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Why You Need A Gym Buddy

If you’re struggling with motivation at the gym, or even motivation for going to the gym in the first place or if you skip workouts or put in a halfhearted effort, then you are like me. We need help. We need a social support structure to get us off our couches and make us work hard. You and I need to stop trying to do this on our own.

You need extrinsic motivation
I woke one Sunday morning with a beer-to-blood ratio that was not conducive to running. It was -2 outside with sideways-flying bullet rain, but I knew I was supposed to meet Peter, one of my more masochistic friends, for a run. If I hadn’t shown up, I would have never heard the end of it, so I dragged myself out of bed, suited up and sucked it up. It was brutal. Awesome, but brutal.

Never underestimate the power of social support. It’s critical.

A friend of mine told me that when she is traveling, she will call friends in various cities in advance to book going for a run with them. She said having the pressure of a friend waiting prompted her to show up. ”I was very fortunate to be on the receiving end of great extrinsic motivation,” she told me. “My gym trainer created an environment where teammates could feed off each other’s energy.”

I know a lot about this. For years I worked out in a crowded gym surrounded by people I knew and enjoyed being around. I was part of a lunchtime crowd of guys who went to lift weights every workday, and it was awesome. Our raunchy locker-room talk was often the best part.

“Human beings are wired to be in groups,” said Bert Carron, a professor of kinesiology who focuses on sports psychology at the University of Western Ontario. “Exercising alone doesn’t work for the majority of people.”

If you go with a friend, you likely will work harder
. Recent research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine show that people who work out with a partner put more effort into it. Having people to exercise with, especially if they’re in better shape than you, prompts you to give it more effort.

To me, this speaks of ego — you don’t want to look bad. And, no, it’s not just a stupid guy thing; this study was done on women, though I will attest to the stupid guy thing: When lifting weights with those other guys I mentioned, I always pushed myself to the limit to look tough.

And during my run with Peter, I’m sure I went farther and faster than I ever had done on my own. There are times I get tired and need to stop to walk, but I hate having to ask a running partner to walk for a bit because I need a rest.

It’s embarrassing. No one wants to look like a slacker. An interesting thing about the Annals of Internal Medicine study is that participants didn’t actually feel more tired, despite the extra effort. My guess is that, when alone, they’re holding back simply because constant internal motivation is mentally challenging.

The cool thing about that harsh run with my friend was how good we felt afterward. At one point, the rain was near blinding, and we were debating if we qualified as “tough” or “crazy.” Warming up in the car on the drive home, we got to give each other a pat on the back after bearing witness to each other’s crazy toughness.

It made me want to do it again. 🙂