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Competition in exercise: the pros and cons

At The Studio we've long encouraged and verbalized the phrase "you are your only competition" in an attempt to promote a non-judgemental and individualized group exercise experience. But what does science and research say about this? Is it the right way to align your focus? Only competing with yourself? Are the benefits of competing with others? What are the long term effects of competition against other people?

I investigated and here's what I found:

One study from 2015 performed two experiments. The first was a physical competition and resulted in those competing with faster reaction times and overall completed the tasks quicker. The second was a memory competition and resulted in those competing with slower reaction times and impaired recollection of learned tasks.

(As always with any type of research I encourage you to not take it at face value) However, this is so interesting to me. In physical therapy one of our intervention/treatment categories is called "neuromuscular re-education". What is this? It can be a variety of many different things but basically it encourages the patient to use mind in coordination with body to promote "motor learning". This motor learning will promote improved muscular activation, coordination, and decreased pain in most instances. I immediately thought of this when reading the abstract of this research study. If individuals are more focused on winning the competition are we reaping the benefits of motor learning/memory?

Another study from 2016 looked at social competition versus individual incentives.

5 groups took classes that were compared against each other based on the amount of classes they took. The 6th group took classes with only individual incentives. The 5 groups that were compared against one another demonstrated higher amounts of classes taken. Is this ultimately good? I don't think so. I think it has its place but can very much have negative effects. I've broken this down in so many blog posts and podcast episodes before this the detriments of OVER and excessive exercise. So more classes is not always better. It can also encourage some disordered and unhealthy relationships to exercise.

How does this impact The Studio as a business? We're NOT encouraging out clients to do as much as they can for results. We're encouraging balance, consistency, and REST. This, we know will be best for us in the long run however it is not easy for the moment. It's not what convinces people to join as a member, its not what boosts class attendance, and its not an ideal way to profit financially. However, it IS the way to protect our clients, promote healthy relationships with exercise, and overall allow people to move well so they can live well.

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