Studies show exercising as a couple can make positive impacts on fitness, health, and relationships.
The common refrain of “The couple that sweats together, stays together” is often quoted to encourage and motivate couples to exercise. Resolutions to keep a regular routine for working out can be disrupted by family or work obligations, lack of motivation, and other general time constraints. Can working out with your partner be a catalyst for motivation and help increase commitment to exercise?
Research presented at the 2015 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that the activity level of one spouse is able to considerably impact the activity level of the other. Researchers discovered that if one participant met activity recommendations at that first study visit, the other spouse was significantly more likely to meet those same recommendations.
Nearly 20 years earlier, kinesiology researchers from Indiana University found notably higher attendance rates and smaller dropout rates in a university fitness plan in married couples when both participated together. The theory behind this finding was that better exercise compliance was influenced by spousal motivation and support, rather than self-discipline.
Is It for Us?
After extolling the benefits of working out as a couple, I am going to add some caveats for consideration. Staying realistic will help avoid disappointment and frustration.
1. What are your workout styles as individuals?
If your idea of working out is a run outside on a brisk day, but your partner likes to sweat it out with heavy weights at the gym, are you totally incompatible exercise partners? Not necessarily. Relationships are about compromise, right? You might find that a park with an obstacle course will get that heart rate up while providing some body weight and resistance exercises that work those muscles. Staying flexible (both literally and figuratively) can help both parties reach fitness goals.
2. What are your schedules?
If you work during the day, but your spouse works evenings so you can split childcare, it might be a challenge to find days and times available to both of you to workout at the same time. Here’s where communication is key. Maybe you think that it’s a given your spouse watches the kids while you work out on Tuesdays. Have you asked her if she’d like to join you? Maybe she’d like to suggest a workout for the two of you to try but has not felt that she has had the freedom to communicate her ideas.
Keeping lines of communication open and being honest is the best way to start organizing your schedules and managing logistics so you can have some stress-free time together.
3. Is there a power imbalance?
Right now, you may be thinking “Power imbalance? Of course not! This is 2022! We’re a modern couple”. Consider this: power imbalances can take many forms and is not just about who makes decisions in the family. There might be an imbalance of fitness levels. There might be an imbalance of knowledge. Tread lightly if you recognize that you have more knowledge, for example, about lifting weights. Of course, you don’t want your beloved to get hurt so do speak up. You also don’t want to come across as a know-it-all. It’s always a good practice to verbalize your concern before you make the correction. This might be “Hey, I’m afraid you’ll be really sore if you try running at a sprint off the bat”, or “I’ve hurt my back doing that lift. I’m worried you’ll do the same. Can I show you something that may feel weird at first but will protect your back?”.
4. It won’t save your relationship.
Researchers at Brigham Young University hypothesized that couples who were already in therapy would experience additional benefits by working out together. Instead, their study showed that, at least at first, exercising together increased the incidents of arguing.
Bottom line: stay realistic. If you and your spouse find ways to argue about various things, don’t think that shared gym time will fix this.
Now that you know the benefits and potential challenges of working out with your partner, here are some ideas to help you get started:
If you and your mate are at similar fitness levels, couple workouts will be easier to locate. Yoga classes for couples, boxing workouts, TRX, and Bootcamps all tend to offer classes amenable to working out with a partner, even if the class descriptions don’t explicitly state this.
On the other hand, what if you are a devoted exerciser and your spouse is sedentary? Or what if you favor easy workouts and your spouse is a die-hard athlete? There are couple exercises for you, too. Consider some of these opportunities.
Playground Circuit Workout
As mentioned earlier, this can be self-paced, and each individual can go as hard (or not) as they like. This do-it-yourself option is ideal for couples who live in an area with a park close by. Bring a stopwatch and take turns timing each other while you do activities that are suitable for your fitness level.
Endurance activities might be a challenge for couples to do together if both of you aren’t similarly fit. But strength training is easier. You might consider investing in a few dumbbells or resistance bands for your home or head to the weight room at your local gym. Though you may not be able to spot one another, you can provide each other form tips and encouragement.
Cycling With an E-bike
Going outdoors for a bike ride is an excellent way to spend time together. However, if your physical abilities aren’t exactly equal, an E-bike can help make up for what is lacking. This way, you and your partner can ride side by side without one “taking it easy”.
Companies are making smartly designed electric bikes that give you just enough assistance with pedaling that your workout doesn’t become non-existent yet gives an individual the boost to get up that hill. Commuter, cargo, cruiser, road, and mountain e-bikes are available for every type of rider.
Couple Mini-Workouts from Home
If there are just not enough times during the day that you actually see each other, cut out the commute time and do a home workout. Do a 30-Day Challenge (Burpees and squats come to mind) that you can complete together in a few minutes. You could try a yoga app or YouTube channel together, bearing in mind the length of time you can allow for your practice.
These Games are OK to Play in Your Relationship
Enjoy some friendly competition? You both might like a game of tennis, racquetball, or even taking on the batting cages on a Sunday afternoon instead of vegging on the couch.
Full disclosure: my husband and I met at a gym. Through the years we have worked out together, gone to the gym together and worked out separately, and now he goes to the gym and I run and do body weight exercises (mainly so I can take our dogs on a run–tired dog are good dogs). And like many things lately, COVID has had an impact on our workout routines. Stay patient and flexible with your exercise expectations as a couple and you’ll have a great start at building relationship and fitness goals.
About the author: Angela Rush holds a Master’s degree in Nursing Informatics and has been an RN for 27 years. She lives with her husband in Springfield and together they have 6 children and 2 grandchildren.