A workout partner can help keep you on track to meet your fitness goals.

How to Pick the Perfect Workout Buddy

Maybe you just signed up to run the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon & 5K or maybe you just need more motivation to make it to your weekly yoga class. Either way, having a workout buddy can make all the difference in keeping up your commitment to exercise.

At the same time, it’s important to find someone who will inspire, not discourage you – and who will make your shared fitness activity fun, not a stressful competition. After all, we’ve all had the experience of being last person picked for the team, or being the one person in Zumba who couldn’t seem to learn the steps, and that’s not a recipe for success.

Here’s how to find the right partner for fitness success.

Cast a Wide Net

A fitness buddy doesn’t need to be your best friend, or even a close one. In fact, it can work just as well to choose someone with a shared goal or interest who isn’t part of your immediate circle. That way, your workouts can be a chance to get to know each other better or catch up, but you won’t be distracted from your immediate goal. More important is whether you have approximately the same amount of time and commitment to sticking with your shared activity. If you’re both training to run a 5K or are equally excited about learning to salsa, you’ll up your chances for a successful partnership.

Compare Schedules

It’s hard enough to coordinate schedules under ordinary circumstances, so don’t make it extra challenging by picking someone whose work or leisure hours don’t typically match yours. If you’re a morning person, you’ll be frustrated by a workout pal who’s not coffee-ed up until after 10. If you plan to train primarily on weekends, you may get discouraged by someone who has a lot of weekend family commitments. Officemates make great workout buddies because you can head to the track or gym straight from the office together. Neighbors make great running and walking partners because you can meet up easily.

Factor in Fitness Level

Running’s much more fun with someone who can keep up with your preferred pace, and no one wants to end up lagging five miles behind on a bike ride. That said, this one’s more of a gray area, since there’s plenty of room for compromise here. If your goal is to run a 5K, and your friend’s is just to lose a few pounds, you can both meet your objectives while cheering each other on.

Consider Shared Lifestyle Factors

If you always hike with your dog, you’ll do best if your hiking buddy also has a canine companion, or at least likes yours. Someone who’s risk-averse may not be the best match if you want to take up mountain biking or surfing. But don’t discount a potential partnership just because it’s not a perfect match; try it out and you can always back off if it’s not working. There are lots of ways to compromise and meet in the middle.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.