Does Your Gym Partner Affect Your Performance?

Does Your Gym Partner Affect Your Performance?

gym partner

We all know that there are different kinds of people with regards to sociability and the “need” for social interactions. This can quite easily be seen in the gym. Do you see yourself as a lone wolf or a social creature, buddying up with everyone you see? Maybe you are somewhere in between. Jonas Liefke will today shoe you research on the effects of a workout partner!

To increase your future gains it might actually be a good idea to buddy up. We have found a couple of studies examining the effect on performance in having an exercise buddy. The studies are taking a look at the “Köhler motivation gain effect”, which basically suggests that the weaker link in a group will performe better in the group than by him/her self.

Study 1: Biking with a Partner

The first study gathered 91 college students and randomly assigned them into three groups: Biking alone (control), biking with a perceived fit workout partner of the same gender or biking with a perceived low fit workout partner of the same gender. All participants were asked to complete 20 minutes of exercise at 60-70% of their maximum heart rate. The results? Participants assigned to the “fit” group exercised harder (significantly higher heart rates) than those in the low fit group. Heart rates were133 bpm vs 119 bpm in the “fit” group and control groups, respectively. As a side note, women worked harder (again higher heart rates) than men 😉

Results indicate that you will work harder if you work out with a more fit person and vice versa (1), although the increase in heart rate could reflect other things like nervousness.

Biking in a Computer Game

The second study randomly assigned 58 female participants to: Biking alone, biking alongside another participant independently or biking alongside another participant (performance determined by whichever partner stop exercising first). Participants worked out on a stationary bike connected to a video game 5 times for 60 minutes during a 4-week period. The “buddies” were seen in the video game and were thus not real individuals and the communication between the real participants and the “other person” occurred through skype to another person. The setting was thus highly controlled.

Participants in the group setups performed significantly better than the control group (more so when biking alongside the buddy), persisting for a significantly longer time. Over time, with the same power output, this could make buddy groups more fit (2).

The third study also used a virtual partner but this time the tasks were variations of the abdominal plank. The virtual partner (believed by the participant to be a human) was always set to be a bit better than the participant.

Virtual Planks

There were four different groups (a similar approach to the previous studies described). Task persistence was significantly greater in all experimental conditions as compared to the control group. The results indicate that it might be beneficial fof motivation to work out with a superior virtual partner (3).

Choose a Fit Workout Buddy!

Although not “gym” studies per se these studies suggest that having an exercise buddy (especially a someone in better shape than you) will have a positive impact on your exercise performance. This seems to be true in both real and virtual environments, but in these studies, participants thought that they were exercising with a real person behind the screen.  The amount of studies on the subject are scares and we hope that there will be more studies on the buddy- effect.


1. doi.10.3844/jssp.2010.50.54. Effects of Perceived Fitness Level of Exercise Partner on Intensity of Exertion

2. doit. 10.1007/s12160-012-9367-4. Aerobic Exercise Is Promoted when Individual Performance Affects the Group: A Test of the Kohler Motivation Gain Effect

3. PMID: 21808077. Buddy Up: The Köhler Effect Applied to Health Games

Article by team EBT member @jonasliefke, 4th year Medical Student, BSc Physiotherapy. www.jonasliefke.com


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