You’ve probably heard it before: Get a social support system in place if you want to amp up your exercise frequency. Heck, I’m sure I’ve written about it in this very space. “Get a walking buddy. Find someone to get up early to go to a yoga class with you. Sing Kumbaya together while you swim laps” (actually, singing while swimming would be tough).
I was wrong. I mean, not completely, but new research shows social support isn’t all it’s been cracked up to be—unless the social support is the competitive kind. In that case, yeah, it will definitely get your butt in gear.
Competition vs. support
A 2014 study was conducted on nearly 800 students. They “were randomly assigned to one of four conditions composed of either supportive or competitive relationships and either with individual or team incentives for attending exercise classes,” according to the study’s authors.
The results were startling: Students in the competitive conditions, whether they had individual or team incentives, participated in 90% more exercise classes than those who were in the supportive condition groups.
90 PERCENT MORE EXERCISE CLASSES. Yes, I felt I had to yell that. Can you believe it? Having social support didn’t matter, what mattered was having competition.
Now that you have this information, what can you do with it? How can you use it to your advantage?
Try a sport that’s competitive.
You know what popped into my mind first? Crossfit. It can be pretty intense, but each class is designed to be a competition. Everyone completes the same number of moves (or runs the same distance), and competes for time. You get to compete against yourself in future classes and others doing the same thing at the same times.
If Crossfit is not something you want to dip your quads into, try joining an adult swim league or running group. Some towns may have a rowing group, which can also be quite competitive. Even a strength class at the gym, such as Body Pump, has some competitive aspects.
Get an app that will help you compete.
There are many, many fitness-related apps out there. If you’re interested in competing with others, even if you don’t know them, try the Nike+ Run Club app, Fitocracy app, or Strava Running & Cycling app. They’re all free and allow you to track what other people are doing.
If you want to use social support, use it competitively.
Yes, you can exercise a couple of times a week with a buddy, but compete to see who can exercise more times between sessions or total each week.
Find any way you can to make the social support a contest instead of just a good time. Agree that the person who gets in the most minutes of exercise each week buys the other dinner or a cup of coffee or a pedicure or whatever floats your boat.
One last thing: Those who participated in the study who had strong social support but no competition actually were less motivated to exercise, so be mindful of this in your own life. Knowledge is power, and competition is golden.