Working Out As A Couple: A Complete Guide
We specialize in helping couples live healthier and happier lives. As a couple who works out together successfully, we’re always asked, How do I get my spouse to work out with me?”
Working out as a couple can be, what’s the word… complicated. But, we have worked through our challenges and gained experience working with hundreds of clients who want to motivate their partner to exercise with them.
We have learned a lot about the challenges that commonly derail a couple’s success and also heard advice from successful couples. In this in-depth guide, we’ll share everything we know about how to make working out as a couple a long-term habit.
the guide to working out as a couple
“How do I get my significant other to work out with me?”
After working as health coaches since 2013, it’s the number one question we have received from hundreds of couples. Naturally, it’s a loaded question with infinite, unique answers.
If you search online, there are scientific studies on the benefits of working out as a couple, but it’s mostly advice from couples sharing their successes and failures.
You’ll come up with dozens of responses from open communication to mutual health goals to persistence. While we agree with all of these, these articles fail to mention the one secret to success that people never consider doing because it’s not intuitive.
This one secret to success has hands down been the most effective way for our clients to start working out as a couple. If you’re reading this article, chances are you are doing well with your fitness and have been trying to get your partner to join you for months, if not years.
Well, you might not like our advice, but if you are serious about making exercise as a couple a long term habit, do this: take a step back to your partner’s fitness level.
Why Your Spouse Won’t Work Out With You
Since you found this article, it’s clear that being more active with your partner is a priority. And this might not be the first time you have done your research.
Chances are, you have been doing everything right. You’re leading by example to show your partner how much you value exercise and healthy living. Instead of nagging your spouse about getting off the couch, you’re empowering them to help you stay on track via post-dinner walks. Maybe you have even had a difficult conversation with them about how you want to be healthier together.
It’s the nature of the beast to have two different skill levels for health and fitness among two people. While this imbalance can cause stress, jealousy, or overwhelm, it is also your opportunity to better connect with each other to build a healthier foundation.
The truth is, it’s not an opportunity for your partner to be motivated by you and leap into action. That seldom works. Instead, you, the more active partner, needs to take on a leadership role.
Are you actually being a leader?
Now, you might reply, “I am the leader. I already eat well and work out almost every day of the week! I lead by example.” That’s true.
However, be honest with yourself. That is something you likely do for yourself, regardless of whether or not your significant other joins in.
Therefore, you’re not truly being the leader. And, if leading by example hasn’t worked for you yet, it’s more likely that you’re the problem.
Being the leader means closing the gap between you and your partner’s fitness levels. You must start where they are. Yes, if they’re on Chapter 2 of their fitness journey and you’re on Chapter 26, you need to go backwards to get on the same page.
We told you this wasn’t intuitive. This compromise shows your commitment to the health of the duo. It shows that you’re a team, and you’re in it to win it together.
No more separate workouts
Imagine how intimidating it is for your spouse when they see how far ahead you are in your fitness journey? Meet them where they are to make their journey feel more manageable.
You might have dreams of being in a physique competition or qualifying for an elite obstacle race, but what’s more important? Those individual goals or the combined health goals of you and the most important person in your life?
Don’t think of going backward as a negative. Being aligned in your health and fitness for the long term creates a major life upgrade. Being physically fit as a couple opens the flood gates to more adventure, spontaneity, happiness, and crushing shared goals together in the future.
We promise, leading your partner and accomplishing new goals together will be far more rewarding than tackling Chapter 27 alone.
Become a leader to motivate your spouse to work out
Now, you’re wondering how you can become a leader. Maybe your spouse loves biking but you decline bike rides because you don’t enjoy it as much. Or, you’re thinking of past activities that your partner loved. Could you reignite their passion for hiking?
These are all great questions. To help you plan how you will take this first step to work out as a couple, here are real-life examples from our coaching practice.
1. She steps back to bike with him
Ann was motivated with her workouts and wanted her partner to be as well. Therefore, she went to the gym, consistently asked her partner, Aaron, to join, and prepared healthy meals. After 2 years, she progressed, but Aaron was still a couch potato.
