Fitness with a Buddy

*NEW* #TeamEverlast Contributor: Greg Chertok

Greg Chertok, M.Ed., CC-AASP, founder of New York based Chertok Performance Consulting is the newest contributor to #TeamEverlast. Greg has nearly a decade of experience and specializes in sport and exercise psychology. His experience working with athletes and coaches ranges from youth to professionals with a list of clients that include high performance athletes,  high school & NCAA champions, Super Bowl champions, Stanley Cup participants, and Olympic athletes. Greg will bring his vast knowledge and expertise on training and competition to our #TeamEverlast readers.

We are excited to welcome Greg to our list of contributors! Be sure to keep an eye out for all of Greg’s articles including his second installment below!


Fitness With a Buddy

Last month, for the first time in nearly two years, I worked out with a buddy. This is a rare occurrence – I often find comfort in the solitude of my own workouts, and prefer establishing my own pace. And yet my leanings toward social connectedness – humans DO have a natural attraction to be with other humans, evolution dictates – occasionally prompt me to join a friend, the dynamic of which adds an unfamiliar but welcomed feeling of “going it,” well, not alone.

While many Americans report preferring to work out alone, we may benefit, every once in a while, from choosing to do so with another (some of us are already working out with a buddy without realizing it).  Here’s why:

  • Exercise adherence appears to strengthen when we’re being held accountable. Surely this is happening when I work out alongside a partner. No surprise there. However this statement becomes enlightening when the term “partner” is broadened to a nonhuman population. It’s a testament to how powerful the presence of someone, or something, is: even electronic buddies, from high end activity trackers to rudimentary pedometers, satisfy both factors and therefore may serve as an effective tool for exercise adherence. Pedometers maintain their effectiveness even when sealed (not viewable) and the study participant is unable to monitor progress. Simply the participants’ awareness of its presence and function encouraged extra efforts to increase steps, despite not being able to view the step value. When we know we’re being monitored by others – humans or otherwise – our behavior may be strongly influenced.
  • Social support remains one of the most powerful factors in motivating the sedentary to move. And the support needn’t be massive at all: small doses of social support can produce large gains in physical activity. A study conducted at Stanford University a decade ago demonstrated that an occasional automated telephone reminder helped nudge participants into regular weekly exercise. The reminders were devoid of any individualized training advice, fitness coaching tips, or direct human contact. They were simply expressionless, emotionless computer-generated messages. But the fact remains: whether it’s physical inactivity or substance abuse, social support, even if short-lived and light, helps prevent against relapse and can have a lasting effect. The more constant and, let’s face it, human the intervention is, the greater the effect on our willingness to endure through the inconvenience of remaining active.
  • If you were to recall the most successful groups in which you were involved – sports teams, work cohorts, Physics class project mates – likely the reasons for this would be that (a) there was  great collective effort put forth in getting the job done (there were no slackers or negative influencers) and (b) you all enjoyed each other’s company. It’s true for exercise groups, too: participation in classes characterized by higher task cohesiveness (“Let’s work together to get healthy!”) or higher social cohesiveness (“I like spending time with you!”) was superior to participation in standard exercise classes. Find a class or group with whose members you enjoy interacting and working hard, and you’ve overcome a major barrier to sticking with exercise.
  • We’re familiar with the advice, likely dispensed by a loving parent before summer camp drop-off or college orientation and sure to have induced an eye roll: surround yourself with good people. Turns out this is empirically valid, based on some fascinating research aligning happiness with geographical proximity. Happiness, like health, is clearly shared through social connectedness and closeness: people who are surrounded by many happy and healthy people are more likely to become happy and healthy in the future. Understanding geography as a predictor of how contagious emotions become, we may now look back at that 3-minute elevator ride shared with an irate mother on the phone with her child and appreciate why we somehow felt angrier after exiting. From an exercise perspective, working out near other health-minded gym-goers may influence your mood. Find a partner who is excited and optimistic about the process.
  • It’s been established that we tend to exert more force when we’re being watched: the pianist unconsciously presses keys harder when performing in front of an audience versus playing alone and the tennis player swings the racket with greater power on the forehand in the presence of a crowd. This is because various regions of our brain communicate, based partly on other people’s cues, such as facial expressions and direction of gaze, before generating motor actions. That is, if we feel our observer wants us to do well, we will perform well. But if we pick up negative cues, our performance tends to fall apart.

Working out with a partner in and of itself may not guarantee a more joyous and fulfilling experience, especially if that partner exudes pessimism in your abilities or seems dreadfully uninterested. The importance lies in engaging in the exercise process alongside someone who cares deeply about your joint wellness and whose positive spirit is apparent.

Greg Chertok
About the Author:

Greg Chertok. Greg Chertok, M.Ed, is the founder of New York based Chertok Performance Consulting. Greg specializes in sport and exercise psychology with experience working with athletes and coaches ranging from youth to professionals. Greg’s list of clients includes high performance athletes, high school & NCAA champions, Super Bowl champions, Stanley Cup participants, and Olympic athletes. His expertise and knowledge is evident through his contributions to various publications including the Wall Street Journal, CBS News, Runner’s World Magazine, Women’s health magazine, and the Chicago Tribune, among many others. Greg has also been featured as a sports psychology expert on multiple radio shows, including National Public Radio (NPR), SiriusXM’s “Doctor Radio”, Healthradio’s “Sports Medicine & Fitness Show”, CaptainU radio, and Voice America’s “Enter the League”. ”. Greg is a Certified Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) as well as a Personal Fitness Trainer.