When the weather is cold and dark, it can become harder than ever to summon up the energy to go on that run, or even do a YouTube workout in your living room.
Particularly if you’re missing the busy and encouraging environment of the gym – it’s easy to fall into a fitness rut. If this sounds like you, there’s one thing you could try to boost your motivation: inviting a friend to workout with you. While it might not be possible to train in the gym like you’re used to, there are plenty of other ways you can get a buddy involved.
Depending on the restrictions in your area, this could include exercising outdoors (trust us – it gets a lot warmer once you start running), enlisting a housemate to do a fitness or dance class at home with you, or yes, you can even do it virtually.
This could mean syncing up the same online class with a friend and checking in with each other before and after the workout, or both downloading an app like Nike Run Club or Strava, where you can follow each other’s progress on different runs or cycle rides.
During the winter months especially, it’s really important to regularly exercise to help boost your mental health and stimulate those endorphins. Exercising with a mate – either IRL or online – is a great way to catch up and spend quality time with someone, while also doing something positive for your own health and wellbeing. Plus, there are psychological reasons why it might help with your own training.
“Training with a buddy will boost your performance, as long as they have the same motivation and goals as yourself,” explains psychotherapist and sports performance mind coach Nick Davies (ndhypnotherapy.com). “You don’t want a buddy that just enjoys a chat,” he adds, as that might get in the way of your actual workout (although a gossip afterwards is totally allowed).
If your friend is on the same page as you, Davies says “training with them can boost your mental motivation and mood, which in turn will help you beat your perceived physical limits”.
For him, positive reinforcement is key to helping you achieve your goals. “When someone encourages you to do something verbally, saying things like, ‘You got this!’, ‘Well done!’ etc, we produce two chemicals in the brain: dopamine, which is the reward hormone, and acetylcholine, which helps focus the mind.
Research has shown that over time this can strengthen the neural pathways more quickly, so therefore can help create new positive habits more quickly.” If you’re not physically with your friend, you can still send each other encouraging messages, or chat on hands free as you run.
There are also other mental benefits to exercising with a partner. “People are generally kinder to others than themselves,” says Davies. So while you might have beaten yourself up for not running as fast as normal, or for not getting that extra rep in when you’re on your own, your friend might be able to give you a healthy dose of perspective – and that could inspire you to keep on going.
From a more practical point of view, “we will push ourselves harder if we’re keeping up with someone else,” explains Davies.
1Rebel (1rebel.com/uk) trainer Vicky Sawyer has seen first hand the benefits of working out with a buddy. “[It] can be a great tactic to boost your mindset and motivate you to push yourself harder,” she says. “There’s something quite special about working out with people who have come with the same goal and are geared up and ready to take something on together.”
Sawyer says one of the main draws of getting a friend involved is accountability. “It’s a lot harder to bail when someone else is relying on you,” she explains. “Having someone to motivate you and help you see measurable results can also make it easier to stick to exercise in the longer term” – regardless of whether you’re going to the gym together, working out in the park, or checking in virtually.
We all know spending time with friends is good for combating loneliness and isolation, and exercise can boost both your mental and physical health. So why not combine them together into one positive session?