During chillier months, it’s easy to get sidetracked with your go-to fitness routine. Perhaps it’s a little too cold to make your way to the gym (that is, if it’s even open) or log your usual morning miles. Finding an on-demand class you enjoy can be a huge game-changer when it comes to staying in a workout groove, as can one other big thing: A virtual accountability partner.
“If you’re going at nutrition and fitness goals alone and having to fuel your own motivation and discipline, it can be extra hard,” says John Fawkes, a NSCA-certified personal trainer. “You’re essentially adding an extra psychological hurdle. That’s where an accountability partner really steps up, taking one element off your shoulders.”
According to research published in Nature Communications, exercise habits can be contagious — not just in-person, but also via social media. Researchers analyzed the daily exercise habits of more than 1 million people over a 5-year period, and they found people would run more often and farther if they saw their friends doing it, too.
To take advantage of an accountability partner — who can help push you a little harder and keep it fun — follow these expert-approved strategies:
Research shows sharing your health and fitness goals with friends and family helps you achieve them faster. “Now is the perfect time to get after new goals with friends, regardless of what city they’re located in since everyone is logging on virtually,” says Lindsay Bennett, a certified personal trainer. Create an “accountability pod” of 3–4 friends, she suggests. “Find a common interest, like a specific at-home workout, and commit to swapping tips and tricks for what’s making the experience easier as time goes on.” You can even set regular check-ins and award prizes for hitting certain milestones to keep each other motivated.
You want to make sure all parties involved feel comfortable about the go-to medium of communication, whether you’re using Zoom via laptop, hopping on FaceTime or Skype via your phone or using an in-app method of communication through your go-to fitness app. It’s worth hopping on a practice call so you can test what works and ensure any tech glitches are minimized beforehand. If all else fails, you can always hop on the phone while walking as a smart backup plan.
Whether you’ve enlisted your IRL friends or connected with the MyFitnessPal online community, make sure to participate in regular dialogues. “Share your story and your wins so others get to know who you are,” recommends Tami Smith, a certified personal trainer. “Conversations will naturally begin to happen when you get more and more involved with the group. From there, you can cultivate more personal relationships and find a select few partners to go more in-depth with.”
Setting regular sweat dates is a no-brainer, but you can also rely on your accountability partner(s) to commit to working on other wellness goals, too. For example, improve your nutrition by tracking your food in the MyFitnessPal app and go over your journal with your partner. Discuss the trends you notice both for yourself and your partner. Set up other times where you share tips for improving your sleeping habits or your favorite self-care practices. Remember, these dates should be just as important from an obligation standpoint as a work meeting or a family dinner.
Whether your goal is to lose weight or build muscle, it’s important to remember consistency beats perfection and progress isn’t linear. Your partner is there not only to celebrate the wins but also to act as a sounding board when you encounter setbacks. That’s why it’s crucial this person is someone you feel comfortable getting honest with. “Ultimately with an accountability partner, they are there to check in on you and hold you to your goals,” says Bennett. It’s a good thing if they call you out on skipping multiple workouts — remember, they want you to succeed.