How to Out-Plank Your Friends

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Trying to muster up the strength to finish one more set of core work? Tell yourself that everybody else is doing it. A new study from the University of Saskatchewan suggests that we can essentially be peer pressured into working out harder or at least into executing tough moves—like holding a plank—better than we otherwise would have.

Scientists already know that the influence of others can have a powerful effect on people's choices when it comes to fitness activities as well as the duration and intensity at which they perform them, the study authors write in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

But they wanted to know if receiving a "normative message"—a verbal cue about what's normal for the rest of society— mid-workout could have an immediate difference on performance of one specific task. "An individual may hear a normative message that the majority of...others persevered on a physical task even though they were tired and think, 'If they can do it, I can do it,'" wrote study authors Carly Priebe and Kevin Spink.

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So they recruited 68 participants from a local Pilates studio and asked them to plank it out for science: Volunteers were split into two groups, and all were instructed to hold the popular core-sculpting pose for as long as possible. After a brief rest, one group was told that 80 percent of similar students held their second plank for at least 20 percent longer than their first plank, while the other group received no message.

The motivation worked: The normative-message group held their second planks 5 percent longer than their first ones (they averaged 96 and 100 seconds on first and second attempts, respectively), while the no-message group dropped 18 percent (from an average of 90 seconds to 76).

People in the first group also expressed more self-assurance after hearing what their peers were capable of. When they were asked before the second plank whether they thought they could hold it longer than their first, they rated their confidence level at about 45 percent; when asked again after receiving the normative message, their confidence rose to nearly 60 percent.

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The researchers say these findings can only be extended "to other situations where outcomes are performed in close succession to normative information" and not to "general physical activity levels and health at this time." But they do note that extending their research to larger behaviors, like being active on a regular basis, could be important for influencing healthy behaviors overall.

Until then, at least we've got a new mantra to repeat to ourselves when we feel like we can't possibly run another mile, lift another pound, or hold out for one more second on the mat: If she can do it, so can I!

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