How to become the perfect workout buddy


With group running found to have the same impact on mental health as a course of anti-depressants, there’s never been a better time to enjoy the benefits of social exercise

Women exercising together selfie

Even though we live in a digital age, at the end of the day, human beings are social animals. It’s hard-wired into our DNA and is linked to our emotional and physical health

It’s not surprising, then, that we also feel these benefits when we get active with others.

As well as being a motivator – research shows that people who lead a more sedentary lifestyle feel more encouraged to get active when in the company of those who are more regularly active – working out with others is also key to a successful fitness programme

This is because we are more likely to up the intensity of our workout, spur each other on and make you more likely to show up a session in the first place with the input from others. 

So, how can you become the perfect workout buddy for those around you? Vitality Magazine finds out.

Show up

Showing up to a session is the first hurdle to get over when getting active. Arriving for an early morning run or evening swim session with a friend can make it feel far less daunting. 

“You’re way less likely to skip a session if you know a friend is waiting for you,” says Vitality’s Head of Exercise & Physical Activity, Jonny Kibble.

Not wanting to let your partner or gym buddy down will also make you more inclined to show up, which benefits all parties.  Even on days you’re feeling like you don’t want to lace up your trainers, a pep talk from a friend could be the encouragement you need.

Push each other 

By this we don’t mean bringing a spatula to every session, but encouragement to work harder is by no means a bad thing. With encouragement and motivation, you are more likely to feel the benefits of your workout.

Research found that working out with others can increase workout time and intensity by 200%. So, keep up the cheering, it goes a long way. 

Encourage rest 

Rest and recovery are just as important for your workout routine as the exercise itself. By resting you are allowing your muscles to heal and repair themselves ahead of your next workout. Over-training can also cause injuries.

If you do not give your body the right amount of time to heal you are at more risk of doing permanent damage to your body.  As a workout buddy, you should advocate for rest days if you think your friend is overdoing it.

Offer to go for a walk with them instead or do some lower impact activity to keep the social and physical element in there. 

Set achievable goals

As humans we can often fall into the trap of optimism bias. This is known in behaviour economics as an unrealistic optimism towards aspects of our life, which can mean we overestimate how healthy we are, for example.

This could lead us to believe that after completing your first parkrun, the next week we would be ready to complete a marathon. Setting realistic goals is therefore incredibly important to ensure that we achieve them – not just physically, but also emotionally too. 

New Year’s resolutions often fail as a result of taking on too much and being unable to complete them. As a workout buddy, you can help by encouraging your partner to focus on reaching achievable goals. 

Be collaborative

We all have different strengths. Some of us will be more adept in strength training, while others might have greater experience in a particular sport. 

Make sure you recognise you and your workout buddy’s strengths and try to learn from one another’s experience. This will benefit both of your workouts in the long-term and feel like you are both bringing something to the table. 

More on how to get a friend exercising

As we already mentioned, social support helps to sustain participation and comes with mental health benefits. 

But it can be hard opening the first line of communication with a friend to entice them into getting active, if you think it would be good for their mental health.

Of course, this is a delicate situation to handle, and ultimately it is down to the person to decide if they want to take part.

There are, however, other ways to dial up this conversation with friends that are struggling with their mental wellbeing. For example, by turning it into a social activity.

Rather than your normal coffee or drinks catch-up, you could suggest booking a yoga class, or go to your local parkrun – or opt for a parkwalk with a coffee in-hand.

Going for a walk should not be overlooked, says Vitality Coach and mental health expert Silvia Cordoba Quintero. “If running isn’t your thing, if yoga isn’t your thing, if lifting isn’t your thing, start by walking,” she says. “Start from a place that feels achievable to you. For your mental health, a 30-minute walk a day can do wonders.”

She notes this can be broken up throughout the day into more manageable chunks depending on your fitness level and lifestyle.

The more the merrier

While there’s no definitive right number of friends to exercise with, Kibble recommends at least one so you can discuss progress and get tips on how to improve. “Then having more people around can be great to boost motivation and make you feel part of something,” he notes.

Kibble also says you and your workout gang should set parameters and stick to them. “That way you’re open and both know what each other’s expectations are,” he adds. 

Then it’s important to be aware any differences between fitness levels and individual abilities, while allowing a safe space for people to be honest about whether they want to be physically pushed or not, concludes Kibble.

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Vitality rewards

At Vitality, we encourage our members to make small positive lifestyle choices that make a big impact. That’s why we offer partner benefits and rewards through the Vitality Programme.

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