Why Wednesdays? – Why the Workout ‘Buddy System’ Isn’t For Everyone (And That’s Ok!)

A Note About This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  I have completed series on the topics of running, creativity, and food.  Now, I’m being a bit random and discussing whatever strikes me at the time!

 

I see a lot and I mean A LOT of articles and blog posts written about workout buddies.  A general theme present in these writings is the idea that working out with someone will keep you motivated, accountable, and provide an overall more positive fitness (and weight loss) experience.  Some of these articles cite studies that seem to support their claims.  Others rely on personal experience.  Through and through, though, there seems to be a prevalent belief that having a workout buddy is the optimal way to go.  Rarely do you see an article that argues the opposite.  I’ve looked.  I haven’t seen anything that says “Do it alone!  You’ll get better results!  You’ll be happier and more motivated!  Go at it solo!”

So I’m writing one.Me at start - sharpened a bit

Here’s the deal.  I have no doubt that training partners work wonders for some people.  I’m sure they really do provide a sense of accountability, fun, and motivation for some people.  But, it’s not for everyone.  It’s not for me.

When I set out to drop some excess weight, develop my fitness level, and eventually become a runner, I knew that the only way I was going to be successful was to do it alone.  In the past, when I had made similar attempts, I told people about them.  I followed the advice given in articles that in order to be accountable, I needed to announce my intentions to others.  The idea is that others could encourage me and help me follow through.  But, what really happened, was that I became so conscious of the expectations that others then had of me that I failed completely.  My goals turned into their goals in my head.  Even if they weren’t applying pressure to me, I applied it for them.  If I ate a big piece of cake, I thought, “Oh god, [insert name here] would be so disappointed in me right now.”  If I skipped a workout, I would feel embarrassed and like I had let someone down.  Eventually, I would crack from the pressure and just give it all up, because the idea of continuing to break the commitments that I made to others, to publicly fail at my goals was too much for me.  Essentially, what should have been a personal journey and process turned into anything but personal.

I truly believe that a key factor in making sustainable, permanent changes in my life over the last two years has been to keep quiet about it.  Two years ago (this month marks two years since I began), I set out on some simple goals.  First, I would start to eat healthier.  I would learn more about nutrition and would incorporate changes into my daily diet.  I would cook more.  I would eat less junk.  Then, after a bit, I would start to be more active.  Some time dedicated to walking and short fitness videos has turned into me now training for my first marathon, strength training a few hours a week, and being in the best shape of my life.  And, I did it quietly.

I told only two people about what I was going to do.  I told my partner and our roommate.  They had to know, because quite frankly, there wasn’t any way around it.  I live with them, so they would see what I was doing.  But, other than them, I didn’t tell a soul.  I just started doing.  What this meant was that my goals were solely my own.  No one else was telling me what I should do, shouldn’t do, or what they did that worked/didn’t work.  My successes were solely were my own – allowing me to truly feel accomplished and own the progress I was making.  And, my failures were my own, too.  When I ‘messed up’, it was my choice and my mess to clean up.  I didn’t let anyone else down, other than myself.  That was liberating.

Me running 1 - cropped a bit

Of course, over time other people saw changes and asked about them.  And, I would answer.  I didn’t lie or cover things up, but I answered questions simply and didn’t engage in extended dialogue about it all.  Now, two years later, I can talk about it all more openly because my entire way of living has truly changed and the things I’m doing now are part of my daily life, as ingrained in my routine as sleep and going to work each day.  But, in the beginning, being able to keep it to myself was crucial in my success.

Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert by nature.  Maybe it’s because I’m always thinking about how to accommodate the needs of others over my own.  Maybe it’s because I’m sensitive to critiques after years of enduring them.  I don’t know exactly why it was so crucial for me to make lifestyle changes privately, but it was, and I’ve got to figure that if it was for me, it may be for others, too.  So, while the buddy system certainly has its benefits for many people, it’s not the answer for everyone.  I suppose that my underlying point here is that what works for one, doesn’t work for all, and to have the courage to do things your way (even if it’s not the popular way) can make all the difference in the world.

____________________________________________________________________________

Some Previous Why Wednesday Posts:

Why Libraries Are Worth Saving

Why I Run – Instant Gratification and Immediate Success

Why I Run – For My Health, Silly!

