10 Reasons Why You’ll Train Harder Than Ever to Beat a Friend

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As the participants of the Fitbit Fifty are finding out, it’s easier to train harder, faster and more often when you add a social element. The winning mix of competitive rivalry, social support and extra motivation can give you the boost you need to achieve your goals. Here’s why it’s time to transform your best friends into training rivals.

1. Everybody loves to be a winner

At professional football and rugby clubs around the UK, fitness coaches regularly pin the results of fitness tests to the gym noticeboard so all the players see who came out on top. The same fun rivalry can inspire friends, family members and work colleagues, whenever and however they exercise. “A bit of friendly competition helps you to push yourself that little bit harder in training,” says Professor Greg Whyte, a physical activity expert and Fitbit ambassador. “The most neglected aspect of any training plan is often the sociological element, but we all need competition and support.” Whether you train together with friends or compare your PBs on social media, trying to outdo your mates is guaranteed to bring out the best in you.

2. You can be competitive 24/7

Geography, family life and hectic work schedules no longer have to get in the way of fun, competitive exercise. The Fitbit app allows you to share and compare your training distances, speeds and times. “In the past, you had to meet in person but tracking apps have increased the potential for this form of motivation – you can see what your friends have been doing week in, week out,” says Rick Jenner, an experienced marathon runner from London who is training for the Fitbit Fifty. “I can now compete with, encourage or be motivated by mates on the other side of the world. Seeing a friend in Australia banging out a good session is as good as competing with someone from around the corner.”

3. Social training makes exercise feel easier

Scientific research has shown that making exercise a social experience can actually help you to tolerate more pain. Competing against your peers sparks a potent mix of competitive drive and social pressure, which boosts the release of endorphins – feel-good chemicals that reduce the feeling of pain – so you can keep on running, pedalling or lifting longer than if you were sweating away in isolation.

4. Going public helps you stay on track

Routinely sharing your training results with friends reduces your chances of slacking off when the weather turns soggy and the dark nights descend. “Sharing your activity with other people in person or online makes you more accountable because you don’t want to look like you’re giving up,” says Professor Whyte. You’ll get plenty of motivation back from them too. “Just seeing a friend logging an epic training session or showing continuity is always inspiring,” says Mike Jones, an Ironman athlete and Fitbit Fifty challenger from Bristol.

5. Winning helps to build healthy habits

Beating your mate’s 10K cycling time-trial result won’t just feel good today, it will inspire you to go out even harder tomorrow. Recent neuroscience research has shown that one of the secrets to creating a healthy habit is the addictive sense of reward whenever you achieve a goal (and our unscientific gut tells us that nothing feels as good as getting one over your friends). Positive emotions stimulate the basal ganglia – the part of the brain associated with reward – which makes you want to repeat the action.

6. Competition can be friendly as well as fierce

Battling your friends isn’t just about taunting them with celebratory selfies every time you beat their 5K PB – you can also get the social support you need to stay focused. “It’s good to get recognition and comments of encouragement from people when you’ve put in a good training session,” says Jones. With the Fitbit app, you can send cheers, taunts and comments to each other and share your training activity via text, email and social media.

7. Rivalry keeps you coming back for more

Even determined trainers get fed up, but by introducing competitions and challenges you will enjoy an extra dose of motivation. Fitbit allows you to set challenges for up to ten people, such as the Weekend Warrior, which measures who walks the most steps over the weekend. “Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of challenges on Fitbit and it’s good to have a bit of healthy competition and encouragement,” says Fitbit Fifty challenger Natalie Doble from London. “I find them really motivating and it’s always good to have someone to try to keep up with if you’re lagging a bit.”

8. Friendly battles make training fun

A playful rivalry sharpens your competitive edge, but it also adds a dollop of fun to exercise so you keep coming back for more. “A big part of training is as much about psychology as physiology,” says Professor Whyte. “Any prolonged activity can get boring, but by adding a bit of fun, competition and social engagement, you’ll train more often.”

9. The goalposts are always shifting

Even if you beat your mate one day, you know if you slack off you might lose again the next. Competition helps to keep your motivation sky-high. “I have little competitions with people – it’s great fun trying to beat a friend and knowing that they’re going to try to get me back,” says Jones, who enjoys battling his friends on Strava, which can be linked to your Fitbit Surge so all your activities are automatically uploaded.

10. Even losing can turn you into a winner

If you lose to a friend, it will only motivate you to train harder than ever. “Seeing a friend doing a great session just encourages you to do the same, and when a friend gets a new PB and maybe beats mine, it just makes me think I can make a similar improvement myself,” says Jenner. “A club mate did a 20-mile run before work the other day and it spurred me on to do similar that evening. With my Fitbit Fifty training, it certainly helps to see what others are doing because it motivates me to keep up and not let the team down.”

Former contributor

Mark Bailey is a features writer and interviewer who contributed to Coach magazine in 2015 and Men’s Fitness UK, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach, until 2019. Mark has also written for national newspapers including The Telegraph and The Financial Times Magazine, as well as magazines and websites such as Cyclist and Bike Radar.