Can a fitness trainer mend your marriage? He’s the exercise guru to the stars who’s out to make relationships stronger — and for this couple in need, the results worked WONDERS
To my right, my husband, Joseph, is groaning so loudly, I’m afraid he’s going to have a heart attack. I lift my head to check he’s OK, trying not to lose my balance from the top of my own state-of-the-art Gravity Training System.
Both of us are lying flat on our backs at differing inclines on these torturous glide boards, our knuckles clenching around the handles and our legs raised in table-top position as we work all our sagging muscle groups against fierce resistance.
Welcome to the latest in marriagecounselling — Bodydoctor Fit For Love — joint workouts at a bespoke fitness studio under the watchful eye of celebrity fitness-guru-turned-marriage-saver David Marshall, aka the Bodydoctor.
He promises not only to get us both fit, but to ‘stop the rot, stop the slide and get you back to fancying the pants off each other’. For Jo and me, this is long overdue. Even the most fragile marriage, claims David, can be repaired by his programme — and ours could do with help. Our marital communication skills (or lack of) make us both think we’re speaking a different language at times.
Lisa Brinkworth and her husband with Body Doctor Fitness David Marshall during their workout
We last saw a couples’ counsellor a year ago. After our first session she told us there was nothing she could do because of our inability to see each other’s point of view, but she could see us individually until we’d both reached a point where we could meet each other halfway.
‘Couples arrive at my gym acting like strangers, lacking communication,’ says David pointedly. ‘Some find it difficult even to be in the same space as each other. By the end of the first session, they’re visibly closer than they have been in a long while. Just look what happens when two people come together on Strictly.’
Jo and I arrived at our first session flustered. After seeing our three children off to their schools, I’d been worrying we wouldn’t arrive in time. Jo was fretting about taking the morning off work, before realising it would be the first of many. We were so caught up in our own misgivings about starting the programme, we barely noticed each other as we paraded out of the changing rooms in our new sweat gear.
The problem is, we just don’t make time for each other. Shamefully, I don’t think we ever have. We had three children under four within four years of getting married and they have always been our priority.
As they get older, their needs show no sign of easing. Promised date nights never materialise and our work schedules make it impossible for us to meet up in the day. We are like ships passing in the night investing all our time and energy into our family.
But I’m sceptical as to how exercise can be the answer when a specialist marriage counsellor has told us we are beyond help.
Bodydoctor Fit For Love offers joint workouts at a bespoke fitness studio under the watchful eye of celebrity fitness-guru-turned-marriage-saver David Marshall
‘Before you fork out a fortune on divorce lawyers or couples’ counselling, do an intensive six-week couples workout and see the effect it has,’ David tells us before we sign up.
‘When couples are working hard and encouraging each other, they’re letting go of their stresses and tensions. They rediscover their youthful selves, achieving greater flexibility, muscle strength and mental vigour.
‘As the weeks go on, they look better and feel more confident about themselves. That leads to improved performance in the bedroom. Working out is the new making out!’
We start on the machines and I immediately sense a problem. Even as my husband’s face grows red with effort, I’m still not feeling the loving empathy I think I’m supposed to. In fact, I can’t help feeling smug that my technique is more controlled than his and mentally mark myself better at it than him.
This, I’m afraid, is the trap our marriage has fallen into. We’re so absorbed by our own worlds: mine looking after our children while trying to keep my career afloat; and his, financially providing for us all, both believing we are the main contributor in our relationship. It is, I suppose, point scoring.
Nothing escapes David, who clocks my smugness and raises the incline of my gravity machine, instantly adding the equivalent of another two kilos to my load. Now it’s my turn to gasp and groan. Together, Jo and I are made to do a 30-second hold, each determined not to be the first to collapse.
David seems pleased with this. ‘That’s better,’ he yells. ‘Now you’re working in unison. You’re both feeling the joy.’ We quickly learn that ‘joy’ is his euphemism for pain. ‘What have I told you? Couples who sweat together, stay together!’
David’s bellowed mantras such as, ‘If I can make you fit and strong, you’ll be loving all night along’ buoy the spirits. We want to help him in his quest to make us ‘fit for love’.
