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  • Couples' workouts twice as nice?

    It doesn't always lead to bliss
  • NEW YORK — He wants to take a romantic run together through the woods. She wants to go off alone and use her headphones to tune him out.
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  • NEW YORK — He wants to take a romantic run together through the woods. She wants to go off alone and use her headphones to tune him out.
    When it comes to exercising with a significant other, motivation and support can turn workouts into "we time," or unwanted criticism and control can make you crave lots of "me time."
    Couples who like exercising together say it's a great way to squeeze in more time together while keeping each other moving. Feeling closer by sharing something they enjoy, they may end their workout with a sweaty kiss, or maybe even a sexy shower.
    But, at the other end of the lap pool are those who cringe at the thought of being in the gym at the same time as their partner, who want to do different physical activities, work at a different pace or just be alone.
    And these exercise individualists really, really don't want to hear their mate's "helpful" suggestions on technique and form. A partner just cramps their style, perhaps more than a nagging leg cramp.
    A workout partner can be great for motivation, but when your bedmate becomes your gymmate, special care may be needed. For better or worse, exercising together brings the relationship into the workout, says Jenny Susser, a clinical sport psychologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
    "If you have a strong relationship and become workout partners, it could be really great," says Susser, who has done couples counseling. "If you have communication issues, becoming workout partners could give you another forum in which to struggle."
    Susser says criticism or "instructional communication" at home can spill into the gym. A pre-workout chat on when to push the advice and when to back off can help, she says.
    Still, whether it's the form she uses to squat, the pace he chooses to run, even the choice of what exercise to do in the first place, criticism and critique are common. Sometimes, hearing it from someone you love makes it that much harder to hear.
    Brian Costello says he put a moratorium on joint exercise with his fiancee for a time because of her constant commentary. As he tells it, he's a novice, she's an advanced exerciser, sometimes working up a sweat twice a day, with plenty to teach him.
    "The sit-up queen," as he jokingly calls her, knows about 40 versions of the classic crunch. When they work the abs at night in front of the television, she tells him, "lean back more. Less. Point your toes up. Down," says Costello, 32, of Playa Del Rey, Calif.
    "I think she views them as helpful tips," he says. "It's more a critique. She means well, but it can make a workout mighty annoying. 'I don't need a coach,' I used to tell her."
    But in the last few months, he's come around and learned to cope with the comments. He wants to be in shape for their wedding next year and likes that his fiancee, Kristi Hennessey, costs less than a personal trainer but still gives him a push.
    Having a different workout style also keeps people who otherwise care for each other away from (or trying to get away from) one another.
    Gloria Wong doesn't like talking to anyone when she runs on trails along Lake Michigan in Chicago. And that includes her boyfriend of almost four years, who wants to accompany her to keep her safe. The problem was, he wanted to have "semiserious discussions about our relationship," said Wong, 31.
    After dating about two years, she told him to keep his distance — while running that is. About a quarter-mile back. Just far enough that he could see her, but far back enough that she could not hear his footsteps or have to worry about him crashing into her if her pace slowed.
    "The whole working out together process is so irritating to me that a few times, I've just stopped and walked home because I can't deal with it anymore or I just hurry up and do a quick and fast run just to get it over with," says Wong.
    Time can also get in the way of happiness. Kate Miller says her workout takes 90 minutes, her boyfriend's lasts 45.
    "When he finishes his workout, he'll actually hover over me until I am done," said Miller, 23, of Denver. "I have to shut my eyes while I'm doing crunches so that I don't completely lose it."
    She's raised the issue but says her boyfriend of two years doesn't think it's a big deal.
    For those who want to be alone and focus on themselves, another person is just a distraction.
    "We already work and live together," said Allison Peltz, 25, of Cleveland, of her boyfriend. "I think that's enough quality time, don't you? My 60-minute workout is my time to be alone with my iPod and the streets where I run."
    The good news for couples who quibble is that being incompatible at exercise is not a sign of failure in the relationship, says Judy Van Raalte, a psychology professor at Springfield College who specializes in sport and exercise.
    "People think that if a couple doesn't want to spend every minute together, then there's something wrong," she said. "But not being able to exercise together simply means that a couple doesn't exercise together. And there are many other places or times or ways of being together."
    Competition is another issue. It can be a good motivator, Susser said, but could cause friction if one partner gets too competitive. Men and women typically exercise differently. Men are stronger than women; women tend to be more flexible, Susser says.
    A great compromise is for couples to work out simultaneously, but not alongside each other. They're separate but still doing something together.
    That's what works for food and wine authors Karen Page, 46, and Andrew Dornenburg, 49. They began their marriage by running the Montreal marathon together in 1990 on their honeymoon and have been running together ever since.
    Several times a week, they walk the 1.5 miles from their New York City home to Central Park, run apart and meet up to go home. They run in opposite directions at different speeds around a loop, knowing their paths will cross. When they do, they shout an encouraging "looking good" or "great pace."
    "We slap a high-five as we run past each other," says Page. "Or I'll pretend he's a stranger and say, 'Hot legs.' "
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