A gym enemy can be good for you...

A bit of friendly competition can help you to wield a sledgehammer, flip a tyre and break down your endurance barricades, finds Liz Connor.
A gym enemy can be good for you...
Liz Connor and Katie Wright, who work out together.

WHEN it feels colder than the Antarctic outside and frolicking on the beach in a swimsuit is a distant memory, mustering the motivation to slay a work-out seems as realistic as Kim Kardashian going on a digital detox.

Even if you do manage to roll into some Lycra and make it onto the treadmill, this sense of apathy can easily seep into your gym time; a 10K run becomes a light sprint with a couple of half-hearted press ups, followed by an hour in the sauna as a reward for your hard work.

When a case of winter lethargy strikes though, what you really need is a gym rival to stoke up your fitness fire.

We all know there’s nothing more consuming than jealousy, but when it’s applied to a workout, having an enemy can be your best asset —they’re potent fuel to add an extra weight to the barbell, push your resistance up on the treadmill and get you to the edge of your fitness limits.

Competitive classes are a big trend for 2018, with trainers capitalising on the feverishly binding nature of friendly competition — some classes even promise to burn up to 800 calories in one session thanks to this secret weapon. So does it actually work? I challenged fellow journalist Katie Wright to take on a strongman fitness class with me. Here’s what happened...

The class

We chose our amphitheatre; The Games at KXU, London — a gruelling 60 minute functional fitness class based on the type of training strongmen use to bulk up before pulling trucks and lifting concrete blocks.

Our trainer Laura Hoggins (@bicepsandbronzer) talked us through the 10 station circuit, explaining how the sessions are timed, with three minutes on each exercise and 30 seconds of rest in between.

My first challenge is to run on a static treadmill in dynamic mode and make it to 0.5K as quickly as possible, while Katie watches on, waiting for her turn.

I apathetically jog through the first round and offer the floor to my rival, who sprints furiously to the 0.5K mark in half the time I did.

Spurred on by the gauntlet throw, I hammer at the conveyor belt with a newfound energy, matching her speeds.

This stalemate continues throughout the next few stations. We move on to lifting. I struggle to get a steel log over my head, but — determined not to be embarrassed with an audience watching from behind — I audibly grunt as I lift my arms higher into the air, physically shaking with the exertion. Katie follows shortly afterwards, grabbing the same log and huffing her way to the top.

While Katie is performing weighted squats, I’m matching her with 10 pull ups on a TRX suspension trainer, working quickly to remain at her pace.

In a solo class I would have dialled down my treadmill, stopped midway to feign needing sips of water or chosen the lightest kettlebell. With a partner matching every goblet squat, weighted lunge and push on the versaclimber, I will myself to get ahead.

Obviously, there are limits. Katie stops pushing a prowler that has too many weights on it, while I give up on a round that involves lifting two barbells. The defeat is jointly crushing, and only adds fuel to the next station.

“A competitive group fitness atmosphere has been proven to get you focused,” says Gideon Remfry, health, fitness and nutrition manager at KXU. “Evidence shows that participants will keep an eye on both the hardest workers in the class and their neighbours. This not only motivates them to work harder, they also attend more classes.

“Increased intensity work-outs and greater attendance along with a strong work-out community are excellent bedfellows for long term results.”

Thankfully, the class is broken up with some stations that require teamwork, so you don’t leave the class with a total desire to kill each other in the changing rooms. One of the most difficult challenges involves flipping over a tyre that looks as though it would belong to the BFG’s car — real strongman stuff. In tandem, Katie and I heave and ho underneath the wheel in a joint effort to get it off the floor.

We high five manically as the beast topples over, astounded by our own strength.

As someone who generally works out alone, there’s something incredibly exhilarating and deeply unifying in taking on a fitness challenge together.

Aside from having the competitive edge, I soon found that having a partner can add a feelgood energy to a boring Saturday morning workout.

The results

I check my fitness monitor after the class —both my step count and my heart rate are through the roof. I’ve burned around 200 more calories than I would in an average gym session and my body is physically shaking from the exertion. I also ache for days afterwards; a sure sign I’ve done something of note, while Katie and I find a sort of survivor’s pride in retelling the horrors of the class to everyone in the office.

There are some classes around the country that work on a competitive basis — look out for spin classes that have a leaderboard screen or boxing classes where you furiously spar with a partner.

Apps are also jumping on the trend, the Nike+ (nike.com) and RunKeeper apps both have options for tracking your friends’ speeds and mileage and pushing you to match them. If you’re stuck for class options, you could even create your own circuit with a competitive friend in a local gym.

If after a month of ‘gruelling’ January workouts, you wonder why all of your hours clocked in the gym haven’t resulted in the body of Gigi Hadid, a friend might be just what you need to whip you into shape. Game on.

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