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.
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. They 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 parenting to your partner’s snoring to favorite music to work. 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 encourage you to go harder 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. They can push you to run, cycle, elliptical-stair-something further, faster and harder. The 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.
What if they quit?
That’s the problem with extrinsic motivators: you have no control over them. For example, knowing that they are going to meet you for a run is what gets you out of bed. If they quit, move, 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, they just may not be a very good workout partner. What if they drags you to the bar or the cupcake store after every workout “because we deserve it”? What if they are slow or weak and hold you back? What if they constantly bail on you?
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 your partner’s motivation lags, then they 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, and I really hate quoting the guy, 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.
James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.