Calling it Quits: How to Break Up with Your Workout Partner
Everything's great when you and your workout buddy are going strong. But what do you do when the relationship just isn't working out?
Let me set the scene: Two months ago, school started back. You decided to finally make your fitness dream a reality, and you’ve been steadily visiting The Rec ever since. You found a friend (maybe even your new roommate) that felt similarly inspired, and you have bonded over your gym visits. You spot each other, motivate each other, and keep each other accountable. It’s wonderful, beautiful, and everyone is jealous of your relationship.
But it’s not enough. Soon, the honeymoon phase ends, and you move into the next stage of your fitness relationship. Maybe you start to realize that the two of you have different goals. Maybe you want to get a little more toned while he’s hoping to bulk up. Maybe you find yourself in foreign areas of the gym, awkwardly waiting for her to finish that weird exercise she does with that thing in the corner. Maybe you find your partner wants to take things to the next level: working out more often. Or maybe he wants to change the routine entirely after a week. Are you ready for that? Didn’t think so.
Like in normal relationships, you’ll soon start to spot these little differences. Do you address them? Or not? (SPOILER ALERT: Communication is important. Don’t ignore problems). Are you willing to accept your differences, learn from each other, and make sacrifices for your partner? If the answer is yes, then quit reading now and go hug your workout buddy. Congrats.
But for the rest of you who clicked on this article, you know things won’t be that easy. Too much damage has been done. You can’t go back. Maybe she hasn’t returned your “Gym tonight?” texts for weeks. Maybe he’s always 20 minutes late, or he’s constantly forgetting his workout clothes. Or worst-case scenario, you find her in the gym with someone else 30 minutes after she said she wasn’t feeling it today. Some things you just can’t fix.
So how do you end things amicably? Here’s how to end your workout partnership like an adult.
Again, consider why you want to do this.
Are you tired of the routine? Do you just want a new direction? Or is your partner challenging you more than you expected? Even if the relationship doesn’t feel like it’s working out, it’s still worth communicating those feelings to your partner. He may not even realize there’s a problem until you say something.
Understand this will probably be awkward.
Most break-ups aren’t smooth. This may get messy, even if you do everything the right way. So be prepared, and make sure you know exactly what your issues are before you talk to your partner. If you have defined, rational reasons for your concerns, she’ll likely be more understanding than if you just present vague, undefined feelings.
Have “the Talk.”
This is the trickiest step. Find a time, preferably outside the gym, where you can talk. When talking to your partner, be firm, but kind. If you’re sure the partnership won’t work out, then don’t try to make it happen. If you’re less confident, though, be open to suggestions. If he wants to try to make things work and offers a new plan, don’t reject it immediately. Consider a trial run for a couple weeks to see if the situation improves. Or if you think you just might need some time away from the gym, see if he’s willing to take a break as a pair while you figure things out.
Two-way communication here lets your partner feel more in control (and less like he’s being dumped like a fully loaded barbell after a PR deadlift). This sense of control lets him save face. It’ll help him to respect you more, and — most importantly — it’ll make things less awkward when you see him in the gym later. And if you are/were friends outside the gym, consider investing a little extra effort to strengthen that friendship. Offer to watch The Bachelor or go to a baseball game together.
Survive the aftermath.
You both agreed to part ways. It was awkward, but nothing crazy. But what do you do now? Who’s going to spot you on the bench press? Or chat with you while you’re running? Or remind you to go to the gym? Suddenly, your stomach sinks. You made the right decision, right?
You did. But be mindful now. It’s easy to slip out of a routine when someone isn’t holding you accountable. If your fitness support system solely consisted of your ex-partner, then you may be in trouble. It’s tempting to just find another barbell buddy ASAP, but that’s a big mistake. You’re just slapping a Band-Aid over the real issue — your overdependence on others for your fitness progress. You’ll likely end up in another bad situation. Oh, and don’t expect the perfect partner to just emerge from the mist and motivate you to turn your life around, forcing you into the best shape of your life. That’s not how it works. It should be a 50/50 partnership; don’t expect them to do anything for you that you won’t do for them. That’s just unfair.
Instead, wait and consider the traits you need in a workout partner: Do you need them to be consistent and always have a plan? Or do you want them to be spontaneous and fun, inviting you to go for midnight runs around campus? Do you need them to be your best friend? Or do you just want to see them at the gym?
While you’re waiting on the perfect gym partner, you may find yourself feeling a little lonely at the gym. It happens, and it’s normal to miss things we no longer have. Know that it gets easier and remind yourself of the benefits of being free from your ex-partner: Want to start a new routine? No problem. You’ll likely finish your workouts faster, and you can always modify your schedule. Want to suddenly start taking Group Fit classes? You can. (And you don’t even have to feel guilty about your partner not wanting to spend the $50 it costs per semester).
After a while, you may meet someone who seems excited about working out. Maybe you meet her at a 5k race, or maybe you see him in the gym all the time, and he introduces himself. You discuss working out and discover you have a lot in common. Maybe you both like lifting or follow similar plans. You offer to meet them for a morning run sometime, and you swap numbers. Maybe this time, it’ll work. But even if it doesn’t, you know how to handle it.
Be well, Auburn.
Photography: Cat S.