David made his name training celebrity clients including Sophie Dahl, Rachel Weisz and footballers Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard. He quips that he made Game Of Thrones stars Alfie Allen, Kit Harington and Richard Madden all ‘fit for love’, getting them buff in preparation for their nude scenes.
Even the most fragile marriage, claims David, can be repaired by his intensive fitness programme
The collapse of his own seven-year marriage prompted him to think hard about how fitness could stop couples separating. It also made him more aware of couples who came to train separately, ‘their marriage on auto-pilot’. Then there were the clients who would beg him to get their partners into shape to help spice up their love lives and reset the romance. It was all fitting together.
So this summer he launched his marriage-saving programme and has a team of trainers — Matt, James and Samson who go by the names of the Protégé, the Blond Bombshell and Ridiculously Ripped — to help him deliver it alongside their one-to-one training.
When I ask David about his success rate, he says: ‘I don’t do failure. My workout has stood the test of time and is the only one in the UK to be backed by a private healthcare company. If couples follow our training and nutrition programme, they’ll see results both physically and romantically.
‘Put it this way, I see a lot of couples leave here after six weeks a lot more loved up than when they arrived.
‘My own marriage suffered because we never saw each other. I was working long hours and she was at home with our daughters, Millie, now 18, and Issy, 13. While we’ve both moved on, I believe things could have been different if we’d worked out together. It gives you a shared interest, refocuses you as a couple.’
But with his own marriage ending in divorce, can he really claim to save others’ marriages? Mid-life is a dangerous time for couples, with recent Office for National Statistics figures showing a marked increase in the number of divorces among over-50s. More than 13,000 women aged 55 and above divorced in 2016, while for men the figure was 19,454. However, there is some science to back up David’s claims.
Exercise increases the levels of oxytocin you produce — oxytocin being the love hormone associated with empathy, trust and relationship-building. When you’re exercising at the same intensity, you feel a sense of camaraderie.
Like traditional marriage counsellors, David is keen that couples don’t leave it too late. Shared exercise should be a preventative means of saving a marriage, not a last-ditch attempt.
‘My programme can be used as an MoT for happily married couples needing to make time for themselves,’ he says. ‘Don’t wait until your marriage is fractured or even terminal.
‘Our couples’ programme is especially intimate because it’s just the two of you in the studio, both discovering your true potential and pushing your boundaries.’
Committing to three 60-minute sessions a week, the programme requires the sort of dedication we should have given our marriage.
Each session starts with 15 minutes of cardio before we move through weight-bearing, flexibility, resistance and Pilates exercises. Both of us want a flatter stomach. Three children have taken their toll on my waistline to the point where I think it’s impossible to lose the excess abdominal fat.
This year I gained a stone, which, horrifyingly, my GP put down to my age. I was told there was little I could do about it. I’d resigned myself to my increasingly unrecognisable 50-year-old body and no longer felt comfortable in a bikini.
Yet here we are, making the effort to indulge in a whole morning together, four hours in total including travel from our home in Buckinghamshire to Belgravia, with Jo for the first time leaving his accountancy business in the hands of his assistant.
David made his name training celebrity clients including Sophie Dahl, Rachel Weisz and footballers Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard
David’s words resound in my ears: ‘Spontaneity and excitement disappear in a marriage, but when couples come here to train, they’re transported back to the days before kids when they were free to pull into a lay-by and get really sweaty.’
Although a lay-by was never our thing, we begin to enjoy ourselves. David and his team shake up the exercises for variety and we start to see results. I’ve got my hips and flat stomach back and the beginnings of triceps and biceps. Even my shoulders are looking toned and there is more definition in my legs. Jo has a washboard stomach and the beginning of a six pack. He is leaner, his legs more muscular.
We both find ourselves looking forward to a morning of reverse curls and crunches, ‘prayers’ (see above), adapted lunges and press-ups as well as a ‘game’ of Carry The Weight Of The World, which involves sitting back to back, legs apart and arms raised, passing a Swiss ball to each other sideways.
