Workout. The hardest part of it is right there in the word itself: work. When it comes to fitness, some of the most common reasons given for not doing it include:
- A lack of time
- A lack of motivation
- No knowledge of how to start
And I get it! With any new commitment, there’s a bell curve of excitement. You start in the “I’ve got this!” phase, where you are all in, mentally and physically. For workouts, that means you get the equipment and the apparel, pay for gym or studio memberships, and start setting your alarm early every morning to go get your sweat on.
A few days or weeks in, that enthusiasm starts to wane. You’re tired. You’re sore. Maybe you’re not seeing results as quickly as you’d like. So you start to skip a workout or two. When you do go, you don’t put in a full effort, so you start to see diminishing returns.
Hopefully, something happens that pulls the curve back up. Otherwise, that curve is more like a steep drop-off that leaves you where you started (or worse), feeling disappointed and defeated.
Enter: partner workouts! They tackle all of the challenges of working out and then some.
So, how do you start? The first trick is to find the right person. Sure, it’s easy to ask someone you’re already close to (a spouse or partner, a parent, a best friend, a colleague), but before you commit, make certain that this person has enough in common with you that you’re setting yourself up for success.
Ask yourself to following:
What time does this person like to get up? And to work out? If you’re an early riser who likes to knock out a run before the sun comes up, you likely won’t do well with someone who’s a night owl and prefers to work out after the evening meal.
What kind of workouts does this person like? If you crave cardio and hate doing weights, you may not want to partner with someone who feels the opposite. However, there is value in finding someone who can push you to do the things that aren’t as natural for you, and vice versa. Just be sure that that partner is open to trying it and won’t opt out of the types of workouts he or she doesn’t enjoy.
Do the two of you have a similar goal? It will work best if you’re both trying to achieve the same results: better performance (being able to run faster during a race, or lift heavier weights), weight loss, stress relief, and so on.
Is this a person that you can really count on? Just because you like someone or you get along well with that someone in other aspects of your lives does not mean that this person will make an ideal match, so take a good look at how he or she treats other deadlines and commitments before asking to go steady at the gym.
Finally, does this person have his or her own built-in incentive to keep going? Just as your commitment level and enthusiasm will undoubtedly wax and wane, so too will your partner’s. Do you think this person has enough willpower to push past these challenges?
But once you’ve found your partner, it’s important to be a good buddy, too.
Consider having an agreement – informal or formal, depending on whether or not you think you’ll need to refer back to it – that actually lays out the commitment each is agreeing to. How many times a week will you each work out? Will you work out together all the time, or will you sometimes work out on your own?
Remember that having a partner is all about accountability, and that goes for outside of the gym, too. Text or call through the week to ask how your buddy is doing. See if he or she needs some extra support, or just someone to laugh about sore muscles with!
Then, before the start of each workout, ask, “How can I help you today?”. On some days, your partner may need an extra push when they’re feeling a bit down or have low energy, while on others, he or she may need a little less help. It’s good to have an overall plan for the type of support each of you prefers, but don’t be afraid to build in some flexibility.
If it’s helpful, try a system of consequences and rewards! If one of you skips a workout, it’s an extra ten push-ups the next time you’re together. Or, whoever logs the most miles in three months gets a car wash from the other. Just try not to make these rewards food-based, which defeats the purpose of working out.
And whether it’s at the beginning or after you’ve started the program, don’t feel like you have to go it alone. Perhaps the two of you would work best with a third party overseeing your workouts – a personal trainer or a group fitness instructor – and then, the way that you support each other is by showing up and by cheering the other on.
Now you’ve found your partner and you’re both committed, what workouts and moves can you try? The most effective workouts are those that are fun and challenging and target the entire body.
Don’t forget cardio, either! A great way to work out together, but at different levels, is to run or walk on side-by-side treadmills. Partners who run at a similar pace can see who can get to a certain distance the fastest, while those who may need different speeds can set a time goal instead.
Here are some other ideas for making a success out of working with a buddy:
- Pick a weekly group fitness class and agree to meet before class for stretches and conversation. Knowing that the other person is counting on you, and vice versa, can really help establish some good fitness habits.
- Together, choose a goal that you can both work toward, such as a road race (the 5K is a great starting distance and really fun to do with a partner), a sprint triathlon or some other time-sensitive event. Make sure you give yourself enough time to put in the training, but then use that as your motivation!
- Here’s one tip that works really well: make sure your goal is S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Based.
- Don’t love the idea of training for a physical event? Look ahead to some big moment in your life: maybe an upcoming wedding, a class reunion, a family photo session, or some other occasion where you want to look and feel your best. Then, reach out to someone else who’s counting down to the same thing! Your training partner doesn’t have to be someone who lives close to you. If you think you’ll be more motivated to check in with someone virtually, you can change those in-gym meetups for daily text or email threads to stay accountable!
And make the most out of your limited time. If you work with your buddy, why not try meeting him or her before heading into the office, or carving out some time during your lunch break to fit in a bodyweight workout? A small lawn or even the parking lot with some towels laid down can make for a great informal studio.
If your workout partner is only available once or twice a week to meet in person, consider doing some of your workouts through live video chats, or include a line in your agreement about how much the other person commits to doing outside of the partner times (and check in those days as well).
Finally, if you’re not sure how to approach a potential partner or you don’t have one in mind, don’t be afraid to go public. Make a Facebook post or send out a group email saying something like, “I’m thinking of signing up for my first 5K race this spring and I’d love to have some friends to join me in training. Are you interested? Email me!” You may even find that there’s so much interest, you can trade your workout buddy for buddies, or set up a small group of people who are motivated to improve their lives together.