Group Exercise and Making New Friends

Posted March 4, 2014 by Marie Arcidiacono in Networking Buzz
Women Holding Drink after Exercise

About two months ago I decided to take advantage of a Living Social Deal for one month of unlimited boot camp classes. I was hesitant to go alone to a boot camp class where I would know NO ONE. Part of me wanted to bail, but I had already bought the voucher and I wasn’t running at the time, so I figured, why not just give it a try?

The first two classes I went to were OKAY at best. I wasn’t really sure about the whole group fitness dynamic–I’m a runner, the extent of my socialization while working out is running next to someone else who has their headphones in the whole run and/or running with my dog.

I basically just showed up to class, worked out and left. No one talked to me (aside from the instructor) and I didn’t talk to anyone else. REAL social of me…NOT.

I almost gave up on boot camp about two weeks in (I decided I had gotten my money’s worth that far in) but then I realized that I could try harder to make friends.

My boot camp experience got me thinking about how we go about making new friends in our adult lives. It’s not as easy as when we were younger and had more time and energy on our hands.

In my Interpersonal class we just talked about friendships and how we go about making friends (specifically in college) and I realized that the five key factors that affect the development of (college) friendships, were things that mattered as I developed new friends at boot camp.

According to researcher Beverly Fehr in her article, “Friendship Formation” in Handbook of Relatioship Initiation (2008), there are five key elements (paraphrased below, as I explain them to my class) that play a role in friendship development:

  1. Similarities/Compatibility: We are more likely to develop a friendship with someone who we think/know shares similar interests with us. At boot camp this was easy, we were all there because we had the same interest in working out. Check.
  2. Proximity: We are more likely to develop a friendship with someone who is in close proximity (i.e. space) to us. At boot camp the first woman I started chatting with was the woman who worked out next to me. Check.
  3. Expectation of Liking: We are more likely to develop a friendship with someone who we think will like us. At boot camp I noticed that the woman next me would choose to set up her weights near me, so I assumed that she would like me as a potential friend. If she didn’t she would have set up elsewhere right? Check.
  4. Self-Disclosure: We are more likely to develop a friendship with someone who we feel engages in similar self-disclosure with us. This means that when we share something they share something of similar value with us. At boot camp one afternoon I turned to the woman next to me and said, “This is kicking my behind!” and she said, “It’s been kicking mine!” Check.
  5. Accessibility/Availability: We are more likely to develop a friendship with someone we feel is accessible/available to meet up/hangout/chat with, etc. That makes sense, right? If someone is always “Busy” we probably won’t go out of our way to develop a friendship with them. At boot camp when it comes time to pick partners for workouts the woman next to me and I usually partner up. Check.

Long story short: I stuck with boot camp, joined as a member and even made new workout friends. Who would have thought? Me, the anti-weights, running only, solo exercise advocate, joining a group boot camp? I never would have guessed it, but now I can’t imagine my workout life without it and the awesome women I’ve met there.

Have you ever tried group exercise classes? Yay or Nay? How do you go about making new friends?

About the Author

Marie Arcidiacono

Marie is a Speech Communication professor who also coaches a debate team. She truly loves what she does and hopes to continue to teach for decades to come. In her "free time" she is an avid runner. Marie enjoys running a variety of distances, including the Half Marathon. She is dedicated to living as healthy a lifestyle as she can while balancing a very busy schedule. Marie loves to network and share ideas so writing for Career Girl Network is perfect for her. You can also read about her adventures on Why Not Girl!.



    Hi! Thanks for sharing. Reading your post reminds of a book by Ori & Rom Brafman, Click: The Power of Instant Connections. For a small & quick read, it gives a lot of research evidence on humans connect.


      Hi Lillian,

      I will definitely have to pick up this book. I am sure it will be a great asset for my Interpersonal course (and life in general).

      Thanks for commenting!



    I actually teach group fitness classes and for the record, as an instructor, I LOVE it when participants chat me up. I’ve met some of my closest friends in class, but it’s hard for me to know who wants a boundary and who wants to be friends when I’m at the front of the class every time, so I rarely make the first move.

    So FYI, if you think your instructor is someone you’d like to be friends with, most likely you’re right! Stick around after class and chat – a good ice breaker question would be to ask if the instructor does fitness full time or if she has a “real” job.

    Great post!


      Hi Kelley,

      Thanks so much for your insight on what it’s like from the instructor standpoint! I definitely understand what you are saying about the “boundary” concept–I am so glad you shared how to approach an instructor as well.

      I am going to make it a point to try and talk to my instructor more.

      Thanks for commenting!

    Nicolene C


    This article is exactly the confirmation I need. I’m visiting the Netherlands soon, and if I join a fitness group such as Callanetics / Pilates, I might meet more people than walking by myself in a park. Got to give it a go!


      Hi Nicolene,

      WOW, the Netherlands–sounds like it will be a great adventure! I hope you meet new people at a group fitness class while you are there.

      Have a great time,



    Nice article Marie! I definitely enjoy meeting people at places where I can also get a good workout. Dance class, rock climbing and exercise groups are all excellent places to meet people. I would say that expectation of liking and availability have been my biggest issues when it comes to meeting new people, but it gets easier the more I engage in different social events. Especially ones that require group effort and have some sort of teacher structure.


      Hi Pat,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I agree–it’s always great to be able to meet new people and get in a great workout! I can definitely see where rock climbing would let you know if someone was able to meet the “availability” concept since you need the other person there to belay!

      Happy working out!


Leave a Response