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Could a Workout Buddy Help You Lose Weight?

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A lot of people go to the gym on their own. Whilst some do so out of choice, many do it simply as they have no one to go with. But a key barrier to achieving physical activity is motivation – and when you’re on your own it’s sometimes easier to throw the towel in. 

Whether you are new to exercise or a seasoned pro, sometimes it’s just nice to get the support from a workout partner. There are a number of benefits a good training partner can provide that can steer you toward your weight loss goal. 

If you are currently struggling to find motivation, or just need that extra little push, in this article we’ll tell you how a training partner can be the difference between success and failure.

We’ll also tell you what makes a good buddy so you know exactly what you look for. Read on to find out more…


What is a Workout Buddy?

Group exercise programs have been shown to have to higher exercise adherence than individualized programs [1]. The problem is though that large group exercise does not suit everyone – those with time or money issues, or even those with anxiety may not feel that group training is right for them.

Social support relates to the enabling hypothesis. This theory suggests that peer support can indirectly affect your behavior by improving your self-efficacy – the belief that you can succeed. It is often referred to as the ‘power of can’.

When two people work together on a task, the member that needs more support becomes motivated. This stems possibly from a need to match the partner’s performance – it’s whats referred to as the Köhler effectThis is where a training ‘buddy’ comes in.

Social support is an important aspect of success for those undertaking exercise. It’s not essential as such – there are many people that prefer to train on their own.

Ultimately a workout buddy is a friend who exercises with you. You motivate each other and train together to work towards a common goal.


training-buddy

Is There Any Research to Back Up The Use of Workout Buddies?

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen [3] found that when volunteers exercised with a companion, the amount of physical activity they participated in went up.

The research team asked half of the volunteers to team up with a training buddy, and the other half to continue with their normal exercise routine. After 8 weeks, those with a training partner had exercised more frequently and felt they had more support when doing so.

Likewise, an interesting and sneaky study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine [4] found that the training partner doesn’t necessarily even have to be there with you for you to benefit from their support.

For this study, volunteers were asked to cycle for as long as possible at a set heart rate whilst in front of a Skype screen. They were told that not only could they see their partner on the screen, their partner could see them too. The volunteers were told that the overall test score was either based on the virtual partner’s score or based on whoever the weakest of the two cyclists was. Here were the groups:

  • Group 1: cycle alone
  • Group 2: cycle with partner on screen
  • Group 3: cycle with partner on screen. Results based on weaker score

Here’s the sneaky bit… instead of it being a virtual partner though, the video link was pre-recorded and looped to ensure that the volunteer would always quit first. 

Results found that group 1 only managed to cycle for 10.6 minutes whilst group 2 managed 19.8 – nearly 90% longer. The best part though was that group 3 managed a massive 21.9 minutes – double that of group 1. 

The fear of letting their training partner down spurred the volunteers on to work harder and longer. 

Lastly, King et al [5] studied 218 women over a 12-month period to see how regular phone calls affected motivation. Half of the participants received a live call from a one of the research team, and the other half received a computerized, automated phone call.

After 12-months the live call group were exercising on average 178 minutes per week – over 75% higher than at the start of the study. The automated group though improved to 157 minutes which is still a large increase in itself.


kohler-effect-and-motivation

What Makes a Good Training Partner?

In order to maximize the effects of a workout buddy, here are a few tips for you to follow. Not only does it provide you with a guide on how to find the best partner, it gives you an idea of how to conduct yourself too – everyone’s a winner!

  • The best training partner offers both emotional support and instrumental – What that means is that a good training partner doesn’t just turn up but works hard to give motivational support.
  • You have similar goals – By both wanting to achieve the same thing you can compliment each others’ workouts. If one of you wants to bulk up but the other wants to slim down, your workouts need to be different; and so do your buddies.
  • A slight competitive edge – Although you might never say it to each other out loud, the willingness to try and beat your training buddy helps to push you when you might otherwise have quit.
  • Keeps your ego in check – Whilst beating your training partner in some things is a great confidence booster, them beating you stops your ego creeping in. When your training partner performs better than you it helps to keep you grounded, but determined to beat them next time.
  • Provides safety – In the depth of the winter night you probably shouldn’t be out running alone – your partner provides strength in numbers and you keep each other safe. They can also provide a good spot on exercises like bench press and squat when you’re in the gym too.
  • Makes exercise more fun – No matter how much you enjoy exercise, sometimes it can be tedious and tiring. A good workout partner can add an element of fun and the social aspect of training can help to pass the time too.
  • Keeps your technique clean – A good training partner will not let you cheat on your lifts. You should be honest with each other and pay attention to each others’ needs when you are lifting weights together. If they start to cheat, tell them!

self-efficacy-and-motivation

Summary

Research shows that linking up with an exercise partner or ‘workout buddy’ can improve your motivation and exercise adherence.

The best workout buddies are motivating and have similar goals and needs to you. A competitive edge between you both helps to push you both, but stay humble at the same time. The social element helps to keep it fun and enjoyable.

The best training support is from a face-to-face buddy, when both participants have similar goals. Studies have shown that virtual partners can work just as well, and even phone call support can help motivate you towards your weight loss goals.

As adherence is one of the cornerstones of a successful weight loss plan, the use of a buddy can help you towards your goals. So whilst having a training partner won’t help you lose weight directly, the support you’ll get from them will give you a gentle push in the right direction.


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References

  1. Dishman, RK et al. Increasing physical activity: A quantitative synthesis. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996; 28(6): 706-19
  2. Kerr, NL et al. The Köhler Group Motivation Gain: How to Motivate the ‘Weak Links’ in a Group. Social and Personality Psychology Compass. 2011; 5(1) 
  3. Rackow, P et al. Received social support and exercising: An intervention study to test the enabling hypothesis. Health Psych. 2-15; 20(4): 763-776
  4. Irwin, BC et al. Aerobic Exercise Is Promoted when Individual Performance Affects the Group: A Test of the Kohler Motivation Gain Effect. Annals of Behav Med. 2012; 44(2): 151-159
  5. King, AC et al. Ongoing physical activity advice by humans versus computers: The Community Health Advice by Telephone (CHAT) Trial. Health Psychology; 26(6): 718-727


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