She became the leader by stepping back from her workout program, to join his favorite activity, biking. After a few days of riding their bikes together after work, Aaron became curious about her workouts and was more willing to join.
So, they started with a beginner, at-home yoga program together and have been advancing their journey together ever since. Bit by bit.
2. He starts a dancing workout with her
Doug was a traveling salesman and a natural athlete, always finding it easy to work out and play on multiple sports teams. His spouse, Regina, who was less athletic and worked from home, wanted to get in shape but was highly intimidated by Doug’s fitness level.
After years of positivity and encouragement, nothing seemed to work. Doug decided to become the leader by committing to a workout program of his spouse’s choosing: a cardio dance program.
He didn’t love the workouts, but he loved that it made them more active than they had been in years.
3. He bought a home gym and they discovered lifting
Jim was always fit and could eat anything as long as he did his cardio. His significant other, Sarah, worked out consistently, but her body wasn’t as forgiving with junk food. Josh saw her frustration and decided to become the leader.
He cleaned out the cupboard, prepared healthier meals, and bought some dumbbells for their new home gym. After following a lifting program together for a few months, Jim and Sarah both realized that they enjoyed lifting weights.
She lost inches, and he gained muscle, which motivated them to continue eating and cooking clean.
If your significant other won’t work out with you, it’s time for you to take a step back and close the gap.
Think of this action as “slowing down to go fast.” Once you are working out together consistently, you can start to share the leadership role.
Soon, your significant other will be pestering you to get out of bed and work out!
Why Motivate Your Spouse To Work Out With You
Taking the leadership role and closing the fitness level gap in your relationship is by far the most proven method to get your partner to work out with you.
Of course, in this complete guide, we share other tips and recommendations to nudge and motivate your partner to start working out with you, but first, we’d like to highlight the key benefits of couple workouts.
We all know that exercise has tremendous health benefits. According to a Huffington Post article, Healthy Eating, Exercise Linked With Workplace Productivity, a new study shows that eating unhealthily is linked with a 66% increased risk of loss of productivity, while rare exercise is linked with a 50% increased risk of low productivity.
Fitness fuels your mind and body. That’s why we all want our significant other to be on board, right? Unfortunately, when they are not, not only do we miss out on these benefits, but not working out together could actually harm your relationship and your health.
Regarding your health, some stats show that working out as a couple can 2-5X increase your results and probability of long-term habit change. If you work out separately or one of you doesn’t exercise at all, those numbers can work against you. More on those numbers soon.
Regarding your relationship, exercise could easily become a source of contention. If one partner is exercising and making progress, but the other isn’t, it makes the other feel insecure, guilty, or jealous. They might think, “Why is she so motivated to work out. Who is she trying to impress?”
On the other hand, the “healthier” partner may feel like their hard work isn’t appreciated or feel derailed if their partner is pushing poor choices on them. Also, it will be frustrating when their partner is upset by how much time they’re committing to their workouts.
So, here is a brief explanation of the benefits of couple workouts. Exercising as a couple has the power to change your minds, bodies, and relationship. In our opinion, there is no better way to spend time together.
For a deeper dive into the partner workout benefits, check out our article titled ‘Benefits of Working Out With Your Spouse.‘
The Science-Backed Benefits of Couple Workouts
1. More accountability
We can all agree that bringing the person you live with and the person who knows you best into your fitness plan will have great accountability benefits.
In one study comparing married pairs to married singles, only 6.3% of married pairs who quit smoking started back up again, as compared to 43% of the married singles.
The same study showed that married pairs working out together were twice as likely to experience weight loss. What’s more, two years later, 70% of married pairs continued to work out weekly. Their solo counterparts were only 25% as likely.
“Men and women are more likely to make a positive health behavior change if their partner does too. Involving partners in behavior change interventions may therefore help improve outcomes.”
