Excercise buddies? Pick one a shade better than yourself

Motivate yourself even more by choosing a slightly better exercise partner

Exercise with a buddy
Exercising with a slightly better partner boosts performance

Want to burn more calories? Pair up with somebody whom you consider a slightly fitter than you. That sense of bonding will drive you to more positive results. These suggestions are made in a new study by a researcher at Kansas State University.

Brandon Irwin, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, tested whether individuals engage in more intense physical activity when alone, with a virtual partner or competing against a teammate.

In his study, the participants first exercised on a stationary bike alone. Then they were told that they were exercising with a partner in the other room whom they could see. Actually they were just shown a video running in a loop. They were told that their ‘partner’ consistently rode the bike 40% longer than they could.
When alone the participants rode for 10 minutes, but with this virtual ‘partner’, they rode 9 minutes more. This was a good performance boost. Though the participants did not know it was just a video, Irwin wanted to check if a real person would motivate them even more than a video.

“We told them they were working together to achieve a team score,” Irwin said. “The team score was the time of the person who quits first. The participants believed that in the previous trial, they didn’t exercise as long as the other person. We created a situation where the participant was the weak link.”

Initially the participants pushed themselves only a little harder. But as the bonding began to develop, they did not want to let their partner down and hence their performance shot up 160% compared to their ‘video’ timings and 200% compared to their ‘alone’ timings.

But this works only if you consider your buddy to be only slightly better. If you pick Lance Armstrong as your cycling buddy or Mike Tyson as your boxing buddy, then you won’t be motivated. Because you will feel, ‘There’s no way I can match with a superstar.’ Also, if you pick someone of the same skill level as yours, it wont motivate you either. This motivation works only when the partner is slightly better than you and the outcome is a team effort.

“I want to partner people up with actual individuals, not just prerecorded workout partners,” Irwin says. “Similar to matchmaking software for romantic relationships online, individuals from different sides of the country could be matched up based on their fitness goals and levels. Using technology, you could run with someone using your smartphones.”



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