Penn researchers say if you do this when you exercise, it will be a game changer

While being labeled a “copy cat” was the highest of insults on the playground when you were younger, it turns out that now it just might help you get a better workout in the gym.

A new study, done by a team of University of Pennsylvania researchers and published in Journal of the Association of Consumer Research, suggests that copying someone’s workout routine, like your friend or coworker, may make you more likely to actually stick to working out.

How do we know copying a workout works?

This study highlights the role of “copy-paste prompts,” which is when you basically copy what someone else is doing, paste it into your own life, and make necessary changes for yourself. For the study, researchers randomly assigned over 1,000 people to one of three groups.

The researchers asked the first group, known as the “copy-paste” group, to examine how people they know motivate themselves to work out and gave them the option of asking those people for motivational tips and strategies. The researchers also asked this group how they planned to exercise during the next week.

Researchers gave the second group an exercise hack or strategy that had motivated others to complete a workout. For example, they suggested that for every hour you exercise, you allow yourself to go on social media for 15 minutes.

The third group was a control and did not receive any instruction, but was surveyed on how much they exercised.

After 10 days of the study, the copy-paste group reported spending a significant amount of more time exercises than the other two groups. The copy-paste group reported 55 more total minutes than the control group and 32 more total minutes than the group that was given the exercise hack.

While all participants in each group noted at the start of the study that they were interested in exercising more, the copy-paste group had more overall motivation to exercise during the study.

“This suggests finding and mimicking strategies that work well for others pursuing that same goal can be useful,” said lead study author Dr. Katie Mehr, a member of the University of Pennsylvania’s Operations, Information, and Decisions Department.

This practice isn’t useful just for exercise, but Mehr told Runner’s World that researchers specifically chose exercise for this study because so many people want to achieve fitness goals but struggle with finding motivation and following through.

Why do copy-paste prompts work?

There are two important reasons that these copy-past prompts work so well.

First off, people tend to favor observation when learning new skills, especially when they are watching people in their social networks, according to past studies.

Second, this strategy works well because they can copy behaviors that they wish to emulate, which in return gives them feelings of choice and control. Choice and control are two extremely important aspects of habit change.

Does copying workouts from Instagram count?

According to the researchers, seeking out people you can connect with directly to copy helps more than focusing on the latest workout from your favorite Instagram fitness influencer.

“One of the reasons copy-paste prompts seem to be successful is that they increase social interaction with the person whose strategy you’ve copied,” Mehr said. “So, it may be useful to ask people instead of following them on social media. But, if there really isn’t anyone whose strategies you could mimic, those social media examples could be helpful, as our study shows finding—instead of receiving—a strategy is particularly useful.”

Jennifer Fabiano is an SEO reporter at Ladders.