For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
The secret to getting faster could be in your choice of riding partners.
When it comes to endurance athletes, there are those who feel wholly unmotivated without their training comrades and those who’d rather just put on a set of headphones and be left to their own devices. Whether it is by choice or circumstance, going it alone has its benefits; however, the latest research suggests that to get the biggest return on your bike training, it’s best to log those miles in the company of others.
The study out of Kansas State University involved 58 college students who were instructed to ride exercise bikes under different conditions. For the first six sessions, the participants rode alone and could quit whenever they felt tired. The next six sessions they worked out with a partner via Skype. Beforehand they were told that the partner had ridden longer than them in those previous six sessions, thus giving them the impression that their partner was more skilled. While the participants believed this was a live scenario, the partner, named either “Stacey” or “Laura,” was simply a video of a person riding. This insured that the only unknown variable was the participant’s effort on the bike since the partner performed exactly the same each time.
The difference between the two scenarios was significant. In some of the partner sessions, participants were riding up to 200 percent longer than they rode when on their own. All the while, their perceived exhaustion didn’t change, despite the fact that they were riding twice as long. Lee Gardner, the president of Trismarter Triathlon Coaching and Nutrition in Colorado Springs, Colo., explains this phenomenon, saying, “When athletes train with others who are at a higher level of fitness and skill, the lesser athlete will rise to the occasion. It’s pretty simple—nobody wants to be the weak link.”
Indeed, Gardner says that training partners can bring out the best in you and light that competitive fire. “Having bragging rights to show on Strava or Facebook or just between friends can help motivate an athlete toward superior performances,” adds Gardner.
What’s more, having a partner waiting for you prior to a workout can also be an important factor when it comes to accountability. “If the athlete needs a push out the door to get the workout rolling, then a sense of obligation to meet up with a partner or two could be the needed catalyst,” Gardner says. Whether you need a kick in the butt to get in the saddle or pick up the pace, training partners, especially those who are a little faster than you, can be the ticket to better performance.
“When athletes train with others who are at a higher level of fitness and skill, the lesser athlete will rise to the occasion. It’s pretty simple—nobody wants to be the weak link.”
—Lee Gardner, president of Trismarter Triathlon Coaching and Nutrition
Matchmaker: Choose the right partner
While the research highlights the benefits of training with other athletes, not just anyone will do. “When athletes are paired with the right partners for training, the effects are great—improving motivation, performance and focus,” coach Gardner explains. “On the other hand, having the wrong training partner could result in some unwanted setbacks.”
Research shows that training with people who are better than you is a good idea; however, there is a point of diminishing returns. For instance, if you’re a relatively new triathlete, you probably shouldn’t try to jump into a workout with an aspiring elite. This will simply leave you overtrained and exhausted. When you’re choosing your training partners, make sure ability levels are within the same realm.
Gardner suggests having multiple training partners to call upon for various types of workouts. “If an athlete needs to work on really hard efforts, call the guy you know will put the hurt on you,” he says. “If your workout demands a steady, easy aerobic effort, join the newbie group and be social to keep yourself reeled in.”