Don’t hold back tips or guidance from your partner in hopes of coming out on top. “A big component of friendly competition is that in general, you want to see each other improve,” says Gloria Petruzzelli, Psy.D., a Sacramento-based sports psychologist who works with athletes at her private practice and at California State University. By sharing information, you help each other push limits.
There are three types of workout partners, Ross says: those who are ahead of, equal to, or slightly behind you in their fitness pursuits. Test yourself occasionally against superior athletes, but spend most of your time training with equals.
That person’s motivational style should mesh with yours. Some people are more in-your-face about competition—for instance, taunting you when they whip past you on the track—while others are more low-key. “If it’s fun and inspiring to rag on each other, go for it,” says Lani Lawrence, Psy.D., LA-based certified mental performance consultant and executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. “If that’s not you, then you need to find someone on a similar playing field to keep it inviting.”
“Competition only exists when both people agree to the same set of rules,” Ross says. “It can become dangerous when you’re competing, but your friend is not.” If you have the urge to “win” during group runs or rides, even on easy days, that one-sidedness can turn others off and even lead to overtraining or burnout. Lawrence recommends agreeing to ground rules, like how you’ll encourage each other and what you'll do if the other person feels defeated, to get the most out of friendly competition.
Sometimes, it pays to let the other person get ahead. For a master class, watch pro endurance athletes during races, Petruzzelli says. At certain points, they push to stay with the pack. At others, they hold back, knowing they’ll finish faster if they run their own pace. If you’re stressed or injured, you might ease up while your partner pushes forward. There’s an upshot: By keeping competition in perspective, you’ll feel authentically happier for your friend’s successes, Petruzzelli notes.
Use your partner’s talents to strengthen your weaknesses. Kazda knows she’s stronger because of what Mischke brings to their workouts, and he’s learned from her to take his time and focus on details, improving his mobility, form, and technique. Ask yourself, “What’s my partner doing that I can apply to my own training to progress?,” Lawrence says. Maybe it’s a form tweak or positive self-talk. Use those strategies to create small goals for yourself so that in addition to competing, you can chart your own progress. Photo: Getty Images