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Don’t Sweat Solo: 5 Tips for Making Friends at the Gym

February 20, 2014

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Yesterday, we posted an article about the challenges of making new friends in adulthood. With the school playground a fuzzy memory, Girl Scouts only barely sharper, and college socials pretty darn hazy (maybe for various reasons), it can be hard to expand your social circle in adult life. The advice you usually get is to put yourself out there more—start taking classes, join groups, or attend social gatherings.

This is, of course, all great advice, but c’mon—who has time for that? I don’t know about you, but I feel impressed with myself if I get to the gym after work and manage to throw together dinner at home instead of collapsing on the couch and ordering delivery.

But wait—the answer is right there. The gym! You’re surrounded by people who you already know have a few things in common with you—you live or work near the facility, you value exercise, you have an appreciation for purple yoga pants—plus it’s a place where you’re already spending an hour or so of your time. Potential new friends without having to squeeze anything else into your daily routine…rejoice in the beauty of multitasking!

The question remains, though, how do you translate a gym acquaintance into something more substantial? While everyone has unique social styles, and varying circumstances demand different approaches, these 5 steps are bound to nab you a buddy by the time spin class is over.

1)      Start a conversation before class starts. Ask something like, “Have you taken this class before?” Regardless of the answer, ask some follow-up questions. Avoid dead-end questions or ones that require one word answers like “Do I need to get a mat for this class?” Instead, ask something that has the potential to open up the conversation: “What do you like about this class?” or “What other classes have you tried here?” Out on the gym floor or in the locker room things are a little trickier—people are wearing headphones, or are in the zone, or are just getting out of the shower—but you can use a similar approach. Note: correcting someone’s form is not a good conversation opener, nor is asking anyone anything when they’re wrapped in a towel. Instead, ask someone about the magazine they’re carrying while you wait in line for the water fountain. 

2)      Empathize mid-workout. Whether it’s commiserating with eye contact during a particularly brutal squat set, a big smile during a rejuvenating yoga hold, or shared laughter when you mess up the steps in Zumba, connecting during exercise is a great way to build an immediate connection. Capitalize on those pumping endorphins!

3)      Debrief post-workout. Try something like “Man, I needed that,” plus a few words that open up the conversation to your non-gym life. Maybe “I just got back from a vacation so I’m feeling a little out of shape,” or “I helped my best friend move this weekend so my arms are crazy sore from lifting boxes!” or “I haven’t taken a yoga class since I was in college in Texas!”—anything that opens the door for him or her to share some personal info as well.

4)      Make your move. Sure, it’s not like you’re asking them to go steady, but taking the first step toward friendship outside of the gym can still be pretty nerve-racking. So, make it small and manageable. If you go to a gym with a juice bar or café inside, that’s a great choice. “Want to grab a smoothie with me downstairs?” is a laidback first step that lets you both remain on common ground and requires little time commitment. If an in-gym sit-down isn’t an option, suggest a coffee shop nearby, or even ask if he or she would like to stretch together. Ten minutes of chatting and stretching is good for your social life—and your muscles! 

5)      Follow up. I don’t mean be aggressive or annoying—some people aren’t looking to make friends at the gym. But a lot of people are in the same boat as you, and just need a little bit of nudging to inch themselves out of their comfort zone. Next time you see that person at the gym, walk over and say hi. Ask how their week is going. If you’re in a class together, chat before and after it ends. Let them know what classes you’re planning on going to that week (or what times you plan on being at the gym). Who knows, maybe they’ll try to come when they know their gym pal will be there, too! Before long it will feel completely natural to tell them what you’re up to that weekend and extend an invitation. Once you spend time together outside the gym, you’ll be on the road to BFF—and you’ll still have time to get dinner on the table!