From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

By Matt Mayer, MSc.

Sometimes I find working out on my own a challenge. It can feel lonely and sometimes I don't feel very motivated. I have discovered – and some research bears this out – that social support is an essential to my workouts and ability to commit to a routine. Could recruiting a friend or family member help you with your fitness barriers? Not to mention add more fun into your workout? Consider these benefits, and then try out the four activities below:

Self-confidence/comfort – there is always a level of uncertainty or unease when trying new things on your own. Whether it's lifting that extra weight or hiking that last hill, having a partner may help you feel safer and gain more confidence.

Motivation – four simple words can inspire a lot when used at the right time: "You can do it." With a friend nearby, participating in any activity will result in increased effort because you can use each other to motivate the other.

Accountability – "Not feeling like it" or "I am too tired" can seem like flimsy excuses when telling your partner you don't want to work out. Skipping scheduled workouts is more difficult when you have someone else relying on you.

So here are a few fun exercises you can try with a partner (warm up for five minutes by marching in place or doing a few jumping jacks):

Back-to-back squat – This is like a wall sit, but your partner is your wall and you, his/hers.

  1. Stand back to back with your partner and step out so that both feet are away from your base. Go one foot at a time and use each other for support.
  2. When your feet are secure, slowly bend at the knees and drop down until your legs are at a 45 angle, keeping your backs and heads touching and your hands at your side for support.
  3. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds before returning to standing and resting for 30 seconds.
  4. Repeat for 5 sets of equal time intervals.

Added challenge – If you are comfortable and strong enough, both you and your partner can dip down to a 90° angle – as if you are sitting on a chair.

What it works: Full body workout with focus on your core (abdominals, low back), legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, calves), and butt (gluteus maximus).

Wheelbarrow walk – You will need some room to move back and forth for this activity. Marking set distances will help set a goal. I suggest 10 metres (30 feet) to start.

  1. Partner 1 lies down flat on the ground in a push-up position.
  2. Open feet wide enough apart to allow Partner 2 to stand between them.
  3. Partner 2 grasps Partner 1's ankles and stands straight up, lifting the ankles and legs like the handles of a wheelbarrow.
  4. Partner 1 lifts up in a push-up position (do not lock elbows).
  5. Partner 1 walks on hands, while Partner 2 moves along behind "pushing the wheelbarrow."
  6. At the end of the set distance, switch positions.
  7. One set is when both partners have completed a lap. Repeat 5 to 10 sets.

Added challenge – At the half way point, the person who is the wheelbarrow can do as many push-ups as possible before completing the lap.

What it works: Upper body workout with focus on your chest (pectoral muscles), arms (biceps, triceps, and forearm), shoulders (deltoid muscles), and core (abdominals, obliques and lower back).

Resistance (reverse) lunge – You will need a towel. Each partner will rotate lunging back as the other anchors and acts as the resistance.

  1. Stand facing each other, gripping one end of the towel (make sure it is a strong towel) with arms bent and palms facing in at chest level.
  2. Before Partner 1 lunges, Partner 2 will get in a ready position – knees and hips slightly bent, firmly gripping the towel with both hands. Keep back and arms flexed and strong as you brace to support some of the weight of Partner 1.
  3. Partner 1 steps back with the right leg, using the left as support, touching down on the balls of the toes of the right foot, a little further than a natural step back.
  4. Gripping the towel to maintain balance, Partner 1 slowly bends the left knee until it is parallel to the floor. The right knee should stay approximately 3 to 5 cm (1 to 2 inches) off the ground.
  5. When Partner 1's leg is parallel, use the left leg to push back up by extending at the knee (the towel should be used only for minimal help getting back to the standing position).
  6. Repeat with opposite leg for one rep.
  7. Partner 1 now becomes the anchor, while Partner 2 goes through the steps.
  8. Each partner should complete 8 to 10 reps before taking a 30-second rest and repeating for 3 sets.

Added challenge: When you reach the bottom of your lunge, hold the position for 5 seconds. On the last lunge, hold the position for 20 seconds.

What it works: Lower body workout with a focus on your legs (quadriceps, hamstrings) and core (abdominals, obliques, lower back).

Torso twist with weight – You will need a 2.2 to 4.5 Kg (5 to 10 lb) object that is easy to grip in both hands (medicine balls are ideal).

  1. Standing back to back, Partner 1 will hold the weight in both hands in line with the navel.
  2. Partner 1 twists the torso at the hips in a clockwise direction, bringing the weight to the side of the body to pass to Partner 2. Partner 2 takes the weight with both hands at waist level and twists 180 to hand off to Partner 1.
  3. Complete 10 pass-offs and change directions for 10 more. Completing all 20 passes is one set. Complete 3 to 5 sets depending on your stamina.

Added challenge: Keep your arms fully extended through the entire motion and pass off of the weight. This will add further resistance to your arms and shoulders while increasing the challenge in the core.

What it works: Core body workout with a focus on your abdominals, obliques and lower back

Remember to cool down after these exercises by walking slowly and stretching.

Participating with a partner can also extend to sports, hiking and biking riding. Keep in my mind that the activity should be fun and enjoyable for both of you.

Before starting any new activity program, be sure to talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional.

Matthew Mayer is an exercise physiologist.

Posted: May 2011

Heart and Stroke Foundation

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