Partner exercises are twice as good for you, and double the fun…

…and an excellent way to connect with a friend

Couples do a lot of things together, but exercise? Other than being tennis partners or jogging on weekend mornings, there wouldn’t seem to be a lot of togetherness in the world of working out. Think about it, though: Exercising together means you both stay in shape and, at the same time, get to gaze into each other’s eyes — or even talk. Don’t worry if one of you is 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds while the other is 5-foot-2 and 110. There are a number of ways for both to get a satisfying workout at home.

To convince myself, I enlisted the aid of Cindy Barlow, owner of Smart Moves, a company that helps clients turn stress into vitality, and a yoga/pilates teacher in the Boston area. Although I am 8 inches taller and 75 pounds heavier than she, we both found the following workout beneficial, challenging, and invigorating. One of the most inexpensive ways to strength train together at home involves PVC piping. Buy a 10-foot length of 1 1/4-inch PVC pipe at any hardware or home supply store, usually for less than $3, and have it cut into two 5-foot lengths. You and your partner will provide resistance for one another using a 5-foot bar.

Tug of war walks Holding the piping horizontally, we stand at opposite ends. We place our right hand on the pipe 8 to 12 inches forward of our left hand and squat down with backs straight and stomachs drawn in, the right foot ahead of the left. As Cindy steps backward with her left foot and pulls on the PVC, I resist but step forward with my right in rhythm with her step. She continues stepping backward for 10 to 12 steps and then it’s my turn to step backward as she steps forward.

Make sure you are pulling from the legs and torso and not just yanking the PVC with your arms. If you stay down in a squat position as you walk, you will feel this burn in your leg, core, and arm muscles. Switch into a left-foot/left-hand-forward position and repeat the exercise.

Samurai sword Cindy gets into the “athletic stance” with feet hip-width apart, knees bent, belly button drawn into her spine, chest up and aligned over the thighs, and shoulder blades drawn in. She holds the PVC tubing in a vertical position at arm’s length from her body with her right hand 6 inches above the left. She closes her eyes and tries to keep the bar from moving as I lightly hit the bar in all directions for 30 seconds. We reverse roles, then repeat with left hand above the right.

Concentrate on keeping your shoulder blades drawn in, forearms locked, and core muscles engaged. You may be surprised at how difficult it is to keep the PVC from moving during this rhythmic stabilization exercise. Your partner will need to adjust the force with which he or she hits the piping based on how well you keep it from moving. This exercise works all of the torso muscles as well as shoulders, back, and arms. Push/pull variationsWe face one another, again in our athletic stances. I place my hands shoulder-width apart on the horizontal PVC with palms facing down, and I lower down into a quarter-squat. Cindy places her hands on the piping to the inside of mine and stands upright. As Cindy pulls the PVC up toward her chin in a rowing motion (keeping her elbows above the level of her wrists), I provide resistance. Next, I pull the piping down, maintaining straight arms as Cindy provides resistance. We each perform 10 to 12 repetitions and then reverse roles. The partner who is rowing will feel this in the upper shoulders; the person pulling down is working the upper back. You will both be working your core muscles if you maintain the proper stance. A variation that targets your arms can be done with a few simple adjustments. I place my hands shoulder-width apart on the PVC with palms facing up while Cindy places hands face down close enough together so that her elbows are against her ribs. As I bend my arms at the elbow to curl the bar up, Cindy provides resistance. Once the PVC has been raised, Cindy pushes down, extending her arms at the elbow, while I resist. We do 12-15 repetitions and switch. Raising the piping works biceps; lowering it works triceps.

Resistance bands/PVC fly If you own a resistance band (they are relatively inexpensive at most sporting goods outlets or online), try this exercise in combination with PVC to complement your partner workout. Cindy holds the piping vertically as described in the Samurai sword while I wrap the band around the PVC. She will get a core and shoulder stabilization workout while holding the piping.

I stand in a split stance (one foot forward and rear foot angled so my hips are square) with my back to Cindy as she holds the PVC. Gripping the band handles with arms out perpendicular to my chest and elbows slightly bent, I pull my hands toward each other and extend my arms straight out in front of my chest in an arcing motion. After 15 repetitions, it’s Cindy’s turn. Suspension bridgeWe stand facing each other, about an arm’s length apart, with our feet hip-width apart. We extend our arms forward and grasp each other’s wrists. Keeping our legs straight, we pull back on each other’s arms and press our hips back as our heads move toward each other. This is a great stretch for the back and legs.Partner quad stretch As Cindy and I face each other, I place my left hand on her right shoulder and she does the same with me. Each of us grasps our right instep pulling our heel in toward the buttocks as we maintain an erect posture. This stretches the front of our thighs. We hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.

Circle straddle stretch We sit facing each other with our legs spread apart and arms extended, holding each other’s hands. To compensate for Cindy’s greater flexibility, I place the soles of my feet against her ankles. (If you are equally flexible you can place the soles of your feet against the soles of your partner’s.) I pull back, drawing Cindy forward and we rotate at the waist clockwise. When she returns to her starting position she pulls me forward and we continue for 10 rotations. We then perform this stretch moving counterclockwise.

We add a nice side stretch by grasping each other’s left foot with the right hand and extending our left arms into the air. We each fold to our right, bringing our left arms down the right leg as far as we can. After holding for 15 seconds we repeat this stretch to the other side.

A partner workout can be done with a friend, family member, or mate. It requires only a little ingenuity, some patience, and a lot of listening to each other. Is there a healthier — or less expensive — way to spend time together?[fb_button]

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