Want a Workout Buddy? Think Virtual

It's tough to stay motivated about exercise. It helps to have someone to cheer you on, challenge you, and keep you honest. That's why having an exercise buddy is the best way to keep your fitness goals on track. But it's also tough to find someone with similar fitness goals and a workout schedule that meshes with your own. What can you do when you can't find the perfect exercise partner? Go virtual.

A virtual exercise partner is either a person or an avatar you access online, via the internet, streaming video, or through popular gaming systems like Wii Fit®. They act just like a real workout buddy by exercising alongside you, usually at a slightly higher fitness level than your own. They're like your own personal fitness instructor, available to exercise whenever and wherever you are.

Studies show that having a virtual workout partner is as motivating as having a real one and far more motivating than going at it alone. A recent study conducted at Michigan State University divided 58 women into three groups. One group of women exercised alone. A second group exercised with virtual partners and a third group exercised together, but each woman was also accompanied by a virtual partner. The researchers discovered that women who exercised with virtual partners exercised longer than those who exercised alone. The women who exercised with a group plus a virtual partner exercised even longer.

An earlier study conducted at MSU found that participants who competed against a virtual exercise partner also improved their performance. When 200 study participants were asked to do a plank pose alongside a virtual partner, they held the pose 24 percent longer than when they did the pose alone.

Staying motivated and challenged is among the biggest fitness obstacles people face. If there's no one there to nag you, keep you company, and keep exercise fresh and fun, it's easy to justify skipping a workout now and then. Pretty soon, you're skipping exercise altogether. That's why having a workout partner is so important, especially when you're trying to achieve specific goals like weight loss or training for an athletic event. The benefits of having a real live person to work out with include companionship, shared expertise, and teamwork. But these studies show that even in the absence of a real person, people who exercise with a virtual buddy and/or in groups, (like in spinning or aerobics classes) exercised longer and harder than those who exercised alone.

How do you find your virtual workout partner? Online, of course. Search using the words, "virtual workout partner" plus those of your preferred exercise; for example, search for virtual workout partner and cycling, Pilates, or cross training. Try a few different sites or videos to find the right one for you. 




Aerobic Exercise Is Promoted when Individual Performance Affects the Group: A Test of the Kohler Motivation Gain Effect. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2012; DOI: 10.1007/s12160-012-9367-4

Brandon C. Irwin, Jennifer Scorniaenchi, Norbert L. Kerr, Joey C. Eisenmann, Deborah L. Feltz.

Michigan State University (2011, May 18). Virtual workout partners spur better results, study finds. ScienceDaily.