Friendly Fitness

Exercising is more fun and inspiring when you have a friend or family member sweating it out with you.

Siti Norbaiyah was 20kgs overweight when she took her first hesitant step into a gym.

“I hated exercise. The only exercise I did before was while I was shopping and carrying the groceries. That itself was hard work!” laughs the gregarious 25-year-old single mother.

A health scare and her constant lethargic state forced her to make a lifestyle change. She was also concerned when the family doctor pointed out that her 16-year-old daughter was on the verge of obesity due to food choices she made at home.

“It’s hard to be fat especially when you’re a teenager! Friends made fun of her and the boys laughed. It’s all very bad for the self-esteem and of course, she wasn’t healthy either,” Siti explains.

A heart-to-heart talk led to an overnight lifestyle change. Trips to the mamak outlets and fast food joints turned to shopping excursions at the local markets. They gave up deep fried and greasy food for fresh vegetables and fruits.

However, it was their joint decision to sign up for yoga that made the biggest difference. Before that point, mother and daughter rarely exercised but as part of their new health regime, they decided to start on Hatha yoga, which is a gentle form of yoga.

“We could barely touch our ankles then. I couldn’t hold a pose for more than three breaths. I just remember being so sore for the first few weeks,” giggles Siti. Siti’s daughter Shakila Ayra quips, “Many times, I felt like I was dying but then it felt so good afterwards. I was glad Mama was with me because I could laugh at myself and also at her.”

As their strength and flexibility improved, the mother-daughter duo registered for more strenuous exercises such as zumba, step and spin classes. As the going got tough, they relied on each other for moral support. “We encouraged each other when one of us was about to give up. Of course, we also commended and celebrated with every kilo lost,” Siti says. “I think I would have given up a long time ago if I didn’t have Shakila as my workout buddy!”

A friendly face goes a long way

Founder of Personal Fitness Coach Sdn Bhd Jeremy Ng says having a workout buddy or partner is a big contributor when it comes to achieving one’s fitness goals. The key benefit? Motivation.

“(Having a workout buddy) is similiar to having a personal trainer (PT). Whereas the PT experience is one-sided, you get support from your buddy because you’re going through the same experience together,” he explains.

Working out with a friend or family member also creates friendly competition. “When you see your friend getting results — losing the weight and becoming fitter, it’ll inspire you to keep pushing yourself,” Ng says.

Ng’s observations are supported by research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, United States in 2009. The study found that participants who enrolled with a partner in a fitness programme lost the most weight.

Published on the Archives of Internal Medicine Journal, the study was carried out over two years with the help of 344 men and women. Their goal was to achieve and maintain a five to 10% weight loss.

The groups were split into three sections, those who trained alone, those who had a partner that received little coaching and those who were with a friend who also received a high level of coaching.

Researchers found that participants who trained with a workout buddy in the high support group achieved the goal and lost the most weight, overall.

 “When you’re exercising with a friend, you tend to move a lot faster and better than you think you can,” Ng says. A workout buddy makes exercising less of a slog and more fun too. “Everyone has a smile on their face and time passes faster.”

The benefits also extend beyond the gym and create healthier eating habits and an exchange of ideas, as friends will encourage each other as they adopt and adjust to healthier and better lifestyles together.

Ng does not believe that the ‘slacker’ in the relationship will affect the other person. “It’s the other way around. The more motivated one will inspire the slacker to pick up his pace.”

How to Partner up

Ng believes most exercises can be done with a workout buddy and that one does not need a gym membership to kickstart the regime. “It could be outdoor walking or running, trekking or yoga..the list is endless,” he says.

His favourite though is playing an outdoor game. It could be just chasing your friends around in the park, playing catch or hide-and-seek.

Ng also believes that there can never be one too many workout buddies. He says that “the more buddies, the merrier and better it is.” He also stresses that different fitness levels or objectives should not be a limitation when choosing a partner.

“The important point is that you must share the same mindset and you need to know why you’re doing it. Everyone will usually achieve their goals at the end of the day.”

Virtual support

Those who are keen to get fit but cannot find someone who shares their newfound enthusiasm can always turn to technology for help. Nowadays, fitness apps such as Wello and Fitness Buddy allow you to connect with like-minded people around the world. You can chart each other’s progress and exchange ideas.

Some of the apps also give you the benefits of exercising in a group in the comfort and privacy of your room. It allows the instructor to teach you in real time and for him or her to monitor you. He or she will be able to correct your posture or form by watching you perform the routines.

However, Ng still prefers working out with friends in the ‘real world’. “Doing it online is not the same. That is more of a PT-client relationship. It is still one-sided,” he says. “You don’t have someone who shares your experience, the ups and downs.”

He does make exceptions for people who are travelling or away as the apps would be a temporary replacement for the workout buddy.

“At the end of the day, a workout buddy is someone who is able to motivate you. You influence each other positively.”

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