Couple Interview with Amy and AJ
We interviewed the power duo Amy Zhang (of The Luxi Look) and AJ Harbinger (of The Art of Charm) about the compromises, challenges, and ultimate rewards of prioritizing health as a couple. Not only did they train and run a half marathon together, Amy and AJ had all the excuses in the world not to work out— like opposing schedules and completely different workout interests — but never let them interfere with their goals.
This honest conversation about what it took to overhaul their fitness and lifestyle and to get on the same page is the inspiration every couple needs to hear.
when a pick-up line turns into a promise
1. Can you give me a quick overview of how you two met?
AJ: It was Labor Day Weekend and Amy was in Las Vegas celebrating a bachelorette party. I was with some friends and we actually met on Labor Day at Encore Beach Club.
Amy: Yeah, we met at a pool party!
2. Why did you decide to run a half marathon together? Did you have experience running before that?
AJ: So, at the Las Vegas pool party over Labor Day Weekend, Amy had just finished a half marathon. She was talking about it that day — about the experience, training for it, how much she loved running.
I, actually, was not a huge fan of running but I was on my own fitness journey. I had been working out most of the summer with Johnny doing a lot of lifting, hiking, and interval training. So, the idea of running a half marathon was a curiosity to me. Our conversation kind of focused on us running a half marathon together at some point and how fun that would be to run with someone we knew.
Well… it took a little while! Approximately five years later, I started training and we signed up to run the half marathon. So, in a lot of ways, it was a promise kept for Amy.
Amy: Yes, I believe what you said was, “I would LOVE to run a half marathon with you.”
AJ: Yes, that is a direct quote. “I would love to run a half marathon with you.”
Amy: It was a promise that I held you to!
3. Was this the first time that you worked out together? What compromises did you have to make to exercise together?
AJ: Amy has always been an avid runner. I, on the other hand, am not really inspired by running.
When Amy moved out to LA, she signed up for ClassPass and started trying out a bunch of different fitness classes. Amy encouraged me to go to the classes with her. She was meeting some friends in workout classes and she thought it would be fun to go together and meet more great people together. But I had some hesitancy because I was really focused on my own workout plan of lifting weights and interval training. Still, I didn’t really have a strict regimen and Amy, twisting my arm a little bit, convinced me to try out some classes on ClassPass.
Now I think we’ve tried everything under the sun.
Amy: We’ve done them all! AJ has been to yoga, hot yoga, not-hot yoga, stretching yoga…
AJ: Pilates (where I was the only guy in class)…
Amy: Yup, pilates in a hot pink studio…
AJ: I think my favorite fitness story was the class with the shake plate.
Amy: Yeah, it’s called PLATEFIT. You stand on this vibrating machine and it shakes. You feel like you have a headache the whole time!
AJ: I was one of four people in class, closest to the window. It’s a tiny studio so as the class was ending, everyone was waiting to get into the studio. They were all just staring through the window at me shaking away in a plank hold on the plate!
So that’s really what inspired the fitness, we were just trying a bunch of different things. Amy fell in love with Barry’s Bootcamp and begged me to take some classes there. As someone who didn’t really enjoy running, the idea of getting on a treadmill and running at high speeds at a high incline was not interesting to me. But, I ended up taking a couple of classes. I did not really like them, but Amy is very persuasive…
AJ: …and her persistence started to pay off! I started going more regularly to Barry’s while pushing myself on the treadmill.
We actually enjoy one of the tougher trainers there because he really focuses on runs. As I started to see my run speeds pick up and feel a lot better on the treadmill, I was like, “Hey, what would be a fun challenge for us?” That’s when that half marathon bubbled up to the surface again. So we decided to finally just do it and signed up for it.
Amy: When it came to running the race, what really helped us bond together as a couple was having that shared goal and shared milestone to work towards and work on together. We trained together on our long runs before the race. We wouldn’t run together during the week because I travel a lot for work, but, we would do it on weekends.
