Many of us have a natural instinct to exercise alongside other people, whether that’s in a group fitness class or with a dedicated workout partner. What we may not be as aware of is the many ways science has determined our workout partner is actually benefitting us.
And for those of you who aren’t as inclined to exercise with others, it may interest you to learn more about the benefits of a workout partner—it could make the difference in reaching your next goal.
There’s a Name for It: The Kohler Effect
There is a name for the fact most of us tend to work harder in the presence of others. This is known as the Kohler effect and was named after German psychologist Otto Kohler.
The Kohler effect tends to be stronger in women than men, which may explain why group exercise tends to be more popular with women. But, in contrast to that, when men are paired with highly capable women, men are more impacted by the Kohler effect—meaning, men are highly motivated in the presence of high-performing women.
The Kohler effect isn’t necessarily about not looking “bad” around other people, by the way. It can simply be that a person becomes aware of what is possible by observing others. And, additionally, if the work being done by a group requires the participation of every member of the group, each member may feel more important and therefore work harder.
So, with this in mind, let’s look at three of the research-backed ways that a workout partner could help each of us get closer to our goals.
1. You’re More Likely to Show Up
Most people are aware of this one, and it’s probably the number one reason people will say they enjoy having a workout partner. Knowing you have someone waiting for you at the track, the gym, or the park is what gets you out of bed, into your exercise clothes, and to your workout.
We find it far easier to skip out on ourselves than other people. Because when we rely on ourselves, we rely on the mythical “willpower” we’re all supposed to have. But willpower is, in fact, fleeting. Whereas a good workout partner will do right by you for a long, long time.
2. You’re More Likely to Enjoy It
Research presented in 2013 at the annual meeting of the American Public Health association reported that people enjoyed exercise more when it was performed with coworkers, significant others, or friends. And a 2001 study published in the International Journal of Stress Management demonstrated that working out with others increased the stress-reducing benefits of exercise.
3. You’re More Likely to Work Hard
Interestingly, the subjects in that 2001 study also reported feeling more tired after working out with others, perhaps due to increased motivation and working harder. And this is, in fact, one of the biggest potential benefits of a workout partner—especially if you pick one who is at least a little bit “better” than you.
A 2012 Kansas State University study 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.” 200 percent!
(And, really, who of us hasn’t tried to sneak a peak at somebody else’s spin bike monitor or mentally calculated the weight on their barbell and then adjusted our own performance accordingly?)
How to Find the Right Workout Partner
If you’ve decided that having a workout partner is a good way to accelerate you toward your fitness and performance goals, the next logical question is, “How do I find a good workout partner?” That’s where things can get tricky, and it might take a little time for you to find the right person or the right group.
Here are some things to consider along the way:
- What motivates you? Competition, learning new skills, community?
- What are you interested in? Which exercise modalities or activities light you up?
- Do you like to talk while working out? (This one can get ugly quickly if partners don’t agree or have an understanding!)
- Are there non-negotiables in your life that may get in the way of your schedule sometimes, i.e. kids?
- Do you prefer to be indoors or outdoors?
- Are you a morning, afternoon, or evening exerciser?
Work through that list of questions and answer it for yourself. Then consider how any potential workout partner or exercise group might answer those questions. The more similar you are to your workout partner—or at least how much you’ve discussed and strategized your differences—the more likely you’ll have a long, successful, and motivating relationship.
Consider a Virtual Workout Partner
If you’re still not sure about working out with “real” people or your lifestyle makes finding a workout partner difficult, don’t worry. It’s possible to find a workout partner even if you live somewhere remote or just haven’t been able to find the right buddy “in real life.”
A 2012 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that people were highly motivated by a workout partner even when that workout partner was “virtual.” So, find somebody online and workout at the same time, do live online workouts with a group, or even just have agreed-upon daily check-in times with a buddy anywhere in the world.
Do You Have or Need a Workout Partner?
If you’re finding yourself plateauing in your training progress or unmotivated to get out there and get working, consider adding a workout partner to your training equipment arsenal. Your workout partner could end up being one of the most important elements in your training success.