Targeting side abs and triceps, this is more strenuous than it sounds. We endure the Stairmaster, where at first I cling on for dear life as I struggle to stay upright — not a good look when you’re trying to make your husband fancy you again. Soon, though, I master the equipment and realise I’m stronger than I think.
Each of us does the same exercises adapted to our individual physical capacity. ‘When you do my exercises, you’re working with a percentage of body weight,’ explains David. ‘So if you’re both working at 80 per cent of your maximum, regardless of the difference in proportional body weight, that leads to mutual respect. When your body is working well and you both have mental clarity, that is a primeval libido boost.’
Gradually, I start to see what a marriage-saver exercise can be. That competitive edge that took me by surprise on the glideboard has vanished and instead I’m cheering Jo on and wanting to impress him with my efforts.
I push myself harder than if I were exercising alone, and I am impressed by how hard Jo works himself. He does a sedentary job and never goes to the gym.
Both of us have so much more energy, we are less tired and are sleeping better. My skin is glowing. Even my husband’s thinning hair is becoming more lustrous. All this exercising prompts us to eat more healthily too.
My waist is narrower, my clothes are looser and, by week five, I’ve dropped two dress sizes, from a 12 to an 8. I’m doing something right because Jo doesn’t even look up when a bevvy of models arrive to train.
Working out together has shifted our focus and motivated us in all areas of our lives. I’m determined to show myself and Jo what I’m made of. He, in turn, is amazed at my physical strength and resolve to succeed.
By the end of week six, not only have we lost a combined total of 16kg (seven for me, nine for him), but our marriage is in a much stronger place. We’ve never had shared interests outside the children, but now if we’re not exercising together, we’re talking about it or planning our next session.
Before, we couldn’t even organise an evening at the local pub. We’re going to bed earlier in order to be able to work out at optimum levels the next morning. Not surprisingly, David is all for us spending longer in bed together.
‘Having spent 43 years repairing people’s bodies and getting them fit for life, I’m now committed to getting people fit for love,’ he grins. ‘You’ve taken back a bit of control for yourselves, you’ve cleared the fog of familiarity and returned to a time when you were irresistible to one another.’
At £150 plus VAT per couple per session, the six-week course is not cheap, but when you consider counselling costs — we were quoted £250 for 90 minutes — that could go on for months or years, many couples may find David a more cost-effective option.
After six weeks we can continue with the programme ourselves using basic equipment and props recommended by David. He even does a Bodydoctor house call (cost on request) training couples in their homes and videoing the session for them to follow.
So did it work for us? Well, after our final session, as we travel back to Buckinghamshire side-by-side on the train, I can’t resist giving Jo’s newly defined thighs a quick squeeze. I’m rewarded with a beaming smile. How many couples can say that after traditional marriage counselling?
After six weeks we can continue with the programme ourselves using basic equipment and props recommended by David
Joseph, 54, says:
When Lisa suggested we train together to save our marriage, I was dismissive. I just couldn’t imagine us doing it. How would we find the time? She was adamant, though, that for six weeks, we put aside some time for us.
Working out together took my breath away. For the first time in our 13-year marriage, I saw Lisa determined and focused, as I know she’d been in her career before I met her.
When I was struggling on the equipment, she would will me on and give me a beautiful smile. That reminded me we should both smile at each other more often. That smile, which I saw a lot of over the six weeks, reassured me we weren’t wasting our time.
Physically, I can’t believe my transformation. I’ve lost my ‘red wine belly’. It was miraculous how Lisa regained the slinky hips she had when we first met. As working parents, both of us had neglected our physical appearance.
Now I realise how preoccupied we’d become with work, bills, school etc. There was nothing left for us. We forgot we were even a couple before we had children.
I raise my hat to David. We’d tried couples’ counselling before, but gave up on it. We stuck to this mainly because it was so much fun.
I am the least likely candidate to do anything like this, but now Lisa and I are going to keep it up. Even our children have benefited from living with the new, carefree ‘us’ and are embarking on David’s kids’ programme so that we can get fit as a family.
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