Having a Workout Partner Can Double Performance
A lot of people work out alone, myself included. Sometimes it makes sense to exercise without a partner. You need a partner with similar goals, and sometimes at a similar fitness level, and those can be hard to find. But are those of us working out alone missing out on some possible benefits of having a partner? And when working out with a partner, what’s the best way to get motivated?
There are a lot of ways working out with a partner can help you. Your partner can spot for you, and otherwise make your workout safer. They can check your form and make sure you’re not letting it slip as you fatigue. A recent study by the Society of Behavioral Medicine took a look at the effects of training with a partner on your cardio work. They discovered that doing your aerobic work with a partner improves your results. On the surface what they found might not be exactly controversial, but the extent of it might be surprising, and some of the methods they used are important to those looking for the best results.
Many people work with a partner to increase their motivation. Having someone meet you to exercise sometimes makes the difference between showing up and not exercising at all. Just getting through the door is the most important thing, but the researchers in the partner training study showed that the motivation to work harder was also increased.
The participants in the study were divided into three groups that rode an exercise bike at a given percentage of their heart rate for time. The first group was a control, and they exercised alone. The second worked out with a single partner. The third group worked out with a single partner and was told that the results of their test were based on the partner with the weaker performance.
Before I get to the results, it’s important to note that the partner was virtual. The participants Skyped with a partner and could see them exercising via a computer screen at the same time. Although they were told the partner was working out at the same time as them and could see them too, it was actually a recording. For the third group with the team results, the recording was looped so that their partner was always better than them. How’s that for motivation?
In the end, solo riders made it an average of 10.6 minutes on the bike before stopping. Pretty good. Group two, the ones that rode with a partner on screen, went on for an average of 19.8 minutes. That’s an 87% difference. Imagine how much better your performance would be if you always exercised at a rate that much higher than you do now. The third group was on the bike for an average of 21.9 minutes, an improvement just over double than going it alone. Tell me that’s not impressive.
Not only did research demonstrate working with a partner, especially in a team format, improve performance, but the researchers also went on to measure this motivational boost over time. Doubling your performance for just one workout is good, but not ideal. Doubling your workout every time you exercise over time means major gains over working out alone.
One warning though, that I learned from one of those survival shows: sometimes a partner can push you too hard. If you’re in a survival situation, that could mean death. In the gym, hopefully it only means some overtraining or mild aches and pains from time to time, but it could mean worse. Using a partner to push your aerobic cardio is a pretty safe bet so long as you keep it aerobic, as it won’t likely push you into overtraining. But working with a partner on any kind of high intensity training has a good chance of pushing your body too far, so be aware while training with a partner just how much you’re doing. Be sure to take it easy if you begin experiencing overtraining symptoms. Shy of that, reap the benefits of team training and get better results than ever before (and probably have more fun, too).
1. Brandon Irwin, et al., “Aerobic Exercise Is Promoted when Individual Performance Affects the Group: A Test of the Kohler Motivation Gain Effect,” The Society of Behavioral Medicine, (2012)
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