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Why Working Out With Friends Makes Exercise More Effective—and Fun!

The benefits of sweating with someone else IRL extend to your virtual fitness buddies, too.

Smiling woman giving high five to her friend after exercising. Woman looking happy after a successful workout session outdoors.

The past decade or so was all about the group fitness class boom, but the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to that—fast. And while people generally embraced the rise of at-home fitness, there’s been more than a little grief over the loss of in-person workout buddies. It’s a lot easier to get the most out of your workout when you’re with that one friend who pushes you to go just a little bit harder on the last set of intervals, or promises to spot you when they encourage you to add just a few more pounds to the barbell. 

Workout buddies can help you feel motivated, supported, and even encouraged to work out more, according to a 2015 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology—and it’s not just about accountability (you’re way less likely to flake on a friend for a 5 a.m. workout than yourself, right?). People who worked out with friends (or a spouse or co-worker) said they enjoyed the exercise more than those who worked out alone, found a 2013 study out of the University of Southern California, and people who exercised with someone they thought was better than them worked out up to 200 percent harder and longer than others, according to 2012 research in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine

But those benefits aren’t limited to IRL workout meet-ups. Over the past year, more and more at-home fitness platforms allow you to beam yourself into virtual classes, video chat with other members as you sweat, and send digital high-fives to fellow exercisers. On Tonal, you can now find and follow members of the community and not only share your own activity but also see what workouts your friends are crushing and applaud their progress. You can even work out side-by-side using Partner Workouts, exercise together remotely with Virtual Group Workouts, and join Tonal’s Leaderboard to see how you rank against other members in the community. 

Is it the same as going to a studio or gym and working out with others in person? Not exactly, but as working out from home becomes the norm—“online training” was named the number-one fitness trend for 2021 by the American College of Sports Medicine—there are just as many science-backed reasons to connect with virtual or remote fitness buddies. 

For one, digital fitness can actually be contagious, a 2017 study published in the journal Nature determined. After analyzing five years of daily running patterns of more than one million people who logged their runs digitally in a global social network of runners, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers found that on the same day, additional distance or time run by friends can inspire someone to run farther or longer.

And when graduate students were placed into anonymous online “workout groups” where they received notifications whenever anyone else in the group participated in some form of exercise, the entire group engaged in higher levels of activity, according to a 2015 study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. In fact, those who received the notifications worked out 1.6 more times per week compared to those who received motivational messages and those who had no support. Translation: Seeing your friends on Tonal log their workouts can actually boost your motivation to log your own.

While group classes once served as an external motivator—i.e. get your butt out of the house to work out—connected fitness platforms are bringing that motivation into your home. While your friends may not be physically sweating next to you, it can be just as powerful to know that they are waiting for you in a live virtual class or that your favorite trainer will bummed when you miss the in-app workout they programmed for you. 

And if you’re worried at all about how sharing all your workouts might affect you, keep this in mind: As long as you’re using them reciprocally and to give support and encouragement to other athletes, you’re good; it’s only when you’re logging workouts just for your own positive recognition (i.e. the “likes” and “high fives”) that has a negative effect, says a January 2020 study published in the journal Information Technology & People

Don’t compare your fitness to anyone else’s, just celebrate the fact that everyone’s making their workouts happen wherever and whenever works for them. See you on the leaderboard!