Exercising with a friend is a lot more fun than going it alone. But did you know it can also improve your performance and help you reach your goals faster? Having a workout buddy has scientifically-backed benefits that will make you eager to drag your friends out to the gym.
1. More Gain, Less Pain
Researchers at Oxford University’s Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology did a study on the school’s world-renowned rowing team. The team was divided into groups of six people and instructed to perform an identical rowing machine work out. The only difference was that some groups exercised alone, while others synchronized their workout with the rest of their team of six.
Afterwards, the researchers tested each rower’s pain threshold by applying a blood pressure checker until the rower felt pain. This is a quick and easy way of measuring endorphin levels – a chemical in the brain that produces a sense of well-being and helps to block pain. Just about all vigorous exercise produces endorphins, but the rowers who exercised in groups had pain thresholds twice as high as those who went it alone.
Researchers aren’t sure why this is, but they suggest it’s due to the evolutionary benefits of group bonding. Whatever the reason, working out in sync with a partner or a dedicated group can help you endure the burn of a tough workout.
2. Stay Motivated
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, working out with others will help you stave off the boredom of a repetitive workout, making you more likely to stick with it. Having a partner will also help you stay accountable to your plan. Motivation can be a challenge both for beginners and experienced athletes, so this is a major benefit of working out with a partner.
3. Exercise More Often
A study by researchers at the Institute of Applied Sciences at the University of Aberdeen found that having an exercise companion will increase the overall amount of exercise you do, especially if your buddy is emotionally supportive.
Half the participants in the study were told to find a new workout buddy, while the rest continued with their regular exercise routine. The result was that those with a partner were more got out to the gym more. The effect was even more profound when their new companion offered emotional support and encouragement, even more so than practical support like never missing a workout session.
4. Perform Better
Perhaps the most persuasive argument in favour of exercising with a buddy is its effects on performance. A study by the Society of Behavioural Medicine found that doing aerobic work with a partner improved results – especially if your performance matters to the other partner.
Here’s how this interesting study worked. The researchers divided participants into three groups and told to ride an exercise bike for a certain time based on their heart rate. The first group exercised alone. The second were assigned a virtual partner to work out with, communicating over Skype. The third also had a virtual partner, but were told the results of the test were based on the performance of whichever partner had the weaker performance.
But there was a catch. The third group didn’t really have a virtual partner at all – the person they saw on the Skype video was actually a recording, and the recording was looped so that the virtual partner was always outperforming them.
The second group, with a true virtual partner, performed better than the group that worked out alone. But the best performance came from the third group, who rode longer than the second group and more than double the first. This goes to show that exercising with a buddy is beneficial to begin with, and it’s even better when you’re counting on each other to perform well. A little cooperation (or friendly competition) can go a long way.