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Buddy System


Is working out a chore? Is it all you can do to get to the gym? You might be exercising with the wrong person—yourself.

Sweating it out with a partner can banish boredom and increase motivation. It’s also more cost effective than working with a personal trainer one-on-one. Couples, friends and even parents and children are finding that the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks.

Compatibility is important, of course. The key is to find a partner who shares the same exercise goals and interests. If you happen to be married to that person, all the better. Bernie and Eileen Brown have been working out twice a week with a personal trainer from Stay Young Fitness for more than two years. For this Bala Cynwyd couple, there really is no downside to exercising together. “It’s an incentive,” says Bernie, 71. “Otherwise, we’d never do it.”

“It’s also cheaper,” he adds with a laugh.

The Browns work out side-by-side, using various equipment to stay fit and increase strength and stamina. They enjoy their sessions so much that they recommended it to two friends. The other couple didn’t stick with it, however. Eileen, 60, suspects they didn’t work out at the same time, so they weren’t as motivated to continue.

Mutual motivation is one of the best reasons to work out with a partner, says Damien Young, owner of Stay Young Fitness. In addition to working out side-by-side, people can partner up to maximize their exercise routine, he notes. In one classic example, a person holds a pad while the other hits it. Both parties actually get a good workout.

The only hitch is if you and your partner have different exercise goals and/or strength levels, Young says. As such, the buddy system may not work well if one partner is focused on losing weight and the other wants to train for a marathon.

Some experts also caution that working out together can be distracting. People get caught up in socializing and forget why they’re there. Those who take their exercise regimen seriously, or who need to buckle down, might be better off going solo. Still, working out with a friend can also be a refreshing change of pace, especially for those who normally keep to a strict routine.

Laurence Kaplan, owner of Varsity Fitness in Bala Cynwyd, says pairing up offers unexpected benefits that working out alone can’t. Many of his clients are true athletes. For them, exercising with a like-minded friend can be a welcome break from an intense schedule. “I’d love to be able to work with everyone once a week on their own and once in a group,” he says. “It’s good to mix it up.”

In fact, two of his toughest and most competitive athletes have a tendency to crack each other up with inside jokes and chatter like schoolgirls before getting down to business. Kaplan usually cuts them some slack—because they are schoolgirls.

Jen Newman and Devi Jadeja, both 17, are two of the top high school tennis players in the area. “Having a friend there is the ultimate motivation,” says Jen, who’s ranked No. 1 in girls’ tennis at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr.

And yet, she adds, “It’s fun. It’s almost like a break.”

Both singles players, Jen and Devi have known each other since they were 7 or 8 and also compete as doubles partners on occasion. They train together with Kaplan during the week, racing each other on various machines or tossing the medicine ball around. It’s effective because they share the same passion.

“We’ve grown up together with tennis,” says Devi, who’s ranked No. 1 at Lower Merion High School.

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These longtime friends have never attended the same school, so the gym is a place for them to catch up. “We don’t really see each other all that much,” Devi says. “We always have five minutes before the session when we just want to talk.”

With the right person, exercising together provides quality time on several levels. The social aspect of tandem workouts can actually be a relaxing influence on the mind and body, rather than a distraction. At Main Line Pilates & Yoga in Paoli, semi-private Pilates classes for two have attracted married couples, sisters, friends, and mothers and daughters. The gym also will match up individuals—according to ability and experience—looking to share the cost of a semi-private class. People who didn’t know each other before often become friends. It’s a social experience with an element of discipline. “If someone is counting on you to show up, you do,” says Main Line Pilates & Yoga owner Gina Nostrant.

Berwyn’s Nancy Marsh and her daughter, Hannah, do Pilates together twice a week at the facility. They started going as a way to reduce stress and relax, and soon found much-needed relief from their hectic schedules. A little mother-daughter competitiveness reveals itself on occasion, but mostly the two enjoy spending time together on a regular basis, often following their sessions with dinner or shopping. “My friends marvel that I have a 17-year-old who likes to hang out with me,” says Marsh.

• Main Line Pilates & Yoga, 1740 E. Lancaster Ave., Paoli; (610) 722-9522,
• Stay Young Fitness, stayyoungfitness.com
• Varsity Fitness at the Cynwyd Club, 332 Trevor Lane, Bala Cynwyd; (610) 668-4333, varsityfitness.com


Perfect Partner Exercises

Ab Crunches

1. Lay flat on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, one hand behind your head for support, and the other stretched straight out toward the knees.

2. Your partner stands in front of you and provides a target. As you crunch forward slowly, tap your partner’s hand.

To work the obliques, reach toward your partner with alternating hands. Don’t sacrifice form for the sake of reaching the target. Your lower back should stay on the floor; lift only your shoulder blades off the floor when crunching.

Leg Presses
1. Lay on your back, feet in the air.

2. Lower your knees toward your chest as your partner stands in front of you and presses his hands against your feet. As downward pressure is applied, slowly straighten your legs, pushing up against your partner’s hands.

Hamstring Curls
1. Lay on your stomach on a bed or bench with your feet hanging off the end.

2. Your partner places the center of a rolled-up towel on the back of your ankles, grabs each end and provides resistance as you slowly raise your ankles toward your buttocks.

Make sure your partner’s face is away from your feet, or it may get kicked.

Manual Resistance Side Lateral Raises
1. Stand and hold your arms straight down by your sides, palms facing hips. Clench your fists.

2. Your partner stands directly behind you facing the back of your head and places each hand on the back of your hands. As you slowly raise your arms out to your sides, your partner applies even pressure, making it difficult to raise your arms.

Only raise your arms until they’re at the height of your shoulders. Make sure your partner doesn’t apply too much pressure.

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