A lot of people love to exercise with a friend or participate in community based fitness forums - they both provide great outlets of support through tough workouts.
But what if the real motivator when it came down to exercise was more about competition than it was about community?
A recent study conducted by the University of Pensylvania has shown than in fact competition can be a much stronger motivational tool than friendly support - and that actually sometimes friendly support could make people less likely to go to the gym than just leaving them to their own devices . During the study, 800 students signed up for an 11-week exercise programme including weekly exercise classes, fitness mentoring, and nutrition advice, all managed through a website the researchers built. After programme completion, the students who attended the most exercise classes won prizes.
Unknowingly, the students had been split into four groups to test how different kinds of social networks affected their exercise levels; individual competition, team support, team competition, and a control group.
In the individual group, participants could see exercise leaderboards listing anonymous program members, and earned prizes based on their own success attending classes. For each team group, participants were assigned to a team. In the team support group, they could chat online and encourage team members to exercise, with rewards going to the most successful teams with the most class attendance. In addition, those in the team competition group could see a leaderboard of other teams and their team standing. Participants in the control group could use the website and go to any class, but were not given any social connections on the website; prizes in this group were based on individual success taking classes.
The study showed that competition motivated participants to exercise the most, with attendance rates 90% higher in the competitive groups than in the control group.
The biggest surprise came in the number of workouts a week by members of the team support group, which were shown to be just half the exercise rate of the competitive groups.
"Framing the social interaction as a competition can create positive social norms for exercising," Zhang says, "social support can make people more dependent on receiving messages, which can change the focus of the program."
What this study shows is that when it comes to exercise, you should use the motivation that works for you, whether that's using a support system, rewarding yourself or indulging in some friendly competition!