nearest millimeter using an analog stadiometer (Seca, Chino CA) and to the nearest 0.2 kg
using a calibrated balance beam scale (Seca, Chino CA), respectively. During this session,
the subject also completed validated questionnaires to assess perceived cohesion of the
running group and the provision of social support from the group. Perceived cohesion and
social support were assessed using the Group Environment Questionnaire (GEQ) (14) and
the Exercise Social Provisions Scale (EXSPS) (18), respectively. The subject was given
standardized instructions on the completion of each questionnaire, and was permitted to ask
questions at any time. All questionnaires were completed privately and the order in which the
subjects completed the GEQ and EXSPS was counterbalanced. Lastly, the subject was
introduced to the Borg 6-20 RPE scale (5) and provided standardized instructions on its use.
Group Interval Session
Each interval running session consisted of 8 uphill 400 m intervals. The hill was part of a
paved pedestrian path closed to vehicular traffic, and had an average inclination of 7.6%, as
calculated using Google Earth. The same hill was used for all intervals under both social
conditions. Upon arrival to the data collection site, subjects were individually fitted by
research staff with a heart rate monitoring chest strap and wrist unit. The instructions for the
session were explained by the principal investigator to the subjects, who were then given the
opportunity to ask any questions before the session began. Then, the subjects performed a
10-min light intensity warm-up, on a flat section of the path used for the warm-up in both
sessions. The subjects were instructed to run each interval at a “hard” but not maximal effort,
correspondent to 90 to 95% of maximal effort and 16 to 18 on the Borg RPE scale (37,38).
The recovery between each interval was dictated by the time required for the subject to jog
down the hill at a light effort. The subsequent interval began as soon as the subject returned
to the starting point. Any timing or monitoring devices worn by the subject were obscured by
black nontransparent tape, and group members not participating in the study were asked not
to share any temporal feedback with the subjects until the conclusion of the workout. At the
end of each interval, the elapsed time, average heart rate, and rating of perceived exertion
(RPE) for that interval were recorded. The elapsed time of each recovery period was also
recorded between intervals. The data recorded for each of these variables was then
averaged over the 8 intervals. Each subject’s enjoyment (i.e., liking) of the entire session was
assessed at the conclusion of the workout in a private area via visual analog scale.
Alone Interval Session
The alone trial took place at the same time of day, 5 to 7 days before or after the group trial.
The subjects were given identical directions to the group trial, and completed the same
training session on the same course. Measures were identical to those in the group trial.
Measurements
Group Environment Questionnaire
The Group Environment Questionnaire (GEQ) is a four scale instrument that provides a valid
and reliable measure of perceived cohesion in sport teams (14) and exercise groups
(15,50,51). The questionnaire is based on a recognized conceptual model (21) describing
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cohesion as a construct consisting of four elements, as illustrated in Figure 1. The model
distinguishes between individual and group aspects of cohesion, which are each
subcategorized into task and social orientations. The individual aspect is divided into
Individual Attraction to Group-Task (ATG-T) and Individual Attraction to Group-Social (ATG-
S), while the group aspect is divided into Group Integration-Task (GI-T) and Group
Integration-Social (GI-S).
Figure 1. Conceptual Model of Group Cohesion (14).
Individual Attraction to Group-Task (ATG-T) is a measure of the individual’s perception of his
or her personal involvement in the group’s common task and/or goals, while Individual
Attraction to Group-Social (ATG-S) is a measure of the individual’s perception of his or her
acceptance, inclusion, and involvement in the group’s social atmosphere. Group Integration-
Task (GI-T) is a measure of the individual’s perception of the group’s unity around the shared
pursuit of common goals, while Group Integration-Social (GI-S) is a measure of the
individual’s perception of the group’s closeness as a social entity (21). The GEQ assesses an
individual’s perception of the four separate elements of group cohesion using an 18-item
questionnaire to which responses are given on a 9 point Likert scale ranging from 1 (“strongly
disagree”) to 9 (“strongly agree”).
Exercise Social Provisions Scale
The Revised Exercise Group Social Provisions Scale (EXSPS) is a validated questionnaire
developed by Cutrona and Russell (18) to assess six distinct components of social support,
as described by Weiss (56): attachment, social integration, reassurance of worth, reliable
alliance, guidance, and opportunity for nurturance. The questionnaire consists of 24 items to
which responses are given on a 4 point Likert scale ranging from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 4
(“strongly agree”).
