Why Everyone Needs a Workout Buddy

Want to get the most from your workout? Of course you do. Here’s why recruiting a friend can double your results

Working out can be a lot of different things on any given day. Sometimes it’s the best feeling in the world. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done. Sometimes you leave the gym feeling proud. Sometimes going there in the first place is the toughest thing you can imagine. Which is why it helps to share the burden.

We’re talking of course, about getting yourself a training partner. A gym buddy. A friend to make you actually turn up to that 7am class. A mate to help you squeeze out those extra reps.

The benefits of a gym buddy

“The benefits of having a gym buddy are endless,” enthuses James Dollah, head coach at Puresport Fitness Club. “The best training buddy is someone who is consistent, motivated, will challenge you and – although this doesn’t always have to be the case – has a similar goal and ability.”

As Dollah says, the benefits of having a pal in your corner are manifold. And they’re even backed by science. Lee Chambers is an environmental psychologist, wellbeing trainer and functional life coach at Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing. He’s also a gym-enthusiast, and to Chambers, the benefits of having a gym buddy are obvious.

“When you train, nobody else can put in those hard yards and push that final repetition except you,” he says. “However, science is clear on the benefits of having a training partner or gym buddy if you're looking to exercise more, stay accountable and on target with your goals, and even feel supported and foster healthy competition as part of your training journey.”

The science of training with a partner

Chambers, points to a Kansas State University study which found that “those who exercised with a teammate whom they perceived to be better increased their workout time and intensity by as much as 200 per cent.” Meanwhile, a study published in the Journal of Behavioural and Experimental Economics found that “team incentives are associated with greater behavior modification (eg more gym visits) than individual incentives.” What’s more, this second study found that being aware of how much your teammates (in this case, a training partner) is visiting the gym encourages you to go more, too.

These findings were echoed by researchers at the University of Aberdeen, who found that not only does an “exercise companion” increase the amount of exercise an individual does, crucially, “ this was increased even more when the new partner was emotionally supportive.”

Chambers agrees that a good gym buddy can provide emotional and logistical support (ie they can spot you on that PB attempt), which in turn can boost motivation, mood and even impact your perceived exertion levels, giving you the capacity to train harder for longer.

“Positive encouragement and reinforcement can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters, including dopamine and acetylcholine, making our training more rewarding and increasing our focus in the moment,” says Chambers.

Another obvious benefit is that your gym buddy is someone you’ll be accountable to. You don’t want to leave her waiting for you at that after-work spin class. Or let your mate schlep out to the running track on his own. Get a gym buddy and you don’t just turn up for yourself, you turn up for them too.

“Likewise, they don’t want to let you down,” says Dollah. “You’re far more likely to stick to your plan if you have agreed it with someone else; there may be days when you think of skipping a workout or maybe even the last set or exercise of your plan but you’re far less likely to if there’s someone else keeping an eye on you.”

As well as fostering social bonding, Chambers agrees that having specific, shared aims will bring out the best in both of you. “Having a shared goal is another powerful partnership igniter and we are less likely to stop, or let a blip impact our longer-term vision,” he says.

A gym buddy will make you accountable, push you to work harder and bolster your spirits through the tough times. Then, of course, that sense of healthy competition will always serve to push you further – just don’t let it ruin the friendship.

What to look for in a workout buddy

With that last point in mind, it’s important your gym buddy is someone you don’t mind spending regular, sweaty time with. “Make sure it’s not someone you will get sick of in a few weeks,” says Dollah.

On the flip-side, those unreliable, flaky friends are likely to demotivate and frustrate you, affecting your own progression. “When you’re actually in the gym one red flag is a partner that isn’t present – always on their phone, not contributing to the session or always late,” says Dollah. “Their energy will be contagious. If they don’t commit to their workout, that will rub off on you. Likewise, if they go hard, you will too.”

To make it work, Dollah suggests you and your chosen gym buddy agree on a schedule that is realistic and sustainable. “Make sure the timings, frequency and expectations from each other are agreed beforehand so as not to disappoint,” he says.

Crucially, Dollah says you need to agree that you’ll stick with it through the tough times. “You need to acknowledge that not everyday will be a great day, but as long as one of you is there to pick the other one up on those off days, you’ll both keep progressing to your goals.”

Happy training.

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