The Better Buddy Workout

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Not getting the same burn from your workout lately? It’s easy to fall into an exercise rut, where you don’t even realize you’re not putting in max effort – or getting max results. To kick it up a notch, grab a buddy, a coworker, even the junior varsity track star down the block – anyone who you think may be better, faster, or stronger than you.

A recent study from Kansas State University finds that people who exercise with someone they perceive as being athletically superior will go harder and longer than when working out alone. Researchers asked 60 moderate exercisers to, individually, pedal a stationary bike for as long as they could. For the next session, they were told they were competing against another participant in a different lab whom they could see via a computer screen, and that this person had gone 40 percent longer in the first trial than they had. In reality, this was just looping video footage, but creating the illusion of competition made a major difference: On average, the cyclists rode 90 percent longer than they did the first time. “Competing against someone you perceive as being better gives you something to shoot for when you otherwise may not have a particular goal,” says lead researcher Brandon Irwin, a kinesiology professor at Kansas State.

Next, Irwin and his colleagues took the psychology experiment one step further, telling participants they were on a team with the other, “better” person on the screen and that the team’s time would be determined by whoever quit pedaling first. Immediately, the “weaker links” ramped up their times, and after a few trials using the same scenario, they were riding, on average, a whopping 200 percent longer than the first go-around, when no competition or team mentality was involved. “The more you exercise with someone better than you, the more your relationship builds and the more sensitive you become to the possibility that you might let them down,” Irwin explains.

While these findings show that partnering up is a perk, you shouldn’t choose a workout buddy who’s leaps and bounds better than you, Irwin says. “If you want to run longer, lift more weight, or whatever your goal, find someone at a similar skill level but just a little bit better,” he suggests. “When you work out with someone who’s way faster or stronger, it’s not as motivating. At first you’ll try to keep up, but then if in the back of your mind you don’t think it’s feasible to match them, you’ll probably stop trying.”

Another cool takeaway is that you don’t have to share the same physical space as your partner to reap these results. So if you live in a small community or have a tight schedule and finding a suitable match is tough, you can Skype with a friend while running on a treadmill, connect via iPhones, or use one of many different tech-based ways to work out virtually with your pal.