The first time I joined a gym, I was 24 and scrawny. The jacked guy at the front desk said all new members received a T-shirt and asked me for my size. Small, I said. He threw me a muumuu. "This is a large," he replied. "It's all we have. Once you start lifting, you'll fill it out."
Hardly. I lasted 8 months. But then I proposed to Jen, a onetime runner and yoga nut who had largely abandoned those pursuits to sit around with me. With our upcoming nuptials, the threat of shame finally loomed large: If we didn't shape up and sharpen our softening bodies, we'd be gathering our loved ones together for a display of our shortcomings. So we made a pact to clear our calendars and hit the gym together—and to lay on the guilt if one of us slouched. (Search: Workouts for Busy People)
We were on to something: People who work out with a partner they feel comfortable with are more energetic and happier than those who work out alone, report Santa Clara University scientists. Our trainer, Derek Peruo, C.S.C.S., of Peak Performance in Manhattan, sees it all the time: "By working out as a couple, you can face the challenge together through positive reinforcement."
Video: Try these flat-belly moves
Peruo created a full-body program and sent us off to follow it at our local Equinox gym. We had the chance to either become a fitter, stronger couple . . . or not. Here's how we made it work. (And to get in the best shape of your life, discover The Incredible 82-Day Speed Shred, the brand-new at-home workout that will melt fat, torch calories, and sculpt every muscle in your body!)
Secret 1: Do everything together
Until I was on a mat stretching for the first time in years, I'd forgotten what I hated most about the gym: other people. I'd always felt them snickering at the small pile of iron I hefted, and here they were again, the same clubby meathead types, eyes all afire as they attacked their workouts with vein-popping intensity. I blocked them out by focusing on Peruo's instructions: first some foam rolling, then a few goblet squats, 3 sets of the bench press . . . I can do this.
Jen and I plowed ahead, matching our pace like two synchronized swimmers. It wasn't long before a strange, surprising calm grew within me: When we were both doing a move, it looked intentional. It looked correct. I scanned the room and saw everyone around us differently: They looked at us, yes, but also at everything else, their gazes meandering the way people's normally do. And many of them appeared exhausted. These weren't gym rats. Their faces weren't contorted in lift-to-failure ecstasy. They were normal people with healthy resolutions. They were other versions of us.