As today (July 30) marks the International Day of Friendship, members of the This Girl Can community have shared their stories of exercising with a friend and the benefits they’ve experienced by doing so. If you’re looking for ideas on ways to get active with a friend, check out the activities on the This Girl Can website.

This Girl Can is an initiative that champions real women getting physically active with the aim to help women manage the fear of judgement. Since 2015, This Girl Can has encouraged 3.9 million women to engage with physical activity.

The initiative has found that exercising with other women can help to break down some of the barriers that women face, making it easier and more enjoyable than exercising alone. They also discovered that engaging in exercise or activity with another person, whether that is with a regular buddy or if you’re joining a new group, can help build confidence and improve both mental and physical wellbeing.

Here, we delve into three case studies with three fantastic women who have all found some fantastic benefits of exercising with a friend.

Jessica Allason, 37, from Carlisle, Cumbria

Who do you currently exercise with? Please could you let us know what exercise you do together and how long you’ve been doing it?

My friend, Yvonne Taylor and I did our midwifery training together in Huddersfield as mature students, [with] graduation in 2013. Within our circle of five friends we were definitely on the heavier side and were constantly on fad diets and crazy exercising regimes, which we tackled alone. Then one day we started swimming together before lectures, and instantly found that going together made a difference to our enjoyment and motivation. We carried this on throughout our degree and I can honestly say it kept me sane during our final exams. From there I branched out to spinning and loved the endorphin rush. I’d go twice a week and never felt better.

After we graduated I met my husband and moved to Cumbria, but always stayed close friends with my uni girls. Yvonne and I used to chat about which exercise we were enjoying, although there was never a real dedication or consistency – life gets in the way sometimes. It was no surprise that our health suffered over the years due to lack of exercise, long shifts and living off white toast with waterfalls of delicious, salty butter dripping off the edges… Ask any midwife and she’ll tell you the same!

About 18 months ago, Yvonne and another friend of ours started going to CrossFit at their local gym. She’d send me pictures of her sweaty face and I wondered how long it would last because we were fine weather exercisers. Or so I thought…

Fast forward to May of this year when we all met up for our annual spa day and I saw Yvonne in a bikini. Honestly, she was brimming with confidence – which was particularly obvious given that I hadn’t seen her for about eight months. I was so happy for her, but it also brought home my own issues with my weight and body, as my husband and I are having some fertility issues (which I’m very open about). I had a good cry with my friends and Yvonne offered to support me via phone calls, social media and WhatsApp. Of course, I gratefully accepted.

The next week I got a little text from her asking how I was and if I’d found an exercise I could stick to and offering ideas that she’d found helpful, such as food prep. The next week I hit the ground running with a spin class and afterwards sent a picture of myself in all my sweaty glory to Yvonne. This started a trend and now she’ll send me pictures of her splayed out after a CrossFit session, and I’ll put videos up of my beetroot face after a spin session – and more recently a new class called body pump, which made my arms shake so much I couldn’t hold the camera still.

Do you find that exercising with a friend or as part of a team makes it easier, or more enjoyable than exercising alone?

I wouldn’t necessarily say enjoyable – I still feel like my muscles are about to give up on me sometimes. But I know that Yvonne is attending CrossFit over in Yorkshire at the same time as I go to a spin class, I find it motivating and work a little bit harder so that my post-workout beetroot face pic is as red as it can be. Recently my endorphin rushes are coming back too!

Do you find that exercising with a friend or as part of a team makes you more confident?

My confidence in my ability to keep going through a class as a big person is increased, because I know Yvonne did it so why can’t I?! also, I know that I can do it because I’ve done it before which acts as a confidence boost.

Do you think that exercising with a friend or as part of a team has made you more likely to exercise and stick to your exercise routine?

Definitely! We’ve always had a healthy competition between us, both academically and with exercise. So it’s an added motivation to keep exercising and maintain my focus on trying to keep active – but I don’t beat myself up if I’m not able to attend a class. I just do the best I can!

Do you see exercising with a friend or as part of a team as a support network? If so, in what way?

Yvonne has had a similar experience with exercise to me – while I wasn’t very active before, knowing that she’s been through something similar and seeing the positive changes she’s made in her life has helped me to believe that I can introduce exercise into my life because I’ve seen it happen! I get excited when my phone pings and it’s a pic of her sweaty mess beetroot face. It makes me feel normal and confident.

Liz Howard, 39, East Midlands

Can you tell us a little bit about the barriers that stopped you from getting active?

I have been physically active in the past but like most people, had fallen out of love with it a bit. I cycled with my partner but I felt he was better than me and lost a little bit of confidence with it. He then took on a job which meant he couldn’t ride as much and I had no one to go with.

So, can you tell us about what motivated you to get active?

I decided to join the Breeze rides as I hoped that there wouldn’t be as much competitiveness with women and found it to be an incredibly supportive group who helped me to develop my confidence. The rides are organised and led by trained volunteer Breeze “Champions”, who are looking to support women and build a community.

Myself and some Breeze colleagues including Cath and Jane, the East Midlands Breeze Leaders, have developed a “Couch to 25/50-mile” bike group. There were 16 women we initially signed up, most of whom hadn’t ridden in years. We set up a Facebook group called “Frightened to Fearless” which became a hugely supportive environment and we sourced bikes for some of the women to use. In total, nine of the 16 completed the 25 or 50 miles, though one of the main achievements was having set up a really supportive community of women who could support one another.

Two years ago I was nervous of hills, descents and busy roads and didn’t like going far on my own. Without Breeze I’d have spent the afternoon of a 50-mile ride in a broom wagon and that’s if I’d have dared to sign up in the first place! I’d never have believed that I was capable of peddling so far, let alone leading nine other women.

Tracy Fitzgerald, 36, Hull

At 33 I was a single mother to two beautiful children; a boy and a girl. My eldest, Megan, now seven, was born with Prader-Willi syndrome. Life was hectic; a mix of hospital appointments, school runs, work (also at the hospital!) and just generally raising the children. I was frazzled and stressed with no hobbies or time to myself, and I felt like I needed to do something before I completely lost myself.

One day I randomly saw a lady wearing a Hull 10k finisher t-shirt and thought, “I’m gonna do that!” I literally parked up and entered on my phone before I could change my mind. I’d never run for a bus before, never mind anything else! I completed it and raised over £1,000 for the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research.

When I started, I hadn’t known where running would take me but it has done more for me than I could have ever hoped. My mental well-being is so much better; when times are hard I’ll do my best to get out there and pound the pavement, clear my head and feel ready to face whatever is ahead.

In 2017, I ran 10 more races and ended with the Hull Marathon raising more money for FPWR. Who’d have thought that lazy Tracy could ever run 26.2 miles?! I wobbled a bit after that and wasn’t sure what to do next. I had a friend who was a member of Fitmums and she encouraged me to join. I struggle with social anxiety and the thought of running with groups of people has always filled me with dread, but I mustered the courage to join and haven’t looked back. Everyone is friendly and welcoming, and I love the camaraderie that Fitmums have. That camaraderie applies to runners in general – it’s a real community feeling and I love it. I can’t ever imagine not running now.

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