When it comes to working out, it's no secret that having a friend in your corner to keep you accountable and offer support, motivation and even some laughs after that grueling round of burpees is a plus. It's as obvious as the concept that exercise is healthy. They provide positive reinforcement that can transform your journey into a fitness success.|
There's so much more to it, though. Accountability partners, or workout buddies, directly increase the duration and adherence needed to see results in any training plan. After all, things like weight loss and muscle strength don't happen overnight. It's an ongoing process that requires lifelong habits and repeated actions, actions that are more likely to occur if you know Susan is expecting to meet you at 7 a.m. yoga.
According to a 2012 study in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, women exercised significantly longer when a competitive partner was actively present. Plus, Santa Clara University's psychology professor Thomas Plante found evidence that people who buddy up experience higher levels of calmness than those who exercised alone. Stamina and lower stress? Sold.
Luckily, it's never too late to find an accountability partner. Whether you're looking to run a marathon or shed a few pounds, with an open mindset and the right approach, you can find the support, drive and determination you need in a fellow workout buddy.
1. Do I Need an Accountability Partner?
While an accountability partner isn't imperative for success, it can increase your chances. Think of it like a calendar; you might not always need it to accomplish or remind you of a task, but it can make it can make it easier.
Remember, all types of people-no matter their personality, fitness goals or weight—can benefit from a partner thanks to the multi-faceted nature of the fitness journey. Some will benefit more than others. For example, if you have a hard time motivating yourself to break a sweat when you're so tired or already three episodes deep in your Netflix binge, a workout buddy might be your answer. You're more likely to get moving when someone is expecting your attendance.
Despite its social nature, having a workout buddy isn't just for extroverts. In fact, both extroverts and introverts can benefit from teaming up, according to Mark Washco, C.P.T., R.D. and founder of Mark Washco Fitness in Miami Beach, Florida.
"Extroverts often take on the role as the teacher or motivator," says Washco. Plus, because they enjoy social interaction, having a workout buddy will help them meet their social needs in a productive, healthy way.
Alternatively, introverts will get that extra push for a new challenge. Having a workout buddy will coax them into fitness activities outside of their comfort zone, providing the motivational springboard for new learning opportunities.
Remember, if you find yourself in need of an accountability partner, don't be hard on yourself. It doesn't mean that you're incapable of achieving success on your own. Even the most motivated people need a little nudge in the right direction, and having a partner on the road to healthy living with you will make your eventual success taste that much sweeter.
2. Where Do I Find an Accountability Partner?
"It's optimal to look toward friends and family," shares Washco. These individuals are more likely to provide the comfort and trust necessary in an accountability partner. This includes romantic partners and spouses. In fact, a 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that romantic partners who teamed up with the intention of improving their individual health were significantly more likely to succeed, especially in cases where both partners were overweight and made changes to get healthy. Similarly, a 2016 study in Health Communication showed that working out with significant others can increase weight loss and management.
Co-workers are another excellent option. "The most important—and complicated—factor [in working out with a partner] is scheduling," says Washco. However, a similar schedule is more likely with a co-worker. Hello, lunch break workouts.
Jill Abbruzzese, C.P.T. at Best Fitness in Albany, New York, reminds us that the sense of community in the gym doubles as a catalyst for meeting people. If you start to notice familiar faces, there's a good chance your schedules and interests overlap. Going out on a limb and striking up a conversation at the water fountain could lead to a valuable new friendship founded on your similar goals. In the meantime, check out Groupon for deals on new classes. It's the perfect opportunity to try something different and meet new people while saving some cash.
SparkPeople member OBIESMOM2 attributes her best partner experience to Carmen, a fellow boot camp classmate and experienced runner. After OBIESMOM2 mentioned that she's never been able to run a 10-minute mile, Carmen began gently pushing her on their runs. After several months, OBIESMOM2 realized that she just hit a 10-minute mile mark – an achievement she partially attributes to her partner's earnest support.
If the thought of walking up to someone makes you cringe, post an ad on a bulletin board. Ask trainers or teachers if they know anyone looking for a buddy. Simply putting yourself out there is a great start.
The internet also provides an amazing route of communication. Start by visiting the SparkPeople message boards. Make sure your SparkPage is complete and take advantage of the SparkPage Buddy Finder to find fellow local members looking to change their lives.
Meetup also allows you to search for local offline group meetings based on a shared interest. Smartphone apps such as Gym Comrade, Workout Buddies and WellSquad connect you with local gym partners based on your interests and goals. For each of these apps, you'll have a profile highlighting your age, level, goals and desirable buddy traits.
Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, are superb tools. Don't worry—you don't need to be a tech wizard. Simply communicating with former classmates or acquaintances can open up the door for potential partners.
Still feeling wary? Here's some good news: virtual workout buddies work. In fact, The Journal of Medical Internet Research states that online workout buddies boost duration of exercise and therefore, the intensity of benefits. Likewise, a 2013 study in Translational Behavioral Medicine reports supportive Twitter engagement directly increased weight loss. The online social support created by adult participants were delivered on Twitter, offering motivation and encouragement to each other.
Workout buddies are everywhere. If one method doesn't work, don't get discouraged; finding someone worthwhile takes time and patience.
3. What Should I Look for in an Accountability Partner?
Finding a compatible partner requires a mindful approach; it's not as simple as picking a name out of a hat.
Your partner should be someone that you like. It might seem like a no-brainer, but it's actually the most important factor. There are many different personalities out there and exercise can get sweaty and difficult, so pick someone with whom you feel comfortable and safe.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T is also an important factor to consider. If the thought of disappointing your partner and skipping out on a workout makes your stomach sink, you're in luck. This is the type of progressive accountability that a workout buddy should fuel.
A "good buddy" is reliable and shows up on time. They're eager and enthusiastic. Most importantly, they provide constructive feedback and encouragement while respecting your personal fitness journey.
SparkPeople member LADYSTARWIND summarizes this concept well: "Recognize and accept that even though you are committed to exercising together, there will be times when you need to 'do your own thing'" she writes.
As for "bad buddy" traits? Watch out for flakiness, tardiness and partners that criticize others. A buddy shouldn't make you feel uncomfortable or jab at your insecurities.
Avoid anyone that is too different than you. This paves the way for personality clashes and conflicts. Again, comfort is key. If you can't imagine being this person's acquaintance or teammate, then reconsider. Likewise, avoid anyone that is too similar. This might even include close friends with a long history and strong friendship. With too much to say, ultimately, there's a greater potential for the exercise and chatting ratio to be in favor of the latter.
It's okay if you and your buddy are at different fitness levels. In fact, it can even be beneficial. A 2011 study published in Psychology of Sports and Exercise notes that the exercise habits of those closest to you can serve as a positive influence on your own exercise habits, especially when there is a high level of support. So, if you've always admired your co-worker's perseverance, calling on them as your workout buddy could inspire you to push yourself to that next level. Recall, too, OBIESMOM2's experience in boot camp. Her running partner, Carmen, is an experienced runner. Carmen's kind nature and encouragement helped OBIESMOM2 achieve her running goal. Talk about an all-star workout buddy.
4. How Do I Find an Accountability Partner in My Age Group?
While age doesn't determine fitness success, finding a workout buddy in the same age group can help ease workout jitters. It might be easier to find a relatable partner with similar goals within your own age group.
The 20s and 30s are full of major life changes—moving away from parents, marriage, kids, making your mark at work—so finding a mutual schedule is crucial. Because this age group tends to be the most socially active, try using parties and happy hour events as potential grounds for workout buddies. If you find someone with similar interests, suggest swapping $6 margarita nights for a 6 p.m. Barre session. If you have small children, talk to other parents at school events and set up a gym date when the kids are at school.
Those in their 40s and 50s are more likely to have set routines, established jobs and fewer children at home. Turn to co-workers who are more likely to have similar schedules. In the 60s and up, consider attending community functions (fitness and otherwise) designed for senior citizens.
5. How Can I Be a Good Workout Buddy?
Be the workout buddy you want to have. What you receive will reflect on what you put in; it's a give and take.
"Both buddies should make sure the other isn't losing interest or feeling discouraged," advises Abbruzzese. If workouts are getting stagnant, suggest a new routine. If your partner is hitting a road block, ask how you can help. Keep your mind open and positive.
Abbruzzese also suggests maintaining contact outside the gym. "Post motivational quotes to each other's social media pages, meet up to plan workouts in advance and grab healthy post-workout meals together," she says. These actions will help cultivate a true connection that encourages success.
While your partner is the source of accountability, SparkPeople member LADYSTARWIND offers an important reminder: "Don't make your buddy responsible for your failures and never lay the blame on them," she says. "Instead, allow yourself to be inspired by them; have them be that 'little push' from the outside." Give it your all, do it with a smile and you will both succeed.