You’ve probably heard that a workout partner can help you reach your exercise goals, but finding the right person can be tough. Who is at the same level you are? Who has the right attitude and will encourage you to be your best? Who has a schedule that will work with yours?
Finding that perfect exercise buddy may not be easy, but research shows it can be worth the effort. The right person can help you reach your weight-loss and fitness goals a lot faster, and you’ll likely have more fun along the way.
1. A Workout Partner Keeps You Accountable
When we have no one to answer to, we can easily bail out on our workout plans. Too tired? No problem. You’ll get to it tomorrow. Have to run to another event? Don’t worry, you can work out later, even if later never comes.
Having a workout partner makes it harder to wriggle out of your appointed exercise time. If someone else is waiting for you, you have to contact that person and disappoint him or her, which is a lot more painful of an experience. Because you don’t want to let your friend down, you’ll be more likely to stick with your commitments.
If you’re someone who has a hard time putting yourself first when it comes to your health, a workout partner may literally help save your life. This person is likely to increase your motivation, and make sure you exercise when you said you would, even if you don’t feel like it. Sometimes just getting out the door is the hardest part. If you have someone there waiting, you’ll be much more likely to do it.
2. A Friend Pushes You to Train Harder
If you’ve reached a plateau in your training, and you need that extra boost to keep going, a partner or even a team of workout buddies can give you the push you need. When working alone, we tend to stop when we think we’re tired, but workout partners encourage us to keep going beyond those initial feelings of fatigue. If you’re trying to lose weight or train for an upcoming event, you really need to partner up to see your best results.
Researchers found this to be the case when they studied 1,000 women. Nearly two-thirds of those who regularly ran, went to the gym, or attended exercise classes with their friends pushed themselves harder than if they went alone. They trained for longer periods of time, burned more calories, and went to the gym more often. A third of them credited their friends with giving them the motivation they needed to stay in good shape.
Earlier research found similar results. Scientists split a group of 58 women into three groups:
1) those who exercised on their own alongside a virtual person,
2) those who exercised as a team alongside a virtual person, and
3) those who exercised completely alone.
The women who exercised with a “virtual partner” were told that the partner would be exercising at the same time in another lab. The women also met these partners in a video-chat and were told that their partners’ fitness levels were better than their own.
The researchers then observed the women exercising. Those who exercised with a virtually present partner improved performance and exercised longer than when exercising alone. Those who were part of a team kept going even longer than those who exercised with a virtual partner, and twice as long as those who exercised completely alone.
3. Buddies Help You Move More Often
One of the messages that exercise science has been telling us is that we need to move more, on the whole. Many of our jobs these days involve hours of sitting at a desk, which is horrible for our health. Even if we commit to that daily trip to the gym, it may not be enough to help us avoid dangerous consequences like overweight, heart disease, and diabetes.
Here again is where exercise buddies can help. In one eight-week study, for example, participants were randomly assigned to either start exercising at the gym with a companion, or to continue to exercise alone. Results showed that those who actively sought out and started exercising with a companion increased their amount of exercise, while those who exercised on their own continued to follow their regular routines.
You can take advantage of this effect by finding more workout buddies in various areas of your life. At work, for example, choose a lunchtime walking companion. As a parent, join up with other parents to walk during the kids’ soccer practice or do a few laps during swimming class. Encourage your book club members to discuss the latest bestseller while walking at the park. Use your different social connections to work more movement into your life.
4. Friends Give You Needed Emotional Support
“Come on, keep going! You can do it! One more minute!”
We can all use cheerleaders in our lives, and having one during exercise helps us get much more out of our workouts. Indeed, when you’re thinking about who might make a good partner for you, you may want to consider this first: Who will really support you and your goals?
Researchers found that partners who gave emotional support were more helpful during exercise than those who gave more “practical” support, like never being late for workouts or helping with equipment. These were the people who encouraged their partners to do their best, and stick with their commitments.
Lead author Dr. Pamela Rackow added that encouragement is key when it comes to working out together. “Our results showed that the emotional support from the new sports companion was the most effective. Thus, it is more important to encourage each other than doing the actual activity together.”
5. Workout Partners Keep You Safe
If you’re lifting heavy weights, performing exercises where form is key to avoiding injury, or even just running through an unfamiliar area, a workout partner can help keep you safe.
