December 18, 2009

Buddy System: Yea or Nay?

In an interesting article on the New York Times' health blog, The Well, Tara Parker-Pope takes on the question of which is better for walking: a human, or a dog?

I won't be shocking anybody when I reveal that dogs were way, way better than human companions when it came to enthusiasm, distance travelled, and speed gained in walking.

Which made me think about exercise on the buddy system. I've always hated it; it took a lot for me to work out in front of Attila the first, oh, fifty times I did so, but now I've gotten addicted. Having somebody around to kick my ass on a regular basis has made all the difference in my fitness life.

What about you? What are the benefits and drawbacks to exercising with another person, or with your pooch?

Several years ago, I tried to have a walking buddy. I really tried. There were three major drawbacks to our partnership: First, she was six feet tall, plus a few inches, and I am five-two on a tall day, with platforms on. Our stride lengths didn't match at all; she'd be lollygagging while I trotted along puffing, trying to keep up.

The second problem was scheduling. It gets *hot* here in Central Texas in the summer time, and the only time we could consistently work out together was between 3:30 and 5 pm--known as The Time Of Certain Death to us natives.

The third and final problem? Although she was a very nice lady, we had nothing at all in common. She was a fashion designer and I... ... ...well, "fashion" is whatever's clean today. We had less than nothing to talk about.

As a result, we didn't work out together for very long or very consistently.

Occasionally I will take Max, my dog, for a walk. Max is enormous: half German Shepherd and half Flying Flapdoodle, he weighs in at something north of a hundred pounds. He's enthusiastic, energetic, and excellent on a leash, but he has one major fault when we're walking: he thinks of time alone with me as time when he must be Protecto-Pooch.

As a result, he gets very anxious. Although he doesn't lunge at other dogs or other people (and "leash law" here is honored more in the breach than the observance, which is another concern), he spends so much time clearing corners and watching out for threats to His Human that he's more tense at the end of a walk than he was at the beginning. It's like taking a Marine fresh from combat training for a nice stroll through some of the seedier parts of Detroit, except with more drooling.

The positives include pace: he's a fast boy, and prone to break into gallops with little or no warning, so I get good interval training. Plus, he's friendly and gorgeous and well-mannered, so we (and by "we" I mean "he") get plenty of attention and affection on our walks. Still, if I weigh his anxiety level on even a short walk against the benefits, we're better off playing Tackle The Human in the back yard.

So I mostly, like the antihero of a modern Jarmisch-esque Western, work out alone. How 'bout you?


  1. So, I was trying to determine of the flying flapdoodle was a real dog or not, and I googled it. What I found was a copy of this post on a site called Not sure if that's posted there with permission or if it's been stolen - but I thought I'd let you know!

  2. I mostly prefer working out on my own because then what I do, when I do it and for how long is totally up to me. But, I think if you have the right workout partner it could be fun. When I get the opportunity, I really enjoy walking with my sister as we always have lots to talk about; if she lived near by I'd be happy to have her as a workout buddy.

  3. I hate the buddy system. Hate it. I am a person who, like a monkey, is easily distracted. So if I have a friend involved in my workout it is very easy for us to blow off the workout for a stroll around the block or the mall or the ice cream parlor.

  4. I'm too obstinate and opinionated to do ALL my workouts with a buddy or in a class, but I do find that having other people around is nice for a change of pace. Boot camp class during the summer, for example. Or I'll go to the gym with the Lobster, but we'll both do our own things.

    Never had a running buddy, and I'm not sure I'd really want one. Would rather do cardio on my own, and go for walks with others more for fun.

    (And by the time I got to "except with more drooling" you had me laughing out loud).

  5. I enjoy jogging with my dog - usually he is so excited on the way home he runs extra fast and pushes me to run harder and longer. As far as a two legged workout partner I enjoy it occasionally. It is important to have a partner that is on a similar fitness level otherwise I get frustrated.

  6. I have buddy, but I don't consider what we do to be a workout. She has eliminated hills and has minimized the length of the walk. She has some mysterious pain that the doctors can't fix. I find that it is just a social event but it is better than not moving at all. I still do my regular workout at home on days we walk.

  7. Just a quick vote for dogs! I walk my retired racing greyhound twice a day (how fast do you want to go? she'll go faster!). When our previous dog passed away, we waited about a year before getting a new one... I gained 10 pounds... got new dog... lost 10 pounds.

  8. I'm a solo exerciser. Then I don't have to worry about someone's issues having the potential to negatively affect my workouts. Also, a lot of times my workout time is my time to process through the stresses of my life through reflection. I might take a walk with my partner on occasion but that is more about spending sometime together and enjoying the outdoors than it is about exercise.