Enjoyment
Subjects rated their enjoyment of each interval session using a visual analog scale (VAS) that
consisted of a continuous horizontal 100-mm line anchored by “do not like it at all” on the left
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and “like it very much” on the right (4). The subject was shown the scale and was instructed
to make a mark on the line to indicate his or her level of enjoyment of the session, with a
higher millimeter measurement indicating greater liking.
RPE
Undifferentiated, whole-body RPE was assessed at the conclusion of each interval using the
validated Borg RPE scale (5). The subject was shown a large placard of the scale and
allowed to point to or verbally express the number (6 to 20) indicating his or her level of
perceived exertion.
Statistical Analyses
Statistical analyses were conducted using SPSS 21 (IBM Inc, Armonk, IL) with an alpha level
of P≤0.05. Means and measures of variability were calculated for the primary dependent
variables (average interval time, average interval RPE, and enjoyment) in each social
condition. Assumptions of normality were tested and confirmed for each dependent variable
using Shapiro-Wilk tests. Because the running group included multiple study participants,
interdependence occurred between the subjects who completed the group condition
coactively. Therefore, mixed-effects regression models were used to examine main and
interaction effects of social condition and sex for each dependent variable. Mixed models
assume that the data within subjects are dependent among the observations and can
therefore be used to account for interdependence (26). Separate models were performed for
each of the dependent variables. All regression analyses utilized the following model:
Dependent variable = α + β1 (social condition) + β2 (sex) + β3 (social condition*sex)
Post-hoc paired t-tests were performed for any significant main or interaction effects.
Individual ratings of cohesion and social support were compared between sexes using
unpaired t-tests. Pearson’s correlations were used to detect associations between perceived
cohesion and social support and the primary dependent variables (interval time, enjoyment,
and RPE) in each social condition.
RESULTS
The data for all dependent variables, grouped by sex, are presented in Table 2 (Values are
reported as means ± SD, N = 17; *Significant main effect of sex, P≤0.05). The heart rate data
were incomplete for numerous subjects. Therefore, the data were eliminated from the final
analysis. Mixed model regression analysis showed a main effect of sex on average interval
time (F = 12.15, P=0.002) in which the men (122 ± 16.1 sec) completed the intervals in less
time than the women (155 ± 27.8 sec) across both social conditions. No main effect of social
condition or sex by condition interaction occurred on average interval time (P>0.87). There
were no main or interaction effects on RPE (P>0.08) or enjoyment (P>0.26). Data for ratings
of perceived social support and individual aspects of cohesion are shown in Table 3 (means
± SD, N = 17). No aspect of cohesion nor social support differed between the sexes (P>0.11).
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Table 2. Average Interval Time, Enjoyment, and RPE Across Social Conditions
Men Women
Alone Group Alone Group
Time (sec)* 122.9 ± 16.1 121.1 ± 15.8 151.0 ± 27.7 151.8 ± 28.9
Enjoyment (mm) 79.4 ± 20.9 86.0 ± 13.5 71.9 ± 21.9 80.9 ± 12.9
RPE 14.6 ± 2.12 15.2 ± 1.95 15.8 ± 1.41 16.1 ± 1.47
Table 3. Perceived Cohesion and Social Support.
Men Women
ATG-T 8.14 ± 0.76 8.20 ± 0.57
GI-T 7.17 ± 1.54 7.50 ± 1.12
ATG-S 6.65 ± 1.13 7.46 ± 1.38
GI-S 6.00 ± 2.07 6.42 ± 1.72
EXSPS 3.21 ± 0.47 3.18 ± 0.45
Both individual and group aspects of task cohesion, Individual Attraction to Group-Task
(ATG-T) and Group Integration-Task (GI-T), were negatively associated with RPE in the
group condition (ATG-T: r = -0.58, P=0.01; GI-T: r = -0.54, P=0.03), but not RPE in the alone
condition (P>0.25). The association between ATG-T and group condition RPE is shown in
Figure 2. Neither measure of social cohesion (i.e., Individual Attraction to Group-Social (ATG-
S), Group Integration-Social (GI-S)) was associated with RPE in either condition.
Figure 2. Task Cohesion (ATG-T) and RPE. Perceptions of task cohesion (ATG-T shown) were
negatively associated with RPE only during the group condition (r = -0.58, P=0.01).
