We’ll admit it: As much fun as it can be to go to the gym with a partner, it can be frustrating when you bring along your ultra-jacked friend.
You know the guy: He maxes out the barbell before his sets; you’re using the puny-by-comparison plates. He’s doing handstand pushups; you’re still trying to do the regular ones. He gets all the admiring looks from the ladies on Treadmill Row; you, uh, don’t.
So it’s only natural to feel more comfortable in your own skin when you hang out with your buddies who are built like you, instead of Mr. Incredible. That’s especially true if you have a few extra pounds to lose.
But if you want to shed extra weight, you’re better off sticking with your jacked friend. Here’s why: Overweight people are more likely to shed weight if they hang out with fit friends than if they hang out with their heavy-set pals, according to a study published this summer in the journal Obesity.
(So much for the saying that if you want to look young and thin, you should hang out with old fat people.)
In the study, researchers studied 9,335 Americans for a year, focusing on how their social lives and body mass changed over time. The researchers asked the participants whether they were trying to lose, gain, or maintain their weight; to track how they perceived their friends’ bodies relative to their own; and to list the four adults they spent their free time with, whether family or friends.
There are, of course, a few caveats. The study authors emphasized that the results were simply correlation, not causation. In other words: Merely hanging out with fit people does not help you lose weight, contrary to what that dude napping by the squat rack seems to be trying.
And the data was far from comprehensive: “We don’t know what respondents are doing with their social contacts, whether through texting, in person or on social media,” Matthew Andersson, Ph.D., Baylor University sociology professor and lead study author, said in a press release. “They might be going out to eat; they might be going to the gym; they might be doing something totally unrelated. We just don’t know.”
But if walking through the gym doors is the hardest part of your fitness routine, then consider keeping your ripped friend around. (Just don’t feel the need to do the same weights as him—you’ll get there eventually with plenty of incremental work!) If he asks what’s in it for him, just remind him that he’ll look even fitter standing next to you. At least for now.
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