Mind & Body

You'll Have a Better Workout If You Exercise With a Partner

From going on vacation to cleaning the house, most things are better when you have company. Exercise is no different, but it can be a challenge to find the right workout buddy. You've got to have similar goals and fitness levels, not to mention schedules that line up. As a result, many gym-goers exercise solo. But if you can manage it, there are good reasons to find a partner to push you. It's not just more fun — your workout will benefit.

Less Pain, More Gainz

In 2017, a team of researchers from the UK published a fascinating study about weightlifters in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. They asked 12 experienced lifters to bench press a barbell loaded with a moderate amount of weight until they couldn't lift it anymore. They repeated that task two more times, with a two-minute rest between each set. The volunteers did the whole test twice: once with people standing on each side to spot them, and again on a different day with the spotters hidden from view, unbeknownst to the volunteers.

As you might expect, the volunteers could lift more weight when they knew spotters were watching — about 11 percent more. But even though they lifted the bar fewer times when they didn't know the spotters were there, they reported working harder during those sessions than they did with spotters.

Of course, this makes some sense; spotters are there to keep you from hurting yourself, so you might not risk that final rep if you don't think anyone is there to catch the bar if you fail. But if you look at other studies, it's clear there's more to it than that. During a good workout, your body releases endorphins, which act as natural pain relief and enable you to exercise even harder. In 2010, researchers from Oxford University had 12 athletes work out on stationary rowers, either by themselves or in teams of six. To measure their endorphin levels, the researchers analyzed pain tolerance by placing each athlete in a blood-pressure cuff and pumping it up until they felt pain (ow!). Sure enough, even though they worked just as hard in both scenarios, the athletes in the team workout had a much higher pain tolerance than those exercising alone.

You Are the Weakest Link

There's also psychology at play. The Köhler Effect is the phenomenon that makes people in a group work a little bit harder to avoid being the "weak link" that brings the whole group down. This plays a big role in exercise: When people are asked to hold a plank position or ride a stationary bike for as long as they can, they can go for much longer if they're paired with a partner who's fitter than them.

Even just hanging out with people who are fitter and more active than you are can make a big difference. A 2016 study published in the journal Obesity found that people with a weight-loss goal shed more pounds if they spent more time with thin people. That applies online as well: A 2017 study found that seeing a friend post their successful workouts online can lead you to up your workout game, too. The science is clear: Whether it's your super-fit best friend or just an acquaintance from work, it's worth it to exercise in the company of others.

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast

Need some extra oomph? Check out "The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation" by Michael Matthews. It's just as effective as an audiobook, which is free with an Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer May 11, 2018

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.