We all know how easy it is to get lazy with exercise over winter – after all, who wants to head out for a run when it’s freezing outside and pouring with rain? Struggling to stay motivated at the end of winter, myself and a couple of my colleagues started a star chart system. The idea was simple – for each workout we were awarded one star and whoever completed their chart first received a prize. Sure it may be slightly childish, but let me tell you, the competitive spirit that it bred basically turned us all into crazy exercise fanatics and succeeded at getting us moving.
Turns out my workmates and I are not alone in being motivated by seemingly trivial competitive charts, with a new study finding that the single most motivating factor when it comes to exercise is competition. The study that was published in the journal Preventative Medicine Reports, from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, set out to examine what the key exercise motivators were for people, using social media as a tool.
Researchers enlisted the help of 790 graduate students from the University of Pennsylvania who undertook an 11 week programme called “PennShape.” The programme included exercise classes such as yoga, spinning, running and strength training, as well as nutritional plans. At the end of the programme, those who attended the most classes were offered prizes and cash rewards.
The participants were divided into four groups; a support group, competition group, a combined group (both support and competition), and a control group. The support group had access to an online forum where they were able to encourage each other, while the competition group had access to an online leader-board that tracked their class attendance compared with other anonymous team members. The control group did not have access to any online resources and were left to simply attend classes at their own will.
At the end of the study, the competition group and combined group had class attendance rates that were 90 percent higher than that of the support group and control group. The average attendance rate for the competition group was 35.7, while the average attendance for the combined group was 38.5, 20.3 for the control group, and the worst rate belonged to the social support group – with only 16.8.
From the results, the study authors concluded that competition is the single most motivating factor when it comes to encouraging people to exercise. “”Framing the social interaction as a competition can create positive social norms for exercising,” said lead author of the study, Jingwen Zhang, Ph.D.
“Competitive groups frame relationships in terms of goal-setting by the most active members,” adds co-author Professor Damon Centola. “These relationships help to motivate exercise because they give people higher expectations for their own levels of performance. In a competitive setting, each person’s activity raises the bar for everyone else. Social support is the opposite: a ratcheting-down can happen. If people stop exercising, it gives permission for others to stop, too, and the whole thing can unravel fairly quickly.”
So if you’re struggling to get or stay motivated for your workouts, getting some friends on board and making it a bit of a competition could be just what you need to kick-start your healthier lifestyle just in time for summer. Star chart, anyone?