Relationship weight gain is real. A recent study found that three out of four Americans in a relationship are carrying around a little extra love. The study, conducted on behalf of Jenny Craig, reported that out of 2000 people (currently in relationships) the average respondent reported gaining 36 pounds since they started dating their partner and 17 of those pounds were gained in the first year.
But before you go and break up with your S.O. to save your figure, there are some alternative options, like pairing up with your partner for a sweat sesh (not just talking about what you do between the sheets). Exercising as a couple will actually increase the likelihood of you both sticking to healthy habits in the long term. Researchers at the University College London found that 70% of married couples over the age of 50 and living together over a 13-year span who exercised together, were still doing so two years later. In comparison, only a quarter of couples who worked out separately continued working out after two years.
I spoke with a few wellness experts about how they approach fitness in their own relationships and how they help other couples achieve their fitness goals. Here are a few tips on how to make working out fun with your partner and develop healthy habits you can stick to:
Justine Malick, LA-based fitness instructor at Wanderlust & Samarasa Yoga
“I think one of the biggest things for couples (and all people) to remember is that we all like to move in different ways. One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is support and space for exploration. If one partner is more athletic or naturally inclined to being active, then there has to be an element of compassion towards the other person.
Encouraging one’s partner to try our different movement modalities—yoga, Pilates, barre classes, Tai Chi, etc.—is a great way to offer support. It’s trial and error. Personally, I think it’s always best to start small. Going for a walk together is a perfect way to move and spend quality time in a way that is not competitive or intimidating.”
Alexandra Kirr, LA-based fitness instructor at Equinox & Pop Physique
“Coming from a relationship where I work out every day but my boyfriend NEVER works out, I recommend things that you both can find fun. I can almost always get him to hike or travel to a new city and walk around all day, or play some kind of activity like beach volleyball, tennis, paintballing (there’s actually a lot funning involved) but I would definitely avoid anything with serious weightlifting or that requires a particular skill set as one might feel less capable than the other and then give up right away. However, if you try doing a workout together with a really encouraging teacher or a darkroom class like spin where no one’s watching, it can be successful.”
Heather Adair, LA-based fitness instructor at Fitmix & Carrie’s Pilates
“I would say first and foremost you have to really know your partner and what language works best for them in terms of motivation and communication. Body image, goal setting, and weight loss can be tricky things enough to deal with on your own and then combining that with somebody else’s insecurities and goals can be a delicate territory. Thoughtful and clear communication about what would work best is the first step. If it’s within your budget, I’ve found that scheduling a personal trainer to come to our apartment two times a week has been a really great way for us to get a little extra quality time with each other.
Workouts that I’ve seen be successful for other couples are HIIT classes and spin! These are both workouts that you can tailor to your own goals and needs and also take at your own pace. If you’re a couple that participates in Class Pass, then sitting down at the beginning of the week and comparing schedules and finding a good time when you can squeeze in a workout together is another great way to get it done. If neither of those options are within your budget—because let’s be honest, it can get pretty expensive to stay healthy—something as simple as walking the dog together or going for a quick jog is better than nothing.”
Isabel Martinez, Registered Dietician & Exercise Physiologist
“It’s key to make sure fitness activities are voluntary and never put pressure on your partner to do something they don’t want to do. It’s all about baby steps. Try taking a walk after dinner outside because it doesn't seem like a workout, but it's quality time (and steps). Trying a new activity together can be fun like snorkeling, kayaking, stand-up paddleboard, or swimming are my top picks because there's a lot of things that will catch your attention and you forget that you're actually working out. Dance classes together could be a great option if you’re both up for it. My ex-boyfriend, when we ran together, he would pace down and run beside me saying, "c'mon you got this” and I always hated that. Get to know your partner. Does he/she zone out during workouts or prefer to be by him/herself?
As the weaker link, I always hate it when people pace down and don't get the best out of their workout because they accompany you. It's better to run at your own pace and maybe the faster one just needs to keep an eye on the slower one but no need to hover around him/her. It's also possible that both of you will have your own "thing,” so acknowledge and accept that. You can always try but don't expect to love every activity that your partner loves to do.”
I checked in with some friends about how they approach fitness with their partner and here’s what they had to say:
“My partner has never been athletic. Now that he travels and sits in the car for work it’s hard to get him motivated since it’s something he never really did. I had to change my expectations and be more realistic. My partner was never going to be a running partner for me or a gym rat. So instead, I tried to adjust the things I knew he loved into fitness activities. I know that he loves us all spending time together as a family so I suggest walks around our neighborhood. I always had the idea that being a “fit couple” meant that it had to be our main and only concern which isn’t realistic for us with our son. I tend to have an all or nothing view of things, but I’ve realized that even choosing to be active in any way for one of the hours we usually spend watching tv makes us both feel better which strengthens our family.” -Kerry, 28 years old, Portland, Maine
“My partner is definitely the more active one in our relationship. I go through phases and fluctuate with exercise where it’s something I do for the benefit afterward but not something I enjoy in the moment. My partner is the opposite and has no problem getting motivated to do a workout. He will usually invite me but won’t pressure me to do it. Sometimes his enthusiasm is contagious and I jump on board, and other times I’d prefer to do something else. I think the key is that he is always coming from a place of wanting to spend time and wanting me to enjoy the benefits of working out rather than trying to make me into his ideal workout buddy. He also makes an effort to do activities that we are both comfortable with like training our dog, taking a long walk, or trying something new like tennis.” -Hailey, 26 years old San Francisco, California
“When it comes to motivation for my husband...it takes a good bet. He will do anything for a wager. When I was six months pregnant, he was about 30 pounds overweight. My dad bet him to drop from 245 to 215 before the baby arrived. If he lost the weight in time, my dad was going to grow a mustache. He dropped the weight in three months. I know his motivation was solely proving my dad wrong and having him grow a mustache. I now know when I need to motivate him, I make a bet. Challenge accepted. Hiking has become our favorite fitness activity to do together because we can still talk at that pace, enjoy the scenery, and spend time with our dogs all at the same time while still getting a workout. Stretching is also a big part of our daily routine. If we have a lazy weekend, we will pull up a 20-minute yoga video on our computer and do it in the living room. Makes a weekend full of binge-watching tv feel a little less guilty.” - Catherine, 32 years old Hanover, New Hampshire
“This has been especially difficult because my husband's job has been relentless. I am worried about his health because he has stopped working out and is only getting five to six hours of sleep a night on a good night! It’s hard to balance (after a long day of work) with healthy habits. We became new parents a few months ago, so one thing I have been doing to keep him motivated is offering to let him sleep in the guest room (since the baby is in our room) if he works out after work. This was very motivating, lol.
On the weekends, I suggest family walks so he can both hang with our kid and dog (who he doesn't see during the week) and get moving outside. Since the weather is getting better, I remind him to bring his workout bag to work just in case he gets a free hour before dark! Honestly, I have gotten so desperate that I beg him to play golf on the weekends (something he used to beg me to do, haha) so he gets out for both mental and physical recharging. I am also trying to be patient and remember that sleep is probably more important than exercise right now, but it is definitely hard to see a former athlete have no time for exercise.” -Sophia, 31 years old, Richmond, Virginia
It goes without saying that there are a ton of benefits to staying active, yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 23 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 actually get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobics) per week. That’s a TON of people who aren’t prioritizing their health. Nonetheless, I get it.
Some days working out can feel like a chore whereas other days it’s something I look forward to most, but being “healthy” doesn’t have to be a boring, isolating, all-or-nothing commitment that you dread or obsess over. Finding ways to be active as a couple can have positive effects on not only your health but your relationship as well.