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How Do I Tell My Workout Buddy I Just Want to Be Friends?

We’ve literally outgrown each other

It hurts for you to say it, but it’s coming from the heart. It’s been a long time coming, but the relationship has fallen apart. He may want to work it out, but you don’t think he’s gonna change. You do — but he doesn’t — think it’s best you go your separate ways.

Wait a minute! Aren’t those the lyrics to “Burn” by Usher?

Pretty close, right? I thought they worked well here to establish the idea that breaking up with your workout buddy is a lot like terminating a serious romantic relationship. You’ve struggled together; you’ve laughed and cried together; and you may even have seen each other naked a time or two. However, there comes a time in many fitness-training partnerships where it’s time to loosen the tether and let one another go so that you can be free to explore the infinite horizon of fitness without the continuing presence of your staunch training companion.

So it’s not him, it’s me?

It’s probably both of you. The odds that two workout partners will eventually begin to move in different directions is astronomically high. Even two people who are ostensibly identical will have different sets of genetics, will physically respond to the same workouts at different rates of progression and will probably have totally different end goals in mind. 

Although both of you may have started with generalized goals of “getting stronger” or “losing weight,” once you begin to make progress toward those objectives, the resolution of your goals sharpens, and each of your sets of objectives may change. While your workout partner may be happy pulling his belt strap two further notches to the left and slinging around 50 additional pounds on the bench press, you may not feel fulfilled unless you’ve graced the stage during at least one physique competition. 

It sounds like I’ve outgrown him.

Or out-shrunk him. Being hamstrung by tailoring your training to accommodate someone who is less dedicated — or too obsessive, depending on which side of the fence you fall on — may result in you feeling unfulfilled by the relationship, or believing that you’re incapable of providing your partner with what they need. This is probably the optimal time to make a clean break and start fresh.

Should I tell him I want to see other people?

Well, no one else is going to do it for you. This isn’t like back in the day when you were on the swim club, and your coach initiated the breakup between you and your best friend by plucking you out of your lane-five social group and sticking you in the center lane so that your training would be more productive. For the sake of a better fitness future for yourself and him, you’re going to have to let him know that it’s time for both of you to move on.

But breaking up is hard! How do I break the news to him?

The admirable way would be to look him in the eyes and tell him directly: Things just aren’t working out, and you’ve grown apart. You’re not saying that you necessarily want to start seeing other people, but you see the writing on the wall, and you’ve come to the unfortunate realization that you’re clearly wrong for one another. 

You’ll want to throw in a reassuring statement or two, thanking him for sharing that era of his life with you; you’ve had some wonderful times together, and you’ll never forget him, etc. However, it’s best for the both of you if you make a clean break ASAP.

I’m a coward! I can’t do that!

In that case, stop accepting his calls, or block his number and delete him from all of your social media accounts. Switch gyms, or only train during times of the day when you know he absolutely won’t be there. Park a fair distance from the club so that he’ll never spot your car, and take circuitous routes to the gym so that he’ll never see you coming or going.

That sounds like way too much work!

It is. That’s why honesty is always the best policy.

Will that result in them drowning in a deep abyss of emotional regret and sorrow?

No. But if you do want to let them down easy, convey to your training partner that you need to be doing something more specialized because you have an athletic agenda. This isn’t even that much of a reach — such a pivot is one of the most sustainable fitness motivations there is, and relatively few people are going to share your motivation of training for a marathon.

All things considered, each of us has limited time on this earth, and you don’t want to spend it in unproductive relationships that will leave you feeling miserable. Buy your workout buddy a beer, toast your friendship, wish him well and move on to greener pastures — you know, like the tennis court.