Want a better workout? Find a good buddy.

Even in social races like the Spartan Super, having a partner makes staying motivated much easier
Spartan Super
Sam and I after completing the Spartan Super

Photograph courtesy of Spartan

“Shove my butt!”

I’ve got my upper body over the lip of this high metal wall, but my lower body is dangling, and I can’t seem to hoist it up and over. Sam has her hands on my rear end, one palm on each cheek, and she is pushing with all her considerable might. She’s also laughing, because I will not stop shouting, “Shove my butt!” and people are watching. A very handsome dude walks up and gives me a last boost—by my feet.

“I wish you’d come along earlier,” I uselessly flirt at the guy, with mud in my hair and probably in my teeth. But in truth, I’m very glad Sam was my partner that day at the Spartan Super, an 8.6-mile obstacle course race in Conyers that was a mix of trail running, wall climbing, heavy lifting, rope pulling, and dunking ourselves in freezing, muddy water. It was awesome, in large part because she went through it all with me.

A study by the Society of Behavioral Medicine found that people who work out with a partner are more likely to be motivated and, often, exercise longer. There are even apps that help you find someone to work out with in your own city or an unfamiliar one. Activvely, based in Atlanta, follows Tinder’s swiping model to pair users who want to run, rock climb, weight-lift, and whatnot.

“There are a lot of ways working out with a partner can help you. Your partner can spot for you and otherwise make your workout safer. They can check your form and make sure you’re not letting it slip as you fatigue,” says coach Doug Dupont, of fitness site Breaking Muscle.

For some workouts, I’ve found that a partner definitely makes a big difference. Take running, for instance. No really, take it, because I kind of hate it. Yet I do it, and have done it, every week for about 20 years now. I just find that it gives me the cardio results I need. So when I run alone, I try to distract myself from the monotony and discomfort by listening to music and imagining what I’d have my bridesmaids wear if I got married this year instead of back in 2003 (sorry for those cookie-cutter red gowns, ladies). When I run with a friend, the distractions come easily, and the time goes by faster.

Events like the Spartan races are somewhat social, with participants cheering each other on, giving advice on how best to get through an obstacle, and giving shorties like me a lift when they need it. But these folks come and go throughout the race, moving faster or slower, so it’s great to have a buddy whose pace and strength largely match your own.

Spartan Super
Christine (left) and Sam (right) lug sandbags in the Spartan Super

Photograph courtesy of Spartan

Sam and I met through our a cappella singing group, Best to Burn, and realized—during a rehearsal where we both broke out into yoga moves when no one asked us to—that we shared an interest in fitness. And not just any fitness, but super-challenging, somewhat-cuckoo fitness. She did a 15-mile trail run that was pretty much all uphill. And I did an 11-hour overnight endurance event with no sleep. So we were a match made in exercise hell.

Never mind that I’m (gulp) 20 years older than she is. She’s an old soul with a dry wit who falls asleep at parties. I have the sense of humor of a 14-year-old boy and would probably still be out at the bars on the weekends if I didn’t have two kids. So we meet nicely in the middle. In the Spartan, I typically ran faster, but she was stronger at a lot of the obstacles (that girl can hold on to a monkey bar—me, not so much), so it evened out.

When it came time to go shoulder-deep in a frigid, muddy water pit and then swim under a wall to the other side, she was there to yell, “Don’t think about it—just go!” and then helped me get out of the muck. And when, 3 1/2 hours later, it was all over, she said the magic words: “Let’s do this again.” That’s my kind of partner.