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Want a Better Workout? Find a Stronger Fitness Partner

Has this ever happened to you? You’re working out at a moderately intense level when, all of a sudden, some dude strolls by and makes you look like an underachieving, fitness noob. Whether it’s getting passed by some speed demon while out on a run or watching some guy bench 150 pounds more than you, there’s something about seeing somebody better you that just makes you want to try harder, am I right?

If you find yourself pushing harder when you’re around somebody more fit than you, you’re not alone. According to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, working out with someone a little stronger than yourself is a great fitness motivator. Your ideal fitness buddy can outdo you.

Buddy up

A team of researchers at Kansas State University assessed the fitness level of 58 female students, instructing each woman to exercise on a stationary bike for six hour-long sessions over the course of four weeks. After this four-week period, the research team informed some of the students that a “virtual partner” had ridden her bike 40 percent longer, inspiring these participants to double their riding time. The researchers then told some of the women that they were working with their partner to achieve a combined high score. These women also worked harder.

The team came to the conclusion that working out with a partner slightly stronger than oneself will motivate one to work out harder. According to Brandon Irwin, assistant professor of kinesiology at KSU, the motivation to work out more intensely is greatest when a partner works out 40 percent better than you:

“At that level of difference, reaching the same level is both difficult and achievable,” said Irwin. “That’s the sweet spot.”

I know what you’re thinking: “Ummm, I’m a dude. What works for a bunch of college chicks doesn’t apply to me.” Fear not, ultraman. According to the team, the same theory applies to dudes. If you work out with a guy who’s approximately 40 percent stronger than you, prepare to push yourself and achieve real results. Work out with a woman stronger than you and you’ll be motivated to the extreme.

Irwin and co. suggest you work out with someone only a tad better than yourself however. Partnering up with someone well above your skill level can lead to serious injury and overexertion. So, if you’re currently benching eight pounds, hold off on working out with jacked bodybuilding buddy.

The key thing is to find a fitness partner who can challenge you. Do you want to run longer and know a friend who runs regularly? Go out for a brisk jog together. Whatever physical activity you want to improve in, find somebody who’s better than you but isn’t, say, an Olympian or something.

Next time you go to work out, try and partner up with your fitness superior. You just might find yourself working out at the same level in a matter of months. Just think: You could be someone else’s fitness motivator one day. If anything, don’t let those KSU girls show you up.

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About John Brhel John Brhel is a freelance writer from upstate New York that enjoys picking apart life's idiosyncrasies and listening to Huey Lewis & the News.

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