How a Workout Buddy Can Improve Your Fitness Success

Workout Buddy

Story at-a-glance -

  • Working out with a fitness partner may double the results you achieve during your fitness session
  • Partners who are emotionally supportive will improve your results better than a partner who gives you great instructions and tells you what to do
  • The benefits of consistent exercise improve your overall health and you can find a partner to motivate you by enrolling in classes, asking friends and family or using technology to search for the perfect fitness partner

By Dr. Mercola

Regular fitness has been an integral part of my life for many decades. Being physically fit means your body is strong and flexible and your heart and lungs can sustain consistent activity without causing distress.

There are multiple reasons why working toward being physically fit is healthy in the long-term. However, you may have come up with multiple reasons why you don't want to take the first step or can't seem to remain consistent in your efforts.

Many of the reasons you may have used to stop exercising boil down to an avoidance of being uncomfortable. Dislike of sweating, muscle soreness or just not wanting to get out of bed an hour earlier than usual are all examples of this.

Getting dirty, being out of breath and an intense dislike of working out in front of people round out some of the common reasons for not working out.

Like all good things in life, there is a price to pay for achievement. To become physically fit and enjoy the benefits, you will have to participate in some form of physical activity that challenges your respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

There is no "Easy Button," but the process is simple and with a few aids, you may enjoy it more, gain greater success from your program and even require less effort to maintain your weight.

Fitness Partners Increase Your Success

If you're struggling with getting motivated to work out, you'll be interested in research that demonstrates improved results when you work with a partner. Research from the University of Aberdeen evaluated the potential for engaging with a new workout buddy and how much more success you might experience.1

This was the first study to also investigate the specific qualities you want to look for in a workout partner.

Researchers asked half of the participants to find a new fitness partner and the other half to continue their usual routine. They found those who found a new partner exercised more than those who followed their consistent routine.2

Turns out that using a partner is a better predictor of your physical activity than relying on your willpower.

A study published in Applied Psychology looked at data from over 1,000 employees at one company and found that those who planned their activities with a partner had better results than those who depended on themselves to increase their activity level.3

The lead author of the study from the University of Aberdeen was also involved in previous studies of a similar nature. In each she found the social support participants received from their fitness partners was in large part responsible for the greater gains those participants made during the study.4,5

Pamela Rackow, Ph.D., research and teaching fellow at the Institute of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, was the lead author in these studies. In a press release, she said:6

"The idea of this study was to test in a very natural setting what is happening when two people get together with the aim to exercise more."

The Kohler Effect

Working with a partner has a motivating effect on individuals. However, sometimes when people are working in groups that effect can backfire. For instance, some individuals may contribute less effort in a team sport when they feel their individual contribution is not readily identifiable.7

However, psychologists have found individuals achieve greater gain in challenging physical activities when they are paired with another individual who has greater ability.

The motivating effect that occurs when an individual exhibits greater capability performing with others rather than individually is called the Kohler effect, named after Otto Kohler, a German industrial psychologist.8

This motivational gain is more distinct during tasks when the outcome of the task is dependent upon the less capable individual. This effect was demonstrated in a study from Kansas State University, in which researchers used health video games and virtual partnerships to improve the physical performance of their participants.9

Fifty-eight female college students were split into three groups. Each student rated their fitness as "average." Their performance on a bike was evaluated for time, both alone and with a partner.

On average, the women rode for a little over 10 minutes by themselves. When teamed with a partner their time increased to a little over 19 minutes. However, when told the performance of their team would depend upon the time of whoever stopped first, the average time doubled to just under 22 minutes.10

The unique part of the experiment was that the virtual partner, who the participant met in a video conference, was on a video loop and was never going to be the first to stop the bike.

A similar study, funded by Health Games Research, was performed at Michigan State University.11 The results of the study demonstrated a participant's individual performance improved by 24 percent when they exercised with a virtual partner who was more capable in the task.

Benefits of a Consistent Fitness Routine

Participating in a consistent fitness routine increases the likelihood you'll experience a number of beneficial results in your mental and physical health.

