Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Exercise Myth: The Workout Buddy

The Kaiser Permanente Thrive! campaign, like many other health and wellness magazines, encourages the buddy system as motivation to exercise. Is depending on another busy, over-scheduled, lazy, or even downright flaky friend of yours really going to get you to the gym? So far, I'm probably 0 for 23 on any kind of long-term buddy system and have been both the culprit and the victim of workout buddy demise. I can't tell you how many times someone said, "Oh you run? We should go running sometime. . ." never to hear from them again.

We've all been in situations where our workout buddy doesn't show up, and it's usually our first reaction to want to leave, right? Having a workout buddy would be awesome, but it seems impractical to put your goals in the hands of one other person, who is probably just as busy (no-show) as you are.

Here are some buddy personalities:

Beware of this buddy, who may pull you away from your workout goals by saying things like, "I'm ready to go, are you?" You will not be ready to go, but you won't want your friend to wait around for you . . . so you will get out of the zone, stop what you are doing, and possibly go out for ice cream or a drink because, "You deserve it!"

This person will lead you to believe that they want to work out with you, but they just don't have any time. Alternate situation: This person has a child, and their schedule is not their own. After a few failed connections, you will give up on each other.

Beware of the no-show buddy. Unfortunately this person didn't have any true intentions of working out with you anyway, or they are too ashamed to admit that they are scared to try. They will try to act like the Over-Scheduled Buddy, but they are not really that busy.

Characteristics of this buddy include: being a social butterfly, bringing a mobile phone to work out, or talking to you loudly while you're trying to kick it up on the treadmill. They will get you into interesting conversation, or at least get you to slow down your pace so you can respond to that thing like their girlfriend said that was like totally like crazy n' stuff.

This buddy will say things like, "Just 20 more push-ups, a mile, and then I'm ready to go!" This buddy may discourage you, unless you allow each other to meet up then do your own activities. If you want someone to 'make' you work out, hire a trainer.

This buddy is good looking and you want to impress them. There is no way you are going to sweat in their presence. I went to the gym on a date once. Awkward.

I've been taking yoga classes once a week for the past month. My friend, Monica, signed up for a great Groupon deal to take classes at a highly regarded yoga studio in Los Gatos, and she passed the deal on to a few friends. For the past month, Monica and I have been yoga buddies. Kind of. We've actually only made it to one class together, although we've both been taking classes on our own. Except for the first week, our schedules just don't seem to link up. Last week, I was caught in the first California winter rain of 2012 during the commute home. I gave Monica a heads up call/text but assumed she was already in the studio without her phone. She did the class without me. Last night my yoga buddy had a change of plans, and decided to miss yoga and go out to dinner with a friend who was visiting from out of town. I went to the class without her.

In order to make the buddy system work, you have to be a joiner (or a follower . . . whatever works!). Don't have a workout buddy (singular). You need buddies (plural). My tactic is to be the over-scheduled buddy, and find groups of others who are just as over-scheduled as I am. This way, you always have someone you can meet up with. Monica got me involved with the studio (Thanks, buddy!), but now my buddies are 50 other bendy strangers.

What it boils down to is - YOU. It's great to get started with a group, but if you can't/won't go out into the exercise kingdom alone, your journey will probably not last very long. I apologize in advance for referencing the Biggest Loser (horrible show, but highly addictive). The contestants who get to stay on the ranch the longest are those who are ultimately working the hardest on their own. When voting people out, there is always one person who cries, "I can't do this alone at home! I need to be here." That crybaby never wins. If you can't motivate yourself, or if you are dependent upon Bob to motivate you on the ranch, you will eventually get kicked off the ranch.


  1. Any and all buddy systems I've ever had promptly dissolved when my buddies stopped showing up. I think you're right -- it's really just about personal responsibility. I'm trying to start the good habit of daily exercise, by myself. :)

  2. Aww I hope we dont "give up on each other" after a few missed meetings! I wont!!

    And it's interesting you'd post this - I felt this way throughout. When a few people mentioned "Mighty Broncos" I thought no way. Reasons are many:
    (1) I cant move at their pace and that feel discouraging
    (2) I dont know all the lingo, I dont have all the gear... and you know what, I dont want to.
    (3) Chatty Buddy's are hard for me (ironic, no?)
    (4) and if there's a chance I quit or fail, I want to do that without an audience.

    Over time, though, that Showerwrecker wore me down - she said just come once, it's fun. I dont think the first or second time were good fits for me, and even over time I didnt feel connected to the group. BUT AT THE TRIATHLON, Suzanne, when I was working my heart out, in a situation completely foreign to me, being passed by people twice my age, yet completely proud of what I was pushing myself to do, what did I hear?

    MONICA! GO MONICA! (cowbell and clapping)

    My eyes filled up with tears - my boyfriend wasnt there, my family wasnt there, my best friends werent there, but the Mighty Broncos who raced the Olympic Distance the day before had stayed to cheer for us Sprint Distancers. I had no idea the value of their support as I struggled toward the finish line.

    I owe them such a debt of gratitude for that.

  3. I'm totally the Over-Scheduled Buddy, no doubt. 90% of my training rides are weekday mornings, simply due to my playing/teaching schedules.

    In the past I've always wanted to be a Training Ride Leader for AIDS/Lifecycle, but never could since I ride when most folks are stuck in a room somewhere, and their rides are on weekends when I'm stuck in a room somewhere.

    When the occasional Saturday or Sunday with nothing scheduled but a long ride pops up, it's definitely nice to be out with other folks, no doubt!