Buddy Up

Working out as a couple allows you to stay in shape—and stay in touch.

by Beverly Burmeier

July/August 2011

It’s no secret that working out with a partner leads to a more fulfilling, longer-lasting exercise program. But how can you get the most out of exercising with your mate, especially if you are at different levels—or one of you is reluctant to tackle the gym?

Couples tend to embrace each other’s goals and health habits, says Los Angeles trainer and weightlifting champion Jerzy Gregorek, who, with his wife Aniela, wrote The Happy Body (Jurania Press). “Exercising together improves fitness while providing friendship, support and energy to help each one move forward,” Gregorek says. “Taking care of your body shows the pride and respect you have for each other.” When partners commit to getting healthy together, body, mind and soul all benefit.

His ‘n Hers Workouts

Women tend to favor cardio while men typically favor strength training. However, Stacy Berman, an American Council on Exercise-certified instructor in New York City, says, “Regardless what your goals are, you need to do both.” If you’re unsure about one area of fitness, let your partner help you become more proficient.

When strength training to tone and tighten, the basic rule is that women should use less weight and do more repetitions than men. A simple method for adapting to different ability levels, either at the gym or home, is using dumbbells of different weights. When using machines, help each other load and unload weights. Gregorek recommends resting between sets, so take turns completing each set of an exercise. Switching places also provides an opportunity to check the other person’s form, help correct mistakes and be available to spot one another when needed. The result is a safer exercise session for both partners.

Berman, also certified by National Academy of Sports Medicine, prefers body-weight exercises over machines, so she teaches clients to do partner push-ups, wheelbarrows and piggy-back rides to build strength. (For full instructions on various exercises, visit the American Council on Exercise’s library at www.acefitness.org/exerciselibrary.)

When doing cardio workouts, partners can choose treadmills or cardio machines next to each other, so you work side by side but at your own speed, intensity, incline or resistance level. Outdoors, try running at full speed for a specified time—say 30 seconds—then resting before sprinting again. Each person may run a different distance, Berman says, but the workout stays coordinated.
Or go hiking. Gregorek likes activities in which couples can have a conversation and enjoy each other’s company.

When staying fit is among your shared interests and hobbies, the possibilities for discovering new and exciting activities are endless. Compromise on activities in your workout program, or do different exercises on alternate days. If you’re open-minded and willing to try your partner’s ideas you won’t ever get bored.

Consistent encouragement from a partner is one of the strongest motivators for doing your best. “Just being with another person is energizing, so you’ll end up doing better than on your own,” Gregorek says. A little competition can lighten the mood as long as you keep the other person’s needs and comfort level in mind, and realize that staying fit is a cumulative process.

Fitter Relationships

Scheduling workout time together lets you reach fitness goals without sacrificing the precious one-on-one time every relationship needs. When working cooperatively to perform routines and activities you learn to appreciate each other’s abilities. During exercise sessions, balance time for socializing with intense exercising, so both partners enjoy accomplishing their goals.

You’ll also create a deeper bond because exercise produces endorphins, chemicals in the brain that evoke feelings of happiness and reduce stress. “If you focus on each other during the workout it’s easier to forget about the world’s stresses, and those pleasant feelings will remain after your session is over,” Gregorek says.

Plenty of options are available for those who would rather exercise outside the gym. Walk, jog or bike in your neighborhood or a nearby park. Choose a route that allows the fitter partner to keep going after the other one has dropped out. Nurture your inner child by jumping rope, running up stairs or doing jumping jacks.

If you prefer to exercise in a more social setting, sign up for salsa, tango or disco dance classes together. “Dancing helps improve flexibility, strength and posture, and it’s enjoyable,” notes Gregorek.

Swimming is a great stress reliever and leg workout. Stop and chat after a few laps, or swim side by side. Interactive sports such as tennis or squash provide fun, heart-healthy exercise and a chance to work out tension before couple-time kicks in again.

Yoga is for guys, too, and you’ll both appreciate the mental and physical benefits. Look for partner classes, or ask the instructor for ways to adapt poses and exercises, if necessary. Assisted stretching can increase flexibility by using your partner’s body as resistance; however, Gregorek advises letting an instructor show you how to get the best results without overdoing the amount of push.

After working out, celebrate your commitment—to a healthier lifestyle and each other—with a veggie drink at the juice bar or a nutritious cool-down dinner. Berman says, “Sharing good times with someone you care about brings you closer together.”

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