The Couple That Sweats Together Stays Together
When fitness model, trainer, and inventor CJ Koegel needs some inspiration to push through a tough workout, he typically doesn’t have to look very far. After all, he’s probably taking a class taught by his girlfriend, former Broadway dancer and Akins Army trainer Bree Branker.
“I joke with her because the last three months I’ve only really done her class,” Koegel told MensHealth.com. “I say ‘I’m body by Bree right now, babe.'”
Koegel and Branker are both trainers and models, so their careers revolve around staying in shape and helping others look and feel their best. Their commitment to a physically active and healthy lifestyle extends to their relationship, too — along with doing each others’ classes, the two often build routines that compliment both of their strengths so they can train together. The pair exemplifies what we at Men’s and Women’s Health value most: A strong, principled focus on physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being.
That’s why we’ve named them the first Men’s and Women’s Health Power Couple, so they can serve as an example for other pairs who want to use fitness and exercise as a tool to make their relationships even stronger.
Building a Strong Base
The couple often works out together, but they each have their own specialties and preferences shaped by their background. Koegel was deeply ingrained in the fitness world long before he met Branker.
He was a gifted athlete growing up, and earned a football scholarship to the University of Massachusetts. Even though he was a starter on the DI squad, he always felt he had something more to prove to his teammates on the football field. He was a kicker, which he said is often considered one of the “softer positions” in the sport.
“I didn’t want [my position] to define the type of athlete I was,” he said. “I was very heavy on wanting to learn the best things to do in the gym. I realized that some of the more athletic players started coming to me saying, ‘hey, love that exercise you’re doing, what is that for?’ I noticed there was an influence were I wasn’t one of the most badass players, but I got respect.”
Koegel drew attention from more than just his teammates, and had an opportunity to pursue a spot in the NFL after finishing his college career ranked as one of the top 10 punters in his draft class by Mel Kiper Jr. Koegel didn’t wind up making it to the pros, and after a stint on MTV’s reality show circuit he moved to New York City to pursue a career as a fitness trainer and Wilhemina model.
That’s where he met Branker — but they didn’t fall head over heels for each other right away. “We met at a Wilhemina Fitness Friday,” Koegel said. “We were rock climbing. I was actually in a different relationship at the time, and Bree was new [to the modeling agency].”
After helping to introduce her to some of the other people within the organization, Koegel said the pair formed “a really cool friendship.” When he split up with his girlfriend a few months later, he and Branker started seeing more of each other. “We started hanging out, and here we are, everyday since,” he said.
Staying Fit Together
Since they got together, the two have built up their relationship by supporting each other in and out of the gym. Koegel invented a home exercise product, OTTO, which he hopes will allow him to diversify his career when his modeling days are over. The kit recently launched on Indiegogo with a slick promo video, intercut with footage of Branker showing off its features.
When Branker wanted to build up her endurance to run six miles, Koegel was huffing and puffing right alongside her. “We accomplished that by just getting out there, putting the miles in,” he said. “I didn’t really want to run that six miles — but instead of being like oh, that sucks, it’s like a part of me was like you’re doing this with your lady, let’s do this together.”
Koegel also credits Branker’s influence for helping him to stay on track to achieve his goals even when he loses his own way. “When you’re somebody who everyone asks for fitness stuff from, sometimes you lose track of your own fitness,” he said. “A year and a half ago, I realized I was losing a little bit of my own drive to get in and focus on the things that I wanted to focus on. From taking her classes I’ve been able to find this rebound excitement.”
That support has built a bedrock of trust that extends beyond their time spent together exercising. Koegel credits the stability of the relationship for his own recent successes.
“What makes Bree so easy to love is that she’s the type of woman that gives you confidence within a relationship in ways deeper than fitness, he said. “Sometimes in relationships there’s something in your gut telling you that you don’t trust the other person — that was never an issue in our relationship. That’s why I think I’ve been able to thrive so much in the past year, since I’ve had this confidence inside the relationship that extends way outside the relationship.”
The Power Couple’s Advice to You
If you want to use fitness as a way to ground your own relationship, Koegel has some simple advice: Communicate honestly.
“With Bree and I, it’s about having open communication about one, how do our bodies feel, and two, what do we really enjoy doing?” he said. “If we both find these commonalities, why don’t we start doing those things more? Through that we’ve been able to have so much fun.”
That openness might mean that you’re not always glued together 24/7 — you have to be able to tell your partner when you need space to do your own thing.
“There are moments when I don’t want to go to the gym with her,” Koegel said. “I want to do my bench press and work all my little tricep beach muscles, and she’s like yeah, I totally get that, that’s cool. So she doesn’t keep me from being me in the gym, which makes me want to work out with her more.”
Perform all of these exercises consecutively as a circuit. After you’ve finished with one round, rest for 2 minutes. Repeat twice for 3 total sets.
Squat hold/Jump squat
10 reps per partner
Squat hold: Starting in an athletic stance, bend at the knees and push your hips back to assume a squat position. Squeeze your core and keep your arms in front of your body, maintaining an erect spine. Hold this while your partner completes 10 jump squats. Or if you’re at it solo, hold for twenty seconds. Then slowly push yourself back up.
Jump Squat: Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out. Keeping your chest upright and core tight, bend your knees and sit your hips back, extending your arms straight in front of you at shoulder height. Press through your heels to jump as high as you can off the ground, swinging your arms behind you. That’s one rep. Land softly and immediately lower into your next squat. Complete 10 reps, then switch with your partner.
Plank hold/Lateral hop
10 reps per partner
Plank Hold: Start on the floor on your hands and knees. Lower your forearms to the floor with elbows positioned under your shoulders and your hands shoulder-width apart, forming a 90-degree angle. Extend your feet back and rest on your toes. Squeeze your core and glutes to maintain straight spinal alignment. Look down at the floor, with gaze slightly in front of your face. Hold while your partner completes 10 lateral hops in each direction, or for 30-45 seconds.
Lateral Hop: Assume an athletic stance, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your feet on the same plane, bound from side to side to jump over your partner. Land lightly and take off on the balls of your feet. Complete 10 reps on each side.
Elevated pushup/Squat hold
10 reps per partner
Elevated pushup: Assume a pushup position. Allow your partner to grab your feet and hold them on your thighs. From that position, squeeze your glutes and core and perform 10 pushups.
Squat hold: Grad your partner’s feet with both hands. Bend at the knees and push your hips back to assume a squat position, holding their feet on your lap. Squeeze your core and keep your arms in front of your body, maintaining an erect spine. Hold this while your partner completes 10 pushups.