It was really, really good for just bonding time. For me it was like, “Ooh, I have a captive audience and I can talk about whatever I want to talk about for 2-hours!” We talked a lot. Plus, it forced us to go to bed earlier on the weekends and not go out as much. We also had to be really careful about what we ate the night before because we knew that we would have a 7, 8, 9, or 10-mile training run. We wanted to make sure we fueled properly for that… but I think we did one run after having a couple of drinks and swore never to do that again!
AJ: Also, we had set goals. I had never run any long distances before. Running, as I said, was not very interesting to me so I set a goal of 1 hour 45 minutes and built out a training plan with my trainer. Amy basically followed the same training plan as me, keeping pace with me throughout all of the training.
Come race day, I really wanted to hit my goal. I was focused on hitting that goal but we did want to run the race together. So for at least three-quarters of the race…
Amy: It’s up for debate.
AJ: We won’t get into it, it’s a point of contention… but for at least three-quarters of the race, we ran side-by-side together. Then I wanted to kick it up a notch. Amy of course, being as competitive as she is, was not going to let that happen. So she chased me down. I completed and crossed the finish line, expecting to at least be able to finish my banana and catch my breath while waiting for her. I turned around and, lo and behold, she was right behind me. So we could have just run together! Which is, yes, the greater point. And now we do run together.
4. Were there any bad habits that you had to overcome to reach your goal?
Amy: Umm, yes!
AJ: As Amy said, drinking was a big one. Obviously if you’re doing long runs on the weekend — and that’s the way we set up our training — we can’t really go out drinking on a Friday night and expect to get 10-miles in the next morning. So, there were a lot of tough choices around socializing with friends, really pushing all of our friends to come work out with us, and go to Barry’s Bootcamp classes together. Our social life did take a back seat during the training, especially as we got closer to the race.
Amy: I think also waking up early, since we both work.
AJ: Well, when we met, I was not a morning person!
Amy: Oh yes, that’s a good point to make.
AJ: My job often involves entertaining clients and going out pretty late. When we met, I was living the bachelor lifestyle so, you know, my mornings would start around 10 which was a little shocking for Amy…
Amy: Or 11 or 12, I would get a text, “I just woke up!”
AJ: So, obviously in order to get the training in, you’ve got to be doing it early. Thankfully Amy has guided me towards the early morning rise, and that habit has helped tremendously.
5. What is your health routine and what is the most critical part (ie. having a trainer, strategy, goal, better nutrition, accountability buddy, etc.)?
Amy: I think honestly all of them but we’ve seen the most results by really creating a routine. I really commend you for living on the go and staying motivated because I think we rely on each other quite a bit and other factors to stay motivated. I know having a trainer has been really helpful for AJ.
AJ: I think the other big thing was that we told people we were running this half marathon. Once you tell people and you share it with people who are close to you, it just adds that extra layer of accountability. So you really couldn’t back out. I set the goal with my trainer, I told the goal to my friends, and Amy was participating in the training with me.
I had all of that accountability from the trainer to running with Amy to my friends being like, “Hey the race is coming up, how’s it going? How’s the training going?” So I think a lot of times it’s difficult to find the motivation on your own and to get the accountability on your own. Involving other people to amp things up has worked really well.
Amy: Definitely discipline is key and having a little bit of help in that area has really helped us over the last couple of years.
6. Have the benefits of getting healthier together spilled over to other areas of life (ie. professionally, more active vacations, etc.)?
AJ: Amy would agree with the active vacations! I would say that the biggest thing has been creating this habit and this routine all around fitness and really being focused on that.
As you started the training, you started conditioning in the mornings. All of a sudden you become a morning person. All of a sudden fitness becomes that first thing you have to tackle every day. Once you get through that, then of course you have more energy for work, you show up and that accountability comes along with it. So I’ve certainly grown professionally because of this fitness routine. I’ve grown personally, and I have more energy. Now, when we’re traveling, we look for more active things to do and always try to get that workout in to start our day no matter where we are.
Amy: I think it’s also helped professionally because people like to ask, “What do you like to do for fun?” Or “What do you do in the mornings?” It’s very impressive to them if you’re active.