  9. Dogs are the best walking and running buddies, because
    a) they go the speed you want, and the distance you want. They do not judge you if you are panting like a maniac as you hit the halfway point. Heck, they will just pant along with you- what fun!
    b) you cannot call them and cancel because it has been a long day. They do not care. They love you, and they are bored, and they have energy, and they need their walk RIGHT NOW PLEASE. Yes, you can get away with going around the block in extreme weather conditions now and then... but man, your dog needs a walk. And you have no excuses that he can possibly understand.

  10. You make good points about stride differences and commonality.

    I tend to workout alone. When I've gone to the gym with others, they don't workout as long as I do and I feel guilty that I'm making them wait for me while I finish up.

  11. I enjoy going it alone. I used to jog with the boyfriend around our neighborhood, but my jog is his speedwalking pace. Instead of getting lost in my run with my breathing and some reflection, I pay attention to how fast I'm going compared to him, or that he's walking quickly beside me at some points.

    It wasn't very motivating, so I kicked him off my running circuit. We still do nice long walks together, but running is my time now.

  12. I really want a dog to go running with, but my husband isn't on board with the idea yet. I toyed briefly with a cat stroller so I could run with my cat, but I think the yowling of protest would be distracting.

    So for now I run with a friend or by myself. I find I tend to go further and faster when I'm by myself, but maybe if I found a faster friend it'd be different :)

    I think you just need to find the RIGHT friend. I have some friends who'd be happy to make excuses and to take mine, but the one I run with is the kind who hates deviating from The Plan so it works.

  13. I work out alone or with my trainer. In either case the session is focussed on me, me, me. Which is exactly what I want from a gym session. Best sessions are with my trainer - she keeps me focussed, challenged and helps push me that one extra rep.

    I've introduced a few people to running over the years and done buddy sessions then but I've never treated that as a session for myself - I'm helping someone.

    As for walking - a dog every time.

  14. Dogs are great! They don't complain or delay, though sometimes they have to sniff and pee. If I could let her off leash, it was a good walk, but if I had to keep her on, the pace was too uneven. She loved other people, ignored other dogs. Many people were afraid of her, thought she was a wolf (??!!), but that was fine.

    People are fun at times, but it's more social than exercise generally. Pace is usually different, timing, energy levels, etc.

  15. I think have a really good buddy is a help for me, but having the wrong buddy is worse than not going at all! My last "Buddy" always wanted to stop for a cocktail or something bad, food-wise after! And when I refused, she pouted!

    A dog would be good, but I am just not a dog person. I tried going with my cat when I was a kid, but there was too much vertical action and zig zagging beneath bushes - it was fun, but not a great workout.

  16. I've usually worked out alone, though I don't mind walking on the treadmills with my husband. But I have a NEW BUDDY!!! My Fitbit Tracker came finally! It is SO KEEWWWLLL you have no idea.

    I do think dieting with buddies is WAY better than going it alone.

  17. Just insert 100% of what Peripatetic said here. I have three large "engines" that power my bicycle. I just have to get the wheels going (since I weigh north of 200lbs), and they take over from there. At first, I only need to pedal occasionally when they get distracted by something like a mailbox that needs a good sniff, or a cat sitting in someone's driveway. After about 10-15 minutes my 65lb pit mix (Squirt) and my 120lb lab (Goofy) become cabooses, so it's up to me and my 48lb boxer mix (Michael) to finish the last 15 minutes of the ride. Although I don't get much benefit the first half, I get cardio and strength training in my legs for the second half. Thirty minutes of moderately fast bike riding makes one tired Mama, two exhausted pups and one brat puppy who's just getting warmed up (boxer mix). Except if they see the six point buck, then all bets are off and brakes aren't even an option. Hold on and steer!

  18. It depends...for general every day fitness, I'm the go-it-alone type. But that's probably because I choose to workout at 5:00 in the morning in my own home. I also have a girlfriend I love to do Billy Blanks Tae Bo stuff with - we laugh our way through it because we both suck at it. Hey, we're just working our abs extra hard!

    In high school/college I was a team sport gal - hockey, volleyball, basketball. Lots of partnered workouts. And I had a good friend to swim laps with - that was a great system. But alas, we have parted ways and I no longer have an Olympic sized pool to swim laps in. My bathtub is only big enough for after workout recovery, bubbly, dark chocolate, wine and a good book type workout. :)

  19. I like to work out alone because I kind of want to do what I want to do & many people don't ever want to do the craziness of my workouts PLUS the hours when I work out.. perfect for me.. the less people in the gym, the better!!! I change things up alot & do things bases on listening to my bod & such so this does not always coincide with another person... OK, I am a selfish work out person! :-)

    I do walk with a friend every week or two & she is taller so that pushes me a bit.

