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Can a workout partner help motivate you to exercise?

The good versus the bad of having a fitness buddy

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Workout partners can be a double-edged sword: they can be great for motivation, or they can kill it. It really depends on the partner. So considering that forewarned is forearmed (another military analogy), let’s examine the potential positives and negatives of having a workout partner.

The good A partner can be a powerful extrinsic motivator. An extrinsic motivator is an outside force that prompts you to action. Knowing that this person is going to meet you for a run or a cycle can get you out of bed in the morning even when you don’t feel like it. You don’t want to let your friend down, so you’re going to get up and go even if you’re tired, drank too much the night before, or just can’t be bothered. She can also make exercise more fun. If you have someone to talk to while exercising, or perhaps play a two-player sport like squash with, then the entire activity becomes more interactive rather than just you sweating to your iPod. This can also build a closer friendship – exchanges about anything from raising kids to your partner’s snoring, or to that gym patron who really shouldn’t wear spandex. It can also be safer. If you like running, for instance, having a friend with you can give you a better sense of security on those lonely pathways.

A good workout partner can also push you while you exercise. If you’re lifting weights together, you can keep each other focused on pushing your limits. The same goes for aerobic activities. She can push you to run, cycle, elliptical-stair-something further, faster and harder. She can keep you goal-focused and having that little competition sometimes helps. If you’re both working on losing weight together then you can also create a mutual support structure where you help each other achieve your goals.

The (Potential) Bad What if she quits? Seriously, that’s the problem with extrinsic motivators: you have no control over them.  For example, knowing that she is going to meet you for a run is what gets you out of bed. If she quits, moves, gets sick, then what? What gets you out of bed then? The best type of motivation is intrinsic: it comes from within. You work out because you want to; because you love it. If you come to be completely reliant upon another person for your motivation, then that’s not a good thing. Or, she just may not be a very good workout partner. What if she drags you to the cupcake store after every workout “because we deserve it”? What if she is slow and holds you back? What if she constantly bails on you?

Workout partners: Getting it right Don’t miss out on this great motivator for fear you may become too reliant on its extrinsic factor. Just be careful to pick a good one who shares similar goals and who will push you, but also remember that you also need to develop that intrinsic motivation while you’re at it. Experiment with solo workouts as well and focus on learning to love exercise for its own sake. That way, if things aren’t going as you planned with your partner, or if her motivation lags, then she won’t derail your own efforts. It might be worthwhile having a discussion that lays out the rules where you promise to help each other achieve mutual goals. Also, it’s advisable to pick someone of similar ability so one person isn’t holding the other back. And this may be harsh, but there could come a time when you have to pull a Donald Trump and say, “You’re fired!”

Of course, you don’t have to be mean about it, and I’m sure your hairstyle will be light years better than Donald’s, but if things aren’t working out with a specific workout partner, you may come to a point where you either decide to go it alone, or find someone else. Yeah, it’s harsh, but it is better to have loved and lost…

James S. Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. Visit www.bodyforwife.com or email him at james@bodyforwife.com