It is true that no-one else can do your fitness work for you; you have to be the one to put the gym kit on, you have to make the decision to go to the gym, but there is a lot to be said for working with a partner or group once you are there.
The power of two (or more)Research says that by teaming up with a fitness buddy, working out as a couple or joining a fitness group will help motivate and inspire you to work harder, more regularly. It stands to reason, if you know that someone else is relying on you to put in an appearance, you are less likely to shirk an exercise session.
Dr Wayne Andersen, managing director and medical director of US-based health and lifestyle company Take Shape for Life, said. “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.”
Someone to turn to
Andersen and many other experts in the field say that an exercise partner can provide support, accountability, motivation and, in some cases, healthy competition. They can take on the role of co-coach, teammate, or competitor – all of which will help you through your workout.
Of course, it's not for everyone. There are people who like to get ‘in the zone’ and want to train alone, but for many, many people having a friend and support is really beneficial. This is particularly true of people who are new to the gym environment. Long time gym users can forget how daunting those first few visits can be.
There are some important factors to take into consideration before you rush off to recruit the first person you see as a fitness buddy. Make sure you join forces with someone who has similar goals and commitments to you. There is no point choosing to exercise with someone who is at a radically different level of fitness. You will get those who do not want to work as hard as you, and they may well be distracting and de-motivating; someone who is much fitter may push you too hard and you may end up ill or injured.
Choosing the right partner
It is also important to assess the type of relationship you have with your fitness buddy. It must be someone who you like and wouldn’t want to disappoint or let down. If you feel you have a responsibility and a commitment to your fitness buddy, then you are less likely to back out of a session or make excuses.
There are three main successful fitness partnerships:
The buddy systemThe buddy system is usually a couple of friends or work colleagues, who train together and have developed a regular routine. This is a really good system for people who have shared goals – weight loss, training for an event, for example. Quite often this can be someone who has a similar life pattern to you - you may meet at the school gate or you may find you are working the same shift. Whatever the connection, your schedules just fit.
In the gym, a buddy can also provide practical support, acting as a spotter during a weights session, timing you on a circuit-based work out, and providing some healthy competition.
Watch out for: becoming so friendly that you spend too much time joking around or gossiping. Also beware becoming too competitive – this could have a detrimental impact on your friendship.
The groupThis is a small group who generally workout at the same time and in the same vicinity. Quite often group fitness is based around an activity – cycling, running or people who turn up for the same class.
It works because it instils a feeling of “we’re all in this together”; if you look across the room and see the effort on the faces of those around you, the motivation to work hard becomes very strong. The group normalises the effort you are putting in, which to an outsider might seem extreme.
Watch out for: sometimes a group’s needs do not reflect your own. Make sure that you are in the group for the right reasons – to hit your fitness goals – not just because you like the people in the group and feel comfortable there.
The coupleThere are many advantages to working out with your partner. On a practical level you can travel to the gym together, you can schedule gym sessions to fit in with your lives, you might use gym childcare facilities while you work out.
There is also the emotional support of being in the gym with someone who will praise you and recognise your efforts. Couples might not be training together, but the security of knowing you have an ally in the gym is a powerful tool in raising levels of confidence.
Watch out for: If you are prone to bicker or get too competitive, then this could be a toxic situation. If this is the case, exercise separately.
Finally, you do not have to limit yourself to one fitness partner. It could be that one weights session is spent with your gym buddy, you ride out with a cycling group and you play tennis with your romantic partner. As with all aspects of fitness, variety is key.