Workout partner boosts calorie burn: 5 traits of a great fitness match

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By Linda Melone

It not only feels more motivating to work out with a partner, but it can boost your exercise intensity as much as 200 percent, research shows. That's a lot more calorie burn just by sweating with a friend.

The key lies is to find someone with similar goals. Too much fun and chitchat and not enough work will weaken results, just as a drill sergeant approach could turn you off to exercise entirely. 

Here are expert-recommended tips for finding your fitness match.

1. Know how to spot

Spotting (assisting) your partner (used mostly in weight lifting) takes more than simply preventing your partner from dropping the weight on her own head. 

You need to know how to work with the nuances and idiosyncrasies of your particularworkout partner, says Neal Pire, exercise physiologist at HNH Fitness, a medical fitness center in Oradell, NJ. “We all have personal preferences and habits. For example, some people only want a spotter to intervene if they fail (start to drop the weight). Others want to push out a couple of assisted forced reps, so know your partner’s needs.

2. Motivate without overdoing it

A study from Kansas State University researchers shows verbal motivation can backfire if it’s in excess. In the study, the most motivating partners were 40 percent better than the other but did not provide a lot of verbal motivation such as, “You can do it!” The scientists felt the comments from the advanced exerciser may be interpreted as condescending. “Inspiring your partner can also be in the form of specific training cues (e.g. “Bring your elbow up higher”), tactile (with a touch), visual (demonstrating) as well,” says Pire.

3. Find a balance

It’s helpful to have a partner who pushes you to “rise to the occasion” when they kick things up a notch, says Jimmy Minardi, certified personal trainer and founder of Minardi Trainng, New York. “But you don’t want to be so competitive that you find yourself irritated because you can’t keep up.” Be there as a coach, helping choose the next exercise or pointing out poor form when necessary to help, but without being critical or condescending.

4. Moderate excess chitchat

Personal communication can be distracting if it slows down your workout, but it’s sometimes valuable when it “ties in” to your workout partner’s emotions and psyche, says Pire. “True, you’re both there to work out, but effective and personal communication can be helpful.” In addition, the “talk test” while doing cardio together can help you hone in on whether or not you’re working hard enough. In general, moderate intensity exercise enables you to talk, but not sing, during activity. Exercise qualifies as vigorous if you’re unable to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

5. Be reliable and committed

Be on time and show up when and where you say you will. “When it comes to a workout partner, consistency is key,” says Minardi. “You need someone who’s reliable so you’re not depending on yourself to get out of bed for a run when it’s 35 degrees outside.” If you’re the more motivated partner, know that someone is depending on you. “The fact that you’re going to let someone down or – worse -- take them off track by not showing up, is a great motivator and will likely keep you on a long term workout program that works,” Minardi adds

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