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If you can’t find – or maintain – motivation to hit the gym, call in a friend

Friendly competition often sparks motivation.

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We all fall off our fitness horse from time to time. "Health" wouldn't be a multimillion-dollar industry if cultivating consistent motivation was easy.

One useful strategy for getting back on track is finding a fitness buddy.

Training with a partner increases the fun and social factors, friendly competition often sparks motivation and meeting a friend allows those of us who struggle with intrinsic (but thrive on extrinsic) accountability to frame workouts as appointments that can't be missed.

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Here are four ways to establish a tag-team effort:

Partner strength exercises

Partner exercises are ideal for those who want to improve co-ordination and reaction skills, or those who enjoy the team-like feel of training interactively.

  • Tapping pushups: Start facing each other in pushup position. Do one pushup. On the way up, high-five each other. Repeat, alternating hands. Keep your hips stable as your hands connect.
  • Partner-resist side planks: Start in a side plank, facing each other, on your left forearm and feet. Place your right hands palm-to-palm. Each partner gently tries to push the other over as you both hold for 20 or more seconds. Switch sides. Brace your core to stay stable.
  • Standing single-leg medicine ball toss: Stand on one leg, facing your partner, and throw the medicine ball back and forth.
  • Plank medicine-ball roll: Start in plank position – feet wide. Face away from each other, feet touching. Partner A rolls the medicine ball under both partners so that Partner B has to stop it. Partner B then rolls the ball back to Partner A. Keep your hips still. Roll the ball back and forth for 20 to 60 seconds.
  • V-sit partner toss: Sit on your bum facing each other, chest out and core engaged, with feet on the ground and knees bent. Toss a medicine ball back and forth. For an added challenge, lift one or both legs.

Partner "coaching"

This is ideal for anyone who wants to "gamify" their workouts or who thrives on pushing or being pushed by a partner, coach or trainer.

This type of workout is divided into two types.

In one, you agree on a set workout and motivate and coach each other throughout. For example, warm up, then do 10 sets, one minute hard and one minute recovery, on side-by-side cardio machines or running, walking or biking outside.

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Or take turns being the "coach." Try partner fartlek training, or what I call, "the switch."

  • Fartlek training: Partners take turns identifying a landmark – a stop sign, for example – and sprint toward it. The coach dictates the pace; the second partner attempts to keep up.
  • The switch: Use a set of stairs (stadium steps or those in your apartment building), a local hill, a jump rope or any cardio machine. Partner A states a conditioning exercise and repetition goal – 30 squats, 75 jumping jacks, etc. Partner B does the prescribed exercise as Partner A does cardio (the stairs or hill running).

When Partner B finishes the conditioning exercise, he or she dictates the next conditioning exercise. Partner A does the exercise as Partner B does cardio. Continue to switch strength training and cardio for 20 minutes or more.

Partner "independent" training

This is ideal for those who want the accountability of having to meet someone, but have no interest in interactive strength exercises or having medicine balls thrown at their faces. Get on side-by-side cardio machines to chat, do a group class or put your headphones in to do your own strength or cardio workouts.

You can also gain numerous training partners by joining a running or triathlon training group.

The "accountability" buddy

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An accountability buddy is ideal for those who require more hands-off accountability.

Try this method if working out with someone isn't realistic or doesn't appeal to you. E-mail or call your "buddy" regularly to discuss anything health related; establish weekly exercise plans, fitness goals or meal plans, and identify possible road blocks and solutions.

One final thought

Establish clear goals with your partner so that you're motivated to stay on track even when your buddy is not around.

Commit to attending a set class regardless of whether your partner goes, sign up for a race so you always have a reason to do your training run or set weight-loss or strength goals. When your schedules don't match, train separately and report back.

The main takeaway is that no matter how reliable your partner is, your health is still ultimately your health.

Don't transfer responsibility for your well-being to a buddy; don't justify skipping a workout because your buddy can't make it or duck out early because your partner does.

Use your partner when it's helpful. Use yourself – dig deep – when he or she is not.

Kathleen Trotter is a personal trainer, Pilates equipment specialist and author of Finding Your Fit. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @KTrotterFitness.

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