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The subjects’ perceived social support was negatively associated with RPE in the group
condition (r = -0.73, P=0.001) but not RPE in the alone condition (P=0.17). The association
between perceived social support and group condition RPE is shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Perceived Social Support and RPE. Perceived social support was negatively associated
with RPE only during the group condition (r = -0.73, P=0.001).
DISCUSSION
The primary finding of this study was that completing an interval running workout with familiar
group members did not significantly influence the recreational runners’ average speed,
perceived exertion, or enjoyment of the workout. However, perceptions of both types of task
cohesion (ATG-T and GI-T) and social support were negatively associated with perceived
exertion during the group running condition, but not during the alone condition. This
association, in concurrence with a lack of difference in average speed between conditions,
may suggest that individuals who perceived higher task cohesion and social support reported
lower effort in the group environment to run the same average speed. In addition, perceived
task cohesion was positively associated with ratings of enjoyment of both interval running
sessions.
Interestingly, the runners’ average speed was not different between the two social conditions.
Numerous studies on athletes have shown that an audience or competition can improve
maximal performance (16,42,59,61) through a “social facilitation” process (53). However, in
studies on recreational and competitive runners performing submaximal exercise (7-10), such
an effect was not observed. During a self-paced, submaximal training session, collegiate
male runners ran slower in the presence of teammates versus running alone (7). In a similar
study on recreational runners, female runners decreased speed in the presence of an
unfamiliar peer while male runners showed a positive change in speed (8). A later study
showed no differences in voluntary speed, duration, perceived exertion, or enjoyment
between running alone, with a familiar peer, or with an unfamiliar peer in recreational runners
(9). The intensity in these studies was self-selected, but runners were advised to approach
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the experimental trials as they would an unstructured, light to moderate intensity training
session, which comprises a majority of endurance athletes’ training (22).
The present study investigated the possibility that a group setting, through social facilitation
(16,42,59,61) or the influence of cohesion (40) would stimulate volitional intensity during a
strenuous interval training session. While such workouts represent a small proportion of
endurance athletes’ training regimen, they are nonetheless an integral part of structured
endurance training programs (49) and deliver large adaptive benefits (25,36). Given that they
involve markedly higher intensity than continuous, moderate running and more closely
resemble the maximal effort (25) shown elsewhere to be enhanced in the presence of others
(16,42,59,61), we hypothesized that the stimulatory effect absent from submaximal running
studies (7-10) would occur. Yet, despite the higher intensity involved in such an interval
workout, no consistent difference in average speed occurred between performing the workout
alone or amidst a familiar group in the present study. While the potential for competition to
enhance physical performance cannot be discounted, the present results more closely align
with the findings of Bath et al. (2), who showed that the 5-km time trial performance of trained
runners was not affected by a second runner acting as a pacer, but the runners subjectively
rated the “pacer” condition as easier than running alone. Our findings reflect the conclusion of
Bath et al. (2) that a runner’s pacing strategy appears to be robust and not altered by the
presence of another runner. The present similarity in average interval speed between social
conditions limits the likelihood of an augmented volitional intensity by a group environment.
However, concurrence with Bath’s (2) proposal of robust pacing strategy may have the
benefit of allowing runners to train in a group environment while adhering to individually
appropriate training paces (35,37) even at high intensities.
While average speed was not altered between social conditions, measures of perceived task
cohesion (ATG-T and GI-T) and social support were negatively associated with RPE only in
the group condition. Past research on cohesion, particularly individual attraction to group task
(ATG-T) has shown positive effects on individual adherence behavior, including reduced
withdrawal and absenteeism (15,50). Similarly, social support has consistently been identified
as a robust correlate of physical activity behavior (55). However, these relationships do not
allow conjecture on the effect that cohesion or social support may have on acute individual
effort in a group setting. Evidence does exist to support a positive relationship between
cohesion and performance in sport (12), although the index used to gauge performance has
not been consistent across reports. For example, performance in interactive team sports has
been gauged using win-loss records (34,58), and in a coactive sport using individual golf
scores (60). Only Prapavessis and Carron (40) have empirically examined the effect of
cohesion on physical exertion during a running task. Athletes in various team sports that
benefit from cardiovascular fitness (rugby, basketball, soccer, netball, water polo) were
grouped by their reported perceptions of task cohesion (ATG-T, GI-T) before a maximal effort
3-min run. Athletes in the “high cohesion” group exerted significantly greater effort, as
indicated by percentage of maximal aerobic capacity, than those in the “low cohesion” group
(40). Runners in the present study were not separated into groups based on reported
cohesion, but did not change average speed between the alone and group interval sessions,
regardless of perceived cohesion. Although cohesion did not appear to impact voluntary
running speed, the negative association between group session RPE and perceived task
cohesion reflects the findings of Courneya (17), who reported higher feeling states in relation
to higher perceptions of task cohesion in exercise class participants. Furthermore, in addition
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to its inverse relation with group session RPE, task cohesion was positively associated with
ratings of enjoyment of both running sessions. Although affect was not directly assessed in
the present study, a relationship between enjoyment and positive effect has been previously
reported (41).
