Running with a friend. Riding bikes with a spouse. Rock climbing with a boyfriend—whether you’re the more toned, buff well-trained athlete in this partnership or the slower newbie, working out with someone else can be tough. But it can also push you to be better at any workout, turn a hike into social hour, and be a great bonding experience for you and your buddy. Before you head out on your next partner adventure, though, keep a few things in mind.
Try a New Sport or Take a Class Together
Finding something that the two of you are both new at can be a lot more fun than a newbie-expert situation. Since you’re both on the same learning curve, you can actually enjoy the activity as beginners, learning the ropes together. Surfing, rock climbing (at a climbing gym if you’re a beginner, so you can learn the ropes!), or canoeing can be great ways enjoy a workout and have fun together. Classes are great for this, as well. With something like a boot camp, you can adjust to your abilities easily by choosing weights that work for you, but you’ll be able to hang out the whole time. And a crazier class like aerial silks or burlesque for beginners can lead to a lot of post-workout laughs and stories.
Don’t Expect Perfection
Couples workouts might look great on Instagram, but trust me, behind the scenes, there’s plenty of stress, annoyance, and snippiness that goes on. There’s no such thing as a picture-perfect effortless run or tandem bike ride. So don’t feel bad when a workout goes sideways, or when your partner needs to stop and wait while you pee behind a tree during a trail run and get a mosquito bite on your bum as a result. Try to laugh about the mishaps and stop looking for the perfect day.
Separate, Come Together
If your partner is trying to run intervals and you’re just out for a jog (or vice versa), you can go your separate ways for the middle chunk of the workout, and hang out in the beginning and at the end. Start with a warm-up walk or jog and finish with a cool-down walk or jog together. However you organize it, just know that you don’t have to be together all the time during your training. (That concept alone usually goes a long way toward keeping the peace.) If you opt for this, make sure you set a designated meeting spot and time to come back together once you split off, though.
If you and your partner have very different athletic ability levels, consider training in a stationary way at the gym. Treadmill, elliptical, stair climbers, and spin bikes are great because you can go at your own pace without getting separated. Outside, track workouts (running loops around a local high school track) can work for this, since you can run at your own pace and meet up after certain laps to rest and recover.
I hate to say this, but in training and workouts, the worst side of people can come out. (True story: I made my younger sister cry the one time I tried to get her to come running with me. I have also been known to burst into tears on the mountain bike trails with my pro racer husband. So I’ve been on both sides of the emotional spectrum in workouts.) It’s hard because your blood is pumping, emotions are running high, and it’s easy to turn a minor “you took the wrong trail” moment into a friendship-ender or a relationship red flag. But just because your boyfriend forgot the bike pump, and you’re tired and ready to be home but are stuck waiting for him to patch a flat, doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed.
When the Going Gets Tough… Try Yoga Breathing
Getting a little emotional? Whether you’re annoyed that your friend doesn’t seem to be even trying to keep up, or your husband has dropped you to do a few effortless sprints (jerk), you could probably stand to take a few deep, cleansing breathes. Slow to a walk, or stop altogether, and breathe in for a count of four, and exhale for a count of four. Repeat this a few times, possibly repeating a mantra (“I do this because it’s fun” is a good one) in your head as you breathe. You might still be angry, but at least your body will move out of red alert mode and let you relax and unclench a little.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say When It’s Not Working
You don’t have to work out with your boyfriend, husband, spouse, or best friend. And if every time you get together to train, you end up feeling terrible about yourself, getting irritable with your partner, or just end up feeling like your workout didn’t accomplish what you’d hoped it would, it’s okay to say it’s not working for you. You can either stop working out with that person or change how you’re exercising together. Maybe your best friend is a post-gym coffee date hangout, while your office wife is a better spin class support system. Sometimes, our workout styles don’t mesh. Maybe your husband wants to chat while you run, but you’re struggling to catch your breath and end runs feeling pissed instead of exhilarated. In that case, you might consider swapping those runs for long walks where chatting is easier.