Want to help your client get the most out of her exercise session? Get her a partner, says new research.

The purpose of the study, published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine (2012; 44, 151–59), was to see if there was an ideal scenario for motivating exercisers to intensify their workouts. To determine this, the researchers randomly divided 58 female subjects among three scenarios: solo exercise; coactive (exercising independently alongside another person); or conjunctive (exercising with a partner perceived to possess greater capability).

Participants exercised on an indoor bike with a video game monitor at 65% of heart rate reserve on 6 separate days. They first began with a pretrial, in which they were instructed to ride for as long as they felt comfortable.

Each coactive group member was paired with a partner via Skype. What subjects did not know was that the Skype session was actually a prerecording designed to give the impression that it was a live chat. Prior to the intervention, each subject was told that her “partner” had ridden for significantly more time than she had during the pretrial. The exercise session began with the goal of seeing if the subject would improve her exercise time. The virtual partner’s video was looped so that it seemed as though she was riding continuously.

Each conjunctive group member was placed in a similar scenario, using Skype, but in this case, the subject was encouraged to work with her partner, instead of competing against her. The researchers explained that the pair would be scored based on the time of the first person to stop exercising. Again, the partner video was prerecorded and played on a loop.

So which trial proved more effective?

“Participants persisted longer when working alongside a more capable coactor than when working alone,” the authors said. The women in this group averaged a 49% improvement over the subjects who were exercising solo.

However, it was when they were paired with a partner in the conjunctive setting that participants produced the greatest output. Women in this group persisted 102% longer than those who were cycling on their own.

“These findings support the notion that group motivation can influence exercise performance (most potently under conjunctive task demands with a moderately more capable partner) over several trials,” the authors explained.

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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