    O also am reviewing LA Boxing & enjoying that even though I am not one to like classes & "day" workouts. The kickboxing is a great workout! As I say, out of the ocmfort zone is good! In fact, if I could afford a trainer, I would do that just to push me harder & learn new things!

  20. Chocolateramblings: Thank you for alerting me to this! Didn't respond earlier because I couldn't get the carmengets page to load.

    We did NOT give that site permission to reprint our stuff as their own, especially without links or credit! I am trying to figure out how to contact them. I can't seem to leave a comment or find an email address. Pisses me off!!!!!

  21. I'm all about the gym buddies! I'm a very social person and my workout time also fills in as my sole contact with other adults for the day:)

  22. I'm also a loner. My dog has to mark Every. Single. Inch we walk along (she grew up with a male dog).
    But if I go walking at night, I bring her with me. She's friendly but protective, and I feel safer if I have her with me.

  23. No way could I work out with my dog, Desi. At first, he's so excited about going for a walk that he drags me along (and he's just a little guy) But very soon, he finds something to sniff at every other second, so I'm trying to get HIM moving!
    I've always been a lone exerciser (no Tonto sidekick for me)- I workout using DVDs, so my tv exercise partners, thank God, can't tell when my (aging) body makes a funny noise or when I just can't quite make that lunge.

  24. I'm a loner by preference: I like to walk when and where and at the pace I want, and trying to schedule exercise time with somebody else would drive me crazy. I have, however, had plenty of good walks with both two-legged and four-legged companions; I just didn't try to have them be a workout.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  25. Hey when I found a good buddy it was really GREAT, we motivated and inspired one another and covered miles without either of us noticing it with all the jabber going on. Then we moved. Now I go on my own and my 'buddy' is the batch of affirmations I chant silently as I walk. They have become such a part of my routine that I sometimes catch myself saying them silently over and over as I'm pushing a shopping cart round even! But actually I quite like the flexbility of being my own buddy.

  26. I'm so impressed with all you loners. I have only ever been successful with the buddy system, primarily because if there isn't someone expecting me I won't bother to show up.

    0600 bootcamp is the best...somebody tells me what to do, so I don't have to think for myself that early in the morning, and everybody notices if I don't show up. Sunday morning marathon training runs with my sister are a little slow so far, since she's got injury and post-baby issues, but I don't mind taking it down a notch (because I'm happy to be a little lazy).

    I used to have a great gym buddy. She was a total flake, but it didn't matter...we agreed we'd meet at the gym at 5:30 every weekday morning, and we'd warm up and cool down/stretch together and chat and in between just do our own workouts. She wasn't very regular, but she showed up just often enough that I felt compelled to go every day...what if today is the day she shows, and I'm not there, and then she can give me crap next time the way I do to her? No way!

    But then, I'm an odd duck.

    I wish I had the intestinal fortitude to work out on my own, but having someone expect me is really the only way I'm consistently successful.

  27. Both! I love to snap in my earbuds, crank up the music and just zone through a good workout. (Especially since no one can hear me wimper.) I'm also lucky to have my husband as an awesome workout partner a couple times a week. I push myself harder through our together workouts (can't let him show me up) and I'm far more likely to try something outside my normal routine.

  28. When I had a dog, I liked having a walking buddy who doesn't have a work or school schedule. However, I hated how other dogs in our neighborhood would bark at us when we passed by.

    My human walking buddy is usually my boyfriend. But we only get to exercise when we're not focusing on our business or when he's not tired from work.

    I like working out by myself. It's more convenient and I can move at my own pace.


  29. I have an energetic scotty/schnauzer mix and I love working out with my dog. He used to be uber-protective and nervous around people but that got much better after we spent time taking a basic obedience class and a class on problem canine behaviors. It was worth the money and the lack of sleep/hassle it took to take the classes and practice all the time. Both me and my dog are much happier, and now he is the perfect exercise partner! His twenty pounds of muscle is determined that I will go on walks/runs at the appointed times or else I will have no rest. Hard to say no to a fluffball that won't leave you alone. Unlike human exercise partners, he *always* wants to work out!

  30. Having a workout buddy when first starting a program can be great. Someone who will hold you accountable and help motivate you to get going. Once the routine is established and you get a feel for your personal workout style, you can change things up.

    I prefer to workout alone, but often require help with the weight lifting portion of my routine. By going to the gym around the same time and days, I find myself running into many of the same people. A few of these I am friendly with and can get and give a spot, or words of encouragement during my workout. Its the best of both worlds. A buddy in the gym without the commitment.


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