Working out with a friend has plenty of benefits, from keeping you more motivated and accountable to inspiring you to try new classes or routines. Science backs up the claim, too. A recent study found that getting a new exercise partner can increase how often you workout and give you a sense of emotional and social support you might have lacked otherwise.
But that’s only if the partnership is working well. Like any relationship, there might be personality clashes you never anticipated — or maybe your workout buddy turns out to be far less enthusiastic about a morning workout than she claimed to be, or ends up showing off a less-than-friendly competitive side that’s just not working for you.
As hard as it might be to admit, some pals may be great as friends, but lousy as workout teammates. In that case, you need to have a serious talk — and possibly even “break up” so you can achieve your workout goals.
Here are some tips for making the situation easier, without losing a friend in the process:
REVISIT YOUR GOALS AND HAVE “THE TALK”
Fitness should be similar to work, marriage and parenting when it comes to goals — you have some general aims in mind to be “better,” but it’s really most effective when you can get into specifics and make a plan for how to level up. You also need to keep in mind that those goals will shift. Maybe you started a workout regime simply hoping to get your butt in the gym three times a week, but now you’re in beast mode and you want to become a personal trainer or start doing fitness competitions or crush an obstacle-course race.
If you feel like your buddy is still struggling to make that three-times-a-week commitment, it’s possible you’re on different tracks now. Or maybe you’re the one who’s at a lower level and your partner is zooming past you. Either way, it’s time to have a frank discussion.
“A workout buddy should share the same long-term goals, commitment and a similar athletic ability,” says fitness expert and personal trainer Jimmy Minardi, CPT, of Minardi Training. “Someone who is too far above your level may make you lose confidence, and someone who’s below it may prevent you from reaching your potential.”
Write down your goals and then talk to your friend about them. Be very clear about what you need and give your friend a chance to describe his or her goals as well. Maybe they can still mesh, but you definitely need to get on the same page. If you’re not, then you may want to break it off or significantly scale down your commitment to one another in terms of fitness togetherness.
“It’s best to be upfront and honest, or you will resent your partner and lose your own enthusiasm for working out altogether,” says Minardi. “Ask if it’s something they truly want to continue with. If they do, you can suggest working out solo one or two days a week as a compromise.”
BE OPEN TO GETTING BACK TOGETHER WITH YOUR EX
When you have “the talk,” be sure to leave the possibility open for teaming back up in the future, advises Angie Gunner, president and CEO of American Barre Technique. Just because you don’t share the same level of motivation and ability right now doesn’t mean it will always be that way.
“Maybe this meeting will ignite a new spark of determination in your buddy,” says Gunner. “Or maybe your buddy will feel relieved to end all future workout obligations.”
Either way, it’s helpful to leave the door open if you’re good friends and have had at least some success reaching goals together. The talk, and some fitness time apart, could be just what you and your workout buddy need to understand how to motivate each other more effectively. If not, you can just continue solo.
“It’s important to remember that your health comes first,” Gunner says. “You shouldn’t feel any sense of guilt about wanting to achieve your fitness goals in the best way possible.”
CHANGE IT UP IF YOU GO IT ALONE
Agreeing you won’t be workout partners for now, but then keeping the same schedule as you had before, could potentially become awkward, notes Dempsey Marks, a certified personal trainer and creator of the PreGame Fit program.
After all, you might have told your workout partner you wanted to pursue a different activity — like more running, CrossFit, yoga or personal training sessions — so if you’re next to each other on the treadmills as usual, your assertion might feel less than truthful.
Instead, change it up, advises Marks. “You can politely explain that your schedule is going to be unpredictable for the foreseeable future and that you don’t want the added pressure of a partner,” she says. But once you say that, it’s time to actually do it. Adjust your workout choice without committing to a specific schedule.
On the days you happen to both be in the gym, consider grabbing a smoothie together afterward and checking in with each other. After all, you shouldn’t have to choose between fitness and friendship.