Competition is a natural part of our lives. It’s been shown to help us perform better, when the competition is healthy, of course. But what is healthy competition, and how can you introduce these concepts into your fitness classes to make your students into the best versions of themselves?

Healthy vs. unhealthy competition

Competition is only beneficial when it’s the healthy kind. But how can you distinguish between friendly competition and something more sinister, without suffering a breakdown first?

There are a few different ways to recognize healthy competition over its more toxic counterparts. In general, healthy competition is characterized by:

  • Competition between peers rather than pitting the highly skilled against lower-skilled individuals. A level playing field is key for not creating undue stress among competitors. This is why weight classes in boxing and wrestling exist – an unfair fight is just no fun to watch.

  • Competition is among a relatively small amount of people, rather than amongst a huge group. The fewer people in a competition, the more competitors feel they have a chance to win and succeed.

  • Competitors are focused on success, rather than avoiding failure. If two people are trying their hardest and enjoying themselves, rather than just trying not to lose, they will find competition much less stressful than competitors who are afraid of defeat.

Benefits of healthy competition

Studies have shown that, under the right circumstances, healthy competition can help everyone improve. This improvement is not just found in physical tasks (like beating a PR while running in a fun 5k) – it’s been shown in competitions that involve attention and reaction time.

This makes a lot of sense to those that are interested in fitness. Having a training partner that pushes you to do one more rep or hold that plank for just a couple more seconds is a huge benefit. In fact, scientific research has shown that competition can actually help people exercise more than other accountability measures.

However, athletes often find themselves performing better in training than in competition. This is probably due more to the mindset of the competitor than anything else. Remember that focusing on success rather than failure is an important part of healthy competition. In a high-stakes match or game, athletes can often succumb to stress and underperform.

How to create healthy competition in your fitness class

If you’re ready to start incorporating friendly competition into your fitness class, consider the following questions:

  • Who will participants be competing against? Will they be competing against others or themselves?

  • How will you create competition? Will you track outcomes over time? Pit participants against each other directly?

  • How will you make sure competition is between peers, not between two opponents with mismatched skill levels?

  • How will you keep the competition small enough to remain healthy (and avoid stress)?

  • How can you keep participants focused on improvement and success rather than avoiding failure?

There are plenty of ways to introduce competition into your fitness classes. As long as you keep the competition healthy, your students should see even better results. And when your students succeed, you succeed (and get paid!).