What psychologists say about workout accountability in a time of social distancing
While COVID-19 still overshadows daily life, many states have lifted stay-at-home orders and business restrictions. And, much like the groundhog in February, many of us are cautiously emerging from our dens only to see a larger shadow than we cast before lockdown.
Maybe you swilled too many “quarantinis.” Maybe you binged on more than Netflix. Either way, the “quarantine 15” is less funny now than it was in the beginning.
There is hope for all of us, though: Gyms are starting to reopen. But what if your motivation isn’t back yet? Experts say get a workout buddy.
“While working out can feel like a chore to many people, having a workout buddy helps with motivation by feeling accountable to someone else who can help you meet your goals and make it a more enjoyable experience,” says Dr. Patricia Celan, psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Canada.
Nearly every expert we reached out to cited accountability as the most important aspect of a workout partner:
“The main benefit of having a workout partner or group is that they provide accountability. Although some people have a natural desire to hit the gym every day, the majority of us aren’t that motivated. Instead, we say, “Oh, I’ll just go to the gym tomorrow.” As a result, it becomes easy to justify skipping one day or only doing three reps instead of four.” Dr. Brian Wind, Ph.D., and chief clinical officer at JourneyPure.
That motivation from a workout partner can make a huge difference in your workout. People who ride bikes in a group tend to pedal twice the distance of single bikers. People who join a group fitness class report 10% more activity one month later.¹ And all because of a workout partner.
But it’s not just accountability that helps you hit those personal records:
“A workout partner can also serve as a friendly rival who pushes you to achieve your maximal performance,” says Dr. Renee Exelbert, Ph.D. and certified fitness trainer. “Statistics show that individuals who work out with a partner have a higher probability of reaching their personal fitness goals. A partner can spot you on more challenging lifts and motivate you to push harder, crank out those extra few reps, or run longer and faster.”
While all this accountability, friendly rivalry, and social connection sounds great, the pandemic is still out there. Gyms are opening, but they don’t operate like they used to. And, even if gyms are open, many people might opt to continue working out at home. How are we supposed to keep a workout buddy while maintaining social distancing?
“Try scheduling a video call with your workout partner or group and doing an at-home workout,” says Dr. Wind.“It’s not the same as being face to face, but it will still provide you with the accountability aspect of working out.”
Dr. Exelbert recommends finding community online: “Virtual platforms provide tremendous opportunities to explore alternate forms of exercise, thus helping individuals to break fitness plateaus by utilizing different muscle groups and challenging the body in new ways. Traditional weightlifters can now try a variety of free classes, including yoga, barre, and martial arts. Additionally, there is a strong sense of community amongst participants of many virtual exercise platforms, with members feeling a part of a larger whole and establishing daily relationships with other individuals met solely from this community.”
Or, if you’re sick of video conferencing, Dr. Jennifer Barbera, a clinical psychologist, suggests that you “… exercise outside where it is much easier to maintain a distance of at least 2 meters.”
Even if quarantine wasn’t hard on your waistline, a workout buddy brings benefits. According to psychologists, a dependable fitness friend can keep you accountable, boost your motivation to push harder, and help your social connectedness too.
Even if you’re social distancing, you can still video conference with your workout buddy while doing your routine. You can try an online workout platform (SilverSneakers offers a good one for older adults) to find a gym partner. Or, if nothing else, you can exercise outside with a friend.
Your future self (and probably your workout partner) will thank you.
1. Strava, “Year in Sport 2019”
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