Plus why and how to get one, ASAP.
Sweating with a workout buddy has many advantages. For one, it's obviously way more fun than working out alone. There's also the accountability factor: Skipping out on a planned workout feels pretty lame when someone's waiting on you to show up. When it comes to running outdoors, there's safety in numbers. And studies show that working out together has major benefits for increasing both the intensity and length of your workout.
For example, in a 2016 study, researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland found that having an exercise companion raises exercise frequency because of the emotional support and encouragement that workout partners can provide. A widely cited 2012 study from Kansas State University that set up trials with college-age females on stationary bikes found that women who exercised with a partner they perceived to be more athletic increased their workout time and intensity by as much as 200 (!) percent. In, another study published in Nature Communications conducted by MIT Sloan School of Management, scientists followed more than 1 million runners over a one-year period, examining the impact of social networks. They found that people were more inclined to work out after seeing someone in their network do it first—essentially, fitness was contagious.
With myriad opportunities for group fitness these days—from classes to outdoor workouts to running clubs—also comes the chance to forge new friendships that extend beyond the gym walls (BTW, here's why it can be so hard to make friends as an adult). Working out together is also a great way to spend time with your current friends—say, in lieu of grabbing cocktails after work, you hoist some dumbbells together instead. "We are seeing more and more of our members substitute Hatha for happy hour and boot camps for brunch," says Dara Theodore, head of fitness at ClassPass, which includes social features to book and attend classes with friends.
But how, exactly, do you turn casual interactions with women in a fitness setting into an actual friendship, without feeling awkward or creepy? The answer is the same one your mother might have given you about your first boyfriend: Take it slow.
"Start with simply being friendly and aiming for three- to five-minute conversations, asking where she got her yoga pants or asking how long she's been working out there. At the end of the short conversation, introduce yourself and exchange names so that in the future you can say hi to her by name," suggests Shasta Nelson, friendship expert and CEO of GirlFriendCircles.com.
From there, be patient with the process. Exchange a few minutes of conversation every time you see each other—ask what she did last weekend or what classes she's coming to later in the week. "The goal is just to be positive, friendly, and consistent over time as you each slowly find out little things about each other," says Nelson.
When you feel ready, invite her to do something with you before or after class sometime—perhaps grabbing coffee or a smoothie next door, or checking out a new restaurant together. Once you make the leap to hanging out outside of your fitness experience, you'll have more time to talk and really get to know one another.
One major benefit of making friends through fitness is the repetition factor: Classes or regularly scheduled workouts provide the chance to consistently see the same people, who also likely share your similar health values if they're showing up on a regular basis. "Friendships must have repetition to get off the ground, so if we see the same people frequently, then we start feeling more familiar to each other," notes Nelson.
Plus, shared experiences tend to create strong bonds. "Changing your body is emotional, for women especially," says Kate Lemere, an NCSF-certified personal trainer at Barry's Bootcamp in Chicago. "And therefore, the people you engage with while actively pursuing said change is a truly special relationship—one unlike any other."
Need further encouragement to make the first move? Take inspiration from these inseparable fit friends, who each found friendship through fitness in their own ways. (And if these sweet stories still don't convince you, read up on why friends are the key to lasting health and happiness.)
Kadie + Megan
About four years ago, Kadie showed up to her local Pure Barre's Halloween-theme class in an I Love Lucy costume. When the instructor, Megan, noticed her outfit, she declared they "had to be friends." Kadie says Megan's constant encouragement through the workouts (and not making her feel silly for dressing up) were the reason she kept coming back to class—and eventually became an instructor herself. When Kadie wanted to start a supper club in their city of Montgomery, AL, Megan was one of the first people she invited, and their friendship grew. They now get together regularly for classes, girls' night, supper club, or football tailgates.
Cessie + Stephanie
When Cessie first moved to New York, she found a CrossFit that she loved on the Eastside through ClassPass. One day, she approached Stephanie, who was also a regular, because she'd noticed a significant drop in her weight, and asked what she'd been doing to look so great. They slowly began to get together outside the gym and discovered they lived only two blocks from each other. Now they love getting active outdoors together, whether it's hiking or apple picking—with the occasional tacos/tequila night thrown in. (Related: 5 Partner Exercises from the Tone It Up Girls to Try with Your BFF)
Donna + Lauren
After one-on-one training got too expensive, Donna joined her trainer's group classes in Tampa Bay, FL, where she met Lauren. The trainer had them on a strict meal plan at the time, and they bonded over their "realness"—Donna disclosed her penchant for Ritz crackers and cream cheese, while Lauren fessed up to her M&M addiction. Admitting their flaws to each other created a strong bond. Their conversations first began during wait times for machines during training and developed into going on walks together, starting a book club, and getting together with their sons and husbands.
Leslie + Kristen
Leslie and Kristen were both committed to their Stairmill routine at their Chicago gym, and though they often climbed next to each other, they never spoke until Leslie one day made the first move. Small talk became their routine whenever they'd bump into each other, and they discovered they were both trying to get pregnant (to no avail). The moment their relationship turned into a friendship, says Leslie, is the day she discovered Kristen crying in the locker room over her fertility struggles—"that was when we went from being gym friends to friend-friends," she says. Today, Leslie has two daughters and Kristen just gave birth to her fifth son.
Gabbey + Elle
A Tone It Up event in Las Vegas—boot camp followed by a boozy brunch—turned out to be fate for Gabbey and Elle, who "just clicked" the moment they met, says Gabbey. In the beginning, Elle was not a regular class-goer, but now the two love taking them together, and regularly meet up to do something active every week. When one of Gabbey's bridesmaids unexpectedly had to drop out of her wedding, Gabbey asked Elle to take her place. She's planning to organize yoga or Pilates for Gabbey during her wedding week to help her decompress.
Rachael + Lisa
When Rachael and Lisa met randomly in a bar in L.A. through mutual friends, they laughed when they discovered they'd actually known each other before—Rachael had been a fitness instructor for a total-body workout class that Lisa regularly took at Ohio University. They soon began scheduling active dates together, like morning hikes on the Hollywood Hills trails before work, and then worked their way up to running 5K and 10K races together. Their friendship is 12 years old and going strong, and Rachael says there's no fitness activity they haven't done.
Jenna + Becca
The story of these two friends goes way back: Jenna and Becca met at ages 8 and 9 while competing for their local swim team in Michigan. Placing in the top 10 for a relay was the first big moment they shared together, and as they both continued on swim team through high school, they became very close, even dating two best friends and becoming known as the "quad squad." Now they live across the country from each other, but still schedule a regular "best friends week"—their last adventure included a 40-mile bike ride along the California coast, ziplining, hiking and, of course, swimming.