Then you can also find other people who share those interests. It’s a great way to bond. We’ve been kind of pushing our friends and people that we’re trying to get to know professionally to suggest, “Instead of drinks, let’s go on a hike, or do a class together…” I think just making fitness a part of our lifestyle and communicating that to everyone we know has been really huge for us because, at this point, we’ve decided that it’s really important for us. It’s a priority and we always want to make sure we do it. So I guess now everyone knows us as the “couple that works out together.”
AJ: Yeah, we are the “fitness couple.” Also, what was fun in the training leading up to the race was when we started hitting our times, our personal trainer requested that we participate in his fitness course. I never in a million years would have thought that I would be in a running course! It’s called The Tread Series, a treadmill course and we are running for a good thirty minutes at top speeds!
Amy: Huffing and puffing, competing with each other.
AJ: Had we never signed up for the race, I obviously never would have experienced that
Amy: I think we should also address that sometimes it’s easy to be competitive with your partner or maybe not see eye-to-eye on everything. I think supporting each other and holding each other accountable has been really important for us while merging our fitness journeys. For a long time, AJ was doing his own thing and I was doing my own thing. It took a really long time for us to find shared interests and it took a really long time for us to end up on the same schedule but it’s helped our relationship a lot.
You know, working out together is time that we carve out for each other. Life is really busy and we don’t always have time to do all of the things we want to do. Setting aside that hour together has been really helpful for us to bond even when we’re in the middle of a really busy time.
AJ: Absolutely. I mean, we worked out this morning and now it’s become something that we always start our day with. It’s created that space for us to bond, whether it’s going to a class or going on a hike together…
Amy: …and just meeting other like-minded people so a lot of our friends are very similar.
7. What advice do you have for couples who want to start working out together?
Amy: For me, the biggest piece of advice I have is to be patient. Give your partner some slack and hopefully they’re giving you some slack in the areas that you need some more time to work on. No one is perfect, so just being really understanding that we all have different reasons for fitness and for working out. Also just really understanding that your partner may need some more time and not to get frustrated with them when they make a mistake or when they don’t do something that you want them to do because it is a journey together.
Looking back, I would never would have thought, “Fitness is now a part of our life.” When we met, it just wasn’t. If you had asked us, “What do you guys like to do?” we would never had said that fitness was really important for all of these reasons.
AJ: I, as the one who was dragged, kicking and screaming, sometimes fought the journey a little bit. It was intimidating at first. Amy, as you know, is in incredible shape. It’s always been incredibly important to her.
For me, it was intimidating signing up for some of these classes, knowing that I might not be the fastest or the strongest, and wondering if everyone will be looking at me. I had to work through my own insecurities around fitness, so Amy’s patience definitely paid off.
The other thing is to keep trying. As we said, we tried probably thirty different classes together. We were doing circuits and we were doing pilates. Slowly but surely, it just opened my mind up to all of these possibilities around fitness and we found a few things that worked and then we just stuck with them.
So you know it’s probably not going to happen right out of the gate where you just bond. There’s usually going to be one partner who at first will be a little bit more fitness-oriented and probably in a little bit better shape. Being patient with the other partner and allowing them opportunities to find their own rhythm is important.
Amy: I want to add that finding a shared goal is really helpful if you don’t know where to begin.
The last thing is just to have fun. We had a lot of fun, like AJ said, doing every class under the sun like salsa dancing in Tulum! Now I’m trying to drag him to a new dance class in LA.
AJ: Hip hop dance class is up next!
Amy: Neither of us are good dancers but that’s not the point. It’s just always finding new ways for us to bond and connect. It’s a fun date night and a nice change from just dinner, drinks, or a movie!
About Amy Zhang & AJ Harbinger
Amy Zhang is the founder of LA-based fashion and lifestyle blog The Luxi Look. Through her articles and Instagram posts, she shares her fashion, travel, beauty, and health tips for women looking to build confidence and learn how to find and express their own style. Outside of running The Luxi Look, Amy balances her style and creativity with working full-time as a marketing and growth manager at an investment firm. She describes her personal style as “laidback and relatable with a pop of color.”
AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality. AJ’s weekly podcasts cover topics from overcoming self-doubt to interviews with legendary experts like Kobe Bryant, Charles Duhigg, and David Goggins.