Friends are an important part of people’s lives and they play an important role in everyone’s lives. The same goes for workout buddies. They can completely overhaul the way you approach and achieve fitness. Kolkata-based stock broker Pawan Bagri, 49, had started going to a gym in 2013 and within a few months was beginning to find it boring when he ran into Gautam Rajda, 46, while working out.
The two have worked together ever since following similar exercise routines and even trying out new workouts together over the last eight years. “I didn’t have someone to push me and gym was becoming too boring. But then I met Gautam and since both of us got along and had similar capabilities and goals, we started working out together,” Bagri says. “I like working out with a partner like him because both of us motivate each other and there is a lot of competitiveness among us to do better than the other in a good way.”
There is plenty of research over the years that show that workout buddies and partners have a positive impact on people’s exercise regimen and the pursuit of fitness goals. In 2016, researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that an exercise companion increased the amount of exercise people undertook. Workout buddies, the study found, not only lead to an increase in exercise frequency but also provide emotional support. For Bagri and Rajda, what started as an exercise partnership has, over the last eight years, progressed to a friendship that goes beyond the gym. Not only did they start boxing lessons together two years ago, they also meet for breakfast and a night out every other week discussing more than just workouts and weights.
Another area where a workout buddy helps tremendously is accountability. Marketing strategist Arpi Dutta, 41, reckons the best reason to have a workout buddy is to keep oneself accountable. “To the other person,” she adds cheekily. “It’s so easy to skip a gym session when you have only got yourself to disappoint. But when there’s someone else who relies on having a gym friend, you don’t want to disappoint. At least… I don’t want to disappoint my friend.”
Dutta also finds working out with a friend a motivating factor in not only showing up for the workout but also during the workout. “Having a gym buddy also helps keeping me motivated during the workout session. There’s nothing like a high five mid-workout or a pat on the back from your mate to get you through the hard yards,” she says. Her preferred way to work out is group fitness. “So, while I haven’t always had a gym buddy, but I have had friends do the same class as me. Knowing my friends would be there at the same workout class was enough for me to feel motivated to work out.” Like Bagri, she too has made friends for life while working out with her group.
Workout partners are beneficial beyond gyms and group fitness. They play an important role in endurance sports like long distance running, cycling and triathlons. Since endurance sports involve long periods of activity, training partners help by simply being there next to you during the race or while training, says Gurugram-based utra-runner and triathlete Abhishek Mishra. “Having buddies like fellow runner Shailja supporting me during my first desert ultramarathon of 161km in 2015, helped me finish the race despite feeling fatigued, tired and washed out multiple times during the race,” says the 35-year-old.
When Mishra went for the Ultraman triathlon in the United States of America in 2017, it was his friend, and fellow ultrarunner, Milind Soman’s presence that gave him the confidence to even start the race. “I learned how to swim not too long ago and had it not been for Milind I wouldn’t have believed that I could finish the 10km swim, which was the first leg of the race. Training partners help you understand your strengths, weakness and hold you accountable.”
Another important function of a training partner in cycling and running is safety on the roads. Since runners and cyclists start out very early while it’s still dark, there is safety in numbers for the recreational athletes. “Another set of eyes to watch out for crazy motorists, drunk drivers, unruly cyclists, dogs, potholes and a lot more,” says 45-year-old marketing manager Gayathrie Maediratta, who starts her runs before daybreak on Bengaluru roads through the year. “Your run buddies also provide hydration support when you run out of your own water and, of course, free advice on pacing strategy for races and how to be a better runner.”
Given the current times of social distancing, lockdowns and isolation, it should be noted that even a virtual or simulated workout buddy is better than having none at all. A paper published in the Games For Health journal in 2014 found that a software-generated partner can elicit motivation gain in workouts and sports, but not as strongly as a partner who is thought to be human. If you have a workout buddy, hang on to them because they are making you better and if you don’t have one, it is a good time to find one, even a virtual one would do the trick.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.