According to pervading wisdom, your workout buddy can totally make a or break a sweat session. Choose well, and a workout buddy can hit all the right cheerleader/drill sergeant notes you need to keep you motivated. Choose poorly, and they might end up being a complete hinderance, leaving you spending more time chatting than doing crunches. (At least, that’s how we thought this common gym philosophy worked.)
However, a recent study from the University of Oxford suggests that how our workout buddy impacts our performance might not actually be quite that simple.
Workout Friend or Foe?
For the study, researchers wanted to dig into how others’ performance impacts our own performance and motivation using a mix of behavioral experiments. They started with two games and 24 players. In the first game, each participant had to perform a simple task: either assess the colors of shapes or estimate how much time had elapsed. Easy enough, but there was one catch. Each participant was told they had two competitors. After the first round, the participants were given feedback on their performance and that of their competitors and then were asked to rate everyone’s expected performance for round 2.
In their findings, published in the journal Neuron, they discovered that when participants were told they were competing against rock stars, they evaluated themselves more negatively, but when they were told they were going up against average Joes, they tended to perform better.
Competitive Spirit: Helpful or Hurtful?
The researchers were also looking at something else during the trials — namely how competitive versus cooperative contexts would impact players’ performance. While some participants were told they were playing against two other players in each round, another set of participants were told they were playing with them. Turns out teamwork made a big difference in how well they ultimately performed. In the team-player situations, participants experienced opposite performance effects from the competition scenario: Playing with other rock stars made them raise their game, while playing with low performers tended to drag them down.
What It Means For You
The findings have major implications for your workout routine — and specifically how you strategize who you sign up with for Saturday a.m. spin classes. If you tend to get competitive about your sweat sessions, tagging along with your triathlete friend may not be as motivating as you might think.
Unless of course you take the element of competition out of it. Rather than trying to outdo your gym buddy, adopt the teamwork mentality and think of yourselves as training for the same team — the better she does, the better you do and vice versa.
Think of it this way: If you both encourage each other to hit your spin class goals, you can feel extra good about hitting brunch afterward.
GEAR UP FOR YOU NEXT WORKOUT: