How to build a rock solid exercise routine with the help of a close friend

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” -Henry Ford

Have you heard the story of the eight sons?

Thousands of years ago there was a father who had eight sons. While trying to teach his sons a valuable lesson, he asked each of them to find a stick. The son’s came back with a stick each, not sure what their father was doing. 

“Break the stick.” he told them.

The sons did as their father had asked them.

“Now break this.” he said, giving them a bundle of many sticks.

The sons tried and tried, but could not break the bundle.

The father smiled as he looked at his son’s struggle taking turns attempting to break the sticks.

“This is how you be strong.” he told them wisely. 

“Stay together and help one another”.

Moral of the story:

We are much stronger when we work together, as individuals we are weak.

Why am I telling you this?

Because not long ago, I had a serious problem when it came to sticking to a gym routine. I’d be on and off constantly. I’d work out for a few weeks, then “something” would happen. I’d get busy and stop exercising for weeks and even months.

Then I’d finally get motivated to start again, this time lasting for maybe a couple of months, only to fall into the same viscous cycle again. I knew something had to be done.

workout routine - man running alone

Which brings back to the story.

Just like the sticks when bundled together, became much stronger and harder to break, our relationships with the people around us make us stronger human beings. We use our friends and family for support and to be there for us in difficult moments.

You could face life’s problems alone, but more often than not you need a helping hand. It’s the same with exercise. We see this all the time, it may have even happened to you, just like it did to me!

You set out with hopes to be fit, to be healthy and start exercising regularly. The first few sessions go well, maybe even a few weeks pass. Then all of a sudden, SOMETHING happens!

Work, family commitments, being too busy….the list goes on.

Our excuses take over and we fail to maintain a regular exercise habit. Our new year’s resolution is over as quick as it began and we find ourselves making the same resolution, year after year!

It’s crazy right?

I want to focus on one aspect of this problem and how I overcame it. Most of the time when we set out to make a change in our lives, we do it alone.

We say things like:

“I want to get fit this year”

“I want to lose weight this year”

“I want to start dieting and eat healthy”

Which is perfectly fine. We mean it when we say it. We truly believe what we are saying at the time and have the intention to follow through and reach our goals.

We all want to look good in our clothes, to fit in our jeans, to feel strong and confident with the way we look.

But we try and do it alone. That’s where we fall short. Over time our motivation drops and our excuses kick in. We end up stopping and don’t achieve any of our fitness goals.

workout routine - running shoes

I’ve tried over the years going at it alone and always ended up dropping off. Over time my motivation and excuses would just take over. Doing exercise by myself became something I just couldn’t force myself to do anymore.

Why this happens:

Research shows that 50 percent of people who start a new fitness program quit within the first six months. That’s a staggering amount! Imagine that, one in every two people will quit their fitness program.

Motivation is one of the biggest reasons for this drop. People will start an exercise program because either their doctor has bugged them about it, or someone from their friends or family has suggested it to them.

“My boyfriend wants me to lose five pounds”

“My doctor says I need to start exercising regularly”

These are some common reasons why we start exercising (they aren’t the only reasons, I started because I wanted to look good and feel powerful).

But if we begin our exercise program due to external factors: friends, loved ones, higher authority (doctor), over time we start to lose that motivation, and the reverse seems to happen, we start resisting the advice we receive from others about exercising.

As humans, we dislike being told what to do, we like to be in control. So unless that motivation to exercise comes from within ourselves, keeping up with an exercise program is going to be difficult.

I have a close friend who is overweight. Over the years I’ve tried to always gently suggest he start exercising. Being close friends, I’d manage to convince him to exercise with me, but he’d eventually fall off and start coming up with excuses all the time. ( I haven’t given up on him yet!)

You may have experienced it firsthand when suggesting a friend or relative to exercise. You want the best for them and want them to be healthy and perhaps lose some weight but no matter how hard you try, they won’t do anything about it.

So what is the solution? How does one stick with a fitness program?

Use a close friend to create an exercise routine.

Earlier I mentioned how working together is always better than going in alone. This applies to getting fit too. We can use a close friend for that extra bit of motivation. However, the way we approach them about it is crucial.

We need to make sure we ignite that inner motivation within our close friend, and not “force” it upon them. Do not say “Can you workout with me? You could use some exercise too”. This will have the opposite effect!

Instead, try suggesting it to them in a way that you show them the benefits of exercising together.

This could be:

  • having more time to spend together
  • doing a fun activity together
  • getting in shape for for an upcoming vacation or event
  • going out for lunch/coffee/dessert afterwards

The important thing is that you stress the amount of time you will spend together doing something fun. Allow the motivation for exercise to come from within them, don’t try to force it upon them.

For me, this was easy. My cousin who lives about five minutes away from me, called me and asked me to write up a strength training program for him. With my previous exercise routines fading off after some time, I ended up asking him to train with me rather than going at it alone. Win – win for both of us.

Here are 3 ways to use an exercise routine with a friend to keep you dedicated.

1. Make it a habit

“First we form habits, then they form us. Conquer your bad habits or they will conquer you.”  Rob Gilbert

Without making exercise a habit, you will find it very difficult to maintain. We cannot rely on sheer willpower alone. Instead, reward yourself after exercising together. This could be something as simple as going out for dessert with your training partner if you manage to run for 30 minutes together. Or you could also reward yourself by doing any fun activity together after a workout session.

In his book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg mentions that in order to form a habit, you need to create a reward loop cycle. In this case, your habit to form is regular exercise, and your reward is something as simple as going out for dessert together or watching a TV show together. By doing this you will be rewiring your brain to see exercise as something that brings immediate rewards.

I would play a game or two of Fifa on Xbox with my cousin after some of our workout sessions. I must admit, we were looking forward to playing Xbox after our workout more than the workout itself!

2. Use your close friend as an accountability partner

Try this for added accountability: any time you or your close friend decide to have an “off day” and not exercise, a penalty must be paid to the other person. It could be any amount you both agree on, $10, $50, or even $100! The higher the amount the less likely any of you would want to miss a session together.

You are more likely to follow through with your fitness plans when you know you are to be held accountable for missing a session.

3. Closing thoughts

Instead of going at it alone, try doing exercise with your close friend. You’re more likely to follow through with your fitness plans. These simple tips mentioned are not the only way you and your friend can get into a fitness habit; these are just some examples.

Remember, everyone is different:

1. Don’t force it upon them. Instead, suggest doing exercise together as a way to spend more time together doing something fun. Let their motivation come from within!

2. Create an exercise habit. Reward yourself after a good workout session with an immediate rewards afterwards such ice cream (or playing Xbox like I do).

3. Use your close friend as an accountability partner. Try setting a penalty fee that must be paid if one of you decide to have an “off day”.

Not only will doing the above lead to you living a more healthy lifestyle, but you will also develop a greater relationship with your friend.

It’s a win-win situation!

Your turn…

What tactics have you tried that have worked for you and your friend?

Have you tried any of the tips mentioned before? Did it work for you?

Please share your thoughts below. I would love to hear from you.