Virtual workout buddies can up your performance game
Using the buddy system to help keep you motivated—and push you just a bit further—during an exercise workout is nothing new. It’s called a personal trainer. New research explores how a virtual buddy can also be just as effective in helping up your performance game.
The research, from a study published in the April issue of the Games for Health Journal, focused on the Kohler Motivation Effect, a phenomenon that explains why those who may not be particularly great exercisers may actually enhance their performance with a moderately better partner or team vs. just working out by themselves.
Although the study indicates that a human partner probably serves as a better motivator during a workout, a software-generated version has its benefits as well.
A group of 120 college students performed a series of plank exercises using “CyBud-X,” an exercise game created for the study. Participants completed the exercises individually and then after resting, they were asked to complete the exercises again, but this time each was randomly assigned a different partner. Partners included a “live” human partner, a nearly human-like humanoid partner and a hardly human-like, software-generated partner, all projected on a screen, or no partner.
Researchers then measured exercise persistence, perceived exertion, beliefs about how effective they thought they were being, enjoyment and future intentions to exercise.
According to the results, researchers observed a significant motivational gain in all partner conditions.
“Even though participants paired with a human partner held their planks, on average, one minute and twenty seconds longer than those with no partner, those paired with one of the software-generated buddies still held out, on average, thirty-three seconds longer,” said lead study author Deborah Feltz in a statement.
Her findings support the idea that programs such as CyBud-X can actually affect how people perform during workouts. Results could also encourage video game and software firms to create cyberbuddy programs based on sports psychology.
Ed Bendoraitis, exercise physiologist and fitness trainer at Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center, agrees that having a virtual buddy could help during workouts. “A support system that will hold a person more accountable and encourage motivation will definitely be beneficial—even if it is virtual,” he says.
“I support anything that will get people moving more. I definitely think it could be a positive for people,” added Bendoraitis.
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