Optimal workout partner encourages less to motivate more, says researcher

May 8, 2013 by Megan Saunders, Kansas State University

(Medical Xpress)—The best workout partner may be one who understands that silence is golden, according to one Kansas State University researcher in the College of Human Ecology.

Brandon Irwin, assistant professor of , recently found that individuals tend to work out longer when their partner was perceived to be more skilled and was one who kept verbal encouragement to a minimum.

Irwin worked with researchers at Michigan State University on the study "You Can Do It: the Efficacy of Encouragement in Motivating the Weak Link to Exercise Longer During an Online Exercise ," which will be published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. He said the team's goal was to determine how to increase motivation during .

"People like to exercise with other people," Irwin said. "In , people tend to encourage each other, saying things like, 'Come on, you can do it.' We wanted to find out what effect this had on motivation."

In a separate study, Irwin discovered the optimal exercise partner is 40 percent better than the other, motivating the less skilled partner to exercise for a longer period of time and at an increased rate. In this study, 115 participants were told to do planks, an abdominal exercise, for as long as they could.

Next, the researchers told a group of participants they would be exercising with a partner who was slightly better, although the partner was a looped video recording. A third group was told they would be exercising with a partner—also a recording—but this time, the partner verbally encouraged them.

"Initially, it made sense to us that encouragement would be motivating," Irwin said. "However, we found almost the opposite to be true. When exercising with someone who is slightly better and who is not verbally encouraging, participants exercised longer than if conditions were the same but that person was verbally encouraging them. We didn't expect that."

Irwin said the researchers' best guess for why this happened is that those who received encouragement from a partner whom they perceived as more skilled may have interpreted the comments as condescending.

"If two individuals are exercising together and one is constantly saying 'you can do this' to the other, it may be taken as patronizing," Irwin said. "Those who received encouragement may have felt condescended, or even that their virtual partner was encouraging themselves, since no names were used."

Participants in the study were not aware that their partner was a recording and would never stop the exercise. The researchers told all participants that as soon as they stopped, their partner had to stop.

"Being the 'weak link' is a big motivator in partner or group exercise," Irwin said. "You don't want to let your partner down. We're honing in on that aspect of group exercise."

Irwin said this research could be used in designing electronic media, including both video games and social media. In a video game, the research findings could help develop the best virtual character in an -based video game, like the Nintendo Wii Fit.

"Our research suggests that the best virtual workout partner is someone who is a little better than you and doesn't encourage you under certain conditions," he said.

Irwin added that these principles could also be applied to real workout partners on a proposed social media fitness website. Partners could be matched through an algorithm that would be used to dictate how much communication they should have.

"When you're communicating through an electronic medium, the designer puts restrictions on what and how you communicate with each other," Irwin said. "If you're partnered with your ultimate workout buddy, your communication could be facilitated or inhibited, depending on your preferences."

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

Related Stories

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 ...

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, ...

Exercise performance enhanced with virtual partner

December 14, 2012
(HealthDay)—Exercise duration is improved by exercising with a virtual partner, especially with a moderately superior partner, according to a study published in the October issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

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.

Exercising options: How to keep working out when traveling

December 5, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—It may be tempting to ditch the exercise routine when traveling over the upcoming holidays, but Kansas State University kinesiology professionals have some tips on how to keep moving.

Recommended for you

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

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.