We may agree on whether the toilet paper should hang over or under the roll (correct answer: Who cares?), but when it comes to exercise, my boyfriend and I are seriously incompatible. I never once got my foot on the ball during a childhood season of soccer, used my time in the softball outfield to kill bees, and finally grew to love endurance sports for their meditative quality and lack of a hand-eye-coordination requirement. Dan, on the other hand, was the captain of his football team as a teenager and a ringer on his company softball team but runs only to get to the discount cheese store before it closes.
Because we both lift weights, albeit separately, we decided that would be a good neutral ground on which to begin our weekend of Valentine's Day-inspired workouts. We each agreed to show the other some exercises from his or her own routine. I'd seen Dan use the weight bench before, but I'd mentally dismissed it as unnecessary, thinking I was working all the same muscles with other moves. I continued to smugly think that, right up to the point when I sat down and could barely eke out 10 reps of incline bench presses and reverse presses with dumbbells. We did three sets of each, then the same of regular bench presses and reverse flies. I have no idea what specific muscles I'd been neglecting, but whatever they were, those exercises found them; two days later, I could barely lift a jar of peanut butter off the top shelf.
Dan, by contrast, normally does no exercises that work the legs. I introduced him to a dumbbell single-arm overhead squat (an exercise he has previously noted looks like I'm simultaneously picking a turnip and raising the other hand in surrender to some unknown army) and a static lunge with the rear foot elevated on a Bosu ball. Both worked the big muscles in the legs and rear—the quads and glutes. Both soon made him rue the fact that we live in a fourth-floor walkup with a dog that needs to go out several times a day. Right, Dan?
Bosu balls? Little dumbbell squats? C'mon! "Girlie" exercises, for sure, I thought. The only thing I was sure about after doing Katie's weight workout, however, is that I came dangerously close to tipping over while lifting—with a 25-pound dumbbell. Had I fallen over, the pain of embarrassment would have paled in comparison to the daggers that stabbed my quads merely walking the four blocks home from the gym. That said, I realized I was missing a crucial set of core and lower-body muscles during my "macho" workouts, so I'm ditching the bicep curls and tricep kickbacks I usually do and trying more "girlie" squats.
The next day, my arms aching and his legs wobbling, we decided to try each other's favorite activities—no complaining allowed. First, we headed to a steep hill in the next neighborhood over from ours in Brooklyn. When I was in serious triathlon training, hill-running was one of my key workouts; now I do five repeats of about a minute each once a week or so. We did the same—chugging steadily up and jogging easily down, five times over—and to my dismay, the nonrunner (Dan) tied or beat the runner (me) up the hill all but the last time, when, I admit it, I sprinted in an all-out attempt to preserve my reputation as a six-time Ironman finisher. Dan reported being "tired."
By the third time up the hill, she was checking her shoelaces and I was checking my vital signs. In Pop Warner football, my coach made us run up and down short, steep hills from 6 p.m. until the sun went down (around 9 p.m.) on hot summer nights. This hill was harder. It was long and steep (and I'm not 17 anymore). When my mind and body were ready to pull up, there were still 20 more yards to go. Oh, and it was asphalt. Gasp. But I want to do this again. And I want to win. But first, I have to sit for a very long time.
After a slow recovery jog, we stopped at home to pick up a basketball and headed over to some neighborhood courts to shoot around. This, I was convinced, would be my Waterloo; my last memory of basketball involved humiliation in front of my fifth-grade crush. Plus, you get your hands dirty. But even on a court exposed to gusty winds and the snickers of passersby, I had fun! Dan actually showed me how to shoot, something no PE teacher had ever done. After a while, we tried a game of horse. (In case you don't know the rules—I certainly didn't—that's when one person makes a shot and the other has to shoot from the same place; miss it and you get a letter credited to your name, until one person hits H-O-R-S-E.) My occasionally one-legged jump shot may have reminded Dan of Felix Unger's stab at hoops, but even though I was the first to spell H-O-R-S-E both times, I was pretty proud when he told me I have some semblance of an inside game.
For a kid growing up in the city, shooting a basketball quickly becomes muscle memory. I remember my brother teaching me in my backyard: "Feet together; knees bent; one hand on the back of the ball; one hand on the side. "I passed along that lesson, fully expecting to spend the rest of my afternoon chasing air balls around the playground. Within a half-hour, though, Katie had caught on. She carefully picked her spots on the court, kept her form true, and SWISH! She matched me at least four times with shots from 10 feet out and, in our second game, actually pinned an H-O on me before I won. Uh-oh. I'd better hide my ball.
I admit that I thought the whole idea of a couples workout was strictly for codependents. But I got so much out of it! Not only is it fun to work out with your significant other (or friend, for that matter); there are some real athletic benefits: 1) You shake up your usual workout. My strength-training routine had clearly gotten, well, routine, and needed some new moves. Now I have some. 2) When you're trading off on the weight bench, you actually get the required rest in between sets, which I usually skimp on to save time. 3) It makes you work harder, since you get competitive in your supposed activity of expertise. 4) You try activities, like hoops for me and hill-running for Dan, you wouldn't ever do alone. Sometimes they even find their way into your individual repertoire; I realized I might want to go shoot hoops by myself sometime, and I noticed Dan has already posted his intention to continue running hills on his Facebook page. Now, that's commitment.