Does Working Out With a Partner Affect Performance?

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Does Working Out With a Partner Affect Performance?

November 30, 2012, 12:00AM

workout partnerDo you consider yourself to be a ""Social Butterfly" at the gym? According to a recent study, working out with a buddy could increase the effectiveness of your workout, but with that said—not all workout buddies are created equal. The study found that choosing a partner who you perceive to be a better performer than you could increase your workout time and intensity by as much as 200%.

The study was done by Brandon Irwin, a Michigan State University researcher, who found that feeling inadequate may be a potential key to motivation in exercise. "People like to exercise with others and make it a social activity," Irwin said. "We found that when you're performing with someone who you perceive as a little better than you, you tend to give more effort than you normally would [when exercising] alone."

Researchers recruited 58 college-age females who, for the first part of the study, rode a stationary bike for as long as they could during six sessions over four weeks. Each participant rode the bike for an average of 10 minutes. In part two of the study, the participants were told they had a "virtual" workout partner who was doing the same exercise in another lab. They were also told their virtual partners had ridden the bike 40% longer than they had in part one of the study, which gave them the perception that their so-called "partner" was slightly better. This perception resulted in a 90% increase in the participants' performance. In the third part of the study, the participants were told they were now on a team with their partner and were working together to achieve a team score, which was based on the score of the teammate who quit first. Having the feeling that they were the "weakest link" on the team caused the participants to exercise for an average of two minutes longer. Over time, the difference in the participants' performance continually increased, with the group participants exercising for up to 200% longer than those exercising as individuals.

Irwin believes that the key variable in this situation is rapport. Over time, Irwin says, you begin to feel a connection with your partner and don't want to let him or her down, which would explain the correlation between performance and the strength of the bond.

"This study touches on the Köhler effect," says ACE Chief Science Officer Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, "which occurs when an individual's performance increases when working with someone they perceive as better than themselves. This motivation gain is even greater when individuals are put in a team setting and the outcome of the performance is dependent on the weaker individual. With that said, it is important to understand that we are all unique, and not everybody is motivated by the same things."

The reality is that everyone has unique fitness "personalities," causing each of us to respond differently to various types of settings and exercises. For example, one person may be a "Social Butterfly" in the gym who feels most motivated when exercising with others, while another person may be a "Planner" who performs best when working out alone. Knowing your unique fitness personality plays a vital role in the success of your fitness routine, which is why ACE has created a Fitness Personality Quiz to help you determine what techniques work best for you. To learn tips, tool, and exercises designed specifically for your unique personality, please take our Quiz on our ACE Fit Life Facebook page.

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