Working out is perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes of the human body. It's often grueling and tiresome, but also extremely rewarding and essential to our health. Studies suggest that working out just 30 minutes a day, three days a week can yield serious benefits, including lowered body mass and lowered cholesterol. Exercise is also linked to reduced heart disease risk, blood sugar regulation, improved mental health, stronger bones, reduced cancer risk, better sleep, better sexual function, and a longer life span. But despite all the obvious benefits, only 23 percent of people in the United States actually meet federal exercising guidelines. Nevertheless, a good number of Americans do work out – and many stay motivated by teaming up with a workout partner.
We surveyed 1,013 Americans who work out multiple times a month to better understand their exercising habits and the fickle dynamics behind people exercising together. We asked them for their secrets and their opinions about shared experienced working out. Read on to hear more about our uncovered insights into what it takes to make exercise social – and learn how to be a better gym partner in the process.
Moving in Groups
Only a small portion of Americans work out regularly. But how many of them use that time to work out together? We asked 1,013 exercising folks whether they squatted and lunged beside a partner. Our results suggested that a vast majority had worked out with someone else, but more than 60 percent generally preferred to work out alone. About 65 percent of men, for example, preferred to work out alone (compared to 61 percent of women). A very small percentage of both genders preferred working out in groups – 2.7 percent of men and 4 percent of women.
Top Workout Partners
Working out can be incredibly relaxing. But choosing the wrong partner can put a serious damper on the stress-reducing effects of hitting the gym. We asked 835 individuals who have worked out with a partner in the past year about their ideal workout partners – was it a friend, a family member, or a pet?
Our results indicated that most survey respondents – 70.5 percent of men and 64.5 percent of women – have worked out with a friend. Among men, the favorite exercise to do with a friend was weightlifting, while women opted for cardio.
Significant others tended to be the second-most-common choice in gym partners, resonating with 53.8 percent of men and 57.1 percent of women. Oddly, both men and women preferred cardio when exercising with a partner. About 41.5 percent of men and 49.7 percent of women enjoyed working out with a family member, and nearly a quarter of men liked exercising with a co-worker compared to roughly 18 percent of women.
Creatures of Habit
Research suggests it takes time to form a new habit, but with whom are we most likely to form those habits? We asked 1,013 people who frequently worked out about their exercise habits to see who hit the gym most often. Our survey revealed a fascinating find: People who worked out with a partner tended to work out more often and were motivated on more days than those who worked out alone. Men who worked out with a partner generally exercised 3.8 days a week, compared to three days a week for men who worked out alone. Likewise, women worked out 3.6 days a week if they exercised with a partner, but only 2.8 days a week if they did so solo.
This phenomenon also had some gender nuances: Men were likely to work out more days a week if they exercised with family members, and they were most motivated when working out with a family member or friend. Meanwhile, women who worked out with their dog tended to exercise more days a week, but were motivated on more days when working out with a family member.
Crunches and Camaraderie
Advice columns frequently tell us to find friends that "make you a better person." In the workout world, that likely means a friend who inspires us and makes us feel good about exercising. We asked survey respondents about the top three most motivating traits they see in a workout partner plus the benefits of exercising alongside a buddy. Among both men and women, the most motivating workout partners have fun, push their friend to exercise harder, and spur them into exercising even when they don't want to. A little over a third of both men and women also cited "having great conversations" as important, and reliability also ranked high.
Interestingly, the gym can be a place to make friends – not just spend time with them. Nearly 73 percent of people who met their workout partner at the gym said they became pals over time. And of those who worked out with a partner in general, about 43 percent of men and 58 percent of women said they were more likely to stick with their workout if they had a partner exercising with them.
Planks and Peeves
There's a good chance that most people who work out will try exercising with a friend at some point; if anything, our survey data suggest there are plenty of benefits in trying it. Thus, it's probably useful to know the do's and don'ts for breaking a sweat with friends, so we asked survey participants to relay their biggest pet peeves in a workout partner. As it turned out, about half of both men and women said they can't stand when partners distract them from their workout. Meanwhile, roughly a third of both genders said they don't like unreliable workout partners.
Among women, about 31.2 percent were irritated by differences in workout levels (compared to 28.5 percent of men). Inexperience and voicing motivation verbally also tended to annoy partners. That said, there are plenty of things gym-goers can do to keep the relationship positive – as we previously established, having fun, pushing partners to work out harder, and establishing a good conversation are all highly favored traits.
People in the U.S. are living their everyday lives at odds with rapidly expanding waistlines and a growing mental health crisis. Luckily, exercise has been linked to improved physical and mental health outcomes and is often best done with a friend. Our results suggest that workout partners generally improve motivation and increase the number of days spent at the gym each week. But being a good exercising buddy isn't just a matter of popping squats; rather, there's plenty of do's and don'ts to know.
For this project, we surveyed 1,013 Americans who worked out at least once a month. 525 of the respondents identified as women, and 487 identified as men. One respondent identified as gender nonbinary but had to be excluded due to small sample size. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 75 with an average age of 36.9 and a standard deviation of 12. 835 respondents said they had worked out with a partner in the past year, and 710 said they had worked out with a partner at least once in the past week. 178 respondents said they had worked out alone in the past year. 414 respondents said they had stopped working out with a partner in the past. Some items on the list of workout benefits are not shown to avoid overlap with top motivating factors.
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