If you use social media, you’ve probably seen the hashtag “#swolemate” floating around. If you thought it was just another trending hashtag to show off your gym skills (and the fact you’re in a relationship), you’re partially right—it’s definitely a trend, but not a baseless one. Believe it or not, working out with a partner actually has some benefits that go beyond building your digital reputation.
So, what is a swole-mate?
A #swolemate is just a trendy name for a gym buddy. It’s usually a romantic couple, hence the play on “soulmate” (swole is slang for being super muscular).
Why do you need one?
Most importantly, it motivates you to work out in the first place because you have someone holding you accountable. You’d rather binge watch the latest season of The Bachelorette? Too bad, you have a swole-mate date.
And it’s not just the fact that nobody likes to be stood up—researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland found that exercisers who went to the gym with a partner exercised more frequently than those who went solo, especially if that partner was emotionally supportive.
“I’m a naturally competitive person so when I work out with my husband, I push myself to go the extra mile. Encouragement and support from your partner increases your chance of reaching a fitness goal and pushing yourself farther than you may have by yourself,” says Denise Locsin, a fitness trainer in California who created the exercise program Yokebar.
You’ll exercise longer and harder
A study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that female cyclers who worked out alongside a virtual gym buddy rode a stationary bike roughly nine minutes longer than those who peddled alone, and about 11 minutes longer when they thought they and their virtual friend were working together as a team. Yet another cycling study found that college students who biked alongside someone who loved exercising worked out harder than those who rode beside an exercise hater.
You’ll build healthier habits (together)
You’re more likely to succeed in adopting healthy habits if your partner adopts them, too. British scientists analyzed the daily habits of nearly 4,000 couples over the age of 50 and found that people were better able to make positive lifestyle changes if their loved one did as well, specifically when it came to getting active or losing weight—67 percent of men and 66 percent of women were able to become physically active when both did it, compared to just 26 percent and 24 percent, respectively, when only one person did.
Another small study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships discovered that men had healthier eating and exercise habits when their girlfriend or wife also did, compared to couples with mismatched health values. And women who didn’t consider themselves as healthy as their partner were influenced by their man’s positive eating habits and able to eat healthier themselves.
How will this work if one of you is fitter than the other?
No, you don’t both need to be able to deadlift 300 pounds for a swole-mateship to work. It’s all about the exercise routine, and a high intensity interval training workout (HIIT) is one of your best bets. “Those exercises are all ones you can do with any partner, regardless of fitness levels,” says William Suggs, a personal trainer and sports nutritionist in New York City. Do an Internet search for HIIT routines and see which work best for you. (But never work out when you’re tired.)
Weightlifting isn’t off the table altogether, you just have to be on the same page and incorporate it at the right time. (Don’t make these weight-lifting mistakes.) Suggs suggests doing HIIT workouts outside so you can get a solid fitness base before adding weights to the mix. “If you’re lifting free weights together, the goals need be synonymous and you need to know if you can handle spotting someone bench pressing a heavier weight,” says Suggs. “You should both be serious about hitting your fitness goals.” Plan out which muscles you’ll be working, which moves you’ll do, and then each use the poundage appropriate for you, he says.
Swole-mating isn’t for everyone
Working out as a couple can improve your physicality and emotional bond, but only if your relationship is strong and you’re in tune with each other’s quirks, behaviors, and reactions. “Most of the romantic fights I’ve seen have been exacerbated by personalities. One person might be too bossy or get offended too easily. Or a guy will get mad if his girl makes a joke or encourages him because they take it as criticism,” says Suggs.
One way to ensure your relationship doesn’t end at the gym, he says, is to make sure you can handle the mental and physical exertion without letting emotions get in the way; another is to know your partners’ physical and emotional limitations or sensitivities. “It’s important to know how you interact in stressful situations and that will dictate how you do workout-wise. You’ve got to have patience across the board, and pride and ego need to be thrown out the door,” says Suggs.
Lastly, never bring outside issues into the gym. “Any other relationship issues can come out in the gym; lots of arguments I see aren’t actually about the exercise,” he says.