– Dr. Sarah E. Jackson from the University College London in a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine
2. Better results
Just like you wouldn’t watch YouTube videos at your desk while your boss is hovering, nobody wants to look like a weakling in front of their partner. Or maybe it’s the competition heating up. Whatever the cause, science shows that working out as a couple can 2X your performance.
3. Improved intimacy
Exercising as a couple is a form of intimacy. When you are working out together, you’re sweating, breathing heavily, moving quickly, and releasing endorphins.
One study shows that exercise provides physiological arousal, stimulating our brains in a way similar to lovemaking. Therefore, working out as a couple provides an “arousal-attraction effect.”
Additionally, with the digital world expanding into new areas of life every year, we need to be more intentional about human touch. Physical touch can be a significant part of working out as a couple.
Couples who touch each other, like congratulatory spankings during exercise, are happier and stay together longer. Try our couple’s yoga poses to increase physical touch. Your improved physical bond can translate to your sex life.
4. Stronger bond
When you work out as a couple, following the same movements together, scientists call that mimicry. One study, comparing mimicking pairs to non-mimicking pairs, drew this conclusion.
“Results revealed that mimickers and mimickees became more effectively attuned to each other due to bidirectional influences of mimicry.”
– Dr. Marielle Stel from the University of Twente in a study published in the British Journal of Psychology
Who knew that we are boosting our bond while doing high knees together?!
Less science-based but still factual benefits
1. More variety
When you are balancing the interests and goals of two people, it might feel like you have to compromise. But really, you are gaining variety that produces more well-rounded and balanced physical fitness.
If your spouse loves running and you hate it, do you think it’s possible you hate it because you’re not good at running? It sounds like an opportunity to learn from her, spend time running with her, and improve your overall fitness.
2. Couples who sweat together, stay together
It’s not just a cliché, pinnable quote. It carries a lot of weight. When you try new things together, this study shows that the experience boosts relationship satisfaction and makes you more in love.
Furthermore, recent social studies show that couples who are aligned in their life purpose have a better chance of staying together. So, if you want to consistently sweat together, Prevention Magazine (although they don’t cite their source) claims that 94% of couples stuck to their workout plan when they did it TOGETHER (not separately).
One last thought, it’s likely that couples who sweat together fight less, or at least more productively. Exercise-induced endorphins reduce stress while improving mood and focus.
3. More quality time
Did you know the average couple spends 35 minutes a week total having meaningful, non-logistical conversations? Treating your workouts together as a date is a productive way to spend quality time together. It’s a great time to catch up, but if you can talk normally, you aren’t working hard enough.
Working out as a couple yields a 2X boost in performance, a 2X increase in weight loss short term, and about 3X more likely to stay on track long term.
Couples who work out together naturally experience more variety, which reduces boredom, plateau, and injury.
Working out as a couple gives you more time together and increases your intimacy.
How to Start Working Out as a Couple
There will almost always be some sort of fitness imbalance when you start working out as a couple. These imbalances can create stress or make one feel self-conscious.
When you honor and respect your significant other, you’ll know how to navigate this challenge with tact and grace. Therefore, we don’t need to remind you not to nag or insult your partner.
Instead, the below points will help you motivate and empower your spouse. You know them best, everything from their excuses, dreams, motivations, and competitive tendencies to when to play the good cop versus the bad cop.
You are the best person to help them start exercising. These are the most constructive tips to help you get your partner to work out with you.
Regular, open communication
Have a two-sided conversation about the health goals of the family. Use the word “what” and “how” to discuss your continuous improvement plan and set small, achievable goals. The word “why” leads to defensiveness if you’re talking about your progress retrospectively. Only use the word “why” when discussing your motivation.
Every couple should be tracking their annual goals and their daily habits. This activity provides the accountability and awareness needed to succeed. Use our tools below, and it will give you an excuse to have these conversations periodically.
Have these conversations in an honest but loving way. If there is something really bothering you, make sure you talk about it. As long as they know that you are confronting them because you love them, they will be more open to change.
How to do it:
To progress, every couple should be tracking their annual goals and daily habits, an activity that provides the awareness needed to make progress.
