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No matter how you exercise, you’re going the extra mile, so to speak, for good health. In fact, exercising is one of the best things you can do to boost your immune system and reduce your risk of a myriad of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and even certain cancers. Even your mental health is improved with consistent exercise, according to research published in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Exercising with a fitness buddy, however, or someone who exercises with you, can enhance your workout significantly. One of the key benefits of having a fitness buddy is accountability, which leads to more consistent action and, ultimately, you reaching your goals, notes Jennifer Sobel, NASM-certified personal trainer, professional dancer and creator of The Belly Dance Solution.
“A fitness buddy will give you a structure of support and accountability to make the positive changes that can be hard to do on your own, like waking up early to sneak a workout in before your day gets going,” she says.
Socialization is also an important reason because the prospect of having someone to talk to and catch up with during your workout makes the experience more exciting, notes Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, owner of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center in North Wales, Pennsylvania.
“You can talk about your day and vent about things that are causing you stress or grief all while getting a hard-earned workout in,” he says.
Another important reason to have a fitness buddy is to boost your motivation and desire to work out in general.
“If your fitness buddy shares the same goals, whether that’s weight loss or muscle building, you can help cheer each other on and provide a purpose for each other during your workouts,” he says.
If you’re considering enlisting the help of a fitness buddy to accompany you on your exercise journey, here are some key do’s and don’ts to ensure your partnership goes well.
Do: Set roles or boundaries
It’s a good idea to make sure you are on the same page with your fitness buddy regarding what roles you’ll be fulfilling for each other. In fact, Jason Machowsky, RD, CSSD, sports dietitian and registered clinical exercise physiologist at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Tisch Sports Performance Center, recommends establishing not only how often you plan on working out together but also how often you plan on checking in with each other. “Establishing upfront whether or not you want this buddy to be available to chat and text 24/7 can help prevent one buddy from feeling like they are being too involved in the relationship,” he says.
Don’t: Let judgment, negativity or criticism come into play
Having a fitness buddy is all about helping and supporting each other in becoming your best self, Sobel notes. When either one of you gets off track, she recommends pointing it out but warns against doing so in a way that evokes judgment. For example, you can ask each other, What happened that day that triggered you to get off track or What can you do differently next time so you can choose a more positive action?
Do: Get clear on your “why”
One of the most powerful things Sobel says you can do to achieve any goal is to establish a strong “why.”
“It’s not enough to just state the goal; you need to emotionally connect with why achieving this goal is important for you, as these strong emotions are the motivating force behind everything we do, positive or negative,” she says. “When the going gets tough and you’re just not in the mood to go to the gym, you can reconnect with your emotional ‘why’ to motivate and inspire you to push through.”
Don’t: Focus only on end results
When setting goals with your fitness buddy, Sobel recommends focusing more on the daily and weekly actions rather than the end goal.
“For example, your goal may be to lose 10 pounds, which is fine, but if you focus on the daily actions, you’ll naturally hit the goal. But without the focus on the daily actions, you’ll never hit your target,” she says. “So, in this example, the goal would be to keep your daily calories or macros in a certain range and do 30 to 60 minutes of exercise.”
Do: Positively reinforce each other
One of the main functions of a fitness buddy is encouraging each other during your workouts. For this reason, Rachel Welch, certified health coach, yoga instructor and founder of the postnatal fitness method Revolution Motherhood, recommends verbalizing this encouragement or showing it physically with a high-five. “Make it part of the routine to reflect an achievement to each other at the end of each workout,” she says. “This helps you see, hear and focus on your growth rather than on the challenges or the parts of your body you’re still struggling with.”
Don’t: Ghost your buddy
If things aren’t working out between you and your fitness buddy, for any reason, despite trying to make adjustments, it may make sense to part ways. However, Machowsky warns against “ghosting” your buddy — or essentially stopping communication without notice. “If they go to the same gym as you, odds are you’ll see them again at some point, and even if you don’t, it’s just not a nice thing to do,” he says. “Have a conversation with your buddy about why you are ending the relationship, and wish them well so that you can always reconnect with them again in the future if circumstances change.”
Do: Focus on both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
Motivation can be dual sided, according to Sobel — there’s intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation, and both are important.
“Put simply, intrinsic motivation is being motivated by the thing itself, while extrinsic motivation is being motivated by an external reward (or to avoid a punishment),” she says. “If you only focus on extrinsic motivation, you are going to miss out on another huge source of powerful motivation, and if you don’t connect with intrinsic motivation, it’s likely that the initial excitement of your plan and goals will wear off very quickly and the obstacles will become larger than the rewards.”