Two women who are friends working out together online through zoom

“Having an online workout buddy motivated me to exercise throughout the third lockdown”

Posted by for Strength

For Stylist’s senior beauty writer Hanna Ibraheem, the thought of exercising came with a lot of resistance. For Fighting Fit: Lockdown Lessons While WOFH (working out from home), she discusses how the power of a workout buddy transformed exercise from a chore into something fun.

I’ve always struggled with exercise. As a teenager, I led a fairly active lifestyle where swimming lessons and dance classes were fun after-school activities. In university, sober nights dancing on the sticky floors of the student union, Ministry of Sound and Tiger Tiger kept me in shape. And then work life kicked in.

At first, I gave it a pretty good go. I joined a local gym and flexible working hours meant I could attend Zumba and Pound classes, which I loved. But as I changed jobs and found myself working further from home, it became way too easy to skip it altogether again.

While colleagues around me arrived in the office freshly showered after a morning boxing class or brought in their exercise kits for an after-work weights session, I convinced myself that I just didn’t have the time.

Between my 90-minute commute (yes, each way), an eight-and-a-half-hour working day (longer, if I had a work event after hours) and making plans with friends (a girl’s gotta eat), I couldn’t possibly squeeze in a 45-minute HIIT class, right? Right. 

But when lockdown arrived in March 2020, I was forced to face up to the reality of it: I just had zero motivation to exercise. My long commute disappeared, my weekend plans for the foreseeable were all cancelled and we were actively encouraged to step outside for an hour’s worth of exercise – and yet, I still chose not to. I would take my lunch breaks eating next to an elliptical machine that was collecting dust, with no intention of using it.

Of course, fatigue set in and throughout the first and second lockdown, I occasionally found myself rolling out a mat and begrudgingly dragging my body through the motions, copying the YouTube video playing on my laptop. But it was never consistent. After one week of solid workouts, I took two weeks off. Or, if my mood was low mid-week, I told myself I may as well wait until Monday to really kick myself into gear.

Then, on Saturday 2 January, I got a WhatsApp notification. It was my best friend, Aashni, explaining that she wanted to get back into fitness and that it was too cold and dark outside for PT sessions. “I was wondering if you would be interested in doing video calls every night at a specific time and doing workouts together,” she wrote.

“Think some sort of accountability will help!”

Hanna and Aashni following along a workout video by Alice Liveing
Hanna and Aashni following one of Alice Liveing's arm workouts.

Accountability. It made sense, the only consistent thing in my inconsistent workouts was that I was doing them alone. But when I thought back to those swim lessons, dance rehearsals and Zumba and Pound classes, there was a clear theme: it involved other people. I obviously thrived on the sense of camaraderie.

We arranged a Zoom call (hot tip: if there’s only two people on the call, you have unlimited time), lined up a series of YouTube videos for a full workout (a warm up, HIIT session, weights session and cool down) and screen-shared the videos between us so that they played in sync. Even better, we could see each other on the side of the Zoom call. Every time I felt myself struggling to do one more squat or hold up a plank for those last 10 seconds, I could see Aashni in that little Zoom box and it gave me motivation to keep going.

Hanna and Aashni lifting weights alongside a workout video by Alice Liveing
Hanna and Aashni have been practising strength-training at home.

Over two months later, our Zoom workouts are still going strong. We’ve completed a couple of Alice Liveing’s 28-Day Challenges (alongside cardio sessions) and it’s by far the most consistent I’ve ever been with exercise. In fact, I really look forward to working out now and I’m learning more about the types of exercise that suit me.

We’ve tried HIIT, dance workouts (bhangra has been a particular favourite) and countless forms of strength training. We actually got so into exercising in the beginning, that we worked out everyday for two weeks solid, before quickly realising the importance of rest days. When I join the Zoom call, I’m greeted by Aashni’s friendly face, we have a quick catch up about our days and then begin our warm up. 

Aashni's at-home workout set-up, watching an exercise video while holding weights
Aashni's at-home Zoom set-up to workout.

Alongside the mental health benefits of exercising with a friend during the pandemic, the physical benefits of the workouts have been immense, too. I’m a lot stronger: I can hold a solid plank without wobbling from head to toe, I’ve improved my form when doing a deadlift and I’m slowly increasing my weights. Seeing the progress has been exciting and it’s all down to consistency. Even on days where I’ve had a long work day and would’ve easily talked myself out of it, I don’t – and vice versa with Aashni. We don’t like to let the other one down and it helps us push through.

After years of a difficult relationship with exercise, it seems the answer all along was a workout buddy. But why did it have such an impact on me?

According to Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy, humans are naturally social beings and a workout partner brings the companionship and encouragement we crave into the exercise space. Which makes sense, considering it’s been a particularly isolating year.

Hanna and Aashni holding their water bottles after working out
Aashni and Hanna after a workout session.

“Some people prefer to exercise alone but for others, having a workout partner can really help them stay focused,” explains Dr Touroni. “That’s because a workout partner can provide a powerful combination of support, accountability, encouragement and, in some cases, healthy competition.

“Plus, you’re probably less likely to come up with excuses and skip [workouts], if it means letting someone else down. That sense of accountability can be a helpful aid to some people.”

Additionally, when you’ve become used to batting off exercise so frequently, it can be hard to break out of that cycle. “If we want to make changes in our lives, we have to be aware of our habitual responses and choose a different way,” says Dr Touroni. Having someone who can gently remind us of this, might help us achieve our exercise goals.”

That’s certainly been the case for me. Workouts have now become an integral part of my day-to-day routine but I know the biggest reason is doing them with a friend. Plus, when our workout is complete, we get to sit down and chat (we never run out of things to say) in between big gulps of water and protein shakes. Throughout the third lockdown, these workouts have given me something to focus my day around and until we can plank side-by-side, I’m so grateful for my workout buddy.

Read more from Fighting Fit: Lockdown Lessons While WOFH (working out from home)

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Images: Hanna Ibraheem

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