I posted last weekend about how much fun I have working out with friends. Having someone to train with provides a number of subconscious motivators to do better. When I work out alone, I occasionally catch myself listening to my music and drifting out from 100% focus on what I am doing. When I have a partner (especially in a workout where I am demo-ing the exercises), it reminds me focus on correct form with every repetition and to move with thought about the muscle that I’m targeting. Turns out that type of mental visualization enhances the cortical output signal, which drives muscles to a higher activation level and increases overall strength.
Having someone else around to count your reps may also subconsciously motivate you to add in that last rep or set when you feel like you’ve hit a wall and just want to stop at 8 reps instead of 10 (or 2 sets instead of 3). Or even more basically, for those who don’t love the gym as much as this blogger, it may motivate you to just plain show up.
New research shows that working out with friends may offer another tangible benefit: having someone who can offer feedback on how you’re doing (and extra encouragement) can lead you to exert extra effort in later sets in a workout. A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found a positive correlation between augmented verbal feedback and power production in college athletes:
There was a significant difference in peak power output between the feedback and no feedback trials during set 2 (mean difference 361 ± 161 W, p = 0.043) and set 3 (mean difference 283 ± 109 W, p = 0.022). Also, there was a significant difference in mean power output between feedback and no feedback trials during set 2 (mean difference 240 ± 66 W, p = 0.003) and set 3 (mean difference 299 ± 93 W, p = 0.007). When training for maximal power in a plyometric training protocol, verbal feedback can be used as both a simple and effective aid in producing optimal power outputs.
The study focuses on feedback about performance levels with plyometric training, but intuitively, it makes sense that your performance will improve if there is someone there to critique your form, let you know how well you’re doing, and offer a few words of support.
Another study in the same issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that athletes were able to jump farther when they were given an external point of reference on which to focus. I’m guessing most of my readers are not participating in the long jump, but again, I think the article allows an everyday fitness buff to extrapolate. Being given an external goal by a training partner – like jumping a certain height, throwing a wall ball to a certain level, or sprinting a certain distance – may make it easier to reach that goal.
For those whose friends never want to join for a workout, this might provide a rationale for working out with a trainer. If you can’t motivate yourself, having someone there to provide that extra guidance (and kick in the butt) might be the difference between maintaining and changing your body. Of course, in a pinch, you can always rely on a positive internal monologue that includes external goals – jumping higher, running farther, lunging lower, etc.