You’ve got 99 problems: Is your gym partner one?!

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With a wealth of literature suggesting motivational training increases via the attendance of an effective coach (Becker, 2009; Gordon, 2009; Jowett & Ntoumanis, 2001; Mageau & Vallerand, 2003; Phillipe & Seiler, 2006) it could be proposed that a regular gym goer can also benefit in their training performance in the presence of another; an effective gym partner

If we’re getting fancy, we need to talk about social facilitation: where people perform differently in the presence of others, rather than when alone. In the gym this theory and the understanding of it could have huge impact on short term performance, and long term achievement.

Graydon and Murphy (1995) looked at this early on in the sporting context by analysing performance on identified extroverts and introverts, with and without an audience; with the extroverts performing better with, and introverts performing better without, an audience.

Important in finding the right gym partner!

Matching personality traits can significantly affect your performance; and if you are an introvert then maybe a gym partner isn’t important for you, perhaps picking the right gym is more.

Carnes and Barkley (2015) compared runners speed and enjoyment to a run when alone, with one peer and also with a group. When with a peer they enjoyed the run significantly more (although their running speed was slower!) so for runners a partner is good for enjoyment, but maybe not for intensity! Different for weightlifting, where a study showed participants performed better on their 1RM bench with an audience, as opposed to without (Rhea, Landers, Alvar & Arent, 2003).

They didn’t ask for enjoyment ratings – BUT – if you’re benching more, surely you’re enjoying yourself more right??

All agreed by Gina Kolata of the New York Times!

Carnes, Peterson and Barkley (2016) went a step further a year later and looked at all sorts of extras from their first study: does it matter if the running partner is same sex, same fitness level; did these effect duration, motivation, distance or intensity. They found pretty much, no, it doesn’t!

They stick to their guns from their first study, that running with a gym partner helps, but couldn’t really identify any specifics behind it. Maybe they’ll try again next year?

Even Good Housekeeping are jumping on the discussion; they told their lady readers about a study where their gym decisions became based on others: basically they saw that ladies were more likely to stay on the treadmill when their neighbour was an unfit women in baggy clothes, than if their neighbour was a fit lady in tight workout clothes (Wasilenko, Kulik and Wanic, 2007). There was no discussion on the personality types or anthropometrics of these participants; as it could be that the ladies who ‘got off’ the treadmill were the introverts in the group and were not enjoying the anxiety of a ‘fitter audience’ and the ladies who ‘stayed on’ were the extroverts and wanted to ‘show off’?!

Definitely more research needs to be undertaken into different personality types, within different sporting environments but we will stick with the idea that the RIGHT gym partner CAN provide benefits for the training person. Whether it be for in-depth emotional, psychological, scientifically based reasoning, or just that arranging to meet your partner increases attrition as they will tell you off!


Take home points:

Show up on time. Be useful when you’re there.

Go hard. Or go home.

A silly video eloquently explaining the above short and sweet written 🙂

(my muse for this piece…)


Becker, A. J. (2009). It’s not what they do, it’s how they do it: athlete experiences of great coaching. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching. 4(1), pp. 93-119.

Carnes, A. J. & Barkley, J. E. (2015).The Effect of Peer Influence on Exercise Intensity and Enjoyment During Outdoor Running in Collegiate Distance Runners. Journal of Sport Behaviour, 38( 3), pp. 257-271.

Carnes, A. J., Peterson, J. L. & Barkley, J. E. (2016). Effect of peer influence on exercise behaviour and enjoyment in recreational runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(2), pp. 497-503.

Who’s the Better Gym Partner? (2008) Good Housekeeping, 246(6).

Gordon, D. (2009). Coaching science. Sage: Los Angeles. pp. 20.

Graydon J. & Murphy, T. (1995). The effect of personality on social facilitation whilst performing a sports related task. Personality and Individual Differences. 19(2), pp. 265-267.

Jowett, S. & Ntoumanis, N. (2001). The coach-athlete relationship questionnaire (CART-Q): development and initial validation. Unpublished Manuscript, Staffordshire University: Stoke on Trent.

Kolata, G. (2009, September 16). To train harder, consider a crowd. New York Times.

Mageau, G. A. & Vallerand, R. J. (2003). The coach-athlete relationship: a motivational model. Journal of Sport Sciences, 21, pp. 883-904.

Phillipe, R. A. & Seiler, R. (2006). Closeness, co-orientation and complementarity in coach–athlete relationships: What male swimmers say about their male coaches. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 7(2), pp. 159-171.

Rhea, M.R., Landers, D.M., Alvar, B.A. & Arent, S.M. (2003). The effects of competition and the presence of an audience on weight lifting performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 17(2), pp. 303–306.

Wasilenko, K. A., Kulik, J. A. & Wanic, R. A. (2007). Effects of Social Comparisons with Peers on Women’s Body Satisfaction and Exercise Behaviour. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 40, pp. 740–745.

Written by Kristina

I own 2 FITWORXS clinics (est'd '06), am Head Sports Rehabilitator down at Grasshoppers RFC, am a Pilates Instructor who now also teaches for the Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute (APPI), Netball Lover & Happy Woman! "Forever Pushing for a Fitworxs Future!"

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