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  • Writer's pictureAsh Radford

Want the proven benefits of exercising with others? conditions apply!

It’s no secret exercising with others helps.

It can make it more enjoyable, and mean you not only work harder, but stick with it.

Sticking with it really matters as evidence suggests only 50% of people last 6 months with a fitness program. And, as we know, to get real results you have to sustain effort for that long.

It’s great to take direct action by arranging to work out with a friend tomorrow. However, here’s a few things to consider so you make the most of exercising with a buddy or group.

Exercise with people you feel supported by

Feeling supported by an exercise partner or group matters a lot. There are numerous studies which show the importance of support. (1,2,3,4) If your life partner exercises with you or is at least supportive, it’s more than helpful as well. It’s often said that people are social creatures but in the case of exercise the nature of the connection matters. There’s power in having someone care about you and your fitness goals.

Social support matters but a group needs to meet your exercise needs

Clearly people prefer to feel connected and have a good time while exercising. What’ll get you exercising more though is if group or buddy sessions fulfill your purpose for exercising. Your running partner might be a barrel of laughs, but if the workouts don’t make you sweat like you intend you won’t carry on for long. A match between vision for exercise sessions, and the actual experience, among those you exercise with, will result in ‘task cohesion’. This further adds to making exercise stick. There’s nothing wrong with catching up with a close friend for a walk but if you want more intensity in your precious exercise time you may need to separate social and fitness. Otherwise, it could mean both a below par workout and a frustrating catch up.

Exercise with fitter people to train harder

We humans have a strong tendency to adopt the behaviour of those around us. This is social comparison theory at play. You are likely to mimic the intensity of those around you.

You’re more likely to run faster in a race with an average speed of 13kph than a 10kph average.

These uplifts though are most likely if your training partner (or group) is somewhat fitter than you. There’s a difference between striving to keep up and feeling discouraged from falling way behind.

Exercise with those of similar fitness to make it less effort & increase pain threshold

A study of fast runners of similar level training together doesn’t show harder training. It does however show greater ease at the same training intensity. Plus that workouts are easier to start. These positive effects occur if there’s feelings of support as a result of group cohesion.

I’ve felt this running with my friend Micheal. Our fitness levels are similar and when we run together it’s way easier and more enjoyable than solo runs. Getting going on a cold morning is definitely less of a chore with him too. What’s just as appealing about training with others of compatible fitness is a higher pain threshold. A study of rowers from Oxford University shows big changes in this regard. The theory being it results from a bonding which is an effect of the synchronised training. Basically if you can find the right group or partner it’ll make it easier. Who doesn’t want that?

Exercise with others for greater stress reduction

There’s evidence (1,2) that exercising with others means greater stress reduction. However it’s unlikely you’ll feel more relaxed from training with someone much fitter. A frantic pace isn’t conducive to calm. On the other hand, if it’s within your limits it’ll unlikely stress you. Yet, if the intensity is at least moderate, there’ll be the balancing and mood boosting effects exercise offers.

Exercise with reliable people

Some accountability of course helps with getting more workouts done. After all who wants to let down a friend by leaving them waiting in the park on a cold morning?

What though if you’re the one left standing in the cold?

A friend with the best of intentions, who’s unreliable, won’t be the ideal exercise partner. Haphazard doesn’t align with habit. And its habit that matters most.

Run with a friend on Saturday’s at 8am, at the same place often enough and you’ll barely have to think about it. It’ll get to the point where it feels strange when you don’t.

Ensure it’s a practical arrangement

It’s wise to observe the law of least effort when it comes to getting fit. This law states that we shy away from the difficult and complex.

For instance, training with a group that meets an hour’s journey away will soon prove tiring and impractical.

Keeping things simple, accessible and easy to start will help with making exercise a habit. Whereas factors that make regular group exercise hard will cancel out the benefits from training with others.

Merely comparing your exercise with others online works too

A unique global study reveals you don’t even have to exercise with others to get benefit. Being aware of the activity of friends positively increases both amount and intensity of exercise. This is especially true among men, probably due to a tendency to being competitive. This is done through the sharing of fitness tracking data among friends. This main take away from this study is that the more connected friends you have who exercise, the more influenced you’ll be by what they do. Seemingly regardless of where they are.

There is another way

Although exercising with others is generally a good idea, plenty make a success of exercising alone.

Many of them are male or introverts or pushed for time. For some people it best suits their schedule or personality. There is no 1 way with exercise that works for everyone.

If you know you need the benefits of some company, giving some thought to the points mentioned, it’ll go a long way to helping you reach your fitness goals.


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