Virtual Advantage

Why the Köhler effect can be just as effective with a virtual partner than a real one.

women on weight machines

Köhler Effect Explained

If you’ve ever worked out with fitter pals and ratcheted up your intensity to keep pace, you’ve felt the benefits of the Köhler effect — a motivational boost that helps weaker members of a team perform better than they would on their own. Recent findings published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology suggest that you don’t need a workout partner puffing alongside you to experience the improvements; a virtual exercise companion can provide a similar benefit.

Study subjects were asked to complete a series of five exercises, holding each position for as long as they could. After resting, they did the remaining exercises while watching a same-sex virtual partner who had been programmed to perform about 40 percent better than the subject. Subjects’ performance on all the exercises improved; on a difficult plank exercise, for example, endurance jumped 24 percent.

“It’s hard to find workout partners who are just a little bit better than you are — and it can be frustrating for the people who are fitter,” says lead researcher Deborah Feltz, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University. “But it’s important [to get that push], because it’s such a powerful effect.”

Because virtual workout partners remain in the province of research studies for now, Feltz recommends this strategy to get a similar boost: Ask a slightly fitter friend for his or her best stats, and use those to stretch your goal.

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