Burning more calories is easier when working out with someone you perceive as better

November 26, 2012

The key to motivation in physical activity may be feeling inadequate. One Kansas State University researcher found that those who exercised with a teammate whom they perceived to be better increased their workout time and intensity by as much as 200 percent.

Brandon Irwin, assistant professor of , was the principle investigator in a study that tested whether individuals engage in more intense when alone, with a virtual partner or competing against a teammate.

"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 alone."

For the first part of the study, college-age exercise on a six sessions in a four-week period. They told participants to ride the bike as long as they could. On average, each participant rode for 10 minutes.

Next, the same group of participants returned to the lab for more exercise sessions, but was told they were working out with a partner in another lab whom they could see on a screen. In reality, this was only a looped video. Participants also were told that their virtual partner was part of the first study and had ridden the bike approximately 40 percent longer than them.

"We created the impression that the virtual partner was a little better than the participant," Irwin said. "That's all they knew about their partner. In this group, participants rode an average of nine minutes longer than simply exercising alone."

While this 90 percent increase was promising, Irwin said he and his team had a hunch that the motivation could go even further. The participants were invited back to the lab for more exercise sessions with a . This time, though, they were told they were on a team with their partner.

"We told them they were working together to achieve a team score," Irwin said. "The team score was the time of the person who quits first. The participants believed that in the previous trial, they didn't exercise as long as the other person. We created a situation where the participant was the weak link."

Participants in this team trial exercised approximately two minutes longer than simply working out alongside someone. However, Irwin added that the results look different over time.

"This was an average, but over time the difference got much bigger," he said. "In the beginning, the participants were exercising about a minute longer than the partner group. By the last session, participants in the team group were exercising almost 160 percent longer than those in the partner group, and nearly 200 percent longer than those exercising as individuals."

Irwin said this might be because those who believed they were exercising with a partner built a rapport over time and didn't want to let the partner down. He said the team was initially surprised at the drastic increase over time in working out with a teammate.

"If they're constantly working out with someone who's beating them, we wondered how motivated people would be to keep coming back and getting beat again," Irwin said. "It turned out to be exactly the opposite. Over time, it can be very motivating, as long as the conditions are right."

Irwin said research has shown that if an exercise partner or teammate is roughly at the same level or is exponentially better, the motivation disappears. He and his team found that a partner who worked at a level approximately 40 percent better was optimal.

"In certain fitness goals, like preparing to run a marathon, consider exercising not only with someone else, but with someone who is that much better," Irwin said. "For an extra boost, consider some type of team exercise that involves competition, like playing basketball at a regular time throughout the week."

In the future, Irwin wants to continue using virtual partners to increase the time and of physical activity, but he hopes to move beyond false partners.

"I want to partner people up with actual individuals, not just prerecorded workout partners," he said. "Similar to matchmaking software for romantic relationships online, individuals from different sides of the country could be matched up based on their fitness goals and levels. Using technology, you could run with someone using your smartphones."

Irwin is currently researching this option and hopes to bring it to fruition within the next several years.

Explore further: Cyber exercise partners help you go the distance: Motivation gains can double

Related Stories

Cyber exercise partners help you go the distance: Motivation gains can double

May 24, 2012
A new study testing the benefits of a virtual exercise partner shows the presence of a moderately more capable cycling partner can significantly boost the motivation – by as much as 100 percent – to stick to an ...

Cyber partners help you go the distance

May 16, 2012
A new study, testing the benefits of a virtual exercise partner, shows that the presence of a moderately more capable cycling partner boosts motivation to stick to an exercise program. The work by Brandon Irwin and colleagues, ...

Virtual workout partners spur better results

May 18, 2011
Can't find anyone to exercise with? Don't despair: New research from Michigan State University reveals working out with a virtual partner improves motivation during exercise.

30 minutes of daily exercise does the trick

August 22, 2012
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have shown that 30 minutes of daily training provide an equally effective loss of weight and body mass as 60 minutes. Their results have just been published in the American Journal ...

Short, intense bursts of exercise could be better for our health than longer intervals

September 6, 2012
Spending 2 minutes 30 seconds exercising at a high level of intensity, could be better at protecting the body against risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) than longer sessions of less intense exercise, ...

Recommended for you

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

App lets patients work alone or with others to prevent, monitor, and reverse chronic disease

July 24, 2017
Lack of patient adherence to treatment plans is a lingering, costly problem in the United States. But MIT Media Lab spinout Twine Health is proving that regular interventions from a patient's community of supporters can greatly ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.