Imagine waking up in the morning, not to the buzzing alarm clock but to the sun peeking in through your bedroom curtains. You roll over, snuggle your lover, and you both jump out of bed eager to change into your workout clothes and get your blood pumping. After grabbing a quick glass of water you head right into your state-of-the-art home gym, complete with free weights, his and her ellipticals, treadmills, and stair climbers. You push, motivate, and encourage each other through your exercises. You’re a team—a dynamic duo! You gently wipe the sweat from your partner’s brow and complete your workout with a kiss. Next, it’s a quick sweat in the sauna before heading back upstairs to cook a big nutritious breakfast. You sit. You eat—together. It sounds quite magical doesn’t it?
Sure, my wife and I could get up at 4AM if we really wanted to play out this scenario before having to shower, take the baby to the sitter, and get to work, but we don’t have that much freedom in our schedule and our sleep is just too important—not to mention the stress that attempting such a routine would add to our mornings. We have an almost-two-year-old and, even though we clearly inform him ahead of time of our sleep schedule, he doesn’t like to line his own sleep times up with our’s.
So my wife and I made a plan— we will workout together three days a week—Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—for 30 minutes to an hour after work. We asked grandma to babysit for us because she only lives a half mile away and was usually stopping over to see the baby anyway.
That plan failed on week one—actually, on day one. Grandma was busy on Monday. My wife worked late on Wednesday, and it was Friday before we finally had our first magical couples-workout.
Eventually, we decided, even though it was only for 30-60 minutes, we didn’t want to plan any more time without the baby. We both work full time so we already spend more time than we would like without him. So, the schedule evolved over several weeks until my wife and I weren’t working out together at all. We were doing the same workout routine and tracking our progress together but I would fit my workout in whenever I had a free hour in my schedule during the day and she would do hers while I was putting the baby to sleep at night.
This worked for a while but it was obviously much harder for her. She was ending her day with a fairly intense workout—we were mostly doing olympic barbell lifts—and last night, she finally told me she’s just too tired to do her workouts at the end of the day. It wasn’t working for her.
In Gretchen Rubin’s book, Better Than Before, she talks about how effectively building habits requires a different approach from person to person. For example, some people are night owls, and can get tasks done later—after dinner—and other people are Larks, or morning people. Rubin suggests that people are more likely to succeed at sticking to a habit like exercising if they embrace these natural tendencies rather than fight them.
As long as I’ve known her, my wife has not been able to finish a movie if we start it after 8pm. She’s out like a light before the previews are over. She jokes that she’s borderline narcoleptic, and sometimes I wonder if she’s right. So, it made sense when she told me that she wanted to radically change her workout schedule so she didn’t have to workout at night right before bed—even though this moved it further from our ideal scenario of working out together as a couple. After all, the main goal is for us to be strong, fit, and healthy.
This weekend, she will start the new schedule while I continue on the old one, which is working great for me. We are still getting some of the benefits of working out together because we track our progress together. We can even push and encourage each other even though we aren’t side by side in the gym.
Someday our schedules will open up and we can have those magical morning workouts without waking up at an unreasonable time or feeling rushed. But our inability to recreate fairy tale perfection in any aspect of our life should never keep us from seeking the same benefits by assessing our situation and making adjustments when we meet inevitable resistance. We shouldn’t abandon all hope when perfection seems impossible—we can always find a way to make things work even if the final product ends up vastly different from what you set out to create. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.