Let's face it—there are some days you just feel like "phoning in" your workout. You're dressed, you're moving, but you're just going through the motions—you know you aren't giving it your all. But what if someone challenged you to up your reps, increase your pace or go just a few minutes more? What if they were ahead of you on the trail, looking over their shoulder and egging you on with a bit of smack talk? I think you'd up your game.
The field of sociology describes competition as "a rivalry between two or more persons or groups for an object, desired in common, usually resulting in a victor and a loser, but not necessarily involving the destruction of the latter." For our purposes in fitness, let's amend that definition a bit and assume that the desired object is to reach our individual fitness goals, and under no circumstances would we want to actually destroy our workout partner! (At least not completely.) In this situation, competition can be a very powerful motivator. So next time you feel underwhelmed by your workout, try turning the experience into a competitive event and watch as your inner winner fights to be first.
Working out alone today? Try these tips for incorporating competition solo:
- The Secret Agent – Scan the gym to find someone who is stronger than you are and perhaps has something you would like to have, such as a 6-pack abs or nice, defined calves. Keep your eye on them and match their effort and intensity. Don't rest until they do and if you are feeling especially competitive, try to exceed their effort in at least one area. You don't need to kill yourself—if they do 25 push ups, try to do 26.
- Good, Better, Best – Use this technique on any type of cardio equipment such as a treadmill, rower, elliptical or stair stepper. If you are planning to work out for a specific amount of time, start with a baseline of five minutes. Find a steady, comfortable pace and make a mental note of it. This is your "good" starting pace. After the warm-up, challenge yourself to increase your intensity by 20% for the next five minutes. That will be your "better" interval. Finally, hit it one more time and try to go 20% harder still, which will definitely be your "best" effort. At the end of the 15 minutes, take a one-minute break and repeat.
- Play It Again Sam – This is a variation on #2. With this technique you will be more concerned about the distance you cover than the intensity of the work. Start with your favorite song and exercise at a regular, steady pace. Then, repeat the song and try to cover 20% more distance than you did the first time. Finally, hit it one more time and see how much farther you can go. Remember to change songs for the next set so the people around you who hear you singing will not think you are completely crazy.
- The Gym Blow By – For this "event" you will need to have people in close proximity on the same type of equipment you are using. For example, a row of treadmills. Pick out one person you would really like to beat and move up to the pace he or she is running. Then, gradually increase your speed until you are literally "blowing by" them. Once you have made the successful pass, reduce your speed and catch your breath. You will feel great and your "opponent" will have no idea what happened.
Training with a partner? Try one of these competitive drills:
- Follow the Leader – If you are working out with someone with whom you are equally matched, take turns pushing each other. If you are outside on a trail, switch off being the leader for a specified amount of time. When you are the leader, it is your job to push yourself a little harder and challenge your "follower" to keep up. If you feel your workout partner drawing even with you, dig a little deeper and push a little harder. It is his or her job to try and pass you and your job to make sure he or she does not. Take jog breaks, running side by side in between sets.
- The Outdoor Blow By – In the Gym Blow By (above), your competitor may have no idea that he or she just got hammered. Outside, this technique is much more fun, especially if you are with a friend. As you are running, pick out someone ahead of you that you would really like to pass. Gradually increase your speed until you are at a full sprint and passing by, flashing a nice smile as you do. This technique works best if you have a place you can turn off after the sprint to recover. That way when you are doubled over around the nearest corner, your opponent has no idea it was such a big effort for you.
- The Tortoise and the Hare – If you are not equally matched with your workout partner, (one of you is stronger than the other), here's a great way to compete. The slower person (The Tortoise) starts out first. Once the Tortoise reaches a specified landmark, the faster person (The Hare) takes off and tries to catch him. Once The Tortoise has been caught, repeat the process as many times as you would like. The faster person is always The Hare and The Tortoise is always trying to fend him or her off for as long as possible. Do not feel bad if you are The Tortoise—we all know how the story ends.