When to Suggest Partnering Up for Exercise

Social support when exercising has been long supported. Research articles have touted various benefits to exercising with a partner or buddy, from boosting your immune system to improved mental health and sustainability by accountability. The lending of mutual support for lifestyle change, and the idea that surrounding yourself with positive role models also attributes to why exercising with a partner can be a good option. If you surround yourself with couch potatoes, you are more likely to follow the same pattern. If you surround yourself with active and energizing people who inspire you to move, you will more likely move yourself.

Photo by Fitsum Admasu on Unsplash

However, as trainers should we always make this recommendation to our clients? I find this is one of those blanketed covets of advice, which may or may not be beneficial for ALL our clients. Research may say one thing, but we are all individuals. Is this poor advice for certain individuals?

There are many aspects to consider when we look at the whole person. There are astute differences in people, and how we as individuals perceive different situations. One piece of the puzzle is Gretchen Rubin’s four tendencies. According to Rubin, we all tend to fall under one of the four tendencies: Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, and Rebel. Take a look at her quiz here. Her research into habit change and the four tendencies has increasingly become in the spotlight for evaluating why people have such a hard time making changes in their personal life. This attests to the fact that no matter how “sound” the research is, one piece of advice does not fit all, and we must remember that when advising our clients. Is your client an upholder or obliger? Then, they are indeed more likely to appreciate the accountability that a workout partner provides. However, if their tendency is a rebel or a questioner, a workout partner may have the opposite effect.

If you take a look at your client’s tendency (or better yet, have them take the quiz and dig a little deep into their own research on habit change), and find they need accountability, then the reasons for teaming up are plenty. Moreover, there are also distinct differences in the types of teaming up that may benefit your client. Natural support networks (i.e. teaming up with a friend or family member) have shown to have the greatest influence on health because they stand the test of time (as opposed to more formal supports such as acquaintances or wellness pros). What this means is the more meaningful the ties, the more it works. Does your client like competition? Brands such as CrossFit, Orangetheory Fitness, and MyZone built their empires on this concept of the Kohler Effect, which says individuals will increase their effort as they see another doing better than them. However, a caveat here. What sparks a competitive types’ fire can also lead another person to withdraw. Which one is your client? The take home: knowing your client’s tendencies are key. There are big differences in the types of partner workouts that may help best: from supportive to competitive. The boutique fitness industry is booming also, because some individuals find being a part of a brand and more “supportive” workout networks are highly effective. Finances may also play a role in some situations. While small group training can be more affordable, some branded formats may be more expensive. However, simply doing the cheapest option may not lead to long lasting change, especially if the cheapest option is not the client’s preference. Finding the special sauce for your client will lead to sustainable habits.

So, we have looked at excellent reasons that partnering up may be beneficial. Now, let’s look at some reasons why this may not be the best advice for a client. We have already discussed our personality types, but a quick reminder. Our rebels tend to ignore external accountability. This may be the individual that can be very difficult to train in general, and may be the individual who you advise “don’t go read this book about the four tendencies by Gretchen Rubin” in hopes that reverse psychology works and they take some steps on their own. Another very important reason was recently highlighted by Jonathan Goodman, founder of the PTDC, in a post on Instagram. It stated that with a third of Americans being obese, it is important that we take into consideration their feelings towards exercising in group. Some may find it motivating. Some may find themselves feeling judged. Certain moves can prove to be uncomfortable, and it may be harder to make these adjustments in a small group or partner setting.

The take home. 1:1 training may be FAR more comfortable to a person. Advice may be backed by science and research, but it does not mean a particular piece of advice is perfect for every individual. Get to know your clients well enough to know the difference between sound and destructive advice.

Need a great partner workout? Check out this done for you partner circuit class by Swift Circuits for just $3.99. All the moves you need, just click and print. Check it out here. This circuit is great for group fitness, or can be great for clients who like to exercise with a friend or trainer.


American Council on Exercise. (2012, Nov. 30). Does Working Out With a Partner Affect Performance? Retrieved from https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/3014/does-working-out-with-a-partner-affect-performance.

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Courneya, K.S., & McAuley, E. 1995. Cognitive mediators of the social influence–exercise adherence relationship: a test of the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 18 (5), 499-515.

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Jemmott, J.B., & Locke, S.E. 1984. Psychosocial factors, immunologic mediation, and human susceptibility to infectious diseases: How much do we know? Psychological Bulletin, 95 (1), 78-108.