Just one crash on a bicycle or drop of a heavy weight can land you in the hospital, and so much for your exercise goals. What if you’re jogging along and suddenly sprain your ankle? A partner could go on ahead and come back with a car if necessary, or go for emergency services if you suffer worse than that.
Even if you’re just walking through the city, a partner can help spot that distracted driver. When you’re lifting weights, you’re always at risk for injury, but with a friend as a spotter, you’re much less likely to get into trouble.
Then there’s the question of form. How can you be sure you’re doing your squats correctly? You know if you don’t, you risk hurting your back or your knees. A buddy can help watch you and correct anything you may be doing wrong. He or she can also encourage you to be more careful. Whereas you may cheat a bit on that yoga pose when you’re alone, just the presence of a partner is likely to motivate you to position your body exactly as you should, deepening your stretch and increasing your benefits.
6. Buddies Make it Easier to Try New Things
Maybe you’ve been interested in Pilates, and you know they teach classes near you, but you’ve been a little intimidated about going alone. Having someone with you can give you the confidence you need to step through the door.
This works for pretty much any new exercise you want to try. If you can find someone who’s willing to do it with you, you can go together, which increases your odds of enjoying the experience and potentially adding a new form of exercise to your repertoire. Mixing it up is better for your muscles and helps keep you interested, too.
7. Friends Share Your Accomplishments
It’s super important to celebrate your accomplishments. If you set a goal to lose five pounds over the summer, for example, or to train for a half marathon, and then you reach that goal, but have no one to celebrate with, you are less likely to feel motivated to go after the next goal.
Celebrating that accomplishment, on the other hand, stokes those “feel-good” emotions that are so important to motivation. Having someone to celebrate with breaks down the barriers you may feel when celebrating alone.
You may feel good about running that half-marathon, for example, but feel like it would be too “selfish” to celebrate yourself. If you and a friend both run that marathon, it makes perfect sense that you’d go out that evening for a night of fun, or enjoy a little party afterwards.
You can also trade off planning celebrations between you and your partner or even among team members who have worked out regularly together. Plan a potluck, go somewhere fun for a new race, meet at your favorite restaurant—the possibilities are endless. The more fun you can make these celebrations, the harder you’ll work to reach your other goals.
How to Choose the Best Type of Workout Partner
Now that you’re convinced you need a workout buddy, how do you find the right person?
Though you can’t be overly picky or you won’t find anyone at all, it is important to choose wisely. When thinking about who might be right for you, remember the following:
• Emotional support: Look for someone that you care about and who cares about you, someone who wants to see you succeed. The best partner is one that will motivate you to run one more mile or lift one more set, and will help you stick with it even when you feel like giving up.
• Pushes you, but not too hard: It may be tempting to ask that weight lifter who looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger to be your partner, because you want to look like him, but be careful. If you pair yourself with someone who pushes you too hard—beyond your limits—you could end up suffering injuries that sideline you in a hurry. You want encouragement, but you also want someone who understands when you’ve had enough. Look for someone who is closer to your level of fitness.
• Keeps her commitments: If you’re just getting back into exercise, it can be fun to find someone who’s also just getting started, so the two of you can grow together. But if your new partner starts checking out on you, she can quickly tank your motivation, too. Make sure she is the type of person who is committed and will show up when she says she will.
• Likes to have fun: Having fun is one of the main reasons why we like working out with other people. They help us take our minds off how sore we are so we spend the time laughing instead. They can also help shake up what would otherwise be a boring routine. Look for someone that you enjoy spending time with, and who is likely to make your exercise time something you look forward to.
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Daily Mail Reporter. (2013, January 15). Looking for a fitness boost? Workout with a friend – research shows that women train harder with an exercise partner | Daily Mail Online. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2263099/Looking-fitness-boost-Workout-friend–research-shows-women-train-harder-exercise-partner.html
Pedersen, T. (2012, May 30). Exercising with a Partner Boosts Motivation | Psych Central News. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/news/2012/05/30/exercising-with-a-partner-boosts-motivation/39421.html
Rackow, P., Scholz, U., & Hornung, R. (2015). Received social support and exercising: An intervention study to test the enabling hypothesis. British Journal of Health Psychology, 20(4), 763-776. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjhp.12139/abstract