Many of us have that friend, the one who is always rushing off to the gym, heading out for a run, just getting home from yoga -- and always inviting you to come along.
Before you begrudge her for trying, let's give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she's not trying to make you feel lazy, but instead genuinely excited to share her passion for fitness with a friend.
It's not unheard of, after all. Working out with a pal is essentially multi-tasking: You get to fit in your fitness while catching up, and for many, it's a source of motivation and a built-in accountability method.
But -- like any relationship you'd like to last -- finding the perfect exercise partner can take some work. That's why we asked Jessica Matthews, senior health and fitness expert for the American Council on Exercise and assistant professor of health and exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego, Calif. for her best advice for finding a match made in fitness heaven.
The very first thing you need to do is figure out why you want to work out with someone else, she says, because there are different types of gym buddies. You might be looking for someone who can act like a cheerleader on a long run when the course gets hilly. Or you might be looking for someone who can meet you at the gym at 6 a.m. so you won't hit snooze when the alarm goes off. Or you might want someone who knows his or her way around the weight room and can show you a thing or two. Any of those options, and plenty more, is fine, but you won't find what you're looking for if you don't know what you want.
Simply knowing what you want won't exactly deliver that perfect person to your doorstep, but it's a step in the right direction. From there, many of the most common challenges are entirely (thankfully) within your control. Here are a few of those struggles -- and what to do about 'em.
When one of you is faster...
No one wants to be left in the dust on a bike ride or lapped on the track, so you may feel most comfortable starting out in certain activities with someone of a similar fitness ability. However, research suggests that working out with someone at a slightly higher fitness level might help you push yourself harder, says Matthews, which could be just the motivation you need.
Inspiring as it might be, if your exercise bud is too much more advanced than you, you might feel a little overconfident in trying some of the tougher stuff. Matthews cautions that in some instances, this could even be unsafe and lead to injuries for the under-prepared.
But that doesn't mean your fitlationship is doomed. "You don't have to be mirror images," she says. Exercise is scaleable, meaning there is a way to make just about every movement "more suitable to a wider variety of fitness levels," she says. In fact, that's the basic premise of group exercise classes. You're all doing the same workout, but with options to choose from to accommodate the entire group. "You can still work out with a partner and get those motivational benefits, but you don't have to necessarily do the same identical movement," says Matthews.
When you have different goals...
And not just weight loss or racing goals. Each individual workout session can have a different motive, and that can determine whether you're going to chat on side-by-side ellipticals or put in your headphones and pump up the jams.
Varying goals for a workout are only problematic if you haven't come clean about what those expectations are. "Having those [expectations] clear and up front makes a big difference," says Matthews. You'll probably have to have "The Talk" of sorts, in which you lay out what you're looking for and discuss with your potential partner if those stipulations align with his or her own.
Don't be surprised, says Matthews, if your workout personality doesn't perfectly match that of your significant other or best friend. You can still have wonderful relationships with these people outside of exercise, we promise! But in some instances, your exercise goals may align better with someone you don't know as well, which may actually strengthen some of those bonds and expand your social circles, says Matthews.
When you have different schedules...
You might be the most compatible of workout personalities and yet completely unable to find a free hour you both share. Don't forget to cover the logistics in The Talk: What time of day and which days of the week do you want to work out? What do you like to do for exercise? How long is your workout going to last? The latter is especially important if you're planning on carpooling (or walking together) to your exercise destination. If your workouts aren't the same, explain to your partner what you have planned for the day, says Matthews. Not only will that hold you additionally accountable to doing what you said you would, it also solidifies a plan before anyone has time to loiter by the water fountain.
When you're feeling like you don't measure up...
There may be days when your workout partner's performance feels less like motivation and more like showing off. Maybe you're not running as fast or lifting as much weight or you don't look like she does in your skivvies. But keep in mind, says Matthews, that these judgments all begin in your own mind. "There isn't a quintessential picture of what a 'good workout' looks like," or how fast a "fit" person can run or the "ideal" weight, she says. "We have to stop in our own minds comparing our experiences to other people's experiences. We do a lot of judging in our lives on a day-to-day basis, and exercise ... doesn't have to be another place to compare yourself to others."
Rather than push yourself to the brink of injury to match her, put your own performance in perspective. "At one point in time, [every] person was at the same place you are, they had to progress through the same phases," says Matthews. "Pushing yourself to a place that's not safe or appropriate, at the end of the day, is not going to get you faster to your goals," she says. Listen to your body to help you identify where you feel comfortable, and be proud of being exactly there.