By both tracking your goals and habits using our tools below, you’ll have a good reason to consistently talk about your health and fitness goals in a neutral, non-judgmental environment.
Worksheets are available for download here: The Daily Habit Tracker and New Year’s Resolutions Tracker.
Find a strong motivation
Extrinsic motivation is based on ego or external benefits, such as, “I want to get a six-pack for the cruise.” Instead of bringing happiness, ego breeds frustration and disappointment, which typically ends in failure.
This is an example of a weak motivation, and in the off chance that you achieve your goal, what happens next? You have to find a new motivation. It’s not sustainable.
Intrinsic motivation is levels deeper, and it’s harder to find than external motivators. Once you find this strong motivation as a couple, you’ll be unstoppable. They are usually linked to family, confidence levels, and your passions.
To overcome the imbalance in your relationship, be specific, talk about intrinsic motivations,your “why” to live a healthy life together, and set goals together. Have these conversations often but always keep them positive.
In addition to strong motivation, pick a shared goal to work towards. If your partner has a strong preference to hike the local mountain in one month’s time, schedule it in even if you dislike hiking.
How to do it:
Follow this 5-step guide to ‘Finding Your Why to Live a Healthy Lifestyle.‘ This process will help you identify your strong motivation to work out as a couple.
Schedule a hike, 5K, biking trip, or a 10-mile walking tour of your city so that you have a shared goal to work towards.
Consistently lead by example
Actions speak louder than words. Before your partner starts working out with you, you have to be strong enough for the couple. If you want your partner to start working out with you, you must be consistently showing up for your workouts.
Think of leading by example as an opportunity to show your spouse how much you value exercise. Do your best to send positive verbal and non-verbal hints about how much exercise is improving the way you feel.
How to do it:
Consistently visiting the gym shows your partner that working out is important, but it’s much better if they can see you working out at home.
Do home workouts instead, so they can see you sweating and hear your panting. It’s a good idea to start to make healthier food choices too, but be sure not to deprive your partner of any foods they love (yet).
Start with fitness only
Nutrition is indeed 80% of the battle, but starting out, only focus on working out as a couple. Fitness is the foundation of your healthy lifestyle together, and as we describe in this video, working out is step one of a domino effect.
Once you start working out as a couple, making baby steps to improve nutrition will come naturally. Make sure that you start with a workout program of their choosing.
The workout should meet their fitness level so that they are more encouraged by their performance. Also, restrain yourself from taking the role of a personal trainer, unless they invite feedback.
Make it enjoyable
An activity that feels less like exercise, like biking, hiking, or frisbee golf is a great way to start. If they are competitive, a subtle way of shedding light on their physical fitness level would be to take our Fitness Test. Better yet, take it monthly to track progress.
Next, it’s important to have fun. Hit on your partner during your workouts. Make sure there are a lot of high-fives, “accidental” booty pats, and some more genuine and serious words of encouragement.
Also, when you’re first starting out, let your partner pick the workout playlist.
When you start reaching milestones, treat yo’ self. A milestone could be as small as completing your first three workouts together, or as big as completing your first 10K.
A celebration creates a positive association with your hard work, and it makes you more excited about tackling your next goals. Remember to track your goals on your New Year’s Resolutions Tracker.
If there is something your partner would be really psyched about, like front row seats to an NHL game or the latest Apple Watch, you can incentivize your next milestone.
How to Make Couple Workouts a Long Term Habit
When you commit to working out as a couple, you’re a team. Both people need to be open to new workouts that benefit both without pushing one person over the edge.
Over time, you will realize that this is a positive. You and your partner will learn to love new exercise techniques together, and you will remain outside of your comfort zone.
You will always be juggling schedules. Therefore, your fitness plan must be free of limiting class times and commutes. Build a home gym together and start working out from home.
Over the last 6 years, our home gym has saved us $5,000, and prevented us from commuting 12,432 miles, which would have been 4.56 metric tons of CO2 emissions.