By knowing and understanding how fitness can improve your overall health and your daily life, you may find greater motivation to engage a workout partner and get started enjoying a whole new chapter in your life.

Improves Your Cognitive Ability

Several studies have demonstrated improved cognitive performance and perceived cognitive experience immediately after exercise across all age groups.12,13

Lowers Your Blood Pressure

American College of Sports Medicine14 and the American Heart Association15 agree exercise helps to lower your blood pressure. People who are sedentary achieve results even with modest increases in physical activity.16

Improves Your Immune System

In a study performed on cancer patients in the weeks after receiving chemotherapy, researchers found that exercise boosts the function of T-cells in your immune system.17

Although mild to moderate exercise improves immunity,18 research has demonstrated that over-training can lead to a compromised immune system for three to 72 hours after an event.19

Lowers Your Risk of Heart Disease

Reduced blood pressure, improved heart muscle function and help with weight management all contribute to a reduction in your risk of heart disease when you regularly exercise.20,21,22

Improves Weight Management

Although you don't have to exercise to lose weight, it does help. But, doing standard cardiovascular workouts may actually sabotage your weight loss efforts.23

Instead I recommend incorporating a couple Peak Exercise routines into your weekly program in order to burn more calories and improve your cardiovascular health.

Reduces Insomnia

Exercises improve your sleep by reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and increasing the number of hours you stay asleep.24

Helps Elevate Your Mood and Fight Depression

Researchers have demonstrated links between an elevation in your mood both within minutes after exercise and extending in the coming hours and days.25

Researchers have explained the changes in mood by an endorphin and monoamine hypothesis, believing it may increase body temperature, improve circulation to your brain and improve your reaction to stress.26

Lowers Your Risk of Diabetes

Exercise, combined with eating a low carbohydrate diet, may reduce your risk of pre-diabetes or diabetes. Although many who suffer from diabetes do not become or stay regularly active, physical activity improves blood glucose control and may prevent type 2 diabetes.27,28

Slows the Aging Process

No matter how you define aging — whether it's through cognitive decline,29 telomere length30,31 or physical disability,32,33,34 exercise slows the process.

Characteristics That Make a Great Fitness Partner

In this short video, a senior editor at The Atlantic discusses finding a workout partner with the founder of WellSquad, a mobile app described below. Using information from studies evaluating physical activity when engaged with a partner, researchers have identified several characteristics that successful partners bring to your relationship. According to Rackow:35

"This study is unique in that it reflects natural life relatively well because when you decide to exercise with a friend — you ask someone in your normal social network regardless of whether they fit certain criteria or not."

The researchers found that partners who provided emotional support encouraged their partners to exercise more than those who offered instructional support. Practical support might have provided advice to the participants, but it didn't motivate them to exercise more, whereas emotional support did.

They also discovered that finding a partner who encourages you through your program is more important than finding a partner who exercises along with you. This dramatically increases the potential population of exercise partners, including those who may not live in the same state.

Partners who are interested in your progress, are able to engage in a relationship with you and willing to spend time either exercising with you or conversing with you about your program each week, make excellent workout partners.

How to Find the Right Workout Partner

Finding the right partner can be challenging. Here are several tips that might make the process easier. Look for a partner at your local gym if you belong to one. Approach people with whom you have developed a relationship and who you think will be emotionally supportive. Ask the fitness trainers at the gym whom they might recommend; they often get to know many of the people who frequent the gym, even if they aren't their client.

Another place to look for fitness partners is MeetUp.com.36 You can find a number of different special interest groups such as fitness, hiking and a variety of sports. ZogSports.com37 is a site that links young professionals for teams, social events, classes and clinics. If you fit the demographic it's a good place to find a workout buddy.

Ask your friends or people at work who might be interested in working out with you. Try signing up for a class at the local recreation center or YMCA. You'll bond with new friends over exercise and might even find a new workout partner.

There is also an app for that. WellSquad.com38 has developed a mobile app with a free and paid version. The app pairs you with people who have similar fitness goals, live in your geographical location and enjoy some of the same activities. It uses an algorithm similar to those used by dating sites. Finding a workout buddy is free but working with their personal trainers, instructors and dietitians comes with a price tag.

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