Fitness

Healthy Competition

Working out with a partner can make you push a little harder in your workouts. Just follow these rules to keep things friendly.

We’ve all heard about the benefits of starting a fitness or weight-loss program with a buddy. She’s the one you can call when you're close to diving head-first into a plate of nachos. She’s the one you meet for a 6:30 a.m. spinning class because you promised you would. He's the person who texts you: “Sorry you’re having a hard day. Hang in there!”

Buddies – friends, partners, co-workers or others – keep us motivated, make us accountable and provide companionship and commiseration. “When we’re alone, it’s very easy to rationalize and justify our poor choices,” explains Adam Gilbert, founder of My Body Tutor, a weight-loss coaching service. “Having other people involved makes it much harder to lie to ourselves.”

Unfortunately, even when you're both striving toward the same goal, buddy friendships don’t always go smoothly. Your partner can get overly competitive by bragging about his weekly running mileage or challenging you to a plank-off. You can become jealous when your friend keeps on losing and you’re stuck in a stubborn plateau, or she receives a lot of attention in her new red halter top dress.

Here are a few tips on how to maximize the benefits of a weight-loss buddy without ruining your relationship:

Work your network
In life, you have different kinds of friends: childhood friends, work friends, college friends, and Mom friends, perhaps. So it’s a good strategy to have more than one weight loss or fitness buddy – especially if your pal reaches his or her goal and suddenly becomes less motivated to motivate you. Perhaps you have a friend who’s really great to trade recipes with but isn’t particularly warm and caring. Make her your food advice buddy, and enlist your guy for emotional support, says Joan Chrisler, PhD, professor of psychology at Connecticut College. On that note, why not also find a Pilates pal and an office mate who helps you find healthy lunch take-out?

Define the relationship
This rule doesn’t just apply to dating. It’s a good idea to establish your buddy expectations from the get-go, says Gilbert, adding “I always tell people that it’s important to decide up-front what you’re willing to share and what you’re not.” For example, some pals like e-mailing each other their food journals at the end of the day, while others prefer chatting on Sundays and going over their eating and exercise plans for the week. You might like a daily workout partner, but your husband might feel that a Saturday yoga date is the right amount of fitness togetherness. Most important, you should decide how you want your buddy to treat you if you slip up. Want a pep talk or to be left alone? “One person's encouragement can be another person's nagging,” says Chrisler.

Slay the green-eyed monster
Of course, you want to be happy for your buddy's success. But even the most magnanimous of us can get a little jealous once in a while, especially if we’re not happy with our own results. Keep your eyes on your own scale, advises Chrisler. “Everyone's metabolism is different. Compete with yourself, not with others.” Better yet, learn from others. On the other hand, if you’re the object of envy and receiving comments along the lines of “You’re doing so much better than me,” resist to the urge to put yourself down. Don’t say, “Well, I still have a lot left to lose.” A simple “Thanks for noticing my progress” is acknowledgement enough.