Stream your workouts from anywhere
Continuous compromise. Changing schedules. Now, add changing fitness levels (both improving), and evolving exercise preferences. To continuously offer new types of workouts and increasing difficulty levels, you’ll need access to a lot of programs.
To properly learn these new techniques together at home, you will need a lot of qualified trainers to guide you. In most relationships, it’s not a good idea to have your partner as your trainer.
For example, we learned that Beachbody’s cardio workouts burned up to 90% more calories than conventional routines. We also learned that our cost per workout is 410% lower than the average gym-goer.
If you want to test-drive our recommended couple’s workout plan, place your bet with our Couple’s Clean Week program.
Focus on long term
Years. It takes years. Not even one year. At least two years. Be patient, trust, and enjoy the process. We have clients who only started working out with their partners successfully after 2-3 years of work.
Remember, your results will vary. This is completely normal, so don’t get in the habit of comparing your results to your partner’s. This recommendation is mostly for women. Men’s bodies react differently, and they tend to drop the pounds more quickly.
Document your progress
How can you see results if you aren’t tracking progress? Results are the best motivation, but you won’t see any improvements if you don’t track them. Before each program, it’s key to take each other’s “before photos” from all angles.
Also, write down your measurements in inches and weight and keep them in a safe place until the end of your program. Getting a before weight is a good idea, but it’s not the best metric. You need to be taking pictures and measurements.
In addition to these numbers, you’ll need to track how you are progressing during each workout. Write down how many pull-ups you did and what weights you used. If on a Beachbody program, they provide tracker sheets.
Q&A On How To Work Out As A Couple
What if we spend too much time together, and our workouts are a way to get our alone time?
– Michelle P.
It’s normal for people to use their workout as a time to escape and be alone. A growing number of couples are working from home, and this is their only opportunity to get away and be alone. But, is your workout your only chance to get away?
It’s great that you are working out, but it’s hard to ignore the incredible benefits of working out as a couple. If you must maintain your exercise alone time, consider scheduling in a workout as a couple twice per week.
What if we have completely opposite schedules?
– Brian D.
Sometimes the logistics of working out as a couple can be hard, to nearly impossible depending on work schedules. Compromise is key here. Do your best to find 30 minutes when your schedules overlap. If it’s impossible, hopefully, you can make it happen at least twice per week.
We used to travel significantly in our corporate jobs and found it meaningful to follow the same workout plan separately, and then check in with each other daily to see how their workout was.
What do you do when you have different exercise preferences? He never likes doing cardio with me and only wants to lift weights.
– Amy F.
Yes, it can be challenging to find a workout that you both enjoy. But, when you put in the groundwork together and find something you love, it’s so rewarding. Also, you might love something this year, but by next year you may have advanced to a new technique that you love even more.
While it can feel like a negative, being forced to try new things because you’re committed to working out as a couple is a massive positive. Alex used to hate weight lifting, but it became her favorite and brought her the most significant transformation.
Is it possible that he hates cardio and you dislike weight lifting because you lack experience and aren’t good at it? We would argue that both of you would be better off if you did both weight lifting and cardio together.
I have literally tried everything in this guide, and nothing works. What should I do?
– Sarah E.
Doctor Gottman, a leading couple’s psychologist found that 75% of conflicts within a relationship are never resolved. You’re doing the right thing by nudging your partner into a healthy lifestyle, but you might need to accept that he is just not interested in exercise.
It’s not the end of the world, and instead of being angry with him, just continue to love and accept him. Do what you can to stay active together in ways that don’t feel like exercise. Try to get creative, like selling the riding mower for a push mower, or buying a dog that needs a lot of exercise.
Make sure that you have been direct with him. Let him know you are working hard to get in shape because you believe your body is a reflection of who you are as a person. You value your health, and you value his as well. Continue doing what you’re doing, and let’s hope he joins you in the years to come.
I have questions. What do I do?
Ask away in the comments below, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible and add your recommendations to this article accordingly.
Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for your comment!
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Hey we're Ryan and Alex
The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world, originally as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship, as a couple.