What psychologists say about workout accountability in a time of social distancing

Alex Enabnit
Licensed Insurance Agent and Medicare Expert Writer
June 23, 2020

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.

Working out image

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.

Main benefit quote

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.

Biking distance

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

Content on this site has not been reviewed or endorsed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the United States Government, any state Medicare agency, or any private insurance agency (collectively "Medicare System Providers"). Eligibility.com is a DBA of Clear Link Technologies, LLC and is not affiliated with any Medicare System Providers.

Alex Enabnit
Written by
Alex Enabnit
Medicare and geriatric care expert, Alex has one motivation behind every word he writes, and that’s finding you the best medical coverage for your situation. Alex has been featured on Bloomer Boomer, Best Company, HealthPopuli.com, the Daily Ledger on the One America News Network, WBAP News radio, and more. Outside of work, you can find him hiking with his wife and pup or (occasionally) going to the gym.
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