Workout Partner Pros: How to Stack the Odds in Your Fitness Favor
Obesity. We hear about it on the news pretty much constantly. The statistics are disheartening and, frankly, scary. According to the American Heart Association, there are 154.7 million Americans age 20 and older that are overweight or obese.
Ok. That is a really big number. I needed to wrap my head around this. So I looked up the really nifty World Population Clock.
I learned that the U.S. 20+ population is 231.4 million (as of Monday at 3:45 p.m. MST). Math isn’t really my thing, but these numbers are kind of obvious. Roughly, two-thirds of American adults are obese or overweight. Yikes.
Lisa Freedman with Men’s Fitness quoted a study by Harvard University that found obesity to be “contagious.” Apparently bad habits like smoking, obesity, and even pessimism spread “like an infectious disease.” Experts recently found that “a person’s risk of becoming obese rises by two percent for every five obese social contacts they have.” What?! Let me get this straight. If you associate with unhealthy people it is proven that you most likely will start to assume those habits as well. I guess it makes sense.
But here is the flip side: What if you started hanging out with really healthy people? Would it work in the reverse? Maybe it is time to start chatting it up at the gym. Join the foodies at the local watering hole. Or you could even enroll with a running group. Because, according to Harvard, having thin and healthy friends could be the perfect place to start.
Another study, this time from Michigan State University’s Department of Kinesiology, found, “Training with an exercise partner can increase the amount of time you work out. Researchers discovered that participants who biked against a simulated partner on a screen exercised twice as long than the participants who biked alone,” shared Julz Arney in her article for The American Council on Exercise.
Furthermore, they stated that a workout partner both challenges and encourages you—making you work harder and longer than you typically would alone. Let’s face it; nobody wants to be seen as the weakest link. If you don’t want to become an obesity statistic, you need a game changer. Partner training may be just the catalyst you’ve been looking for.
The Social Scene
Obviously there are many advantages to finding a fitness friend. But let’s check out the social benefits first.
Freedman shared that “You’re much more likely to meet your friend for a planned workout session at 6 p.m. compared to tentative plans you made with yourself for, say, sometime after lunch.” And in her article, she quoted personal trainer Steve Stonehouse (from Crunch gym in New York City), who explained that it takes about three to four weeks to set the habit of team training. But once you’re set in your ways you “won’t even think about canceling on your friend.”
And it’s that same accountability factor that London trainer Scott Laidler wrote about in his article from The Telegraph. He calls it “instant accountability” when you start training with a partner. So many excuses can come up ultimately leading us to skip the gym. But meeting a friend makes it much harder to cancel because “you know you’ll be messing up their plans too. Imagine all the extra progress you would have made just over the course of the past 12 months if you’d never missed a workout!”
Arney joked that, “It’s one thing to blow off the alarm and roll over when you are exercising alone. But the thought of my training partner standing on the corner in the dark waiting for me—and the embarrassment of texting some half-baked excuse to cancel—pushes me out the door every time.” Ok, ok. We get it. Partner training gets your workout done. Next.
Oh, ya. Workouts can be fun. “With a partner beside you, laughing and chatting as you break a sweat, the time flies by,” Arney said.
Take it to the next level when you turn your workout into a friendly competition—it’s a real game-changer. Basketball, squash, volleyball, soccer, or even tennis can all be enjoyed one-on-one or with a bigger group. And we all know these options make you sweat!
Consider using partner training as an opportunity to learn new exercises. “Maybe you know a brutal leg lunge that you used to do on your own? Teach it to your buddy one day, and the next, let him teach you something new,” Freedman shared.
Her source, Stonehouse, added that “The more you change up your workout, the better your body is going to respond.”
Yes. It’s time to celebrate. Arguably the best part of fitness friendship is the reward aspect. “Setting training goals and edging closer and closer to their attainment alongside someone else is very motivating,” Saidler added. “It’s also a great idea to plan rewards together. A previous training partner and I used to book a weekend trip away to let our hair down each time we finished a 6-8 week training phase. It helps to balance all the hard work with a worthy reward.”
Both men and women are particularly gifted at self-criticism. Often times, we are prone to pick apart our ability and physique until we can’t find a shred of confidence. “You may just be your own worst critic. A good training partner will always be able to look at your concerns through fresh eyes and give a healthy second opinion,” Saidler shared.
It may also be a good idea to select a training buddy who is known to be kind, supportive, and uplifting. Make sure you are the friend who offers a sincere compliment to your training partner from time to time, as well. It goes both ways.
The Fitness Edge
Now let’s take a look at the fitness advantages you can access when you enlist a workout buddy.
“Never again will you have to approach a random meathead and ask him to spot you. Never again will you have to count your own reps,” Freedman said. And it’s true. This is the definition of friendship. You’ve got each other’s back. Next time you’re on the bench press you will be able to power through another two or three reps because you’re totally safe to go for it.
“Plus, your spotter can keep an eye on your form as you work, too,” Freeman added.
Going back to what we learned earlier about skinny friends, let’s say your workout partner has been seriously dedicated and he/she is starting to look great. How does that make you feel? Kudos if you said “I would be happy for them.” But let’s get real here. It would light a fire under you, wouldn’t it? That’s right. The great glowing torch of
envy competition would ignite, and you would double your efforts to get to work. Ya, I thought so.
Caution: “If your partner is considerably stronger or fitter than you, don’t be sucked in to trying to perform the same workouts. Your partner won’t progress, and you’ll likely get injured. Instead, try to compete on degrees of improvement relative to your own current ability,” Saidler advised.
Consider adding personal training to your regimen. The saying goes “Two heads are better than one.” Imagine how much your training could improve if you added a third head—even better when the third head is a fitness expert.
Bonus: most gyms offer a small discount when two people sign up for the same session. “One-on-one training is still the bulk of my day but I’m seeing more and more partner training for financial reasons alone,” Stonehouse said. It just makes sense to train with two—especially when there is a monetary advantage.
A Rallying Cry
Call up your friends. Send out a message on social media. Or post a request on your gym’s community board. Get motivated. Get fit. Get healthy. And do your part to improve our nation’s obesity rates for the future—with a friend.
by Erica Colvin