ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline,Competition vs Comparison And How They Affect Your Fitness

Competition vs Comparison And How They Affect Your Fitness

Reading Time: 6 minutes


Date: 2023-01-09

Few things motivate people to push themselves in fitness quite like competition. According to Time magazine, the science bears this out pretty conclusively.

Competition unlocks something deep down inside of us, pushing for the win. It might be effective for motivation, but at what point does it become too much?

Why Motivation Matters

The basics of physical fitness are pretty simple. It requires control and discipline, both in the gym and at the dinner table. As a personal trainer, you are a huge component of this, acting not only as the source of information for workouts but also as a coach who can inspire your clients to achieve more than they ever thought possible.

When it comes to physical activity, it’s a matter of training the muscles in your body, whether it’s done in aerobic exercise, strength training, an exercise class, or anything else along these lines. Similarly, eating likely means your clients need to know about calories and the difference between carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. But having the knowledge, and indeed even having a plan, isn’t enough itself.

Motivation is the key that allows your plan to succeed. It is what helps people train when they might not feel like it, and helps them to get more out of their regular exercise.

People will do many things to try and boost their motivation, from consuming caffeine in a preworkout drink to listening to intense music in an effort to stir the soul and add intensity. Without motivation, the likelihood of sticking with a program is pretty low.

These are more internal motivators, which are great for when we’re working out alone. But when you’re working out with a group, or participating in a weight loss challenge over time, there is another tool at your disposal—each other.

Motivation through competition is a great external motivator, and it works. But there are some things that you should keep in mind when employing this strategy with your clients. A little competition will go a long way. But too much, or being over competitive, can actually be detrimental to individuals, or even the group as a whole.

So how do you get the benefits of competition, without the baggage?

The Hidden Danger of Comparison

To start with, comparisons are things we do naturally in our lives. Social comparison allows us to know where we stand in society, what we should work on, and everything else. Some comparison is good.

The problem comes when we start comparing ourselves to others to the point that it starts getting too serious or too personal.

For instance, if you did a group weight loss challenge, some participants might go to dangerous lengths to lose extra weight or body fat. Similarly, if your challenge is something like cardio workouts, or heart rate zone exercise intensity, some might be encouraged to push beyond what’s safe. This can be especially true of those with body dissatisfaction and body image concerns overall.

This all happens when competition leads to comparison. Now, of course, you have to compare results and metrics when doing a competition, but this is more talking about the importance of keeping comparisons from becoming the primary focus.

Types of Competitions

There are all sorts of competitions that you can engage in. We’ll break them down by in person competition and group competitions over time to talk about the strategies you can use to get the most out of your clients, whether it’s in a fitness studio or at a park.

In-person Competition

These will usually be competitions that challenge your clients during a workout. Competing with others in the moment can boost exercise intensity, whether it’s with bodyweight workouts, circuits, or even challenging to lift more with resistance training.

You can likely already see the importance of structuring a competition in a way that will ensure that, one, it’s fair for all participants, and two, safe for everyone.

So, for instance, if the challenge is related to resistance training, you might make the challenge to see who can lift the most reps of an exercise at 75% of their one-rep max. This way, everyone is challenged on the same playing field, regardless of size.

You could always try using a single circuit on a timeframe and go with “as many rounds as possible,” or AMRAP scoring. In this, you would have a circuit of, say, 4 exercises per round, and the participants will try to see how many rounds they can complete in an allotted time.

Multi Day Competitions

With these, you’re looking at tracking progress over time. It could be building lean muscle mass, losing weight in general, fat loss, or even something as simple as getting in moderate exercise.

For example, one really simple challenge is to count steps, using either a wearable device or most cell phones. These can be particularly useful in tracking cardio outside of their regular gym workouts.

Another example would be a 60-day one-rep max improvement challenge. In this, you pretest all participants to get their one-rep max. Then, you posttest after the 60 day period, and see who has had the biggest increase in percentage.

So, let’s take two participants, Participant A whose squat one-rep max is 250 lbs, and Participant B whose squat one-rep max is 175.

At the end of the challenge, Participant A’s one-rep max went up to 265, and Participant B’s went up to 185.

You would calculate these percentages as follows:

(New Max – Old Max) ÷ Old Max x 100 = Percentage Improvement

Participant A

(265 - 250) ÷ 250 x 100 = 6% increase

Participant B

(185-175) ÷ 175 x 100 = 5.71% increase

So, in this example, Participant A wins because they improved by a higher percentage, even though they’re lifting completely different weights.

This helps to (a) even the playing field and (b) put focus on self-improvement as opposed to putting the focus on comparison of the raw weight lifted, which brings us to the main point.

Shifting Away From Comparison Mindset

All of this can fall apart and become harmful if participants are comparing themselves to the others in the competition. Mindset is going to make all of the difference here in terms of how your clients perform in this type of environment.

They will take their cues from you, so make sure that you’re emphasizing that competition is great for pushing one another, but the real goal is self-improvement. So long as they remain focused on this principle, they should be fine to continue.

It’s important to define the parameters of winning and losing. Winning at all costs will get them hurt. Furthermore, use the positive aspects of their personal improvement to help curb the “sting” of losing.

It’s rarely an effective strategy to compare yourself to others — especially considering that there are all sorts of body types and fitness ability levels to consider. This is why the only “comparison” that needs to be made is self-comparison, before and after.

Make sure to, at the very least, acknowledge the success of all participants. The winners are the ones who self-improved. It’s as simple as that.

4 Keys to Engage and Inspire Clients

  • Affirm their positive actions. Even if they haven’t done a great job, give them credit for the positive work they did accomplish.

  • Say something when you notice them pouring on effort. Whenever your client’s energy is alive and moving, make sure to positively reinforce this whenever it happens.

  • Remind them of how far they’ve come. Even if it’s only a little bit of progress, it adds up over time.

  • End sessions with encouragement. Always make sure to have your clients leave on a positive note, and let them know that you’re looking forward to them doing great work in the coming weeks.

Challenging Toxic Personalities

One of the aspects that can ruin the entire challenge for everyone is a toxic person. We’ve all had them in our lives at some point, and it’s important to identify and correct toxic behavior before it becomes a problem.

Look for behaviors that are hypercritical. They could be hypercritical of themselves or others, but in any event, this is going to be a problem.

Make sure that your clients know what the goal is — for everyone to improve, to achieve more, to excel. You don’t want your clients beating themselves up for their mistakes, nor do you want them putting down others who might not be as athletic as they are.

The name of the game when it comes to using competition is positive motivation. Get them to encourage one another, and to affirm each other’s victories. In this way, they are more likely to succeed and see fantastic results.

Master the techniques to effectively coach and influence behavioral patterns for improved physical, mental and emotional well-being. Help your clients achieve long lasting lifestyle changes with ISSA’s Transformation Specialist program!

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