What the Heck Is a Swole-mate—and Why Do You Need One In Your Life?
There are over 700,000 posts about it on Instagram alone, but most people hadn't heard of it before.
If you use social media, you’ve probably seen the hashtag “#swolemate” floating around. If you thought it was just another trending hashtag to show off your gym skills (and the fact you’re in a relationship), you’re partially right—it’s definitely a trend, but not a baseless one. Believe it or not, working out with a partner actually has some benefits that go beyond building your digital reputation.
So, what is a swole-mate?
A #swolemate is just a trendy name for a gym buddy. It’s usually a romantic couple, hence the play on “soulmate” (swole is slang for being super muscular).
Why do you need one?
Most importantly, a swole-mate motivates you to work out in the first place because you have someone holding you accountable. You’d rather binge-watch the latest season of The Bachelorette? Too bad, you have a swole-mate date.
And it’s not just the fact that nobody likes to be stood up—researchers in Switzerland found that exercisers who went to the gym with a partner exercised more frequently than those who went solo, especially if that partner was emotionally supportive.
“I’m a naturally competitive person so when I work out with my husband, I push myself to go the extra mile. Encouragement and support from your partner increases your chance of reaching a fitness goal and pushing yourself farther than you may have by yourself,” says Denise Locsin, a fitness trainer in California who created the exercise program Yokebar.
You’ll exercise longer and harder
Sweating it out side by side is a proven motivator. Turns out, you exert more effort even if your workout buddy isn’t human. Researchers gave study participants five different isometric plank exercises to perform with a same-sex partner (including both human and cyber workout partners). Those with a human exercise partner held their planks, on average, one minute and 20 seconds longer than those without a partner, while those with a cyber-buddy still worked out for 33 seconds longer.
You’ll build healthier habits (together)
You’re more likely to succeed in adopting healthy habits if your partner adopts them, too. British scientists analyzed the daily habits of nearly 4,000 couples over the age of 50 and found that people were better able to make positive lifestyle changes if their loved one did as well, specifically when it came to getting active or losing weight—67 percent of men and 66 percent of women were able to become physically active when both did it, compared to just 26 percent and 24 percent, respectively, when only one person did. Another study discovered that couples tended to adopt better eating habits when their partner did.
How will this work if one of you is fitter than the other?
No, you don’t both need to be able to deadlift 300 pounds for a swole-mateship to work. It’s all about the exercise routine, and a high-intensity interval training workout (HIIT) is one of your best bets. “Those exercises are all ones you can do with any partner, regardless of fitness levels,” says William Suggs, a personal trainer and sports nutritionist in New York City. Do an Internet search for HIIT routines and see which work best for you. (But never work out when you’re tired.) Remember that couples don’t need to exercise at high intensities for the “swolemating” to work.
Weightlifting isn’t off the table altogether, you just have to be on the same page and incorporate it at the right time. (Don’t make these weight-lifting mistakes.) Suggs suggests doing HIIT workouts outside so you can get a solid fitness base before adding weights to the mix. “If you’re lifting free weights together, the goals need be synonymous and you need to know if you can handle spotting someone bench pressing a heavier weight,” says Suggs. “You should both be serious about hitting your fitness goals.” Plan out which muscles you’ll be working, which moves you’ll do, and then each of you use the poundage appropriate for you, he says.
Swole-mating isn’t for everyone
Working out as a couple can improve your physicality and emotional bond, but only if your relationship is strong and you’re in tune with each other’s quirks, behaviors, and reactions. “Most of the romantic fights I’ve seen have been exacerbated by personalities. One person might be too bossy or get offended too easily. Or a guy will get mad if his girl makes a joke or encourages him because they take it as criticism,” says Suggs.
One way to ensure your relationship doesn’t end at the gym, he says, is to make sure you can handle the mental and physical exertion without letting emotions get in the way; another is to know your partners’ physical and emotional limitations or sensitivities. “It’s important to know how you interact in stressful situations and that will dictate how you do workout-wise. You’ve got to have patience across the board, and pride and ego need to be thrown out the door,” says Suggs.
Lastly, never bring outside issues into the gym. “Any other relationship issues can come out in the gym; lots of arguments I see aren’t actually about the exercise,” he says. Here are 8 ways to reconnect and strengthen your relationship whether or not you’re swole-mates.
- British Journal of Health Psychology: "Received Social Support and Exercising: An Intervention Study to Test the Enabling Hypothesis."
- Denise Locsin, personal trainer, San Francisco, CA, and creator of Yokebar.
- Games for Health Journal: "Cyber Buddy Is Better than No Buddy: A Test of the Kohler Motivation Effect in Exergames."
- The Journal of the American Medical Association: "The Influence of Partner's Behavior on Health Behavioral Change."
- PLOS One: "Partner Influence in Diet and Exercise Behaviors: Testing Behavior Modeling, Social Control, and Normative Body Size."
- William Suggs, personal trainer and sports nutritionist, New York City.