Why I Eat . . . Series Recap

Why Creativity Counts – It Connects Us

Why Creativity Counts – Self-Sufficieny

60 comments on “Why Wednesdays? – Why the Workout ‘Buddy System’ Isn’t For Everyone (And That’s Ok!)

  1. jenn says:

    i’ve always been a solo workout person. unless i’m getting a spot, i rarely talk to anyone and really enjoy my time being in my head and focused. i’ve been toying with the idea of trying out a running group this summer – our city has several, and i have a few friends who run with them. it might be a nice change of pace, but i’m terrified of coming across as rude haha. what do i say? do we talk while we run? what if i’m huffing too hard TO talk??

    i think you’re spot-on. what works for a lot of people won’t necessarily work for you or me – the important part is finding what you love and being able to stick to it, alone or with a posse!

    • Thanks, Jenn. I love what you say about being in your own head when you run – I’m totally that way, too. If you do join a running group, I hope you tell us about it! They intrigue me, but never enough to actually join up with one myself (not yet anyway). 🙂

  2. Loved reading this! I’m a solo workout person, too, and have been since I started getting healthy! I’ve tried doing it with others, but I’m so much more successful when I can focus on ME, and not if someone else is able to keep up with me, or if I’m able to keep up with them.

  3. I can’t imagine anything worse than having a workout buddy! Great post 🙂

  4. Josh Duke says:

    I am definitely a solo person when it comes to working out. The only exception was when I had my Marine Corps buddies to work out with. I have the stereotypical all-or-nothing mentality; you either go at it like your life depends on it, or just stay home. I’ve tried the workout buddy thing many times since being a civilian, but have finally abandoned it after many disappointments.

    I don’t like to be spoken to or otherwise bothered when I am working out. I need to be focused, and every little distraction takes me time to recover from. I’m the a-hole at the gym with earbuds in who ignores everyone who tries to talk to me; I just pretend I can’t hear them. Pre and post-workout, I will talk your ear off, but when it’s game time, GTFO of my way is clearly painted on my face. 😉

  5. Completely agree. Have tried running with a friend and with a running group and much prefer it on my own. Running pace is a very individual thing and it’s very hard not to be able to slow down or speed up a little when you feel like it, without feeling pressure.

  6. wisejourney says:

    Your life style changes were yours to make and your choice to not broadcast them. I admire your determination toile healthier- positive change is truly uplifting and good luck w it’s the Marathon training etc

  7. shellssells says:

    Yes, introverts just have different needs than extroverts. But introverts like exercise too! I am a solo runner but a group cyclist. I am fiercely competitive, so being in a group of stronger cyclists pushes me in a way I cannot do alone. But, cycling is such a solo venture even in a peloton. Even in a group, you get your own head space and have to concentrate closely on everything around you. With running, I am weak and prone to injury. My competitive nature will only push me to the point of injury when I run, so running alone is much healthier for me.

    This actually reminds me of a story my friend told me about his first marathon attempt. He decided to do it with his wife. They did all the training, but separately due to opposing work schedules and child care. They ran the marathon together. And had to stop at mile 16. Why? Because both of them could not run in the best manner for them while taking each other’s needs into account. Separately they’d each have managed to complete their challenge, together they could not.

    In any case, I am very glad to see that someone has posted something about not everyone needing a buddy system with exercise!

    • I really appreciate you sharing this! I think it’s interesting that your preference changes dependent upon the activity. It gives me more to think about!

    • shannonremski says:

      I agree about the group environment pushing your limits in a way that you can’t accomplish alone. I’ve experienced a very similar effect in my running group. The quality of my workouts and thus, my performance, has improved dramatically since I started running with them last July.

  8. Here, here! Totally agree. Mostly, it’s because I need to have my music when I run, which is a bit antisocial, and others generally don’t appreciate when I sing the lyrics from Mmmbop or Come on, Eileen. My workout partner is my dog, and she doesn’t care what I do on a run as long as I stop once in a while so she can pee on stuff.

  9. seetinarun says:

    This is me! Friends and I often sign up for the same races, but in between, I like to go it alone. Great to have a workout “friend” who you can bounce things off of and can give you a pep talk if you’re struggling, but “workout buddy” has always seemed like way too much pressure for me!
    My co-blogger, Colby and I have even gone for runs together without running together. Headphones on, no pressure to match pace, we just catch up at the end and head for a coffee.

