We’re in the middle of marathon season and we can’t help but marvel at the people who muster the motivation to train for a 26.2 mile run.
Although one elite professional runner is going to win, the rest of the racers still need to prepare ― even if it’s just to beat a personal record or meet some other personal goal at the finish line.
But even if you’re not part of the elite corps of runners competing for prize money, you could stand to steal their technique: Training with your eye on fellow competitors helps you stay motivated, according to a new study published in Preventative Medicine Reports. The research shows that competition could be the best way to push you to work out.
Researchers assigned almost 800 students at the University of Pennsylvania an 11 week-long gym regimen to test whether friendly camaraderie or hardcore competitiveness is an effective motivator in getting people to exercise. The students attended various workout classes including yoga, spin, weightlifting, Pilates and running. The ultimate goal was to have the highest workout class attendance, as an individual or as a team.
The study’s participants were divvied up into teams: One group could check the stats of five other people on their team, but were not allowed to communicate with them. A second group of students could communicate with each other and see both individual and team progress, as well as sign up for classes together. A third group included students who could both interact with each other and also check the stats of five other people, the study authors explained.
A fourth control group consisted of students who were simply asked to attend workout classes but essentially left to their own devices ― no competitive teamwork or friendly nudging to make it to yoga.
Working out alone or with a peer did not increase the number of workouts someone completed. However, a competitive mindset did: Students who were given access to others’ scores went to 90 percent more classes than those who were not. Students in a social setting also worked out less than when they were alone.
“That’s pretty interesting, because it means that putting people into the social support condition was worse than giving them nothing at all,” study author Damon Centola told Time.
Group dynamics also played a factor. Students on competitive teams typically zeroed in on the highest performing person. This type of focus often led others in the group to push themselves more, Centola said.
“As people were influenced by their neighbors to exercise more, it created a social ratchet, where everyone increased everyone else’s activity levels,” he explained.
Of course, the workout buddy system can still be useful. But a study like this demonstrates that the ability to track your friends’ performance may provide as much or more motivation than their support and encouragement.
Here’s to a little friendly competition.