Notably, group session RPE was related only to measures of task cohesion (ATG-T, GI-T),
but not to those of social cohesion (ATG-S, GI-S). Past work showing that cohesion positively
affects performance (12), adherence (15,50), and effort (40) suggests that task cohesion
most consistently exerts a positive effect on these variables than social aspects of cohesion
(21). Here, while group influence did not produce the greater effort widely thought to occur in
such a setting (24,30,32), the association between task cohesion and group session RPE
suggests that an individual’s perception of a group environment may have important effects
other than altering the intensity of exercise. Similar to the positive cohesion – affective
relationship in exercise class participants (17), Bath et al. (2) showed that even without a
performance effect from a second runner, trained runners felt that a maximal effort 5-km time
trial was easier in the “pacer” condition than alone.
In the present study, the lower RPE and greater enjoyment reported for a group workout by
those with higher perceptions of task cohesion could be especially valuable during high
intensity interval training sessions. This format of training provides a potent stimulus for
enhanced fitness (25), but requires much higher effort and discomfort than continuous
moderate intensity training (20), and may produce negative affective states (31,46). Despite
the lack of an effect on running speed, it is possible that the lower RPE and greater
enjoyment associated with the perceived task cohesiveness of the group could potentially
mitigate the discomfort and/or negative feelings often experienced during intense training.
This could be of benefit to experienced runners aiming to enhance performance through the
inclusion of higher intensity training, or help make such training more approachable for novice
runners (36,37). However, further examination under experimental conditions is necessary to
support this possibility.
The present study is not without limitation. Foremost, the small sample size (N = 17)
necessitates that the results, while novel, be interpreted as preliminary. While all participants
fulfilled the criteria for participation, their wide ranging ability levels likely contributed to
considerable variability in average running speed. However, public running groups most
frequently welcome all levels of ability, which may contribute to their growing popularity (3).
Thus, the subjects’ varying ability in the present study may reflect the variation present in
many running groups, making the present findings highly relevant to these groups.
Conversely, these results cannot be generalized to highly competitive runners in elite training
groups or collegiate teams. Despite the moderate and significant correlations between
measures of task cohesion and RPE in the group condition, the range of task cohesion
ratings in this sample was fairly homogeneous, which restricts the assessment of these
associations with lower levels of perceived cohesion. Most importantly, the significant
correlations between perceptions of cohesion, social support, exertion, and enjoyment are
compelling, but cannot be used to infer causation without further controlled empirical study.
Future research should involve larger samples of both recreational and highly competitive
runners with a wider range of perceived cohesion who can be stratified into groups of low and
high perceived cohesion and/or social support.
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CONCLUSIONS
The present findings are the first to suggest that performing a challenging running workout
coactively with a highly cohesive and supportive group may positively affect the perception of
effort and enjoyment of the workout. While the group environment did not augment the
subjects’ average running speed during the high intensity interval workout, the present study
provides preliminary evidence that group training may nonetheless furnish psychological
benefits that could aid in the completion of challenging, high intensity training sessions.
However, such benefits likely depend on the perception of strong group cohesion, without
which the group environment may have little impact. Additional research is necessary to
elucidate the behavioral and psychological responses to group training in a variety of athletic
settings.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The authors wish to thank members of the Fleet Feet Distance Project of Louisville,
Kentucky, for their enthusiastic participation and effort, without which this study would not
have been possible.
Address for correspondence: Andrew J. Carnes, PhD, Department of Exercise Science,
Bellarmine University, Louisville, KY, United States, 40242, Email: acarnes@bellarmine.edu
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