By Gina DeMillo Wagner, Experience Life
If there were a way to double your chances for fitness success, would you be interested? How about a technique to make exercise more fun? A tool that automatically creates space and time in your busy schedule for workouts? A proven way to help you out of a rut or through a plateau?
It may all sound too good to be true, but countless fitness seekers have found that the right workout buddy can do all that and more.
“In my 10 years of experience evaluating what creates long-term health-and-fitness success, the single most important factor is having a support system,” says Wayne Andersen, MD, cofounder and medical director of Take Shape for Life, a nationwide health and lifestyle coaching program based in Owings Mills, Md.
Exercise partners provide a powerful combination of support, accountability, motivation and, in some cases, healthy competition. “They can play the role of teammate, co-coach and cheerleader — all while working out,” says Michelle P. Maidenberg, PhD, MPH, clinical director of Westchester Group Works in Harrison, N.Y.
Maidenberg, who consults on wellness-coaching strategies, says finding the right workout partner (someone you care about and click with) dramatically increases your chances of success. “A buddy can motivate you to do one more set, continue when you feel like you have just had enough and want to give up, or when you are feeling hopeless.”
The need for interpersonal support is primal, says Andersen. “We are social animals. We seek the company and positive reinforcement of others, especially when we are doing work.”
A 2011 study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that the exercise habits of people you know have a positive influence on your exercise habits.
Another study, from the Department of Kinesiology at Indiana University, surveyed married couples who joined health clubs together and found that couples who worked out separately had a 43 percent dropout rate over the course of a year. Those who went to the gym together, regardless of whether they focused on the same type of exercise, had only a 6.3 percent dropout rate.
Ready to partner up? Great! But before you recruit the first warm body you see, keep in mind that not all workout buddies are created equal.
“If you choose someone who does not share a similar commitment to fitness, that can be a distraction or even a deterrent,” Andersen says. “And if your partner is at a radically different level of health, fitness or ability, you could be held back, pushed too hard or even injured.”
Another key factor: Emotional connection. Your workout pal doesn’t have to be your best friend, but he or she has to be someone you like and whom you wouldn’t want to disappoint, Maidenberg says. “Psychologically, if you feel like you have a responsibility and commitment toward another person, you are more likely to follow through on that commitment.”
The most successful fitness partnerships fall into one of three categories: the pal-based buddy system, the small group and the coupled pair. Take a look at them all, then consider which collaborative arrangement (or arrangements) might work best for you.
Number One: fitness pals