  10. shannonremski says:

    I’ve got a foot in both camps, here. I started out six years ago running totally solo. It was fine for a few years. I think that’s where I was on my journey and needed that time to myself. This past summer, though, I started looking for a group to help improve my race training. I even have a training partner now, but that took months to develop. It’s worked out great so far, but the keys really are chemistry and your own personality. I have zero problems being in a group of people and doing my own thing anyway or being an “extrovert”. I can do either with ease. So, last summer, when I was slow, struggling, and didn’t know anyone I just went at my own pace and kept to myself. Slowly, I got to know people and went for coffee after workouts, but the runs were all mine. I listened to music. I didn’t talk. I did my workout. No one bothered me or cared. My running has improved dramatically since joining the group, and it has opened up new challenges for me. I love it now but wouldn’t have five years ago.

    Having an actual training partner or “buddy” is a lot trickier. I think the pitfall with that concept is people tend to take the relationship too casually. It is almost as serious as choosing a spouse! (Try not to laugh. I know that sounds dramatic.) But seriously, you have to be very compatible with this person for it to work. You’ll be spending a lot of time together under a lot of stress. You need to have good communication, a similar work ethic, similar goals, similar drive, similar athletic ability AND the ability to tolerate the other person’s personality quirks because you’ll be seeing a lot of them. Also, one of the most important things is being comfortable being quiet or talking with your partner. If you think about it, that’s quite a complicated relationship.

    My entire point here is this: don’t write off working out with other people forever. At some point on your fitness journey, a group or partner could serve your needs and goals very well. Especially in the case of a training partner, you just may not have met “the one” yet.

  11. I COMPLETELY agree with you! I always thought I was alone in feeling this way but I’m glad I’m not!
    Sarah @ OurPersonalRecords

  12. Cindy says:

    There is a lot to be said about accomplishing goals by ones self. I have always preferred to workout my myself. It’s happened many of times that I workout with someone else and get derailed by what they want or don’t want to do. I’m the only one accountable for me, so I do it for myself, by myself 😀

  13. Reblogged this on Run, Read, Repeat and commented:
    I can’t tell you how relieved I was to read this post! I (re)started running in December, 2011 right after signing up for my first triathlon and half marathon. I’ve run off and on for years, almost always solo.
    I signed up for a triathlon training program, met several new friends, and began running with them. The group has grown from 2 to 3 and lately has mushroomed into a crowd of 8! I love my first running partner and sorely miss our runs, but as the group has grown, it’s rarely just the two of us and scheduling has become a nightmare. Not to mention the competitive nature of some group members.
    Running is beginning to feel like a job. I hate to let people down, so spontaneous, solo runs have become a thing of the past as there is always someone looking for a partner. If I’m ready to go at 8:00 AM on Saturday, I have to wait till the group is ready at 9:00. Or I’m dashing out of work to meet someone for an evening run.
    Intellectually, I know I have every right to decline, but I don’t want to hurt or offend anyone by saying I’d rather run alone sometimes.
    It’s so refreshing to know that I’m not the only one who values my solo runs. I think I’m ready to establish my boundaries.

  14. Jennifer Szescula Flanagan says:

    I’ve done the same thing for myself over the years. I’ve done the solo thing and due to the rest of my life being pretty solo as well, I tried to integrate social things into my exercise. It only works for me if I’m going to a dance class that is on a predetermined time where someone else is calling the shots and only have time before and after class to chat.

    Most exercise for me is just too personal – it is the only uninterrupted time I have and chance to get outdoors most days. Some days I get out there and want to do it – some days I go for five minutes and go home. And scheduling is a nightmare. I’m lucky enough to have a somewhat flexible schedule but it does change daily. I know I’ll get it done – just not sure when on any certain day. And driving 20 minutes to meet someone when I could have my workout done in that time just doesn’t appeal to me (for those of us who live in ruraler areas). Thanks for bringing this up – it makes me crazy when all the fitness magazine/”stick with it” articles say “Get a workout buddy!” I can’t think of anything less motivating for me.

  15. One more introvert, but one who loves her job with people, chiming in for a solo workout program. I need time alone to energize. I have my students all day and my family all night. I love them, but that time in the pool or on the yoga mat is mine and mine alone. I do take yoga classes when I feel I need more of a push and to learn some new tricks, but yoga is such an introspective activity that it doesn’t feel like I’m in a room full of people. The only person I’m accountable to is myself, which ultimately is far more powerful than being responsible to a buddy. Thank you for writing this article.

