It Takes Two: How To Motivate Your Partner To Exercise Together

Talk about #relationshipgoals! Psychology and fitness experts say encouraging your partner's wellness can be a powerful way to show your love and get healthier... as well as closer.

Most of life’s experiences are better with company. When you can share new moments and work toward goals with your significant other, it can be a great way to help solidify the relationship and strengthen your bond.

Exercising together may benefit both your physical health and the strength of the relationship to help the two of you stay connected, even through tough times. In a small pilot study based on an exercise program for couples, a team of exercise physiologists and cancer doctors found that prostate cancer patients who exercised with their partners during the course of radiation treatment walked faster on average and showed greater capacity to perform aerobic work than when they had started radiation. The couples also reported lower levels of depression and anxiety and improved levels of intimacy and coping.

Katie Bressack, a yoga instructor and holistic nutritionist who’s board certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, uses the example of her own marriage: “Exercise makes me feel calmer, happier, and I sleep better,” she says. “So in those ways, I know working out actually makes me better in my relationship.”

Psychotherapist and author Ken Page adds that exercising as a team is one example of a “shared sense of positive purpose,” which, he says, “is one of the greatest bonding agents for long-term love.” Page continues: “Knowing that you’re both supporting each other in having a better life, and enjoying each other’s company while you do it, elevates the quality of your connection in wonderful ways. It’s a win-win on just about every level.”

If you’re questioning how likely it is that you’ll both be equally fired up to get moving, Bressack advises to not feel discouraged. Confessing that her husband had just talked her out of sleeping in the same morning she spoke to us, Bressack says: “I think the biggest plus about exercising with your partner is that one of you is always going to feel more motivated than the other.”

So if you’re hoping to start an exercise program with your significant other and just need a few ideas to spur your partner along, here are some tips from fitness experts to ramp up your joint motivation.

Know what type of support is, or isn’t, needed

Shot of a senior couple warming up before a run outside gradyreese/Getty Images

“Two of the more reported barriers to fitness are lack of accountability and feeling that friends and family are unsupportive of your physical habits,” says Michelle Ditto, the training development manager for Pure Barre. It’s clear that having support from your loved one is important to starting and maintaining a fitness plan.

Conversely, saying or doing unhelpful things could hinder your partner’s motivation. Even when it feels tempting to tell them they need to push more, try to remember they may be doing their best. Then reinforce those efforts by saying, “I love that you’re investing this time for yourself,” or “Three days in a row? Let’s go tomorrow and keep up this streak!”

Ultimately, no matter what the scale or any other metric says about a partner’s “progress,” your sole task is to encourage any new workout practice that promotes your partner’s wellness, suggests psychotherapist Francesca Maxime, LMSW. Showing a willingness to “detach from the outcome of their actual exercising and be present for them without judgment…is unconditional love,” she says.

All this is why it’s important to discuss the type of language or other support your partner is open to hearing from you. Such communication can help set you both up for success and prevent misunderstandings or frustrations after you set out on your routine.

Compromise to help your partner stay engaged

Even when you don’t necessarily share identical health or fitness goals, it’s possible to decide on activities that will be enjoyable for both of you, says Tevia Celli, vice president of experience for CycleBar. “Find something you like to do with each other,” Celli suggests. “You should be willing to try the things your partner likes, as it’s a great way to bond. My wife and I spin four days a week together, then we do separate workouts two days a week.”

If one of you hates cardio and the other hates strength training, you may have to get creative and explore new activities you both will like. Then, carve out the time and consider that appointment together sacred. “We schedule it in our calendars and even treat it like a date when we can,” Bressack says. “We go for a walk on the beach or a hike.”

Still need to dangle a little extra incentive? If food tends to be a reliable motivator for your partner, agree on a plan to stop for a smoothie or healthy lunch on the way home, or pack a nutritious picnic in an insulated backpack to enjoy after your activity. (For ideas, check out 20 salads for your next picnic.)

Create a friendly competition

A mature, African American couple riding mountain bikes in a state park, wearing helmets. They are standing side by side smiling at the camera. The woman is leaning her arm on the man's shoulder.kali9/Getty Images

Even people who claim they aren’t competitive are usually at least a little competitive, especially when there’s something fun on the line. It doesn’t hurt to challenge your partner to a friendly competition. “You can incorporate games and bets to spice things up a little and make it fun,” says DeBlair Tate, a certified fitness coach. “You can make the ‘cost’ of things intimate favors or gifts.”

For instance, if you and your partner log your daily step counts, see who can rack up the most total steps in a week or day. Or, if you’re sharing an on-demand online workout program, see who can log the most minutes or classes for a week. You can even challenge each other to try a new class or to do an activity that is outside the other’s comfort zone.

One key, Tate says, is to keep things friendly: “Give compliments and make sure you agree to refrain from any negative talk.”

Reward each other

Rewards don’t have to be based on competitions, either. If you want to offer support for your partner’s hard work at the gym, there’s nothing wrong with surprising them every now and then with a reward. “Get them some new gear,” suggests Wendy Coop, a certified personal trainer and an integrative nutrition coach. “They may be a little more motivated to head out the door or get to the gym with a cool new gadget or fly sneakers. Make them feel good about training.”

And you can always agree on a big reward for your combined commitment to fitness. For instance, if you decide to exercise three times a week together for at least six months, you could reward yourselves with a weekend getaway, or buy tickets and new clothes for a concert you’ve been dying to go to. When you have something highly motivating to look forward to that’s based on an attainable workout goal, you’re more likely to continue encouraging each other to stick to the plan.

For more relationship and wellness wisdom from The Healthy, keep reading:

Is Walking Good Exercise? Fitness Pros Explain Why It’s an Ideal Workout

6 Signs of Commitment Issues, From Psychology Experts

The Banana Health Benefit You for Sure Weren’t Aware Of, Dietitians Reveal

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Sources
  • Wendy Coop, a certified personal trainer and an integrative nutrition coach
  • Pilot Feasibility and Studies: "A pilot feasibility study of Exercising Together© during radiation therapy for prostate cancer: a dyadic approach for patients and spouses"
  • Katie Bressack, a holistic nutritionist who’s board certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and also a yoga instructor
  • Ken Page, psychotherapist and author
  • Michelle Ditto, the training development manager for Pure Barre
  • Francesca Maxime, LMSW, psychotherapist
  • Tevia Celli, vice president of experience for CycleBar
  • DeBlair Tate, a certified fitness coach

Laura Williams Bustos, MS, ACSM EP-C
I'm a fitness expert with a master's degree in exercise science and certifications in exercise physiology, yoga, sports nutrition, sports conditioning, behavioral change, and youth fitness. I've written professionally in the field for more than 10 years, with bylines in Men's Journal, VerywellFit, Runner's World, Health, LiveStrong, Onnit, Bodybuilding.com, and Thrillist. I'm also the author of the internationally-published book, Partner Workouts, published by DK Books. In addition to writing about health and fitness, I worked as a professor of exercise science for three years.