You know all about the motivational advantages to working out with an exercise buddy, but are they the same when the buddy is your spouse or life partner? The answer is yes and perhaps more so. Working out with your spouse or partner can strengthen your relationship along with your muscles. Here’s how to start off on the right foot.

Commit to an Exercise plan

Sticking with an exercise program isn’t easy. The average dropout rate is 50%, most often after just a few months. But exercising with your significant other can change that. I studied married people who joined a fitness program by themselves and as a couple. After 12 months, the couples had a better-than-90% adherence rate—that’s remarkably high when you consider average adherence is about 50% after 12 months for people joining without their spouse. Most interesting was that they didn’t need to be doing the exact same exercise program, provided they went to the gym together, so the issue of “he’s stronger than I am” or “I don’t like the same machines” doesn’t matter. You don’t have to work out side by side—you just have to make the commitment to exercise at the same time and place. 

For busy working couples, it even can create date-night closeness. It’s a terrific alternative to sitting silently in a movie. 

Keys for Exercise Success

Account for your differences. Most couples have different fitness ­levels, and you need to create a plan that accounts for those. If you’re working out with machines in a gym, it’s easy to simply go together for a set period of time or go to a class together. But if you want to go running or biking together and one of you can handle a greater pace and distance than the other, you’ll have to make accommodations. Try this: Agree to separate distance goals. Start off together at the same speed, but pick a point where the person with less stamina will stop and allow the other to continue or where the one who is in front will pause and wait for his/her partner. Hint: Make your route a repetitive loop that goes past your car or your home to make it convenient for one person to stop if needed. Don’t put yourselves in the position of having to navigate differences on the fly when one of you suddenly runs out of gas at the midway point of the route. 

Introduce your partner to the workouts you like. If you are already in a class and want your partner to join (kickboxing, for example), make sure he will feel comfortable joining. If your partner thinks of the activity as being for the opposite sex, don’t force it. On the other hand, if your spouse is open to trying it, help him avoid feeling awkward with the activity itself. Do this with a preview—demonstrate how to do key moves and use any equipment. It’s like hosting friends in an unfamiliar city—you make the right introductions and give them the lay of the land so that they’ll be more comfortable and confident.

Create a backup plan. People drop out of fitness programs for many ­reasons—from a brief illness to changes in work schedules. To avoid getting derailed, preemptively take steps to ­create work-arounds should speed bumps occur. Example: If one spouse has to miss a week of exercise for a business trip, agree that the other will do it alone rather than sit it out—it’s easier for one partner to rejoin activities than for two people to both do a reboot. And if one continues on his own, the other will be more likely to jump back into the routine. Have a list of alternate activities in case neither of you can get to a scheduled class. Switch to an after-dinner walk, for example. 

Set and reset goals. Initially, your shared aim might be to exercise a certain number of times a week for a certain length of time. After a while, each partner might add individualized goals. Maybe one wants to build more muscle, while the other wants to boost ­cardiovascular fitness. That’s all OK. In fact, it gives each partner an additional opportunity to be supportive—cheer each other on and celebrate as you reach personal goals. (“Show me your muscles!”) Just remember that if you get to your goal first, take time to reinforce all the progress your spouse has made, too. Being at different fitness levels becomes a problem only if one partner feels inadequate or believes that he is falling too far behind. Note that classes in gentle disciplines such as yoga and tai chi will have you both going at the same steady pace, no matter what your respective fitness levels are. Spin and Pilates also allow for different levels in the same class. 

Consider a personal trainer. If you’re having trouble coming up with a fitness plan, consider signing up with a professional trainer who can take each partner’s skill set into account, as well as make adjustments so that you’re both doing the same type of program but at your own pace.

Important: Shop around for a trainer who has experience working with ­couples—ask friends, the manager at your gym and coaches at your local schools for recommendations. See 3 Fun Exercises for Two for exercises you can do together. 

Train together for an event. When you set a competitive goal, such as running a 5K, you train harder and more regularly, and you can revel in the accomplishment of the goal. This can be very exciting for both partners. If you won’t be side by side during the actual event, you still will be able to support each other before and after the event.