I couldn’t tell you their names for the life of me, but in college one of those obnoxiously cute couples (we all know one) told me that one of the best things you can do as a couple is work out together — go to the gym, run — whatever floats your boat.
Maybe that is true for you and your spouse, but it’s not true for my husband and me. Our workout standards are different, and our goals are very different. My Marine husband just completed his annual combat fitness test, or CFT, in the wee hours of a Friday morning. He “maxed it” as he likes to casually say, but it was all over and done within 10 minutes — all of it: the dead sprint, the ammo cans, the grenade toss and whatever else he mentioned to me as I tried (seriously, I tried) to listen intently between tasks on my morning to-do list. Once he was cleaned up, flight suited, and back at work, I closed the laptop on my emptied work inbox, slid into my running shoes, hit play on my playlist and cranked out seven glorious miles at my own pace, on my own route — just me, my thoughts, and some ‘90s rock. We both dominated strenuous exercises in the same morning, but they didn’t look anything alike.
My husband and I have tried multiple times to exercise together. He’s run with me — on a rare occasion when I asked him to (usually I run alone by choice) — knowing that my pace is significantly slower than his, and it wasn’t fun. We aren’t that couple that heads out on a jog together. He slowed his pace to run with me and I felt guilty for not letting him run his usual speed. He tried to encourage me and validate the pace, which is just not what motivates me to work harder. Needless to say, this partnered run has only happened twice in a ten-year marriage, and I can confidently speak for both of us when I say that neither strengthened our relationship.
And it’s not just the running. I balance out my running regimen by peppering in circuit training with light weights and barre exercise. When he was home every Friday during his tour at the Naval Postgraduate School, he joined me for one of my barre workouts at home. I’ll just say it was comical — not his thing, but I loved that he gave it a shot and acknowledged that, while it doesn’t look strenuous, it is difficult to lift tiny weights for a high number of repetitions. He likes to lift heavier weights, do the hardcore Rocky–style sit-ups, pull-ups and push-ups — all in a more traditional regimen, which basically aligns with the Marine Corps fitness standards. I’d call that logical, and I’d also call it something I don’t really feel the need to adopt into my own fitness agenda.
Service Member vs. Spouse Fitness
The military services have fitness standards that they use to ensure that warfighters are physically ready at any moment. Fitness is woven into the job requirement. It’s not unusual to start the day with unit PT at zero-dark-thirty. It’s not unusual to hear the beat of synched footsteps below the melodious lyrics of “1, 2, 3, 4, United States Marine Corps…” as a unit passes our house on a run.
Military spouses don’t have fitness standards other than the ones they’ve set for themselves, so we’re left with two — OK, technically three — options.
- Hold ourselves accountable.
- Join a group that will hold us accountable (a running club, a group fitness class, a casual group of friends with the same goal, or even hiring a personal trainer, or enlist the health and wellness coaching feature on Military OneSource).
- Decide not to care about fitness because we’re too tired, too busy, and — well — deployments.
No matter which one we choose, military spouses must fit fitness in when and where we can because it isn’t in our job description. Yeah, parents have super-human strength, and I could tell you right now that if I had to hold my seven-year-old and five-year-old at the same time in some life-and-death situation, it would happen without hesitation. But, there’s no annual mom fitness test to make me prove that I could do it (whew).
Finding Common Ground
My husband and I have found what works for us – we do our own thing with fitness routines. Going back to that bad advice I got in college, our schedules never align long enough to work out anyway. But, we support each other in different ways. We listen (usually with more focus than my halfway listening to his CFT results) to each other and praise each other’s accomplishments. He humors me when I send him screen shots saying I shaved 30 seconds off my average pace. I humor him and ask him to open pickle jars for me (I mean, when he’s home).
The perfect little ending anecdote for this article happened this week — it not only illustrates the challenges military spouses face with fitting in fitness, but the ways my husband and I can support each other, even though our fitness goals rarely overlap. The day I planned my long run for the week — a six-miler — my daughter woke up with a fever. My husband went to work, likely PTing on his lunchbreak, but I had to sacrifice my run to play doctor mom. That doesn’t mean I gave up on it. It means that once I close the laptop on this blog entry, I’m going out for a solo Saturday run, even though I don’t usually run on Saturdays because the kids are home. Instead, dad’s in charge, and I’m hitting the pavement.
My regimen is all about flexibility (something military spouses are masters of) and intrinsic motivation. I work in what I can. It doesn’t fit military fitness requirements the way my husband’s fitness has to, but it’s what military spouses have to do if we’re dedicated to our own fitness goals.