Exercising with a buddy can help you stay motivated to move, and research has shown that it’s associated with greater physical activity. Yet anyone who has tried it knows that all workout partners aren’t created equal. A partner who doesn’t show up, complains nonstop, or wants to quit early and get ice cream instead won’t help you reach your fitness goals.
So what makes for a perfect match in an exercise buddy? Recently, I put that question to three fitness experts, who shared some excellent advice.
Right Place, Right Time
First off, your and your partner’s schedules must mesh, putting you in the same place at the same time for workouts. J.J. Flizanes, a personal trainer in Beverly Hills and author of Fit 2 Love, says, “I’m often with clients in the early morning, when a lot of people like to work out. So for my own workouts, I need a partner who can do it in the afternoon.” Who’s free at odd hours? People who don’t work 9-to-5 schedules, college students, stay-at-home parents, and fit retirees, among others.
Meaning of “On Time”
Choose a partner with a similar attitude toward punctuality. “If you think 7:00 a.m. means 7:00 sharp, and your partner thinks anything before 7:30 qualifies as on time, you’re going to have a problem,” says Jeanette DePatie, a fitness instructor and author of The Fat Chick Works Out!
If you and your partner have identical health and fitness goals—for example, less body fat, more stamina, improved heart health, or greater flexibility—that’s great. “But some individual goals can be compatible, even if they’re different,” says Joan Pagano, a personal trainer in New York City and author of Strength Training for Women. “For example, weight loss and increased stamina both require an abundance of cardio work with some moderate strength training. Other goals don’t jibe as well; for example, cardio fitness versus increased flexibility.”
“I’ve learned the hard way not to choose partners who are much less active than I am, because they cancel more,” says Flizanes. Working out with someone who is at a much different level of fitness or ability can be demoralizing for the less advanced partner and frustrating for the more advanced one. On the other hand, a smaller difference can sometimes be beneficial for both. The less fit partner gets help and inspiration to work up to the other person’s level. The fitter partner gets the accountability that comes from having someone count on him or her.
Be generous with moral support and encouragement. Just make sure it’s mutual. “One person shouldn’t drain the other, needing too much support and coaxing,” says Pagano. “If you have to breathe life into every rep of your partner’s workout, you’ll soon be exhausted from the effort.” Her rule of thumb: “One plus one should equal more energy, not less.”
It’s crucial to agree on what constitutes a valid reason for canceling a workout. “If one of you will show up even if it means finding a babysitter for your sick toddler, and one of you bails because of a bad hair day, your relationship is doomed,” DePatie says.
It’s also essential to have a meeting of the minds on sharing pointers. “If one of you is extremely sensitive to criticism—constructive or otherwise—and one of you has a burning need to offer helpful advice about every little thing, that’s another warning sign,” says DePatie. Her recommendation: “Offer advice only when it is requested—in writing, in triplicate!”
It’s risky to try converting a spouse, lover, roommate, or best friend into an exercise buddy. Pagano once made the mistake of encouraging a boyfriend to run with her. “It turned out that he was faster, more competitive, and also impatient,” she says. “My advice is to find someone who is compatible with your fitness goals and level rather than someone with whom you share an emotional attachment.”
Flizanes agrees: “If it’s someone you see all the time, the workout becomes secondary. Then, if you’re fighting or you’ve both had a long day, it’s too easy to say forget it. I would suggest someone you don’t talk to all the time, but would like to see more of.” The chance to catch up on visiting while you exercise might be the push you need to get out the door.