  16. Absolutely agree! I enjoy working out with a buddy once in a while, but I’m too much of a people pleaser to do it all of the time. I nearly always end up putting my buddy’s needs above mine so I’m either sandbagging the workout or working so hard that I put myself out of commission for the rest of the week! Great post.

  17. Andrea says:

    I completely agree too. I like to run alone and be flexible about when I run. It’s one of the only times I get uninterrupted “me” time to process my day and de-stress. I don’t want to share that with anyone just yet.

  18. starkwe says:

    Running is the only time I get to be alone. It’s like meditation to me, and having someone else around just ruins it. The advice to run with a partner just makes me cringe.

  19. I’m not alone! Thanks for the great post! I love to run by myself and find that having a buddy really puts pressure on me competitively and most importantly takes the fun out of running.

  20. goodluckmama says:

    O my goodness!! Your story is so similar to mine its scary. I thought I was the only one that tried the “expert ” advice to tell the world (fail) then finally did it quietly and succeeded. My journey is 7 months into success, so I am still finding my own way, but I LOVE to run and train alone. Thanks for a great post!

  21. I love this!!! “My goals turned into their goals in my head. Even if they weren’t applying pressure to me, I applied it for them” So well put and so very true for me too. I enjoy running occasionally with others, but when it comes to hitting paces and hitting my goals, i’m a soloist too. Thank you for sharing!

  22. I’m totally with you! Everyone is different and has different needs for motivation, and for some people – like me – the pressure of group workouts or a workout buddy is too much. I’ve recently started streaming yoga classes, which isn’t something I thought I would like, but as it turns out I freaking LOVE it! And although I’ve attended yoga classes of some form or another for over a decade, I’m finding that being alone has allowed me to really do it properly because I’m not trying to compete with someone else in the class and get deeper into a particular pose than I should. And I’m not afraid of looking ridiculous. Solo workouts definitely work for me!

  23. Fellow solo runner right here! I’ve never met anyone else who preferred to run alone. For my group of friends, it seems like running together is more of a social thing than anything else. I, on the other hand, can barely breath while I’m running, let alone have a conversation 🙂 I’m not very good entertainment.

    Thanks for a great post from the other perspective! I so enjoyed this.

  24. humblepie says:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog! It’s great knowing that other people also prefer running alone, like I do. I’d rather listen to what my body wants to do and not hamper anyone else’s progress! Also, I think running solo can help focus your own energy and creates mindfulness.

  25. […] Why the Workout ‘Buddy’ System Isn’t For Everyone (And That’s OK!) […]

  26. Sas says:

    I also don’t share my goals and ambitions with others. That way I can’t be influenced by other peoples opinions. It’s always worked well for me 🙂

  27. sk says:

    I’m with you on this one! I feel like working out is my time. It’s when I clear my head and reflect on what’s going on in my life. Also, I feel like working out alone allows me to focus on my own goals and not worry about adjusting to accommodate others’ goals. I also agree that I like not having to answer to anyone when I mess up! Great post!

  28. […] Why Wednesdays: Why the Workout ‘Buddy System’ Isn’t For Everyone (And That’… :  My thoughts on running and exercising solo. […]

  29. […] P.S.  I had some interesting feedback on this post. One client said her exercise time is sort of sacred–a time to be alone with her thoughts. Another said it was just too hard to coordinate schedules, accommodate another person’s pace, and to be at the whim of someone else canceling at the last minute. She prefers to get it done alone. I want to acknowledge that side of the coin, and reiterate that you have to DO WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOU! For more on that, you might enjoy a great post by one of my favorite bloggers at Move, Eat, Create – Why the Workout ‘Buddy System’ Isn’t For Everyone (And That’s Ok!) […]

  30. Barclay says:

    I really enjoyed reading this repost for the first time. I recently wrote a post encouraging exercise buddies 😉 I’ve added a little paragraph to the bottom with the opposite point of view. I referenced your post and that some of my coaching clients have a different take on it. (http://elementalwellnesscoaching.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/power-of-the-group-exercise-together/) Thanks for creating a fun dialogue on the topic!

    • You’re welcome and thanks for sharing your own recent post. I totally agree with you. Ultimately, it’s about doing what works best for you individually and not succumbing to pressure one way or another. We all use that time differently, I think, and it’s so important to be true to who you are with it. 🙂

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