Would you exercise longer and more effectively if competition were part of the experience? A study from Michigan State suggests that the best approach to developing a longer, better workout may be exercising with a partner who is stronger than you. Researcher Brandon Irwin, assistant professor of kinesiology at Kansas State University, noted that most people don’t meet the goal of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week. He recruited 58 female Michigan State students and assessed their physical fitness and regular physical activity. During the study, the students exercised on a stationary bike for six 60-minute sessions over four weeks. When the students returned to the lab for additional sessions, they were told that they would work out with a partner in another lab who they could see on a video screen (the “partner” was a looped video). At first, the study participants exercised about nine minutes longer than when they didn’t have a “partner” but when the students were told they were being scored as part of a “team” with their fit partner, they exercised 200 percent longer than those without partners. The study was published in the October, 2012, issue of Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
My take? I have long recommended spending time in the company of those who practice habits that you wish to emulate. Exercising with a friend is a good way to maintain a commitment to a regular workout, and exercising with someone who is a bit more fit than you are may motivate you to ask more of yourself, as did the students in this study. It’s good to be a bit uncomfortable with a routine that requires effort, and your workout should challenge you, but not result in injury. Competition can be a powerful motivator, but a competitive spirit shouldn't override your body's signals that you're overdoing it.