How to Work Out with People Who are at a Different Fitness Level Than You

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 340 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

For years, my workout buddy and I would hit the gym every Saturday morning at 9:30 – that was our routine. We were both really good at sticking to this routine. If one of us had to cancel, we would be sure to let the other know. It really helped that neither of us had any nagging injuries so we were able to perform the same exercises and, since we were about the same size, we usually lifted the same amount of weight.

But then life started to happen… my friend got a new job. As a result, he ended up working longer hours and on weekends, and began to skip our Saturday morning workouts.

Then, I got a new job. I was lucky because my employer had a ginormous gym facility on site. I could hit the gym every day during my lunch break. By the time the end of the week rolled around, I was so tired from working out every day, I started to skip our Saturday workouts.

When we did finally meet up again, we quickly realized we were at very different fitness levels.

My friend had been struggling to find time to stay active, where I was doing more than I had ever done before. So you can imagine, when we finally did end up hitting the gym together, I would be cruising through the workout, but my buddy would be struggling to catch up.

I still remember coming home on these Saturdays and telling my wife, “I know I just spent an hour at the gym, but I feel like I barely did anything. I knew I didn’t want to stop working out with my friend, but the frustration in me kept building.

We decided to increase the intensity of my workout. By doing that, I would add some more exercises to the routine. For example, if we were performing squats, I would finish my set of squats, then while my buddy was completing his set, I would be doing push-ups. Once he was done with his set, he would rest, and I would jump back in and do my set of squats. Then repeat.

If we were working on our biceps, while he was finishing his set of bicep curls, I would be doing some triceps dips or maybe some squats, but just using my body weight. Sometimes I would add more weight to make the exercise more intense or perform more repetitions of each exercise.

Lifting heavier or performing extra reps irked him because he thought I was showing off, so I stopped doing that. Instead, I stuck to doing body weight squats or push-ups or even pull-ups in between sets. That didn’t seem to bug him as much.

The bottom line is that there are many ways to adapt your workout routine to suit the fitness levels of everyone involved.

Here are some tips:

  • Modify the exercise. Let’s say you and your family are going to go for a walk. But your family’s walking pace is a bit slower than yours. Instead of walking with them at their pace, you can perform walking lunges next to them instead. Or while walking at their pace, you walk backwards (carefully!). Walking backwards will force you to use a whole different group of muscles. Trust me, you’ll feel it!
  • Increase the intensity. This relates to my last tip. This is because when you modify the exercise, you will often find it increases the intensity. But here’s what I really mean by increasing the intensity: let’s use the same example. Imagine you and your family are going to go for a walk together. While they are walking at their own pace, you can jog or run to some landmark ahead of them. While you wait for them to catch up, you can take a moment and catch your breath or you can perform some squats or lunges or push-ups.
  • Use a heavier weight or perform more sets and repetitions. If you decide to go to the gym together to add some resistance training, then you could always use a heavier weight, or you could use the same weight as your family but just perform more repetitions. Another option is to perform the same number of repetitions, but just add in an extra set at the end. You could also take shorter rest breaks in between sets. But again, be careful here so it doesn’t seem like you’re showing off!

The bottom line: there are a number of ways to accommodate different fitness levels. Don’t feel like you have to stick to my suggestions. You can get really creative. The most important thing is to make sure everyone feels included, no one feels left out, and everyone feels good afterwards!

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 340 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.